Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lincoln Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 8th Edition 
72.2 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Lincoln Half Marathon
Place: Oak Harbor, WA
Miles from home: 1600
Weather: 50s; bright sun; windy

This was supposed to be a race recap of my 149th marathon. Instead, for a variety of reasons, it is the race recap of my 76th half marathon.

While most of my racing plans for the year have been put on hold because of the extended layoff I am still in the middle of, this race was not originally one of the planned casualties. Suffice it to say that a day prior I didn’t think I would be running at all because of the stomach bug I was experiencing. Fortunately, I felt good enough to at least put my bib on to start the day. 

The Lincoln Marathon has an option which I think is very wise and more races should implement if the course logistics allow it; runners can choose mid-race which race they are running. I know that without this option I would not have even started the race.  I hoped I would be well enough to run 26.2 but if not, 13.1 isn’t too shabby.

Pre- Race:
When I was booked as the speaker for this race one of the race directors learned we grew up about 20 miles away from each other in NW PA. Nothing like having a neighborhood friend in a place far from home. Even without this connection I was immediately made to feel at home in Lincoln, a really enjoyable city. The morning of the expo I had the pleasure of firing the gun for one of the waves of the Mayor’s Run, a one mile run that thousands of kids took part in. Then, at my speaking engagement I had two packed speeches where the crowd was warm and inviting.

I spoke to many first timers at the marathon expo and their emotions were raw and open. I had someone who was particularly emotional and felt the need to apologize. I told them that not only should they be happy to be experiencing these emotions, they weren’t the first to cry and want a hug. I was happy to give it.
By the end of the day, all the stomach rumblings of the past few days seemed to at least be reduced to smaller grumblings. Maybe I could have a successful race after all.

Race Morning:

As I walked to the start of the race, the temperature was just a touch chilly but I realized that was mostly because of a ferocious wind whipping around the buildings. There was not a single cloud in the sky and the temperature was threatening to climb well above 70 by the end of the day.  In other words, ignorant sportscasters and your NRFs (non-running friends) would call this a “perfect day for running”.  I knew that even if I was able to run the whole 26.2, it might be a suffer fest.

I serendipitously ran into a runner, Jeff, who had contacted me about running this his first marathon. We chatted for a bit and talked about what a small world it was. He not only went on to get his goal (sub 3:45) but I was fortunate enough to put the medal around his neck.

As this race is tied with the National Guard, the race is the qualifier for the National Guard marathon team.  A set number of runners must qualify with a time here to be on that team. As such, many were on hand and I had the honor the previous night to speak at their dinner.  As such, even though I had the pleasure of knowing a few of these runners from other races, I made even more friends that I saw at the starting line. We were told the starting gun would be a cannon but when it fired I don’t think I was the only one who had to check my shorts.


First Three Miles: 7:16, 7:22, 7:36

As we took off, my main concern, as it has been for months now, was what sort of trouble my left leg would give me. Stemming from a herniated disk from a bike crash, the pain in my leg has gotten somewhat better as of late.  A high diet of weight lifting and lesser miles has seen to that. What I could tell immediately was the leg seemed fairly fine. I could also tell my stomach was fair and there appeared to be no chance of making a mess unexpectedly. But what was scary was that I could not breathe.Like, at all.

I assumed this would go away after a few hundred yards or so but it persisted past the first mile. Into the second mile I went and I thought each breath was being taken in through a straw. If this continued much further, I was going to be in trouble. But continue it did, even though I slowed.  By the time I hit the third mile I knew what I had to do. I needed to stop my race day 50% earlier than my original plan. In fact, if there had been a car waiting for me at the 5k, I am pretty sure I would have gotten in it and gone home. Take away a leg or make the stomach queasy and a person can solider on.  Take away their ability to breathe and they are done. I learned this as a Golden Gloves boxer over a decade ago and the same truth is still solid today.

I realized that while I was hardly feeling good or happy with my decision, I could now spend the rest of the time enjoying the race. Through crowded neighborhoods where people were out in force, I high (or low) fived kids, thanked spectators, made jokes with onlookers and did my best to enjoy what was indeed a beautiful day.

To the Half Way Point: 7:36, 7:16, 6:58

As I approached the fourth mile I heard a voice say: “How are you, Dane?”  I turned and saw it was Sergeant Hagen who had been the armed forces gentleman who took me to the National Guard dinner.  He was running the half as well before spending duties for the remainder of the day at the finish. I answered honestly and with an expletive which got a smile out of him. I told him I too would be calling it quits at the half. He asked me if I wanted to hand out medals to finishers and suddenly I brightened. My day would have some purpose after all, outside of myself.

As we ran along, I told him I was going to hang with him as long as possible. Wearing a National Guard shirt, the Sergeant received plenty of kudos from the crowd.  Running next to him in a similarly colored shirt, I felt like an impostor. I had told the assembled military members at the dinner that I always thank those in the military for their service and truly mean it. They do the things they do so I can goof around on weekends under the umbrella of safety they provide. (As a side note: at this dinner there is a roll call of states in which designated members of each Guard says a little something about the state, does a quick joke or in the case of the state of Washington, a full on “You can’t Handle the Truth!” speech that was tailored-specifically to running. It was, in the days of this overused word, rather epic.)

