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Race Recap: Beat the Blerch – East

This race was the perfect storm for danger. Beat the Blerch attracted a more casual runner, which is great. The more people running and being active, the better. That’s a good thing. I am a proponent of this. However, when you have more laid back runners attracted to a race, race organizers better be clear about what runners are getting themselves into.

This was a technically challenging trail race. If it is a difficult trail race, you very well better label it as such. The following is the course description on the website:

All participants will run on stunning trails that meander through the 1,000 acre park and along Whippany River. The half and full marathoners will continue on country roads and loop back through Lewis Morris Park.

When I registered for the Half, I knew there would be some trail (as there is in other races I’ve done…St. Luke’s Half, Steamtown Marathon, etc). Yes, some trails, but clearly road races. Beat the Blerch was a trail race, which is fine, but again, please label it as such, especially when it is a challenging course that is rocky, full of tree roots, ruts, constant elevation changes and switchbacks. The safety of those registering for such a race depends on accurate information.

In an email a few days prior to the race, we were told the following:

There are “some sections” that are legit trail running, some roads, some packed gravel and some couches.  Hey, it’s an adventure!

Oh, and for the love of all runners, please put a course map with elevation chart on the website so the mystery can be digested ahead of time. A map of the state park was on the website, but not an actual course map.  We email requested a course map, and finally got one the day before the race.

I truly felt bad for the runners who clearly did not expect the level of difficulty of the terrain. My wife witnessed at least one broken wrist.

Fellow runner and friend, Jen Miller, offered to help a woman who cut open her finger.

When somebody falls during a trail race, there is a distinctive and disturbing “thud” that makes one shudder, but yes, that is part of trail racing. I understand.

The danger was magnified when the half marathon merged with the 10K on the most difficult part of the terrain. Some runners were not aware of trail rules and got annoyed at people trying to pass.

As far as the logistics, parking was easy, and there were plenty of buses which took runners to the start. Our bus driver got lost, so we arrived to the start area around 8am. Fortunately, the Half Marathon started at 9am, but I felt bad for any runners on the bus that had the 8am Marathon start time (maybe that’s why the marathon started at 8:10 instead).

Second, bag check took longer for 1,000 runners than it did for 40,000 runners for the NYC Marathon.  The volunteers were great, but clearly the system was slow.  Since this was the first time the race was put on in New Jersey, I can forgive this.

What is less forgivable is a poorly marked course. Just after Mile 10, I came to a T in the trail. No volunteer there, no arrows, no ribbons or spray paint on any trees. I had a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly. Up until this race, I’d done one trail race: The Half Wit Half which was more challenging, and had more varied terrain and direction changes, yet was better marked. I decided to wait for a runner that was behind me. I asked him “Which way do you think, left or right?”

“Hmmm, let’s go left” he replied. We ran a good half mile before we realized we went the wrong way. Fortunately, the volunteers at a water stop for the 10K corrected our direction. Ok, fine, we did some bonus distance (I think the race was shorter than advertised anyway); however, at this point, I was ready to be out of the woods: “Get me the f**k out of here” I said to myself out loud hoping nobody heard me.

Also, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was in the beginning stages of the stomach flu. Maybe this is why my belly was bothering me pre-race and why I was so cranky. Initially, I chalked it up to nerves, but it wasn’t the case. Let’s just say the last couple of days haven’t been fun. I was supposed see the Pope yesterday, but had to stay home to recover.

Anyway, on the bright side, I managed a 12th place finish (1st in Age Group), but I was upset with myself for not having fun during the race. Despite my competitive nature, I still manage to have fun in just about every race; however, in this race, I had trouble adjusting to the thought of doing a fairly technical trail race vs. other races I typically run.

I do love to run on trails, but I don’t like to “race” on trails. When I race, my body and mind want to go fast. Trails slow me down, which I do like to do on many training days. Yes, I do like to take in the beauty that is around me on runs, but during a race, it’s harder to appreciate nature when my main concern is not falling on my ass. The level of concentration required is mentally exhausting. Yes, I probably need to lighten up more during some races. I could learn a thing or two from the more laid back runners.

