At this point, I just want to be done with this Half2Run Challenge. If I was not so close, I probably would not have even raced this year after Phoenix at the end of February. With only 2 states to go, I was determined to finish come hell or high water. If it took me 3 hour or I was the last finisher, so be it. Yes, I probably would do better than that but even if I had one of my best days, 1:45-1:50 looked like the limit even on a fast course. This was a low key no frills event in the Pittsburgh area a few miles west of downtown near the airport. I do have family in the area, which is why this has been a destination 3 of the last 5 years in September. Pennsylvania was State #24 and my first in the Northeast region though Pittsburgh does have a bit of a Midwestern flavor. I would have preferred a race through the city the next Spring but given my rate of decline, I may not get another chance at this.
It's roughly a 12 hour trip from Birmingham and I assumed good weather in September so I opted to drive. Given a 2 day trip, it's manageable if you split it up fairly evenly. There are 2 routes that are nearly even in terms of travel time. The Western route goes through Nashville, Louisville, Cincy and Columbus while the Eastern route covers Chattanooga, Knoxville and the mountains of SW Virginia and West Virginia. Both are almost all interstate but I prefer the Eastern route because it is more scenic. It proved to be a bad call this time. It started pouring rain about an hour after I left Birmingham and the storm was so severe that I had to slow o about 50 mph. It continued for the next 2-3 hours with no letup in sight so I shut it down early and stopped in a fleabag motel between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Day 2 was not much better as it rained about half the time I was driving to Pittsburgh. I did take one detour on a scenic mountain road near the town of Bluefield, which straddles the Virginia/West Virginia border. I arrived at my destination just before dinner and just relaxed the rest of the evening. I needed a slack day to recover from the trip but a quick test run did not go well. Perhaps a small adjustment might make it a little better. Dinner was a Ribeye at Lone Star steakhouse.
Race morning dawned cloudy with a 90 percent chance of rain and it started coming down hard on the way to the starting line. The race topography was similar to White River in Arkansas. It began in the parking lot of a shopping mall then went sharply downhill for about 3/4 mile before an out and back route on a crushed limestone trail, which turned somewhat muddy in the rain. The trail section contained little elevation change. It was a nearly imperceptible incline before a turnaround at Mile 7, which made for a slight decline on the way back. Fortunately, the rain stopped a few minutes before the start and we were off.
As is often the case on my runs, I felt reasonably well for the first 2 miles then the wheels came off and I faced a tough slog to the finish. I aimed for about a low-8 effort early but expected to be 30 seconds fast going downhill and that's just about how it turned out. Mile 2 was also on target but as I approached Mile 3, it became clear that I was not going to make it at this pace.
From this point, I would walk about 100 meters after each mile marker. Overall, I don't think it affected my time very much. I found that if I tried to skip the walk break, the rate of my slowdown was even greater but I did manage to re-charge a tad after each stop.
Approaching the halfway point, I saw that I was still about a minute ahead of 2 hour pace but I knew I wasn't going to hold it. More likely, I was looking at a 2:05-2:10 finish considering how I was feeling. I had NO power whatsoever and my legs were cramping and shutting down. After the turnaround, at Mile 7, I tried to run the next mile without stopping and found that if I went longer than about 10 minutes, my pace slowed dramatically and I needed another walk break sooner.
I ought to be done by now yet I still have over 4 miles of pain to go. Runners of all shapes and sizes were passing me now but I somehow kept from slowing further. With just over 1 mile to go, I saw that I was gaining on a runner that had almost surely passed me earlier. I made the last walk break a little shorter so I could finish as strongly as possible. I found some surprising life in the last Mile. I looked down to see a pace in the mid-8s with a half mile to go and it kept getting gradually faster. I managed to re-pass 4 or 5 runners and actually bore a faint resemblance to the Crazy J of old as I hit sub-8 pace over the last tenth of a mile. A couple of people commented about what a "nice finish" I had. It was beginning to rain again but fortunately, a bus would come shortly to pick us up and drive us up to hill back to the mall.
1:07-2:06:40 (9:39 overall pace).
A new personal worst. I was not surprised at all. This is the new normal and I've long since gone numb to the pain. 7 weeks of training to go and only 1 more race. State #25 will be in Greenville, South Carolina and barring a miracle recovery, it's all over after that. Is a sub-2 too much to ask for what will probably be my last race? The course will be fairly hilly.
I got cleaned up and went out to lunch then took a nap before heading to PNC Park to see a Pirate victory over Milwaukee. The game was good but we got soaked again. It was not quite hard enough for a rain delay but hard enough to be very uncomfortable sitting out there for 2+ hours. The game was a blowout so we left after 7 innings.
I left for Birmingham the next afternoon and this time, I opted for the Western route with a short detour in Wheeling, WV. Cloudy skies began to clear by eastern Ohio and I ended up stopping just south of Louisville near the halfway point. Day 2 was smooth with the exception of a brief traffic jam near Bowling Green. It's back to work tomorrow.
States seen on this trip:
AL, GA, TN, VA, WV, PA, OH, KY.