Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

National Half Marathon race report

Carefirst National Half Marathon 3/20/2010

Summary Stats:

Time: 1:29:11 Guntime, 1:29:03 Nettime (new PR by 6 seconds)

Place: 209/6,246 Overall, 6/271 45-49 Male Age Group

Funds raised for Team in Training: $1,844.20

Total Team in Training National Marathon & Half Marathon finishers: 44

Full Report:

I love racing, have been doing it for years. There’s just something about stepping up to a starting line and having a go at not only the other runners but at yourself, challenging yourself to be all you can be that day. Racing also provides motivation for all those hard weeks of training, and when you race well, it’s really a culmination of all that effort. I was fortunate to get that feeling once again this past Saturday when I completed the National Half Marathon. But that wasn’t all I got to experience. I also got the satisfaction of knowing my running had meaning beyond just my own goals or the competition itself. That’s because this season I committed to raise money for Team in Training while I trained and competed. I joined the TNT effort in the beginning of the year after learning that my close friend Liz Rugaber had been diagnosed with leukemia. I had never taken on this type of a commitment before but after talking with my wife Lynn, Liz and some other friends, I took the plunge, and I’m glad I did.

As mentioned last week, I was pretty antsy around mid-week for this race to finally get here. I knew I was ready and that all I needed to was stay relaxed and focused. Things seemed to be moving right along until Thursday morning. Then on the way to what I knew would already be a hectic day at work, I got involved in an auto accident and my car took quite a bit of body damage on the rear passenger side. Luckily no one was injured, but I spent a good part of the rest of the day on the phone with the insurance companies (mine and the other party’s), and the body shop. Amazingly I still found time to get in my final run before the race, a little 6-mile trot on the trail near home; that actually did wonders for me and I felt much better afterward. That evening, I slept really well.

The next day flew by and before I knew it I was headed downtown for the TNT pre-race pasta party. I normally skip these types of events, preferring to either have a nice dinner out with my wife and maybe some friends or just having something at home. But I thought the chance to bond one more time with other TNTers, combined with the inspirational effect from being around so many compassionate, positive people, would be well worth the time spent — and it was. I left the event feeling energized and excited once again about the next day.

Saturday came really early, 4:30 am. After my usual pre-race breakfast (oatmeal, coffee, energy bar, water), it was time to head out the door. I got down to the RFK Stadium area at just about 6:15 am.  There was a line starting to grow at the entrances to the stadium parking lot, so I bailed from that and easily found a parking space on Constitution Avenue, just a short walk from the start & finish area. The weather forecasts were calling for a very warm day but at this point the temperatures were still only in about the high 40s. Based on that I decided to go with my purple TNT singlet on top with no base layer under it, but arm warmers and light throwaway gloves to ward off any cool breezes.

I went about my usual pre-race preps and was at the start area in plenty of time. I was in Corral 2, just one behind the elites and before long it started filling up with lots of runners, most of them younger than me, all of them very “fast” looking. As the sun started rising, I took a few deep breaths to relax myself and felt totally composed when the gun went off (what a far cry from younger days, when I would have been a nervous wreck!).

The first mile went off a bit slowly, not surprisingly. This race has grown in popularity over the past several years and there was a little bit of congestion in the first half mile. So I knew my first mile would be a bit on the slow side, and it was at 7:22.

As expected things really started to open up in the second mile, as we proceeded over a flat and very fast piece of East Capitol Street and then Constitution Avenue, heading towards the Potomac. It was also during this stretch that I heard something I was to hear quite often over the next hour or so, the cheer “Go Team!” I gave the person a thumbs-up because that’s what TNTers always say to each other.  Around Mile 2 I ditched the gloves because my hands were already starting to sweat. I didn’t see the Mile 2 sign but knew I was moving.

Soon we were at Mile 3, where I did get a split — 12:17. I thought, did I really just run that for two miles?! It was around this point as well that Joan Benoit Samuelson passed me; she was moving, all right. I would later find out the 1984 Olympic women’s marathon gold medalist ended up running a 1:22 on the day, not bad for a 52-year old!

