230.6 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Evansville Half Marathon
Place: Evansville, IN
Miles from home: 2206 miles
Weather: 40-50s; Bright sun
Running and traveling as much as I have for the past decade it is not uncommon to have a few friends in one location. If the location has a high population, that coincidence is even less surprising. But to have so many friends, met in so many different ways, in a place which has approximately 120,000 people in it like Evansville, IN, is definitely interesting.
I met my host for this weekend, Michelle Walker, nearly four years ago when I was speaking at the Kiawah Island Marathon. Learning of her frequent marathoning history we became fast friends. When Michelle asked me to be the first ever featured speaker for the Evansville Half Marathon as a guest of The Women's Hospital, I was more than pleased to do so. It was also good to catch up with her as she is one of the subjects for the new book I am working on with Lacie Whyte highlighting inspiring female runners.
Back in April, I did a course preview of the race when I was in town for the wedding of my good friend Allison (another strange coincidence). However, the course changed drastically since that time. Some felt I might be annoyed by the changes but for me it just meant I got to see even more of a city I was staying in. Taking in more of a town you are in is rarely a bad thing. Doing so on foot with people cheering for you as you do it is hard to top.
The casino hotel was my resting place for the night before the race. Just a few hundred yards or so from the start of the race it was an ideal place to stay. It was extremely pleasant and relaxing to be able to wake up just an hour before race time, prep, go outside, realize you still need to go to the bathroom, run back up stairs, come back down, give a quick "Go Get 'Em!" to the crowd over the mic and still have 5 minutes to get ready for the race.
After the weather being in the 90s as recent as a day and half before the race started, the low 40s temperature was absolutely amazing. I only wished I was in shape to actually race. Instead, I planned on running hard, checking out the new course and cheering on a litany of friends who were shooting for new PRs.
My race would not be a personal best. There is a certain calm that can take over a runner when they show up to the starting line knowing that they will give their best that day but today’s best will be nothing close to their all-time best. For me, I wanted to simply run right around 7 minutes per mile, check out the course and hopefully make some new friends. At my speech the previous night, the pace group coordinator for the race asked if I wanted to help by running a 1:30 pace. I told him I planned on running right around there and anyone who wished to join me could gladly do so. But I was simply going to enjoy myself.
There had been massively strong winds in the days before the race. As a few miles would be run right on the banks of the Ohio River, we were all but assured to have it in our faces one if not both directions. But as we gathered for a beautifully sung National Anthem there was barely a rustling in the leaves which were just starting to show their fall colors. The Mayor of Evansville was on hand to start us off and away we went.
My first two miles were run at a pace I knew I was comfortable running but maybe a bit faster than my still healing Achilles would allow. Nevertheless, I enjoyed running down by the river and up and around a fountain in front of the Alhambra Theatre. The streets were flat and well paved. A good way to start off a race.
A couple of quick turns through the neighborhoods here had us running due east and right into the rising sun. I was happy to be wearing my Julbos as always.
We passed right by the Bayard Park which I fondly recalled there being some ice cold drinks back on our run in April. The crowds were not plentiful but the volunteers and traffic controllers were. We wound our way through some newly paved brick streets that originally we would have run the opposite direction on the old course. The Rocky Theme pierced the morning quiet as it emanated from an accordion and an amplifier. Out early in this brisk weather was a sprightly woman who was eighty if she was a day. I wanted to high five her but I feared I would have knocked her tiny body over.
A long straight section has us finishing our tour of the downtown area of Evansville by skirting Bosse Field. As I mentioned in my preview, this field is known for being used for game scenes in the movie A League of Their Own, it is the 3rd oldest stadium in regular use in America, after Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Once we passed that it was time to take on the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage.
I heard a few people weren’t particularly fond of this section. I would count myself in that group but not because of anything particular with this course. I have never really liked bicycle course in the middle of the races. They are always sneakily difficult with twists and turns and sudden rises and falls. These changes in elevation or direction are often imperceptible to a map maker but to a runner they can really sap some energy. Of course, these small changes can also help the legs by breaking up what is essentially a completely flat course. So you take the good, you tale the bad. (And a course that I have PRd on twice has a three mile [path as such, so there you go.)
For four miles you stay on this course where small smatterings of fans are out cheering you on. There were also no less than two different groups of high school cheerleaders screaming your name. As the race puts your actual name on the bib you feel like a bit of a celebrity. Even more so, for well over a mile, every single name of every single city of one of the participants was listed in alphabetical order on the bicycle path. I have no idea how long it took people to write these all out in chalk but I was very impressed. I can’t recall any race I have ever run doing the exact same thing. When I saw Portland, OR (the only city representing Oregon and obviously because of my presence) I let out a little whoop.
There were tons of other touches done on this race which people who haven’t run many won’t realize. At certain sections there are poles placed in the bike path to keep motor vehicles from entering the path. It is very easy when one is running, especially in a pack, to not see these poles. I have been on the business end of one of these and/or had to close of a call than I would like to remember. The organizers, however, took orange marking ribbon and created a triangle of awareness from the top of the pole down to the ground. That was a small touch which took just a few seconds but really was a big deal. I felt it deserved a special mention.
On Thursday night before the race I had helped lead the final 3 mile training run for a group of runners called Team 13. One and half miles of that run had been along this very same path. When we hit a certain section, familiarity crept in and after a few miles slower than I would have liked, I began to pick up the pace.
Even this small change of 5-10 seconds per mile was one I felt in my Achilles. I wanted to go faster and even being out of shape I knew I could but the legs were advising against it. The body is not a dictatorship but rather a committee ruled by its weakest partner. As such, the Turks and Caicos of my United Nations was the deciding vote.
With two miles to go I passed my buddy Ken who would end up running a solid time for the day. This poor guy is one heck of a runner but just happens to have one of the fastest fellas in his age group living right in his city. He looked strong and we exchanged some pleasantries. I passed a few other runners as we hopped onto the river walk. I didn't really have much if a desire to pass these people but I also did not wish to slow down. We could see the finish a half of a mile away and I really liked that. It is nice to be able to see where you are heading and really lock into a pace. The water looked gorgeous, the sun was at our backs and the wind from the day before was non-existent. I had one runner pass me in the last quarter of a mile but the last thing I needed to do was sprint to the finish to get a time that was nearly a minute slower per mile than my PR. I was happy to let him take me and add the feather to his cap. I merely trotted home, waved to the crowd and was pleased with my time of 1:31:25. I took 64th place overall and got my butt handed to me in my age group finishing 8th.
More importantly, no less than five people I had met here in the past two visits set personal best. Jason and David ran 1:17 and 1:19 with both taking down their PRs by two minutes each. A young fella named Reece who I had met at the past dinner the night before took 36 minutes off his time to break two hours. There were many I heard talking about their new fastes times ever who I never had met.
I got to see and experience these finishes with many of the runners as I stood at the finish handing out medals for about an hour or so after I was done. This is one of the best feelings in the world and one every runner should experience. Finally, however, the cold and tiredness got to me and I had to skedaddle back to my hotel to grab a shower.
Plus, I wanted to hit the casino.
I would highly recommend running this race to set a new PR. If the weather is like this every year, there is no reason to not run your fastest time ever.