The post-race amenities and food were what you’d expect if you know anything about The Oatmeal’s comic about running. There was cake and several couches upon which to sit.  You could pose with the Blerch or have a marshmallow bacon chocolate snack. It was a festive and pretty setting for a race.

I was thankful everyone I knew at the race finished safely. If this race is held again next year, I’d rename it to Beat the Blerch Trail Marathon/Half Marathon/10k.  The pre-race email included a clever and hysterical comic on the Do’s and Don’t of Running Your First Marathon. Here is the link:

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/marathon_do

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The Blerch tempts us to slack off. 

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Several F Bombs later

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5 Things I Learned About Trail Racing in the Half Wit Half

Welcome to pretty much the center of the universe for stupidity.  We are proud of that here in Reading, because we have nothing else to be proud of here.”

So said the race coordinator for the Half Wit Half, a trail half marathon just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania.  He said this at approximately 9:12am as roughly 500 “half wits” lined up late for the 9am start. We also had to recite the “Half Wit Oath” which began with “I are a half wit…” and got funnier from there.

The Half Wit Half isn’t so much a trail race as it is an obstacle course, and registering for it as my first-ever trail race was probably not my brightest moment; however, it was consistent with half wit logic. I was not alone as I convinced two friends to join me in my stupidity.

Instead of summarizing all of the incredibly difficult terrain we had to navigate, and the ridiculous, jaw-dropping uphills and downhills, which had all of us cry-laughing incredulously by the end, I will focus on some observations of trail racing.

1 – Concentrating is exhausting

I am a road runner.  I am decent. I like to “go,” and when I am racing, I have the ability to rest my brain, go on “auto-pilot” and just race.  In the Half wit, I could never relax. The course is so rocky and full of hazards, I could never “open it up.” In fact, I had to concentrate so much to stay upright (in which I was unsuccessful – more on that in #2), I was mentally drained by the first water stop at the 5K mark.

2 – Falling down Hurts

I went into the Half Wit with two goals: 1) Finish safely, and 2) Try not to fall or twist an ankle.  I finished, and have that going for me, which is nice; however, I lost count at the number of times I turned my ankles, and yes, I fell four times.  Falls #1 and #2 were on a steep downhill in which I needed to grab trees to avoid falling. The thing is, it is harder to grab trees while on such a steep grade than you might think.  So, I landed on my ass twice. If you have ever fallen during a race, you know it feels like slow motion as it is happening. Fall #3 I will call the “Ironic” fall because it occurred on pavement as I crossed a narrow paved path to resume the wooded path on the other side. Today, the entire left side of my body remembers this fall.  Fall #4 was just plain mean in that there were rocks hidden under the brush, and I went airborne into sticker bushes.  Ouch. The best part was having to use my hands to get up from this fall, with my hands in the stickers.  Did I say, ouch?

3 – Downhills are more difficult than Uphills

With the few times I had run trails, I already knew this, but the reality was more apparent under racing conditions.  I felt like I was two different runners. One runner was quite competent and in control going up hill. The other runner had to nearly walk down many of the rugged downhill sections because 1) Gravity forces you to lose control, and 2) I was so uncertain of the terrain.  So, I passed people on the uphill, and they passed me on the downhill. In a sense, I became a spectator, watching in awe how the more experienced trail runners navigated the downhill with ease.  I just kept asking myself “How do they do that?”  I wanted to be able to do that too.

4 – Walking is perfectly acceptable

As I ran passed people that were walking uphill, I wondered “Do they know something I don’t know?” and “Should I be walking too?”  The answer was not necessarily yes; however, during the ridiculous verticals, including some crazy switchbacks, it became more obvious that running would be either 1) Stupid or 2) Not possible.  So, I learned how to walk without worrying about walking during a race.  It was safer and allowed my body to regroup because I also learned the further I got into the race, the more clumsy I became.

