Race report: Marine Corp Historic Half

I’ll be honest: I’ve delayed this post a couple weeks because I am not proud of my performance at this race.  Folks, I did bad.  Especially for having just run a PR by seven minutes at my previous Half-Marathon, I did real bad.

Mile 1: 8:16
Mile 2: 7:36
Mile 3: 8:00
Mile 4: 7:44
Mile 5: 8:21
Mile 6: 8:31
Mile 7: 8:24
Mile 8: 8:26
Mile 9: 8:33
Mile 10: 8:29
Mile 11: 11:07
Mile 12: 9:02
Mile 13.1: 9:16 (8:13 pace)

Final Stats:
Distance: 13.1
Net Time: 1:53:35
Watch Time: 1:51:45 (no potty break)
Pace: 8:40
Overall Place: 963/5697 (top 17%)
Gender Place: 774/2942 (top 26%)
Age Place: 110/335 (top 33%)

The Story:
The days leading up to this race I noticed that I just wasn’t feeling it.  I wasn’t excited for the race.  I couldn’t meet the paces on the training plan.  I wasn’t in any kind of groove.  I couldn’t really explain it.  I would wake up in the morning and just wanted to go back to sleep and I could barely fight back and pull myself out of bed.

My suspicions are threefold:

1.       I planned on running at a pace that was faster than my abilities.  So I was always tired and just couldn’t keep up with the training paces.  I’ve considered that I might have been overtraining, but I feel like I didn’t train enough to be overtrained.  I’ve run more in preparation for other races and have done just fine.
2.       This wasn’t the race I wanted to run in Virginia.  At some point I had told myself that I was going to run the Richmond Marathon as my Virginia race and got excited about that prospect, but then Fredericksburg came up and I did that.  I guess there is something significant to be said about the anxiousness that leads up to a race and your performance on race day.
3.       There were some major hurdles during training.  I had lots of travel (including a trip to Hong Kong) and lots of work—making it difficult to pay attention to my running.

So Wifey and I showed up in Fredericksburg and I was feeling iffy about the race.  I had already resigned that I was not going to make the 7:15 pace I had wanted—I could barely hold that for three miles on the treadmill, much less for 13 miles outside. 

The other bomb thrown my way was the day before the race we signed up for a walking tour of Fredericksburg.  Turns out it was over three hours and six miles.  Exactly what you should not do the day before a race, right?  However, I thought I was good to go come race eve after a hardy pasta dinner.

Race morning went off without a hitch: ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches washed down by Gatorade.  The drive to the starting area was less than 10 minutes.  And, for the first time ever, there were enough port-o-potties for the amount of people.  I’m still in a bit of shock about this one, but I realized that this event was staged like an event several times larger than it actually was—probably since these are the same people that put on the Marine Corps DC Marathon and they pour in the same amount of resources (although this only highlighted the disparity between my low level of excitement and the high level being pumped into the atmosphere).

I went for a warm up jog and ate half an apple before going into the starting corrals.  Well, what I thought was the starting corral—the staging area was really large for an event this size.  Eventually I wiggled my way into the correct area, but it was jammed with people, so I was stuck where I was (a good 25 meters behind the marker for the 1:40-1:35 finish group).

The starting musket was fired (I’m pretty sure it was a musket, they got all historical during the pre-race announcements) and the crowd surged forward.

Before the first mile marker I had already looked at my watch with the thought “ok, how long until this is over?”  That was a bad sign.  And despite getting down to goal pace in mile two, that was all the result of a long downhill stretch—when the course turned flat I was struggling to get under 8:00 minute miles.  And somewhere around Mile 5 I just gave up on pushing myself to any specific time goal—it just wasn’t in me that day.

This was all a horrible shame because this was such a well put together race and the town came out in full force to support the runners.  But worst of all, instead of hiring police officers to marshal the race, they used Marines, meaning that on every corner, at each intersection there was an active Marine in fatigues watching over us.  Let me just say I’ve never felt worse walking during a race as when I had to walk in front of Marines.

I finally gave into the demons in my head during Mile 8.  I saw a port-o-potty and just ducked in.  I had the need to go, but it wasn’t that bad of a need, nothing I haven’t convinced myself to run through in the past.  After about 90 seconds I bolted out, faintly hoping that the pit stop was what I need to fix the funk I was in. 

Then there was the set of hills in the back of the race.  If I wasn’t doing bad before, the 200ft climb that was all of Mile 10 wreaked me.  Apparently in town it’s known as hospital hill (because of the hospital on this hill) and it is a beast.  As the splits above show, that stretch leading up to marker 11 involved a lot of walking.

The good news was that after that crest I ran the rest of the course without stopping, charging up a second uphill second and picking up speed as the finish line approached.  I had enough fuel and emotional drive to charge the last 800m—although I may have been pushing a little too hard because I was going to faint before I finally crossed the finish line.

In looking at my stats, this was not a good race for me.  I did better when I ran the National Half-Marathon and I was a wreak for that race, having gotten into a car accident the day before and only getting four hours of sleep before the race.  But then I looked at my finishing percentages (i.e., I finished in the top X% of finishers) and this is actually my second best Half-Marathon—I’ve only done better at my PR race in Austin back in January.  And—mind-boggling as it is—it was the best I’ve ever placed in my age group for a long distance race (Half or Full Marathon).  WTF?  I’ll have to guess that everyone else found the course as bad as I did.