My last good run was a 5-mile jaunt around the Stanford campus on June 30, about two weeks ago. Since then,
July 4: I suffered from a cold during the Peachtree Road Race;
July 9: I set out to do a 6-mile run, but was out of energy after 4 miles and walked much of the way back;
July 11: I was relieved to finish a 4-mile run in evening heat, hills, and humidity;
July 12: On a 6-mile run, I felt like I was developing blisters on my toes, and walked the last mile back to avoid making the soreness worse.
But when I awoke for this morning's race, I felt rested, and was optimistic for a good run. I stretched before we left the house, and again when we arrived at the Decatur YMCA well before the start of the race. In a 2-mile warmup jog, my legs were sore for the first mile, but as the blood began to circulate, I was able to get loose and was pain-free in the second mile.
|Another good turnout by the Tucker Running Club!|
Last year, I started much too quickly in this race, and was exhausted by the 2-mile mark, struggling to get through the hills in the later part of this route. Despite my difficulty, I was pleasantly surprised to cross the finish line having improved my time on the route by 35 seconds over the previous year. So my goal for this year's race was to take it easy for the first 2 miles, running slower than an 8:00 min / mile pace, and then see what I could do for the second half of the race.
I started near the front of wave B this morning, for runners between 7:30 to 8:30 min / mile paces. In the first mile, I was passed by most of the people in my wave. When I took a quick look behind me near mile 1 marker, there weren't many runners behind me. But I finished the first mile in 8:05, right on plan. The first half of the second mile was uphill, and I took it fairly easy heading up the hill to the Fernbank Elementary School, probably around a 9 min / mile pace. Fortunately I knew from running this race several times before that I would enjoy a mile downhill once we passed the school. Indeed I started to speed up on the level stretch and took advantage of the downhill legs, passing the mile 2 marker in 8:25, 16:30 elapsed.
|Does the race route resemble the contour of the continent of Africa?! |
And if so, is there any symbolism to the location of the start/finish line in Eritrea?
Eritrean runner Zersenay Tadese is the current world record holder for the half-marathon.
With the warm weather, I decided to carry a small towel soaked in ice water, wrapped around a few ice cubes, and it felt good to wipe my face with the cold towel in the first two miles. Approaching the water station around 2.5 miles in, I opened the towel and tucked it around my neck, securing it under the back of my singlet, as I took a short walk break through the water station. Between the cold towel and the gentle pacing of the first part of the race, running up hill in the last part of mile 3 didn't seem too bad, much better than last year's experience. Turning onto North Decatur Road, I passed the mile 3 marker in 8:25, just under 25 minutes elapsed.
At this point, I knew that I could better my personal record for the 4-mile distance (33:30) if I knocked out another 8:30 or faster final mile. Unfortunately the North Decatur Road hills were a substantial challenge, and I decided that I had better take a couple of short walk breaks on each uphill section, to make sure that i could make my overall goal of a strong finish. Indeed I was able to get back to a fast pace after each walk break. It was hard to tell if I was passing as many people after the walk breaks as had passed me when I was walking, but I don't think that I would have covered the distance any faster if I had not taken the walk breaks.
Passing the second water station less than a half-mile to the finish, I was able to get into a higher gear, as we ran through the McDonald's parking lot at the corner of North Decatur and Clairmont Roads. The volunteer announced "Two minutes to the finish from here!" which wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, especially when I stole a look at my watch and saw 32:00 elapsed on my watch. I was thinking two numbers at this point: 33:30, my PR for the 4-mile distance (January 2016), and 34:16, my PR on this course (July 2016). If the volunteer was right about 2 minutes, I would at least set a PR for this course. Motivated by this thought, I was passing other runners at this stage, and knew that I had enough energy for a strong finish. As I was familiar with the street, I knew exactly how far the YMCA would be even before it came into sight, and I was enjoying the sense of acceleration in the final stretch. Shortly before reaching the YMCA, I saw 33:10 on my watch, and realized that I probably would not finish under 33:30, but ran as fast as I could through the final turn into the finish chute, crossing the finish line at 33:38! 38 seconds faster than last year, and a much better overall experience over last year's struggle!
I'm really happy that I keep chipping away at my time with each successive year:
I don't know if this is due to getting a little stronger each year, or if it's purely that I'm learning how to pace myself better, but it's very satisfying to see improvement since I began running 4 years ago.
|A more consistent pace has resulted in a better overall time!|