Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bridge the Gap To Health Half Marathon Race Report

After having a great 2012 race year, then struggling in 2013 because of a foot injury and its subsequent effects, I have big goals for myself in 2014.  In general, I want to return to my 2012 form--my fastest year ever.  More specifically, I have already run my first marathon this year, albeit slower than intended.  Another of my big goals is to improve my 5k time later this year.  I also set a goal to meet or beat my half marathon PR from 2012, which brings me to Bridge the Gap.  Considering the timing and the fact that it is in my hometown, the Bridge the Gap To Health half marathon seemed like a good fit for my training schedule.  It also happens to be my half marathon PR event.

After my marathon training, I had a good endurance base, so I emphasized speed work and race pace workouts.  This seemed to be working for me.  I felt strong.  I was enjoying my workouts.  I gradually worked up to eight miles at my goal race pace.  However, I had at least two challenges to contend with.  First, my body weight, while healthy, still is not ideal for racing.  I would prefer to race five to ten pounds lighter.  I am still working on this; I think the key change I need to make now is more strength training to develop more lean body mass.  I apparently lost a lot of this during 2013.  Second, the course changed for this year.  Previously, after a few hills during the first three or so miles, the course was almost completely flat.  This year, the course has about 50% more elevation change (per my Garmin 310XT.)  So, while training was going well, I knew matching my PR would be very tough.

Race morning was cool, nearly perfect for running.  I arrived early, posing for a few photos with friends, the Bridge the Gap training group, and the Heartland Road Runners and Walkers Club.  I kissed my wife for luck--she was running the 10k.  Then, I took off for my warm up jog and dynamic flexibility routine.  I arrived at the start line, lining up in the 8:00 or 8:30/mile area which happened to be in the second wave.  I thought that would keep me from starting off too fast.

I took off easy--it was hard not to do so up the first hill which began less than fifty yards from the start line.  It was a beautiful spring morning and a nice view from the bridges.  I tried to thank each of the volunteers on the bridges, protecting us from traffic.  I said "hello" and chatted to a few friends during those first two miles.  Then, I returned to Illinois and had to get to work climbing the hill to Washington Park.  Several friends at the side of the road cheered me on.  I paced myself well, not expending too much energy.

Six-minute PR for Sarah!
Then, at Washington Park, the course leveled out to slight undulations.  With the new course going through town, I expected more spectators.  It seemed most of Quincy was still in bed.  However, I saw a few more friends, coworkers, and acquaintances along Maine Street.  As this was the first of three out-and-back sections of the course, I started to see the front runners as well.  I had my iPod on, but found myself turning it off to say hello to and cheer on my friends, trainees, and fellow club members...and to stop and kiss my wife.  I started out over my goal pace with the plan to start decreasing my average pace--the only number on my Garmin I monitor during the race--after the hill back into town.  I was doing just fine with this, calculating the seconds per mile I needed to gain as I passed each mile marker on the course.

Just before the six-mile marker, I returned to Washington Park and was rewarded with a steep downhill to Second Street and a few more descending undulations leading up to the final hill through Riverview Park.  It is a tough one, but I knew this was the end of the significant climbing.  The view from the top, overlooking the river is always nice too.  Then, after the peak, I had another fast descent to the final, flat-ish six or so miles.  My average pace continued to decrease according to my plan.

Soon after exiting the park I caught up to a pair of guys I chatted with as we matched paces.  One in particular, I knew on sight, but had never met.  I also knew he was typically faster than I was.  I thought if I could hang with him, I would be doing pretty well.  I continued to lower my pace.  I wondered if he started in the first wave; if so, and if I could just keep him in sight, I would have a better time--we also happen to be be in the same age group.  Although I am almost always primarily racing the clock, I will take motivation where I can get it.

Throughout the race, I had been drinking water at the aid stations according to my thirst.  I had also been eating my Kendal Mint Cake at regular intervals--seems to work as well as gel for me.  So, nutrition and hydration were good.  I was dressed appropriately and the weather conditions were nearly ideal.  The fact that around the nine or ten-mile mark my pace stopped decreasing could only be due to decisions I made during training--my fitness level.

Still PR, but I had run to my limit
At the last aid station, I stopped for water.  My fellow age-grouper did not and I could not catch up to  him.  My average pace was constant despite my efforts to decrease it over the final miles.  I was at my limit.  I felt like I sped up a bit over the final half mile or so, but my watch did not show it.  So, I finished strong, but I was hurting.  Jackie Joyner-Kersee medalled me and I saw my wife near the finish.  After leaning on the barrier for a minute, talking to her, I limped over to sit down under the shade of a tree.  I finished at ten seconds per mile over my goal pace, but I could not have gone any faster.  I was spent and my legs felt it.  I also had earned two blisters, causing the limp.

After recovering on the ground for a while and cooling off, then warming up, I needed real food.  With a burger in hand I chatted with fellow racers, volunteers, and spectators, exchanging race day stories.  I also welcomed my good friend and trainee, Sarah, across the line with a six-minute PR in the half!  Then, home to recover.  I felt about as rough as I had after the marathon in March.  In fact, my four-day soreness was comparable too.  Obviously, I had pushed myself hard.

Although, I had wanted to finish faster, I left it all on the course--I could not have performed better on that particular day.  It was a good measure of my training and my form is returning.  All is well.  Disregarding time, it was a great day.  I was able to see a lot of my running friends and make new ones.  One of my athletes PR'ed and I did finish faster than my fellow age-grouper.  Upon reflection, I think I really like the new course route.  While it is tougher and probably not as fast, I enjoyed seeing and interacting with all the other runners on the out-and-back sections.  It seemed more like a group run that way instead of an individual's race, more social.

Now, I will focus on a 5k PR, maybe some 10k's, and The Bix.

Here is another perspective on this year's Bridge the Gap to Health half marathon.