Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 3rd Edition 
17.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 1050 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon
Place: Canton, OH
Miles from home: 1310
Weather: 40 degrees; rainy; windy

What makes racing so much different than running is the fact that there is a clock attached to it. I have long advocated that anyone of any talent level get out and run. I have also done the same for racing. But the difference between the two should be the effort given and the desire to give all you can give. That is why racing holds such a special place for me personally. One shouldn't put on a bib number and toe the line unless they are willing to give all they have that day. Granted, most days it won't be anywhere close to what you would like. But, for me, running a race just "to have fun" (which is always code for "to take pictures, give less than your best, and mess around") goes against what a "race" is about. Your views may differ (and I have no doubt for some of you they do as any time I have broached this subject, I get labeled as an elitist or that those at the back of the pack have more fun and blah, blah, blah) but to me, that is what separates a race from a run.

Because there are so many variables that can make a run good or bad, hoping that a good run falls on a race day is what makes each race such a wild card. It is what makes it extremely special to race well on the day of the event and not just during training.To show up, ready and prepared and then also have the fates play into your hands and give you what you need. Not simply collecting medals and accolades but doing the whole left, right thing as fast as possible.

I coach athletes and have gotten dozens to set new PRs in all sorts of distances. The first thing I tell them is how lucky they are to get to the starting line of any race.With so many variables that can stop that, sometimes it is a miracle. Second. as luck plays so much into how we do on race day, we cannot get too excited about the highs and, more importantly, do not get to let down about the lows. I try my best to listen to my own advice. This weekend in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame half-marathon, I had to deal with the "lows" portion.

Until two weeks ago I hadn't run a race since the first weekend of December. Given the downright pleasant weather we have had in Austin this year, I have been taking advantage and putting in some great training miles. When I ran an aquathlon and a triathlon last week, the run portion of both was about the best I could hope for.  As such, I was excited to see where I stood just running alone at this half-marathon.

I spent the day before the race at the expo, where I was apparently out of focus very often for people. Nevertheless, I got to see people I hadn't seen in years, meet others I had talked to but never had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face, and make new acquaintances as well. I would mention all the great people I met, but would undoubtedly leave out one and feel like a jerk!

When my friend, and running legend Bill Rodgers came over to say hello, I realized we had been friends now for eleven years. Bill gives so much back to a sport that loves him so much that it is always a pleasure to see him. Today's runners know less and less about our recent history in the sport and that is a shame. But Bill is one who sticks out in most runners' minds and for good reason.

Race Morning:

A windy Saturday turned into a windy and rainy race day.  There had been predictions that this would blow over by race time but as the clock ticked down, that showed it would not be the case. I sat in a invited athletes section, fortunately warmed from the weather. I finally met in person a runner and educator, Taylor Sowers, whose class I had Skyped with years ago. Taylor would end up running a 2:55 to take third overall in some serious sloppy conditions and setting a new PR as well. That was a stellar time indeed!

Walking to the start, I talked to two individual athletes; one, Eric, who would end up winning the half-marathon in a ridiculous 1:15 and the other, Barbara, who would take first in the female edition of the marathon in another fantastic time of 2:59. Interesting that in my sleepy morning time, two of the few people I would talk to ended up doing so well. Too bad it didn't rub off on me.

As we counted down to the start, I took off my jacket and asked Bill Rodgers if he could give it back to me at the end of the race. I know this is like asking LeBron James to hold your jock but Bill gladly gave it to someone else to make sure I got it back at the end. A cannon fired and away we went!

First 3 miles:

I can normally tell how a race will go for me, or at least in what direction, in the walk to the start.  Today I had no clues. I had slept just fine, eaten a decent meal, and felt sufficiently awake. But I neither felt tired nor did I have a spring in my step. I had taken the previous day off from running, which also was my first day off in 143 days. That running streak beat my previous streak of 48 days by quite a margin. One would think I would be rip roaring ready to go.

When we hit the first mile and I only clocked a 6:39, I was a bit disappointed. It felt so much faster.  My lungs, also, were burning. This, unfortunately, is mostly my fault. Suffice it to say that I have allergies that I know I have that I could have dealt with better and should also have not put myself in  place where there had been so much cigarette smoke the day before. I have sissy lungs that need perfect conditions to function properly and I didn't do what I needed to do to make that happen.  I have no one to blame but myself even if I did think that I would have them clear by the time the race started.  But, I thought, perhaps the mile markers are a little askew and by the second mile I will be back on track.

Unfortunately, I didn't see the second mile marker and given the very blustery conditions, it is entirely possible it was blown over. Regardless, I knew the projected times of some of those around me and regardless of mile markers, I knew I wasn't running what I wanted. Hitting the third mile marker I just divided by two and knew already that my desired goals for the day were out the window. I was going to come nowhere close to the 1:25 or so which I knew was entirely possible for me to get today. Now the question begins: what do you do on a race day when you know your race is over but you have miles to go before it literally is?

To Mile Six

The fourth mile had us approaching the boundaries of the small Evangelical Protestant liberal arts college, Malone University. The first boisterous crowd of the day was led by some vocal students here and it was greatly appreciated. Kudos to any and all who braved these less than desirable spectating conditions. I didn't mind running in them too much even if they weren't ideal, but standing around in near freezing temperatures in wind and rain required a hardy soul.