5 – Trail runners are a different breed

I mean this as a compliment to trail runners.  The majority arrived in casual clothes and flip flops. I did not know this was a thing.  In general, they appear more laid back and friendlier. I noticed more beards and tattoos than I had noticed during the many road races I had done.  I jokingly wondered to myself: “If I grow a beard or get a tattoo, would it help my trail running competence?” Probably not.

Running my first trail race, I was reminded I am competitive, but it also hit me that I am not a laid back racer.  This laid back attitude is worth pursuing some more; however, I am not sure I am wired that way, so I will learn how to become a better trail racer instead.

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Race Recap: OCNJ Half Marathon 2013

I packed the wine, but I forgot the opener.  In a dry town, such as Ocean City, NJ, this induced temporary panic.  Where the heck were we going to find a wine opener on a dry island? Before you judge my fondness of wine, I will tell you that I can live without it; however, one of my pre-race rituals is a glass (or two) of wine the night before (I’m 99% sure I started the hashtag #Wineloading).

The good news: tragedy averted… Our room at The Flanders Hotel (two blocks from the starting line) had a wine opener.

Phew.

My wife and I had a private happy hour before heading out to dinner at Cousin’s (a perfectly nice place in Ocean City for pre-race pasta).

Race Day

Waking up two blocks from the start of a race feels good.  Less to worry about:  How long will it take to get there? What will parking be like? Etc.  On the other hand, the 9am race start does not feel as good.  I like an 8am start (at the latest). That extra hour feels like an eternity to me; however, we made the most of it by eating casually in our room, and headed toward the start just before 8:30am.

A pre-race positive of this race:  NO Porta-Johns to worry about because the Ocean City boardwalk has plenty of public restrooms!  Knowing this can really calm a runner down.

The start time weather was 57 degrees and sunny.  I was a little worried it might be windy, but so far so good.  I knew the lack of wind wouldn’t last but it could have been much worse.

My wife and I gave each other our normal pre-race kiss and told each other to be careful (another ritual).  Based on previous results of this race, I knew if I was feeling good, I could possibly finish in the Top 10; however, I refused to line up on the front line of a race (I’m superstitious about being  presumptuous).  So, I lined up in row two, just behind the guys wearing split shorts and singlets.

When the gun went off, we headed west on 9th Street.  I followed the lead pack (a group of eight men and two women).  I kept my distance behind them because I didn’t want to go out too fast.  The first turn is on to Asbury Avenue, part of the central shopping area for Ocean City.  It’s a beautiful street, with lots of mom and pop shops (even though it looks like Starbuck’s is infiltrating the town soon).

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With the front pack (of eight now) in my sights, my pace felt comfortable; however, my first mile was 6:10, which was a little faster than I wanted.  I decided not to panic because I felt so good.  Mile 2, another 6:10, but I still felt fine.  Most of Mile 3 involves crossing the Ocean Drive bridge as part of an out and back portion of the race.   As I started to catch two runners that had fallen off the lead pack just before the toll booth at the base of the bridge, I made some lame attempt at an EZ Pass joke.  Thud, ok, these two didn’t like my humor, so I moved ahead of them.

I figured the bridge would be a slower mile because of the long ascent up, and it was slower but not by much (6:16).  It was here that I thought one of two things was going to happen:  1) This race was going to be a disaster, or 2) This would be a special day.

On the other side of the bridge, the view of the Egg Harbor Inlet heading toward Longport was beautiful.  The sky was crisp and blue (I would have liked a few more clouds because I was starting to heat up).  After the turnaround, we headed back to face the bridge again, and most of Mile 4 into Mile 5 is the bridge.  My cumulative time at Mile 5 was Sub30, which I haven’t done since college.  Since I was still feeling good, I figured the course might be slightly mismarked.  I didn’t overanalyze it.

At this point, the lead pack had broken up, and there were five or six runners in front of me, two of which probably wouldn’t be caught.  Just before getting on to the boardwalk, I passed another runner, and found myself in 5th place.  The surface of the boardwalk felt much better than I thought it would.  It was more bouncy and forgiving than pavement, but you still had to be careful of uneven spots. I slipped into 4th place.