I tried my best to interact with the crowd and also the runners we were passing. I had begun to gain some wind back and thought perhaps I had been too rash in deciding to call it quits. But after second guessing my second guessing, I knew it was the right decision. I only felt good because as we approached the 6th mile, I knew I was almost halfway done.

The course has a sharp downhill here and I experienced what I assumed would be my only sub-7 minute mile of the day.  To wit, I had heard the Lincoln Marathon was flat.  This is not the case.  It is not the Whidbey Island Marathon or anything, and on a good weather day could still give runners some fast times. But if you come to the race expecting a track meet, you will be disappointed. Just a word of caution.

Sergeant Hagen had begun talking with a few other guard members and as he now had some company I took this chance to thank him for pulling me along for two miles, but I had to back off.  The lungs were tightening again and passing out was not on my agenda for the day. At least not until I finished.  then pass out all you want. You have the medal.

To Mile 10: 7:30, 7:14, 7:26, 7:01

I immediately felt better by just letting off the throttle. It never ceases to amaze me how a little less effort can mean the difference between collapsing and running smoothly. Run long enough and you will know where your redline is.  It changes race to race and mile to mile but if you can get in touch with it, you can race successfully and safely. In fact, as we entered a bike bath (which Sergeant Hagen and other members of the Nebraska National Guard actually had recently widened by laying down more pavement) I barely fell off the pace he was setting. I felt world’s different.

The volunteers at this race were top notch. The liquids provided to the runners were given to use in cups with lids and straws. I can say I do not recall ever having experienced that before. I am not sure it is any better for someone who knows the pinch trick but for those who spill a drink on themselves because of sloshing it was a god send.  I do know that with my diminished breathing it was impossible to use the straw. So I took the lid off, drank as normal and moved forward.

We turned north again and I knew this was now where we would not only begin heading home but also take on the biggest of the remaining hills. And as always, where I lose ground on flat portions of a race, I make it back on these hills. I am not as good of an uphill runner as I am downhill but I am usually better at both than anyone who is beating me on the flats. I have yet to fully understand why that is; I just know it is.

Cresting the hill around the 15k mark, we passed over a timing mat.  On the Lincoln Marathon website, people could track your progress at multiple locations. If you hadn’t known the distress I was in, you would have thought I was not too far off my desired 3:10 marathon pace for the day.  I started a little slow at 5k, picked it up at tad at 10k and was right about on pace here at 15k.  Unfortunately, that was the pace I wanted for 26.2 miles, not 13.1.  However, in spite of the fact that I knew I was dropping short, I had no desire to pick up the pace at all. When you have run 15 minutes faster for a half marathon, what difference does another minute or two make? 

I almost broke 7 minutes on the downhill and was surprised to see it. I had just a 5k left and I could smell the barn a little bit.

Heading To The Finish: 7:24, 7:10, 6:47, :43

When I ran up the last remaining hill faster than I had half of the miles previously, I knew the last 5k was going to be rather fast.  In fact, the stats show just that as you can see by this chart. But while that is nice to look at now, I knew I still had to conquer the distance.  Anything can happen in one mile, let alone 3.1. But as the 10th mile passed and we slipped by the Lincoln Country Club, I felt decent for the first time all day.

The 11th mile and all the way until we finished inside Lincoln Memorial Stadium was a straight shot up the street.  It took nearly 90% of the race but I could finally breathe.  If there had been no drop potion I very well may have been able to run the entire 26.2.  But here I had already mentally checked out and knew I would not go a step further than 13.1. 

Hitting the 12th mile, I passed Sergeant Hagen.  I wanted to wait for him and pay him back for helping me along but I knew I had to keep on going. Any slowing down at this juncture might have meant a full stop.  With the stadium looking like a colossus on our right, we made one final turn toward it.  With a big video screen showing runners running toward the stadium, we could look behind us to see who might be gaining.  Fortunately it was no one for me but I still had a few more in sight for myself.  Down the ramp into the stadium we went and I nipped two more.  I crossed the finish in 1:35:22 which was basically the exact pace I wanted for the marathon.  But this was not even close to that distance.

The best portion of my day came after I finished, went to the hotel to shower, packed my bags and walked back to the finish line. As promised I was happy to hand out medals to finishers. If I can suggest an activity to get you out of the doldrums and get you psyched about life, this would be it.  If you care to see joy, elation, exhaustion, achievement, demons being exorcised and dreams being made, lock eyes with someone finishing a half marathon or marathon while you put a medal around their neck.

I spent the next 3 hours doing just that, covered in crusty sweat from runner after runner that shook my hand,
hugged me and patted me on the back. These were not accolades for me. I was as incognito and faceless as possible. I was simply sharing in their wonderful moment. On many occasions I had a line of people waiting to get their medal and I couldn’t get them off my arm and onto their neck fast enough. I don’t know why my line got so long but maybe the runners could tell one of their own.  Maybe because I was trying to think up something witty to say to everyone. Maybe because my day had not turned out anywhere close to what I wanted it to be and I was trying to steal a little sunshine from these winners. All I know was that if there was a job that paid you to stand there at the finish and suck in this wonderfulness, it would be an awesome job indeed.

If you wish to run this marathon, you’d better be fast with your fingers.  The race opens and sells out in less than 12 hours. That would be one thing if it had 1000 people in it.  But with over 12,000 signing up, that tells you what an event this is. To be such a small part of it on just one weekend was an honor.  I hope to come back and claim my marathon medal someday soon.

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