Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kiawah Island Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 44th Edition 
683.1 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Kiawah Island Half Marathon
Place: Kiawah Island, SC
Miles from home:  2199 miles
Weather: 40-50s; overcast, slightly humid

Going into my final traveling race of the year I was quite excited. First, to be back in Kiawah, a race that I rank as one of my favorites, was indeed a treat.  To be asked to be the presenter at the post-race dinner for the second straight year was an honor and the cause for more excitement. At the dinner I would be premiering the trailer for the short film that was made about my solo running of the 202 mile American Odyssey Relay in 2010. Ever since the race was completed I have had to muzzle myself and not talk too much about the race or even write a recap of sorts. Mostly, I had no idea how I could even encapsulate how amazing the adventure was or how grateful I was for my crew’s assistance in a typical recap. Then, when I first got a glimpse of the footage for the entire endeavor about a year ago, I knew how I could do all of those things by making sure I kept the vast amount of my feelings and emotions about the trek quiet until the movie was finally released.

While the release date is soon, but unknown (most of the editing process and everything involved is completely out of my hands) being able to at least show the trailer for the movie has had me ecstatic for weeks. So, even though this is out of chronological order, as I ended my weekend by showing this trailer, I will start this recap off by showing you what those in Kiawah were the very first to see.  Click Here to watch!

Race Day:

Staying on the island itself is truly the only way to fully experience the entire weekend. The entire resort is centered around the runners and it is quite difficult to find anyone who is not running the race. Staying in one of the villas just a short walk from the start, I was able to do my normal routine of late-wakeup call, leisurely saunter to the start and wait just a couple of minutes to get things rolling.  At this particular race, I had a plethora of friends running but two new ones in particular would be tearing up the course.

Having just met two of them, Stephanie and Caitlin in Charlotte last month, I still knew they would be shooting for top spots. Both were using this race as their final training race for the Olympic trials marathon in just a month in Houston. I was able to see and talk with both before the race and learn their racing plans.  Caitlin’s racing strategy fit more into what I felt I could do for the day (I did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of staying up with Stephanie) so when she asked if I wished to run a little with her I agreed.  She wanted to go out in the first few miles at around a 6:10 mile before turning it on for the last half. Given my general out of shape-ness, this initial pace seemed to be about threshold of what I could for the day. Soon we were lined up, with dozens of other speedsters, lured to Kiawah for its first-time ever offering of prize money. Like that we were underway.

First three miles:  6:02, 6:14, 6:26

Out of the gate I knew we were running hot.  Even with the only “hill” on the course being right before mile one, we still crossed just a hair over 6 minutes. I told Caitlin I would in no way want to shape her race but I simply did not have 6s in me this day. I would fall back and try to maintain the 6:10-6:15 pace if she needed me as a reminder of what she wanted to run. Then, I promptly did so. Happy to hit the next marker right where I wanted to be, I could see Caitlin was way out in front of me and showed no signs of slowing.  Even though I have come back rather strong after an Achilles injury of sorts in October I am hardly desiring to test its limits in a race where I know I will not set a personal best. So I decided that I would slow down a touch and see what the rest of the race had in store for me. Stephanie would go on to take 2nd in a new PR of 1:13 with Caitlin behind her in third in 1:18. Blistering times, ladies!

Right before the third mile I began running with a gentleman who introduced himself as a reader of my website. He then told me he had a few runners he was hoping to pace to a 6:18 average.  I thought this sounded good but since we were way ahead of that at this point we needed to slow down a touch and let them catch us. Soon they did.

To mile 6: 6:28, 6:35, 6:35

Over the next mile or so a group of about 6 or so runners who were running tightly together approached me from behind. This was the group the chap I was running with mentioned.  Now, I have never run particularly well in a pack and often slow or speed up in order to run solo.  Given the twisty-turny nature of the roads for the first half of this course, I want to be able to cut the tangents as much as possible to avoid running any further than necessary.  I was sporting the new Timex Run Trainer and as this was my first time in half a decade wearing any watch other than your basic stopwatch, I was curious how it would go for me. Mile after mile had the GPS virtually dead on for the mile markers, which was quite pleasing. On an occasion or two I had to remember which button to push as they were different from the watch I had worn for the past 7,000 miles (6,929 to be exact – yay for spreadsheets!) Other than that it was fantastic. While I always prefer to be as minimalistic as possible with my gadgets, I am not one to turn away from a product when it works so well.

That being the case, I decided to separate myself from the group by speeding up.  However, when I would surge so would they.   finally decided that slowing down was going to be the only way I could run solo.  Dropping back just a few seconds gave me the separation I needed. Watching one of the runners nearly trip a few of the people in the group in his desire to stay tight-knit made me feel even better about my decision.

Around the fifth mile I was running with a runner who was doing the full marathon.  It turns out that Brian had been the runner up or third place finisher on numerous occasions.  However, given the extraordinary depth on this day he knew that his placing would be a little lower than normal. About this time the leader of the half-marathon went flying by in the opposite direction, already a mile and a half in front of us. This is why, whenever you start to think you are fast, it is good to have someone likes this put you in your place.  Then again, as soon as you think you are slow, think of all of those who think the same thing about you as you do the leader. Speed is relative and we are all beating the guy on the couch.  Soon Brian left me as well.  He would go on to take third place overall in a fantastic time of 2:32, showing that even local runners have zip in their legs!