As I passed people lined up for breakfast at Browns Restaurant, the aroma was amazing.  I was temporarily jealous of them!  Miles 6-8 were steady (6:03, 6:05, & 6:05).  During this stretch, I ran side-by-side with the 3rd place runner.  I asked him if he thought we could catch the two guys in front of us, and he emphatically said no.   As we exited the boardwalk near Mile 9, he started to labor so I tried to focus on the 2nd place runner.  As I continued south toward 36th Street, Mr. 2nd Place’s shirt was getting bigger.  He was getting closer!  We turned around near Mile 10.

“Ok, only 5k to go, no problem,” I thought to myself as I started to head north again toward the boardwalk.

This is when the wind kicked up.  The last 3.1 was directly into a constant headwind.  Ouch.  This was the toughest part of the race.  My thoughts turned from Mr. 2nd Place to survival. The steadiness of the wind almost broke my spirit, but, just before returning to the boardwalk for the homestretch, I saw my wife, and she gave me a boost.  Less than two miles to go!

This time, the boardwalk was more crowded with non-racers.  It was a bit of a challenge avoiding some cyclists and casual walkers; however, many of the people cheering started telling me the same thing: “You can catch him!”

“Catch who?” I thought.

There he was: Mr. 2nd Place!

Before I knew it, I was nearly side-by-side him with ½ mile to go.  He must have heard my foot steps because he turned around.  When he noticed me, he went into another gear because he sprung forward and put some distance between us.

With less than two blocks to go, I made my final surge, but I was running out of real estate.  The crowd noise got louder.  We both sped up but our pace was the same now.  He ended up taking 2nd place by 4 seconds.

As I crossed the line in 1:20:42, I realized I had beaten my PR by 2mins 28secs.  I was satisfied but suspicious.  I knew I ran a PR pace but not dramatically faster than previous races.

Later, my wife and I determined that the race was most likely about .08 short of 13.1.  So, even with my personal adjustment, I probably would have run 1:21:26 if the course was a true Half.  Still, it would have been a PR by 1min 44secs.

All in all, it was a fun race and a great experience.  The post-race food included Manco & Manco pizza, salt water taffy, donuts, pretzels and plenty of fruit.  A nice spread!  Also, you had your choice of a medal or a visor.  I chose the medal and my wife chose the visor.  A thoughtful option!

Thankfully, regarding the two scenarios I envisioned at Mile 3: The race was special as opposed to a disaster.

I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one at age 43.

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(My kind of race expo)

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Race Recap: 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Half Marathon

A broken promise…

After the Delaware Marathon, I vowed no races this summer.  Well, I broke my promise, and I’m glad I did.

Ignorance is bliss.  I knew nothing about this race except that it was a half marathon, and it had a hill called Mt. Cuckoo. We found out about it through a friend on Twitter (thank you April!!).

The race is part of a series from www.uberendurancesports.com. It takes place in Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park. There is a half and a full, a combined 900ish runners, and yes a German theme.

The week before, I had been sick, and still wasn’t 100%; however, the cheapo in me felt that I already paid for the race, so I might as well earn my shirt.

The weather was about 68 degrees at the start, a bit warm for me, but I had no goal, except to have fun.  I love smaller races, but they don’t always start on time, and the “go” went off about 10 minutes late.  My bladder did not like this.

Most of this race is run on an 8’ wide paved path with rolling hills throughout.  The first two miles were my normal half pace; however, my breathing quickly became labored (still feeling it from being sick), so my pace slowed.  Back to my bladder…yes, at Mile 4, there was a pit stop (I rarely do this but it was a necessity).  I lost a few places here, but I decided not to worry, and just go for the finish.

Beyond the halfway point, this race develops a cross country feel for about 1.7 miles. The paved path gives way to grass which transitions into single track in the woods.  At this point, it was about effort, not pace.  Actually, strike that…at this point, it was about not falling.  The path was rolling, mostly upwards, with a rocky, uneven “stepped” terrain.  “Mt Cuckoo” was narrow and I remember smelling honeysuckle (which I hate).  Did I say ignorance is bliss??  Yeah right.

