141.7 miles run; 1500m swam in 2017 races
Race: Paul Richey Memorial Half Marathon
Place: Oil Cty, PA
Miles from home: 1469
Weather: 60s; sunny; humid
I hadn't been home to visit my mother in over a year so I decided it was time to visit my hometown and spend some time with her. Facebook memories showed me, once I arrived, that I have been home this exact same weekend three years ago. I found that coincidentally odd as there is no rhyme or reasons for most of my visits other than I wish to see my family. Why I would be home in June was beyond me. Nevertheless, my memories from that trip were how unbelievably sweaty and hot my runs were. Fortunately, the weather looked much more agreeable and after experiencing Austin since September, I didn't think much would hurt me in that department.
It was my Mom who posited the question "Are there any races nearby?" when I mentioned I would be coming home. Truth be told, I hadn't even really thought about whether there were, which is another oddity for me. A quick search revealed a half-marathon in a nearby town; a high-school rival town, to be exact. As I have put on a few races in my hometown and there are a few others there now which bring people in from all over the country, people will often say to me "I can see why you grew up a runner here!" They are referencing the hills and the lush green and the abundance of trails when they say this. Of course, the irony is that I wasn't much of a runner when I lived in my hometown. In fact, the vast majority of trails and streets in this area have never felt my feet upon them. As such, the opportunity to run on a bicycle trail just a mere 17 miles from where I grew up seemed like a fun thing to do. And if my Mom wants to come along and cheer, even better, especially since it would be my 99th lifetime half-marathon!
The half-marathon I decided to run was the Paul Richey Memorial Half to benefit the Franklin and Oil City YMCAs in memory of Trooper Paul Richey who was slain in the line of duty. Cop deaths in NW PA are (fortunately) few and far between so when they happen, they hit the communities hard. Titusville (my hometown), Franklin, and Oil City were all rivals in my high school days. So to have a little fun, I decided to wear my high school track singlet to the event. Technically it is not the one from high school but one that my track coach gave me in 2006 when I ran my 51st marathon out of 52 consecutive ones in my hometown. But it is a reasonable facsimile of the classic one from days of yore.
It was a quick and easy drive to the start of the race. Once I had made countless times as I went to one of the only malls in the area growing up. My mom and I parked and I went to pick up my packet. For a race of smallish size (111 half-marathoners) we had to park more than a short walk away from the packet pickup. No problem for runners but a little bit of a hike for older relatives. My Uncle, who lives just down the street tried to surprise me at the start but he recently had some hospital procedures done and was not his usual spry self. Unfortunately, when he arrived to come to the cheer me on, he couldn't make the walk in time to see me off. No knock on the race, just a bit of a bummer.
After an A cappella version of the National Anthem, under one of those car dealership, we-need-to-show-we-REALLLLLY-love-America sized flags, we left the packet pickup area and sauntered a few more hundred yards down to the starting line of the race. A local timer I recognized from the races I have done in the area was there setting things up and I sized up the crowd. I made a guess as to whom would be my competition, knowing full well it would show itself once the race started.
We lined up and away we went.
First Three Miles:
Within ten yards, after I sidestepped the usual not-supposed-to-be-at-the-front half dozen or so runners, I found myself behind three runners wearing matching singlets with names on the back. These runners would probably be my competition, I presumed. I was a step or two behind them as we started and simply trying to wake my legs up for the first mile as we hit the paved bike path under a cover of trees. As the sun flitted in here and there, I was so pleased the temperatures were only in the 60s, even if the humidity was typical for NW PA in June.
A topic I will be exploring in a future post deals with how I am experimenting with races in different weather right now. Suffice it to say I felt wonderful during the first mile which probably meant it was slow. A 6:37 time on my watch surprised me with its ease as I began to pull away a bit from the other runners. I assumed, as I almost always does when a mile goes by quicker than I think it should, that perhaps the miles on the trail were not exact. Usually if this is the case, the next mile adds a little time and I just split the difference. Regardless, all I could do was run and see what would happen.
I somehow missed the next mile marker as I was realizing this would be a "race." By that I mean the two runners behind me (a man and a woman) were just a few seconds back and I had a feeling they weren't going anywhere anytime soon. Their presence was a welcome edition to my day as I knew without them this would be yet another race which might as well be a training run. Beautiful, scenic, enjoyable - but virtually all alone with no crowd, opponents, or much else to spur me on.
Before long I saw the 3rd mile marker and, dividing by two, saw that I had just run two more 6:38 minute miles. Maybe today was going to be much better than expected.
Even though I was already covered in sweat, there was enough of a tree cover to make the course enjoyable. The surface was soft and very akin to the bicycle trail which played a major part in the Drake Well Marathon I created a few years ago. (This race was taken over by a local entity a few years ago, was changed greatly, and I no longer am affiliated with it.) As I am not normally a fast starter in races, I assumed this surprisingly quick first few miles meant I would only get faster as the race went on. This fourth mile, however, showed a time closer to 6:45. Once again, as I felt good, I didn't know if the mile marker was a bit off or what exactly. (Note, these are not markers the race put out. They are existing markers for the bike course and for all intents and purposes are fairly accurate. But when you are running and the difference between a 6:38 and a 6:43 is all the difference in the world, it matters.)