There was a turnaround on Constitution Avenue, just a little bit after 4 miles (split 6:37), after which we headed back on Constitution for a little until turning left onto 18th St. Here is where the hills began. First was a long gradual one, basically going all the way from Constitution to about L Street. Here I took my first gel, knowing I would need it for what lay ahead. The pace slowed a bit, to 6:50 and I got my first 5 mile benchmark of 33:07. Wow I thought, if I can hold that I’ve got a massive PR in hand. But could I hold it? After a brief spell Connecticut Avenue we turned onto Columbia Road, which has another long, but steeper climb. The fast pace I was on before was definitely starting to level off. I expected this would happen but I also knew a long downhill stretch would come later.  Still I was a little concerned to see miles 6 & 7 average over 7 minutes (Mile 6 & 7: 14:09).

Mile 8 was perhaps the most challenging of the day as it included both a big uphill then a equally big drop as we flew past cheering Howard University students.  I clocked  a 6:51 mile here, followed by a 6:50 as we passed the reservoir just off North Capitol Street. So for now, at least, it seemed I had settled back into a manageable pace. But that pace was about to pick up yet again, as we turned onto North Capitol Street and headed south down a very long descent. As I reached the 10 mile point I saw Jack, one of the TNT coaches, and that gave me a nice little boost. I put down a 6:39 mile split and hit the 10-mile banchmark in about 67:30. I had slowed a bit in the hills but was still running very well.

In thinking about my race strategy beforehand I had decided I really wanted to run my best in the final 5k. I had done this at the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. But it was definitely coming with more difficulty today. The earlier hills – both up and down – had taken their toll on my legs. On top of that as we turned off North Capitol and headed east the paved street turned very rough, with lots of ruts and potholes, punishing the legs even more. Somewhere around Mile 11, TNT coach Jim was there to give me some more encouragement, but I thought to myself, “boy I wonder if he realizes I’m rigging right now.” Nonetheless I pushed on, trying increasingly in vain to stay ahead of the 3-hour marathon pace group. Based on my pace there was no way they should have been with me, but apparently their pacer was really hauling. Sure enough at around Mile 12 they caught me, and I was not happy about that (Miles 11 & 12:  14:05).

Heading towards the finish, just after the half-marathon/marathon split

The pace group catching me apparently gave my mind just what it needed to overrule my tiring legs. As the pacer passed to my immediate left, I decided there was no way in hell he was going to elude me. I took up a spot right on his shoulder, but that also meant the rest of the pace group surrounded me. By the time I had gathered strength and was ready to make my move, I had nowhere to go. I was boxed in by the group. At around 12.3 miles or so I made one attempt to break through, and the gap closed on me. Finally at around 12.5 there was a brief opening and I seized on it, broke through and started leaving the pace group behind once and for all. A few paces later we reached the split, where us half marathoners headed towards the finish while the marathoners continued on to the second loop. After the struggles of the past two miles I had blown all the time I had banked earlier and now I would have to dig really deep to salvage a PR. As I made the turn back towards RFK I started really picking it up. With 400 meters to go I was hammering the pace as hard as if I was running a mile race. I went 7:20 for the final 1.1, crossed the line and hit the stop button on my watch to see I had made it, by the skin of my teeth. It wasn’t a pretty final 5k at all, and I had to really fight at the end for it, but I had indeed improved on the half marathon standard I had set in Philly just a few months before, and I was ecstatic about that.

After the finish I made my way through the food line and eventually back to the TNT runner check-in area. I was the first on the team back and enjoyed welcoming teammates returning after their finishes. I also got to meet up with some friends who had come down, including Liz herself. We had a great time soaking in the post-race atmosphere and then eventually adjourned back to Arlington, so Liz’s husband Chris could give their children could some well-deserved playtime at a park while we chatted and enjoyed what had become a gorgeous Saturday.

I’ve done a lot of races in my life, but this was probably the most satisfying for me, not only because I ran well, but because I ran for something more than just myself. And it wasn’t just me, either. It was my 43 TNT teammates on Saturday. It was the TNT coaches and volunteers. It was everyone who contributed to my fundraising campaign (which you can still do, by the way). It was a team effort if there ever was one, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

I can’t wait to do it again in Boston.


One response to “National Half Marathon race report

  1. Runninlaw March 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Wow – excellent race and excellent cause. I too have gotten blocked in pace groups – good job keeping your head and navigating out just in time to bust out a PR. Liz is lucky to have you run for her. TNT is a great thing. Recover well!!

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