I have very little trail running experience, so those who did have experience passed me with ease.  The downhills were even worse for me. I’m guessing six people passed me in that 1.7 mile stretch, but I was more concerned with staying upright.

The other thing I noticed on the trails was the humidity.  Does the woods hold in moisture?  Anyway, once I got back onto the paved path, I felt like myself again. My breathing slowly came back under control, sort of, and I mucked my way toward the far off finish line. With about a mile to go,  I picked off five of the six runners that passed me on the trails.

My time was nothing near a PR (1:32 – 15th overall), but I won my age group, and this fun cuckoo:

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My wife took 4th in her age group despite battling Plantar Fasciitis. She is the rock star and is gunning for a cuckoo next year.

Another plus was the free beers and brats post-race.  There was German dancing with many of the male runners wearing Lederhosen, and the female runners in Bodice / Dirndl combos (I had to look that up on Google). It was festive at the German Club in Northeast Philadelphia.

Aside from not starting on time, the race was friendly and well-organized.  It was a very challenging course…I couldn’t imagine doing that twice, which is what the marathoners had to do. I’m just glad I didn’t fall.

No more races this summer, I promise (wink).

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A Running Geek Convention: Race Weekend Recap – Runner’s World Half

Normally we don’t spend an entire weekend at a race that is less than an hour from our house, but my wife and I knew that the Runner’s World Half Festival weekend would be far from ordinary.  Both of us decided that this trip would be a celebration of our accomplishments two weeks prior:  A double BQ at the Steamtown Marathon.  With the pressure off, it was time for us to have some fun.

We arrived Friday night, checked in at Hotel Bethlehem, and had dinner at a place called the Bookstore Speakeasy. It was recommended to us by Runner’s World Editor, Meghan Loftus, and was just what the doctor ordered: good food, drink, entertainment, and a smoke-free atmosphere for a couple of running geeks.

In fact, the more time we spent in Bethlehem over the weekend, the more it felt like a running geek convention.  All we needed were lanyards.

On Saturday morning, we did a shakeout run, so we decided to run toward the 5K course to cheer on the participants (many of which were doing the Hatrick, all three festival races scheduled that weekend).  Well, my wife is now fired up to do the Hatrick next year!

We’ve been to bigger races (Boston, MCM, NYCM), but this felt better.  The events, lectures, and information sessions felt less claustrophobic, less harried.  I’m not sure if this was because of the logistics or our attitude, but either way, the experience was special.  My wife sat in on the session: Women’s Running: Why It’s Different for Girls, then we got to watch part of “Run For Your Life,” which chronicles how Fred Lebow got the NYC Marathon up and running, and finally Bart Yasso and a panel gave tips on course strategy. There were other talks that I missed because of my work schedule on Saturday, but I felt like I got a good taste of what was being served.

Speaking of being served, this was our first “pre-race pasta dinner” with other runners. We usually steer clear of the masses and make a reservation at a local Italian restaurant, but since we were being more laid back about our race, we decided to join the party.  The food and company were great, and the dinner company included David Willey, Editor-in-Chief of Runner’s World, who sat down beside me and asked me where I got my beer (because he wanted one too).

Which brings me to the Runner’s World staff…the accessibility and warmth of the Runner’s World staff was special.  I know they had to be ambassadors all weekend, but you can tell that they love what they do, and they are running geeks too. They have the same aches, pains, and shoe questions as us.

The race itself was a blast (I will keep this part short). The start and finish area was at the Steel Stacks, a symbol of Bethlehem’s industrialized past, and its reinvented status as a service and tourist spot (the Sands Casino).

Because of my tired legs from Steamtown, I decided to stay with the 1:30 pace group for at least 7-8 miles.  I knew the first part of the course was hilly, so this conservative approach felt smart to me.

It was a nice, conversation pace, and I’m sure I annoyed Robert Reese, the Runner’s World Editor/Pacer for our group.  He couldn’t have been more friendly and laid back.  At Mile 9, my legs still felt fresh, so I decided to push the pace.  I knew Shalane Flanagan was up ahead, and (jokingly, in my mind), I planned to catch her.

