Thursday, November 21, 2013

Richmond Half-Marathon -- 11/16/2013

Summary: 1:34:31, 7:13/mile. 16/284 AG, 250/7750 OA.

During this summer my thoughts began to turn toward 2014. New age group, new possibilities, so it was time to start setting some goals. At the top was trying to earn a return trip to Boston, so a spring marathon seemed logical. Walking back from that, a fall half-marathon seemed like a logical stepping stone and a good test of my run fitness.

That led to Richmond. The date looked good, and the course has a reputation for being flat and fast. I'd set my previous 1/2-marathon PR of 1:34:59 in Philadelphia in 2010 -- I figured I had a realistic shot to knock a bit off of that.

After the Wisdom Oaks International my training shifted over to a more run-centric focus. Mileage built up for around a month with a combination of more frequent weekly runs in the 40-60 minute range and longer weekend runs, including "split runs" -- two run workouts in a day to increase mileage without beating up the body too badly. The majority of these runs were in the ZR - Z1 range -- pretty easy pace.

About a month before the race, the weekend runs shifted to straight efforts, peaking at 2:20 (about 16 miles at Z1 pace), with weekly track workouts of 5-6 mile repeats at "race pace." This is when I started feeling pretty confident. I was running smooth and steady for the long runs, practicing nutrition and hydration, while the race pace mile repeats were encouraging -- I was holding 7:00 or better pace without stepping out of Z2 or low Z3.

The Race
Coach Debi and I consulted on race strategy and settled on taking the first mile around 7:20-7:25, then dropping down into the 7:05-7:10 range for the rest of the distance. I packed three gels along -- one for 15 minutes prior, then the others (Expresso Love) at :30 and 1:00. I'd drink water at the stops.

Race morning was wet, as a band of showers moved through Richmond. But as we parked the car the showers faded and I was able to warm up without getting soaked. A short jog, a longer wait at the porta-jons, and a hop over the barrier into Corral A -- I was ready to go with a couple of minutes to spare. I moved to the back of my wave's corral -- no need to get caught up in the scrum at the front.

With the gun I walked up to the line and started my watch. Richmond begins with a straight shot down Broad Street, the old downtown main street and then passes through the  campus of VCU before taking a right turn to the north. It looks flat, but there's a slight uphill grade, so I proceeded with caution, staying in the pack for the most part.

Mile 1 -- 7:31, then Mile 2 -- 7:24. A little off planned pace, but no need to panic. I'd set Mile 4 as my check point. If I was at 29 minutes there I'd be right at 7:15 pace. We turned north onto the Boulevard, passing under I-64 and past several BBQ joints (which smelled great!)

Mile 3 -- 7:11. That's better. We ducked into a residential neighborhood for an out-and-back segment and then Mile 4 -- 7:06. I was about 20 seconds or so below 7:15 pace, but if I could hold around 7:10 I'd be set. Mile 5 -- 7:10 -- perfect.

Around Mile 6 we headed into a large city park. The smooth pavement and flat we'd had so far was exchanged a rougher aggregate surface and some small rolling hills. Hard to play those -- I didn't want to push too hard up the short grades, but didn't want to give up too much time, either. Mile 6 -- 7:06, Mile 7 - 7:01, then Mile 8 - 7:18. That didn't bother me too much, since we'd gone through the longest climb on the course.

As we left the park the 1/2-marathon course began following the end of the marathon. I knew this from past runs, so I knew that there were some fast sections with only one uphill stretch worth talking about. Mile 9 was solid at 7:06, but the easy running of earlier was getting harder now. Time to repeat those mantras I'd practiced in training. "You're smooth." "You've got energy." "Your form is great." Sounds corny, but it helps when it starts getting tough.

Mile 10 - 7:10. Mile 11 - 7:11. Now I was counting my steps to 50, then checking the Garmin. If the pace was slower than 7:10 I dug in and pushed, checking again after 50 more steps. I turned onto the last long downtown stretch -- once I turned right it would only be a short downhill stretch to the finish. I kept looking ahead. Where was it?

Mile 12 - 7:11. I was passing people who'd shot their bolt, but being passed by stronger runners too. I kept counting, checking pace. Finally, I saw the turn. I gave it all I had, but the steep downhill caused some sharp cramps in my legs. By now I was in that end of the race fog. Was I on pace? I glanced at my watch and wasn't sure anymore.

Finally the clock. It was rolling up towards 1:35, but I'd started about 30 seconds after the gun. I had it -- 7:34:31, with Mile 13 in 6:57. It's always a great day when your training and race plan come together, and this was one of those days.


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