It appeared that I had put a little distance between me and my two pursuers but I wasn't too sure. I was trying to use an assortment of contextual clues I often use in order to keep from turning around and looking. Approaching the aid station between the fourth and fifth miles I employed a tactic of timing seconds between when the volunteers cheered for me and when they next cheered for people behind me. People tend to cheer when runners are equidistant away so this is one way to use your surroundings to your benefit. It appeared I had put a few more meters between me and my pursuers. I felt comfortable in my lead. The fifth mile showed a slight slowing with a 6:47. However, as I really enjoy out and back runs, knowing what I have run and being able to prepare for it, I assumed I would just get faster at the turnaround. I would simply hit the afterburners and show everyone what's what.
Slightly before the 6th mile marker I heard footsteps and almost as quickly as I heard them one of my pursuers passed me. I was impressed with how he made the pass as it was swift, definitive, and he didn't hesitate. Superb passing technique, sir. Leave no doubt you are making a move. Even if I am was now realizing I am not going to win the race any longer, I can still appreciate the craftsmanship of the move.
In spite of this move, I gave a few hundred yards of chase. I soon realized that for whatever reason he just was moving faster than me right now. My best bet was to keep him in eyesight and maybe make a move later in the race.
My aunt had told me she would try to be near the turnaround to cheer me on. Unfortunately, some faulty information provided by a cocksure but clueless spectator had sent her in the wrong direction. As we approached the turnaround, I did see her in the distance and gave her a wave as I made the 180 degree turn to head home.
Toward Mile 10:
I was surprised to see how close the female runner was behind me as she had quietly been sitting there ten seconds or so back. The forest dampened sounds of footfalls, and the soft footing masked them even more. As we began our return trip home, the runner in front of me was already distancing himself greatly. When we hit the 7th mile I realized that while he may be speeding up, I was without a doubt slowing down. I had run the last two miles in the 6:55 range while feeling like I was exerting more effort. I didn't "feel" tired or like I was slowing and with no other runners around to gauge myself, was a bit disappointed in this outcome. Perhaps this was a longish section and the next mile would straighten things out, I thought.
Granted I was covered in sweat but I didn't feel like I had slowed so much. My singlet was soaked in wetness but it could have been worse. And while the runner in front of me was pulling away, the woman behind me, obviously accomplished herself, hadn't passed me yet. Maybe we were stuck in the same space time continuum. Maybe she was biding time to pass me. Maybe it's Maybelline. Either way, when a woman is sitting on my heels in a race, I am always far more nervous than if it was a man. Men often over-estimate their skills in races. Women rarely do the same near the front. If she was not far behind me, she likely had the speed to make a push to overtake me
For the next few miles, all the runners from the half-marathon were heading toward their own turn around. I tried to say as many "goodjob"s as I could while conserving energy. I didn't know if the woman behind me was planning her own lie-and-wait strategy and wanted to be able to respond if she did.
Another high 6s mile at the 9th mile frustrated me. I felt I had undoubtedly picked up the pace and would make a push for a 1:28 or lower if I had. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Now I had to figure out what these last four miles were going to bring. Racing is frustrating, especially when time goals go out the window and you are still miles from being done. Nevertheless, I thought I was still going to have a solid race if the last three miles could echo the first three miles. The way I was slowing that would be a big "if."
I had heard about previous years of this race being brutally hot and I was again quite happy it was only in the 60s. Nevertheless, the tree cover seemed like it would protect runners from any sun regardless of the heat. Another thing for which I was beyond pleased was the ice cold drinks at the aid stations. I drank nothing on the way out but helped myself to at least three cups on the way back. I would rather not have any liquid at all than reach for it and take a drought of bathwater. Kudos to the organizers for having a drink that cooled the core with each sip. Undoubtedly, this helped me keep it together as my energy waned.
With two miles to go I could see I was right on pace for a sub-1:30 half. I had run 98 half marathons coming into the day and had averaged 1:30:30 for those races. I have often treated half marathons as hard workouts, or pacing efforts for friends, or gone into them unprepared. For whatever reason, I don't lend them the same credence as marathons. So, to have an average right at 1:30 for all 98 was pleasing. Actually, that is a lie. It would be pleasing to have my average below 1:30 but a few pacing efforts and flatout hot halfs had pushed it over in the past few years. (I can talk endlessly about stats and know it was the Lincoln Half, where I felt like I was going to die in my 74th half marathon where the average time crept over 1:30.) I knew if I wanted to bring my average down, I had to start right now. At this mile. I didn't care how tired I was or how hot it was. This race had to be under 1:30.
The next mile was slower than I wanted but I knew it would all come down to the last and final push. It is a rare day when I cannot pick up the pace in the final hundreds of meters to nip a time with a :59 in it. Fortunately, because this was an out and back, I did not have any doubt about whether this last mile may be a touch long. Or where the turn was. Or anything else that would keep me from simply motoring in. I had already run the course and knew where it ended. That peace of mind was wonderful.
I allowed myself a quick glimpse behind me to see if there were any runners back there and all I caught was the first female runner. She wasn't closer but she hadn't gotten much further either. Kudos to her on running such a solid race. Now I just had to finish the day.
With 100 yards to go, the ever-so-slowly arching path straightened and I could see the finish. I could also see my mom, cheering away! Her yells got the smattering of other spectators all excited and I had a nice little cheer as I lengthened my stride and gave it what I had. I picked up the pace just to make sure and ran over the timing mat in 1:29:51.
I finished 2nd overall and lowered my overall average - by one second.
It's a start.