After the last hill around Mile 10, I went full steam at my 5K pace.  I latched on to a fellow runner who was struggling, and I told him we would stick together and pass the carnage in front of us.  In the last miles, we picked off 12-14 runners.  My last 5K ended up being just over 19 minutes;  however, Shalane remains undefeated against me (she beat me by 13 seconds)!!  I never got my picture taken with her, but it was great to see her on the course.

Wait, I did get my picture taken with her!! I’m the orange blurry dot in the distance

It’s mesmerizing to watch an elite runner: they glide and float.  I know she was just doing what amounted to a Sunday jog for her, but it was still a thrill.

I ran 1:27, and my wife did a 1:51, which was faster than we planned, but more fun than we expected!

At the finish, we got sweet medals, which doubled as bottle openers. So, I guess we got our “lanyards” after all!

End Note:

The weather, race and weekend were just about perfect.  One fun part was finally meeting some people we had known only through Twitter.  With my introvertedness, there is always the fear that the real interactions will be awkward, but ours (with the Runner’s World staff and a couple we met for a drink) were so much fun!  There was even a #Runchat meet-up, which unfortunately we missed, but I’m sure other runners can speak more about that experience.

 

 Running Geek Conventioneers

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Race Recap: St. Luke’s (Lehigh Valley) Half Marathon 2012

ALLENTOWN, PA. This was my fourth St. Luke’s (FKA Lehigh Valley) Half Marathon, and I had more anxiety than I usually do for a race like this. Here’s why: Three days prior to the race, during a routine six miler, I experienced shortness of breath and heart palpitations. I ended up in the ER. The good news is everything with my heart looked normal (speculation is I had some kind of allergy attack or exercise induced asthma).

Despite my relief that my heart is fine, I was still worried that I would have breathing issues during the race.  It was in the back of my mind at the start, and throughout the race. Thankfully, I did not have issues.

The weather at the start: Perfect (low 40s, low winds). This was more welcomed news to  me.

The first five miles of the St. Luke’s Half are downhill to flat. The race starts at William Allen High School, and it is very easy to go out fast (Mile 1: 6:14). I missed the Mile 2 marker, but the combination of Mile 2 and Mile 3 was 12:31 (a little fast for my liking).

The race continues to Mile 5+ with an out and back along MLK Drive. I got to see my wife, and also heard words of encouragement from a friend from Muhlenberg College.  This part of the course continues as flat and fast.  I felt good, but found myself running alone with no specific pack to latch on to.

The next part of the race heads into the Little Lehigh Parkway. Due to safety concerns involving an unsafe retaining wall, the course had to be re-routed, which meant we had an additional hill as part of the course this year. The hill was not steep, but felt lengthy. Plus, since we entered the park at a different location than usual, it seemed like we ran on more gravel than usual (I could be wrong).

I did not see a mile marker until Mile 8 (so my five mile time from Mile 3 to Mile 8 was 31:52 – Still pretty fast for me in April).  However, as we got deeper into the park, which includes a beautiful covered bridge, the rolling hills slowed me down (Miles 9 and 10 were a combined 14:11). Also, I was still running alone.  I was “a runner without a pack.”

Once over the covered bridge, runners shift directions to the other side of the park. Here, you can see the runners behind you across the way and they can see you.  My wife (who was on her way to a PR!) said she saw me, and I was completely alone (her words).  This is a tough place to be as a runner in a race.

After climbing out of the park, the course slowly heads back passed Yocco’s Hot Dogs (Mmm) to Cedar Beach and toward the finish.  The last couple of miles are relatively flat, and I managed a couple of 6:45’s. As runners near the finish area, there is a very short hill that takes everyone to the entrance of the track where the race ends.

There are few things more fun than finishing a race on the track.  My rule usually is: “Nobody passes me on the track.”  However, I found myself alone.  There was nobody within 25-30 seconds of me (either in front of me or behind). I led a very lonely existence in this race. This is strange considering over 3,200 people ran it. Fortunately, on my way to getting a post-race snack, I bumped into another fellow Muhlenberg Alum, which was a pleasant surprise!