This also marked the high point of the course for us elevation-wise and a small downhill, with a wind at our back coming up, provided me with some of the best miles of the day for. We traversed some of the most beautifully laid brick roads I have ever seen in the Ridgewood Historic District which provided me with a little spark as well. (I also love how we ran up Yale Street and back down Harvard Street. Not sure if that is mocking the students of Malone or what exactly.)

The next turn had all of us front runners passing all those behind us on a mile-long stretch of Market Ave. I spent precious resources cheering on those behind me and they did the same for me. Yet in spite of all of this, I was showing no signs of picking up the pace. Granted, neither was anyone else which at least made me feel that I wasn't the only one struggling. However, as I read from many others, they were dealing with the rain and wind much more than I was. For the most part, while cold for sure, I wasn't too bothered. I just couldn't breathe.

At this point, I felt like I was rather locked into my position in the race. It didn't look like I was going to catch much of anyone and no one else seemed to be closing the gap on me.

Heading to Mile 10:

With a nice turn around right in front of the Stark County Courthouse, I saw Taylor on his way to his awesome finish. I could also see that here were a few people closer behind me than I thought but after that it was a long stretch of no people. One woman who would overtake me on the uphills and allow me to slip past her on the downs was right beside me. We would do this cat and mouse again for the next few miles.

We passed the Timken High School where the student band/dance/step squad was out performing for runners. That was beyond appreciated, especially given the weather. Normally, I would have whooped it up with the kidlings but I was too buy feeling sorry for myself.

At 7.5 miles the course rejoined the first 1.5 miles through a nice park area which could definitely lend itself to boisterous crowds as this race, in its third year, continues to grow.  Today, however, they were silent, save for our footsteps and the rain drops. And if your soul leaving your body makes a noise, it was about to make a loud one for me at mile nine. The above-mentioned woman drew next to me as we lopped back to pas under the start line and we began to run in lockstep. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I knew I was going to puke.I pulled off to the side, right in front of some Porta Potties and let go what could only be described as a slightly wet dry heave. I hadn't eaten anything since the night before and, for the first time, realized I hadn't drunk a single drop on this course. This expulsion and heaving was the nail on the coffin for me to even try to have a respectable time of sub-1:30.

I stepped into the Porta Potty and used it. Not sure what I was coming out of me given the dearth of foods and liquids but that's the human body. Coming out, I also grabbed a throwaway shirt. Why, you might ask. Well, let's just say I was having a bit of a wardrobe malfunction and was trying to be a bit modest. Unfortunately, I didn't resolve the issue. Fortunately, the crowds were sparse. That's all that needs to be said there.

On to the Finish:

Right when I was beginning to feel pretty damn low, the course took us past a quarter mile section put on by wear blue: run to remember. This national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military had put out picture after picture of fallen military members.  We hear the numbers all the time but seeing faces put to just a smallest of fractions to those numbers was sobering. We see those wonderful videos of military members surprising their family members by coming home early from their service. As wonderful as that is, I always say wouldn't it be even better if we weren't always sending soldiers to fight wars that are unnecessary or unwinnable?

*steps off soapbox*

Right after these pictures were dozens of people standing on either side of the road leading to the McKinley Memorial Park holding full 3x5 American Flags for runners to run through. It was, all in all, a rather moving sentiment and one that took my mind off my own personal suffering for a few minutes at least.

Next it was a little jaunt around WaterWorks Park and circumventing West Lawn Cemetery. You didn't get to see nearly as much of them as one would like before skirting over Interstate 77 and beginning the final mile and a half to the finish. At this juncture the wind and rain were pretty bad, my shorts were turning me into a roving indecent exposurer, and I was just wanting to be done. When one final runner came up next to me and was challenging me for a finishing place, I wasn't in the mood to try and outkick him. He would be the only runner who had passed me while I was running since mile four but I just didn't have it in me to care.

Around the Hall of Fame Stadium we went, entering at one endzone, running all the way to the other, through the length of it like we are celebrating a touchdown before a quick turn to the finish. I was done and couldn't have been happier. My time of 1:32:16 was my 71st slowest half-marathon ever out of 104 I have run. That said, I was 27th overall out of 1,241.  I think that tells you how much the weather seemed to affect all of the runners. Plus I got to show everyone how svelte I looked in my high school track and field singlet. Wait, were we supposed to give those back? Is 25 years the statute of limitations on petty theft. (Joking. I was gifted this when I ran my 51st of 52 consecutive weekly marathons in 2006. Cool down, sad pathetic people who are always looking for something to snipe about.)

It can be difficult to assess how well a race is put together when you are in the middle of having a bad day. Yet, when you realize that you never once thought about how the race was run that tells you everything you need to know about the race. No race is perfect and after running over 500 races I have seen just about everything that could go wrong. This was far from an ideal day to run or put on a race but the organizers did a bang-up job. The medals were fun and the shirts were comfy. Moreover, upon finishing, each runner was given a lovely, huge fleece blanket to wrap up in. Given the weather, this could definitely be an almost literal life save for some. For me, one who loves to run in the cold but the minute I am done want to be warm, it was beyond superb.

Now I just need to sit back and figure out what my next race is and hopefully do it where my lungs work with me.

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