Sunday, February 13, 2011

'11 Mercedes half marathon report

This is my home race and one of my favorite events. Two years ago, I had a major breakthrough with a 6 minute PR (1:36:16) and had hoped to be able to run the full marathon at a similar pace by now. It appeared that I was on my way last Fall but a knee injury and a mini-relapse on medical front set me back quite a bit. Only 6 weeks ago, I could barely muster a sub-27 5K in training but improvement has been steady since then. My average mileage over the previous 4 weeks was 42. That's a bit less than ideal but enough for a solid performance. I knew that I was not in shape to PR (1:32:57) but thought that a course PR was a strong possibility. The thought of going backwards in the last 2 years did not sit well with me.
I actually slept pretty well. I've done enough of these that it's not as big of deal now. As usual, I woke up feeling awful but there was no reason to panic. All I had to do was pop some pills just like every other morning and I'd be fine within an hour. It was a smooth morning with my normal PowerBar and fluids then I got to the starting area about 45 minutes early with plenty of time to get ready. I felt great warming up but did have to make a last minute bathroom stop and got to the starting area just in time. The temp was near freezing but at least it was sunny with no wind and I did not complain.
Not especially scenic but pretty fast overall and very well organized. It's a nice tour of Birmingham through downtown, UAB, Five Points and Highland Park before heading back into town for the finish. Miles 5, 7 and 8 were tough but if you can survive that and still feel reasonably well with 5 miles to go, you can really gun it. The remainder of the course has some nice downhill in Miles 9 and 10, a slight incline in Mile 11 but flat/gentle decline to the finish. My difficulty rating is 4 out of 10.
Thankfully, I found some open space quickly and said good luck to my friend Heather who was running the full. My early pace was faster than planned but I felt well enough so I kept the effort even and figured that I would slow down naturally. Again, the first 3 miles were relatively flat.
7:14 (7:14)
7:19 (14:33)
7:24 (21:57)
That's right about where I wanted to be at this point, just under 22 for the first 3 miles. In a half marathon, I divide it into 3 stages. The first 5K should feel easy. The middle 11K should be comfortably hard with effort similar to a long tempo run. Once you pass Mile 10, just grit your teeth and shift into survival mode. It doesn't feel like hitting the wall in a marathon but you'll be hurting nonetheless. Back to the race, my pace had slowed steadily but I still felt like I should at this stage so it was time to increase the effort. We passed through UAB's campus (U of AL @ B'ham for outsiders) and I remembered the building where I did some post graduate work. I got through the first tough mile still feeling good then we hit some nice downhill and I made the decision to conserve some energy here for there would be hills ahead in Highland Park. Just before we hit the next round of hills, I heard the Rocky theme playing. Perfect timing. Coach Johnny was out cheering for us at several points on the course and I assured him that I felt good. I made it though the toughest part of the course without my pace slowing to 7:30. If I really had my best stuff, I could nail 7 minute splits the rest of the way. The highest elevation came around 8.25 miles so from that point, it was time to drop the hammer and let it loose.
More splits:
7:07 (29:04) good tempo effort
7:26 (36:30) uphill
7:13 (43:13)
7:28 (51:11)
7:26 (58:37)
One strange thing was that the mile markers were consistently short. I ran the exact same course 2 years ago and it was measured at 13.18. Today, I was hitting the mile markers about .15 ahead of schedule. I kept thinking that there would be a long mile ahead that would even it out but it never came. By the end of the race, I was kicking myself for not starting my all out kick sooner. In any event, I let it fly on the downhill. 2 years ago, my friend Scott said that I blew by him at "world record pace" in this section. I don't think I ran the steep downhill quite as fast but I still passed a few. I turned in sub-7 splits in the next 2 miles but by the end of Mile 11, I was faltering a bit. I took an Energy Chew and it seemed to help quite a bit. One mile to go and it's time to show some heart. My pace got back under 7 and as I made the final turn, it appeared that I had a shot at a sub-1:34 but came up short by 2 seconds. I had begun my all out kick too late. If the instant pace was accurate, I was doing 4:30 pace when I crossed the line. That's near world record pace and yes, I caught 2 runners. When I finished, it felt like I left some time on that course but the pain kicked in shortly thereafter.
6:53 (65:30)
6:58 (72:28)
7:10 (79:38)
7:22 (87:00)
7:02 (1:34:02) final 1.03
Final thoughts:
When the Garmin measures the course short, I trust the course measurement. When it's long, I trust the Garmin. I highly doubt that the course was indeed short since it is certified and the exact same route for the past 3 years. You can probably knock about 3 seconds off the splits for each mile. I'm very pleased with my performance. My PR is only 65 seconds faster (just 5 ticks per mile) and run on an easier course. A perfectly flat course today may have yielded a baby PR. As it is, it's number 2 all time and my fastest time at this distance since 2009. I've got to believe that I have a good chance at 1:30 by the Fall.
Grade: A minus


L.A. Runner said...

Congrats, Justin! Great race!

Da Weekend Warrior said...

Ok, just reading your post has sent waves thru my bones. I havent run in 4 months... I have put on some weight and to read how well you are doing is inspiration.