Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 USA Half Marathon Championship

"Best of luck," said Mike Reneau, the veteran 2:13 marathoner who heads up the Twin Cities Track Club, MN said to me as I exited the bus.  I thanked him, and was on my way back to DC.  It was 24 hours after the race and I could feel the soreness starting to creep up in my calves as I carried my bags.  Although, surprisingly, I didn't feel that bad.  I had run the previous evening again after the race which really helped with recovery(as long as it is done easy!).  If I don't do an easy shakeout run I feel just plain awful.  Most people would think this is crazy after running 13.1 miles at a 5:08 per mile pace, but the reality is that the body has been pushed hard, and it needs to "cool off."  To me, nothing feels better than going for an 8:00-10:00 min pace run for 30-40 minutes, 12-24 hours after racing.  I had a really nice Sunday afternoon jogging in Houston one more time, before packing my bags to leave.


"It amazes me how calm you seem," my Dad told me as he drove me to the airport on Friday morning. "Aren't you nervous?"  But my Dad knows I've been at this for a long time.  After getting cut from soccer my freshman year in high school, he was the first one to encourage me to go out for the cross country team. Sure, going to a  National Championship race can be a little nerve rattling.  There are dozens of guys all over the country who will be much faster than me.  But there are also guys I can run with, who will push me.  This is the most ideal a race can get.  I want the competition.

Houston was a nice switch from the cold winter temperatures.  I had done most of my training outside, but there were a few mild days where I got some good workouts in.  But mostly done in the cold.  After racing decently(but no big breakthroughs) last fall, I just kept going.  I felt good, and raised the mileage close to 100/week for 6 weeks.  I then tapered down to 72,72, and hit 56 during last week's race week.  On Wednesday(1/15) I did some drills and then 8 x 100 meter strides on the track.  I was ready to go.

I arrived at the hotel in Houston around noon on Friday.  My roomate also arrived at the same time, a fellow named Joe Moore who resides in Manhattan, Kansas.  I had no idea how good he was until he said he finished right behind Matt Tegenkamp in the 12K Champs last November.  The race organization for this event was fantastic.  They definitely take care of you.  It's nice when all meals are set up for you and that's one thing less to worry about.  On Friday afternoon Joe introduced me to some of his friends from Minnesota, and we did a shakeout 50 minute run exploring the city of Houston.  I felt nice and relaxed.  I really enjoyed meeting Mike Reneau, who has been at the sport for a long time.  That evening I chilled out(I even had a glass of wine), enjoyed some good conversations with more people I met who were either runners or involved with the race somehow.  It's nice I arrived 2 days before the race.

Saturday was another 35 minute shakeout run followed by 4 strides.  The Elite Technical Meeting followed in the early afternoon.


Joe and I got up just after 4:00 AM, and zombi-like walked our way downstairs to grab some breakfast.  Lately, oatmeal w/ brown sugar has been one of my favorite pre-race meals.  It seems to sit well with me.  Time flew by and before we knew it we headed downstairs to the buses that took us to the start.  The security for this race was super tight.  I saw cops on motorcycles riding right next to our bus.  We arrived at the elite tent with less than 45 minutes to spare, which is actually stretching it pretty thin before a big race.  You want to make time to go to the bathroom, not to mention warm-up, change into racing flats, and get some stretching in.  We warmed up in circles practically, there was a space in front of the start line that was only 200 meters long or so and then we had to turn around and loop back several times.

The sun was still below the horizon.  I lined up shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest distance runners in the country.  I went over and over in my head to run my own race and to not go out too fast.  My plan was to run 5:00-5:10 pace, and to hopefully not go out faster than 5:00.  I knew I was fit enough to run 1:06-1:07 for the half, and that even pacing was key.  I needed to just find the right race, and the right pack. I thought of why I dropped out of Philly last September.  It was because of this race.  This race was more important.  This is when it counted, and I knew I was ready.


We blasted out onto the course surging for position.  I did a good job of going out correctly and letting the 1:02 guys go ahead.  I can definitely get caught up in starting too fast.  The first part of the race was a little chaotic.  A few turns, and trying to find the right people to run with.  As I settled into my rhythm, I found a pack of 4 or 5 guys I was running with.  This seemed like the right group.