Onto mile 10: 6:49, 6:35, 6:35, 6:35

Right before the halfway point, I felt a massive dip in energy.  I have no explanation for it but my next mile showed the slippage.  What I found very odd is that it was the only mile that I felt so tired and it was the only mile out of 7 consecutive miles that wasn’t exactly 6:35. I do not think I could have even planned that if I tried.  In fact, every single time I hit my watch, I wasn’t sure if I had actually hit it correctly or if it was displaying the previous mile – even though I know that made no sense.
This mile also marked a rather surreal moment for me.  As my energy ebbed, a small group of runners passed me. By this point, heading back to the finish, the course took us off of the street and onto a narrow bikepath. For whatever reason, I have never run well on bike paths. Even when they are straight as an arrow they always seem to slow me down. I am sure at least half of that is a mental block but I know many others who feel the same way.  In this case, the bike path was quite twisty and with a few runners on either side of you, you spent half your time trying to not get in the other runners’ way. Well, most of us do.

Right as the group passed me, a small slightly older woman who looked strangely familiar (but not in the “saw her at the expo” way) cut quickly in front of me. Her action did not necessarily trip me but it definitely made me do a small stutter step.  I was also a little put off. Granted, if the woman was running the half, she was fighting for one of the top 5 spots overall but it wasn’t as if we were setting the course ablaze back here in 1:23-1:25 land. After dropping back for a second, I decided that I did not want to be running behind her anymore. So I surged again, getting energy out of nowhere and soon was a few yards in front of the group. Here I would stay for a few miles, until a game of cat and mouse with a series of runners would have us all changing places later on.

When the race was finished I was looking over the results. I saw the small woman had not been running the half but had instead been running the full. That made her effort in the first half all the more impressive. While her second half showed a large slowing down (ten minutes slower than her first half) what stood out was her name: Zola Pieterse. That might not immediately ring a bell for you but if we went by her maiden name perhaps you would understand the surrealness.  The woman who almost tripped me was none other than Zola Budd – the diminutive runner who was involved in an unfortunate incident back in the 1984 Olympics where her feet tangled with American Sweetheart runner Mary Decker Slaney (click here to watch it unfold). When I saw I had almost repeated history with Mrs. Pieterse my mouth dropped wide open. Only in the sport of running can something like this happen.

Over the next few miles, as I clicked away my exact 6:35s, I was blissfully ignorant to this fact. I am pretty glad too as I am sure I would have just been staring at her in awe for the remainder of the race.

To the Finish: 6:35, 6:39, 6:20, :43

When I hit the 10th mile I did the math to show me that it was entirely possible to run a 1:24:xx. Given my intended pace for the race has me wishing to run a 1:25 this made me feel really good.  I could not decide if I had either the energy or the desire to push the pace.  I say “desire” because I am still quite worried about not only my Achilles, but an achy left foot which hasn’t gotten any worse since May but sure hasn’t gotten any better. So on days when pushing really doesn’t yield me much, the desire is very low. This was one of those days.

At the 11th mile, I heard some slightly labored breathing and at my side appeared a gentleman I had met in Greenville, SC at the Run Town Half Marathon. Juergen is his name and was churning out some quality final miles. I asked how he was feeling and he more or less said he was ready to be done. Nevertheless, he pulled ahead of me as we both began passing a few runners who had obviously gone out too fast. Around the 12th mile I caught back up to Juergen and I wondered if he could run just a little bit faster than he was going. I spurted by him more or less begging him to follow me. Follow me he did. With about a quarter of a mile he passed me again. We hit the 13th mile just a few yards apart. Turning the final flag-lined stretch toward the finish line I could see Juergen was very close to breaking 1:25. While he just missed it in 1:25:02 I was super impressed by his kick at the end.  Did I also mention Juergen is 48?

I passed a few seconds later in 1:25:11, good enough for 41st place overall in my 52nd lifetime half-marathon.  Of those 52, 31 have been since July of last year.   am actually rather surprised to learn how few half-marathons I had run prior to this recent stretch. But as I continue to try and reach new boundaries, I realize that the half-marathon might be my next personal record to fall.  But that will have to wait until next year.

My conventional racing for the year is now done. I do have a few more fun races scheduled but I am quite pleased with this year’s overall effort. This also concluded the 20 race project I had with the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and I am more than pleased with the results. Nearly 300,000 people attended races where I was representing Team Beef across the nation and without a doubt the plan to educate people about the healthful benefits of eating lean beef has been a colossal success. Even beef lovers learned that there are 29 cuts of beef leaner than skinless chicken thigh and that only 3 ounces of lean beef gives a person 51% of the protein they need in a day with a calorie count of only 154. (Yes, you read ALL of that correctly.) I am looking forward to working with individual state beef councils in 2012 to continue this initiative.  Even more, however, I am beyond tickled to be sleeping in my own bed for more than a few weeks.

That audible sigh you just heard was mine.

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