Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Longest Mile

I came into Saturday's race with very high expectations, yet I was expecting nothing. I had five goals in place, but I know this is a very tough course, so these goals were set just to have goals, because as you know, you have to have goals.

I am a creature of habits, I have routines and I deviate little from them. Especially on race days.

Woke up at 4:01 am. This is also a habit. Spent some quiet, alone time while getting dressed, just to start processing the upcoming half marathon.

Along with my wife Monica, who was also running this race, we were off at 4:41am. It would be about a two hour drive. We arrived at 6:48.

The Oak Barrel Half Marathon in Lynchburg, TN in my estimate, is one of the toughest half marathons around, it boasts, again in my opinion, the longest mile of any race in our neck of the woods. This would be my fourth year. Apparently I have very short pain memory. Last year my time was 2:01:26. My first goal this year would be to beat this time.

I have not kept count of how many half marathons I've ran. Too many to remember. A sub-2 hour finish time has been achieved only a handful of times; twice, maybe three times. My second goal was to run sub-2. On this course, it would be a stretch.

I'm in the 60-64 age group. This race draws its lion's share of fast old guys. Last year I came in 9th out of 20. Middle of the pack, average for me. Goal number three was to improve in this.

I would go in holding a personal best, a PR if you will, of 1:57:51. Goal number four would be the biggest one of all. A new PR.

Each of the last three years, regardless of how much "hill" training I had done, I found myself walking up some of "whiskey hill". Goal five would be the toughest, I thought. To make it all the way without walking. This one worried me the most.

The day was a bit chilly but sunny. Perfect running weather. A field of 1293 (finishers) stepped up to the line and at gun time, the temperature had just reached 50ºF. There was no wind. There were no clouds.

I staged myself at the back side of the 9:00/mile group. Not sure why, but that's where I landed. As it turned out, it was perfect, well... almost. The first couple of miles I found myself weaving through the crowd. My pace was faster than I wanted it to be, but since I warmed up before the race, I knew I would be okay. Once we approached mile 3, this is where the field began to thin out. This is where the road begins to rise, en-route to mile 4 and the infamous "Whiskey Hill".

At the top of the hill I remember thinking how grateful and blessed I am for having a strong heart, or rather how I was glad it didn't fail me half way up. It didn't take long for my heart rate to get back to a normal (because 180 is not normal) and for me to re-find my happy pace.

The rest of the race was smooth. I kept a very constant pace, something I have been working on very diligently lately. It paid off big time.

Goal No. 1 ~ Finish Time: 1:54:24 is 7:02 faster than last year. Check.
Goal No. 2 ~ Finish sub-2 hrs. Check.
Goal No. 3 ~ 6th out of 29 in Age Group. Two place improvement in a field 30% larger. Check.
Goal No. 4 ~ Finish time equals new PR. Check
Goal No. 5 ~ Conquered "Whiskey Hill" (no walking). Check.

Next on my schedule is the ADPi triathlon. It is a short distance, sprint triathlon. It will be my first tri in over 18 months. The expectation builds. After that I have a date with Ragnar Tennessee and the the Hillbilly Half Marathon (formerly The Franklin Half). There are a couple of other races on my radar, but nothing has been cemented yet. Well, except of course The Marine Corps Marathon.

Biggest challenge facing me going forward is to remain true to my training. I cannot allow progress to be hindered by wide eyes and unnecessary pushing.

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