We approached the first mile and I was guessing we were going to hit about 5:05-5:10.  We blazed through in 4:57.  4:57!!! JESUS!  TOO FAST!  The plus side was I was feeling good, but I knew that feeling could change very quickly with 12.1 miles to go.  Our pack stuck together, and we went through mile 3 in 15:15(average 5:05 pace).  At this point we had gotten into good pacing.  We kept clicking off 5:06 miles from there, going through 10K in 31:44.  We were hovering right around the 1:07:00 barrier.  I broke the race up into minutes after passing 10K.  I just kept telling myself to get through the next 5 minutes, each mile.  5 minutes at a time.  It worked well mentally for me, and it was really great our pack held together.  We occasionally passed some runners who had gone out too fast, which always feels good.  There were not many turns in the race, and the course was flat as a pancake.  It was humid starting out, but I don't think it affected me because the temperature hovered around 50 degrees.  The humidity seemed to go down as the race went on as well.  Mile 8 was 40:50, and as we hit mile 9 in 46:00, I realized I was going to hit a 10 mile PR.  PRing in a split is such a confidence booster during a race.  I split somewhere between 51:10-51:15(can't remember exactly) for mile 10.  If I nearly broke 51:00 during a 13.1 mile race, this told me I certainly can't count out sub 50:00 as a possibility at Cherry Blossom this spring.  My 5 mile splits were 25:30, 25:40-45, so I had slowed a tad, but still maintaining a strong pace.  But between miles 11 and 12 our pack started to break up a bit.  The fatigue was setting in.  Now was the race, and we started competing against each other.  The lactate is accumulating in the muscles, and the body can only go so fast without having to clear the lactic acid away.  We were running as fast as we could without bonking.  I hit a couple of 5:14 splits and my legs were feeling heavy.  Really heavy. Did I have enough to kick it in?  When that moment came, would I pull through?


Mile 12-13 I picked my pace up and began surging, trying to keep my turnover.  I could hear a guy next to me, and we both were breathing hard.  Didn't have much left.  Crowds cheered in the distance as we made our way towards the end.  I was running very hard now, as hard as I could without sacrificing a sprint.  I knew I would need it. The runner next to me was right on my tail.  He was tall, and strong.  Could I beat him?  We made our way a half mile from the finish.  Back and forth, stride for stride.  

400 meters...

The race announcer and crowds roared in the distance.  

Hold it.  Hold it.  Hold it...

As we neared the finish, we would make a hard left and then straight onward 100 meters to the end.  



We accelerated into the turn and we both dropped to a dead-end sprint towards the finish line.


I used everything I had against him, but he had a slight gap on me.


I closed a little faster....I could feel my body opening up, striding out.  I had the power.  I could get him.

GO! GO! GO! 

I caught him, and held him off just enough to claim 56th place, crossing the line in a new PR of 1:07:29.


After crossing the finish line, I puked a little.  The build up of lactate towards the end of the race soars up high and the lack of oxygen and ability to clear the acid can cause this to happen.  If you run a race right, the build up becomes distressingly high in the final moments, and there are only several seconds of sprinting in you that you can use before your body crashes.

This was truly an outstanding race for me, and it is my current top performance, period.  It was a big confidence booster to perform well at this level of competition.


5K: 15:48
10K: 31:44
15K: 47:43
20K: 1:04:01
FINISH: 1:07:29

5K: 15:48=5:05 pace
5K: 15:56=5:07 pace
5K;15:59=5:08 pace
5K: 16:18=5:14 pace
1.1K: 3:28=5:04 pace

Average Pace: 5:08/mile or 3:11/kilometer

I guess my only criticism of my race is my fourth 5K split, but at least I rallied the last 1K and finished faster. I averaged 15:59/5K.  I don't think though that I would've run it any other way.  I ran the race as well as I could.  And I definitely couldn't have run harder.

I took it real easy this week, and it felt great.  I took 4 days off, and got in 33 miles total.  I got in the pool one day and that felt awesome.

I think after one more week I will feel more recovered.  I am looking at Cherry Blossom(4/06) as my next big target race, but there will be 1 or 2 tune-up races leading up to that.  What's also awesome is that Cherry Blossom will be the mens and womens USA 10 Mile Championship this year.

For this spring, two big goals I have are sub 50:00 for 10 miles, and sub 30:00 for 10K.


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