Official Results: 1:25:28

47th out of 3,240 runners

9th in age group (competitive age group)

My goal was to break 1:25, a slight miss, but I was only off my Course Record by 12 seconds. I’ll take it considering where I was three days prior. Also, I added on 6-7 miles after the race because this was my last long run before the Run for the Red Marathon on 5/20.  These were slow but necessary additional miles.

The St. Luke’s Half is always my favorite race at this distance.  It is well-organized, not too big, and has great post-race food.  You can’t beat Vegetable Pierogi Soup!  Also, there are lots of good bands along the race course. Two highlights for me during this race: 1) A solo acoustic guy singing “I Melt With You” by Modern English and 2) A fun band jamming to “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers.

Oh, and you get your name on your race bib too!  This race was one of the first in the nation to start this trend, which is a blessing and a curse for someone named Gerard: “Go Gerald,” “Go Jared,” “Go George,” “Go [long pause] Dude!”

Lonely Boy: By the time I hit the track, nobody was within 30 seconds of me (either in front of me or behind me)

 

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Race Report: Caesar Rodney Half Marathon 2012

Another Half in the books.  I’m not even sure how many that makes. I don’t count anymore. Yesterday’s Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware was my first Half (at my pace) in eighteen months, and my brain knew it.

Despite the drizzle, I was happy to be at the starting line, especially considering the previous two weeks I had been sick (bronchitis).

Mystery 1: After the heart-stopping cannon sounded the start of the race, the question was: “How would my breathing be after being sick?”

Mystery 2: “How is my current  ‘Mental Endurance’ for a race at this distance?”

Well, it turned out my breathing held up for the most part. My Mental Endurance, on the other hand, only made it about 10 miles.  My brain needs to get back into “longer race” shape.  The only way to address this is to race more.

The Caesar Rodney is a tough Half course. The first 5+ miles are either downhill or flat. These miles showcase the redevelopment along the Wilmington Waterfront. It is very easy to go out too fast, which is probably what I did for the shape I am in right now (6:30 / mile average through Mile 5).  This is an issue, especially if one is not prepared for the series of hills, which includes a seemingly endless 2.8 mile ascent beginning around Mile 6 (Miles 6 to 8.8). When you begin the ascent, your pace is challenged in a big way, especially if you aren’t with a pack.

At this point, I was fortunate enough to lock on to a fellow runner. We made the ascent together. The pace slowed to 7:00-7:15 pace; not too bad. Essentially, this got me to the 9 mile mark. I thought: “I’m in the clear! Except for the uphill finish, the rest of the race is downhill!”…so I thought.

Well, changes were made to the course (Miles 9+ to 11). The good news: it was generally flat.  The bad news: I wasn’t mentally ready for this change. I kept waiting for the payoff of the “downhill” to begin, and it came later than it usually does for this race. At the same time, my body was fatiguing from my lack of activity during the previous two weeks, and my mind was fatiguing from my lack of recent racing at this distance.  My pace slowed, but I gutted out the rest of the race.

The finish is a grueling ¼ mile uphill. My legs felt like lead, but I crossed the finish line (1:28:40); 5+ minutes slower than my Course Best, but satisfying considering, in the few days prior, I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run the race.

I am happy to be back at racing, even though I’m not quite fully there yet (I’m sure my finish line photo will be scary/funny). All in all, it was a good dress-rehearsal for the St. Luke’s Half in Allentown on 4/29.

REALIZATION: I need to start doing push-ups again to strengthen my upper body. My arms were useless by the end, especially during the final uphill finish.  Push-ups have helped me in the past, and they will help again.

FUN FACT: In 1776, Caesar Rodney rode from Delaware to Philadelphia to cast the deciding vote in favor of moving forward with the Declaration of Independence!

AMAZING COINCIDENCE: Here is a crazy cool coincidence: A person I Follow on Twitter (and Follows me), , also ran the Caesar Rodney yesterday.  Of the 1,405 finishers, we placed next to each other.  We had no idea until after the fact…Check this out: