After an up and down spring training cycle, the target races start to come whether you’re “ready” or not. And sure enough that’s exactly what happened on Earth Day (April 22) when I toed the line at Rutgers University for the UNITE Half Marathon.
To be honest I really wasn’t sure what I would have in me on race day. After starting off well with training in January, I hit a bit of a speed bump in late February, starting with a mediocre race performance at the RRCA Club Challenge Ten Miler in Columbia, MD. From there I went into a funk, either mental or physical, probably a little bit of both, as my workout performances just lagged. Then my sometimes-balky knee acted up – tendinitis, which has been nagging me since. I ended up taking about 2 weeks off from running in early March. While I clearly needed the break it didn’t do much for my race preparations. So when I started half marathon training again, I decided let’s not worry about PRs (sub-1:29) and certainly not the lofty goal of 1:25 I had conceived back in December. The goal was now just to get a solid run in that would set me up for Broad Street Run on 5/6. As for a time, I decided I would be happy with anything under 1:35.
Race day morning logistics went off without any hitch whatsoever and the shuttle from downtown New Brunswick got me and Lynn to the start area on Rutgers’ Busch campus with plenty of time to spare. I was completely relaxed at the start and when the gun went off I started with what felt like a comfortably hard effort. That ended up being a 6:39 opening mile, faster than I expected and I wondered if I could hold onto it. As it turns out I did hang on to it for a while, until about 5 miles or so. But then the gaps in my fitness started to show and by mile 7 I was running 7 minute miles.
We continued to wind our way through the Busch campus, until about 9.5 miles in when we finally crossed the bridge over the Raritan River and into New Brunswick proper. As we completed the crossing and turned to dip down into a park I saw Lynn who was with several other spectators.
At this point I knew I was tiring – the pace had slipped into the 7:20s – but I also knew I could hang on and have a nice result if I didn’t do anything dumb. As I passed the 10-mile mark I noted my split time was better than the race result I had achieved at Columbia two months prior, which made me feel good. I knew that had just been a bad day but it’s always nice to have validation of that. We continued to wind around the park for another two miles; I chatted and ran alongside another runner for part of that stretch but had to let him go ahead as the finish drew closer. Meanwhile a female runner who had been jockeying places with me all morning surged ahead yet again and put a 100-yard gap on me.
We came out of the park into downtown New Brunswick, the finish just 0.6 miles away when I saw Lynn again. This time I was climbing a steep hill, whose placement seemed rather cruel given the stage of the race and my mounting exhaustion. Still it was great to see Lynn, and while I was suffering I still managed a smile for the camera, sort of. I have a great one-woman race crew. 🙂
As we crested the hill I told myself, let’s see what we have left. I was easily going to beat the 1:35 goal I had set, no worries there. I tried to run steady but hard, not an all-out sprint. Just finish strong, that was the goal. I did get caught by one person from behind but in the meantime I passed two other runners, including the woman who had seemingly left me in the dust two miles earlier.
As I crossed the line I was tired, but could feel myself recovering quickly. That was a good sign because it meant my conditioning was just fine. Final results were 1:33:23 on the gun, 1:33:19 on the chip, good for 116th place overall out of a couple thousand entrants. In my age category (45-49) I was 7th overall with an age-graded result of 70.4%. For a guy not in top form, that’s a result I can definitely live with. Now it’s on to Broad Street…where I think I’ve got a good race in me!