There’s probably a long list of things I’ve done wrong when it comes to racing and training. Trying the half marathon distance with just six weeks of training post-injury is probably somewhere near the top of the list. If someone were to ask my advice on how soon to race after rehabbing an injury, six weeks wouldn’t be anywhere close to my suggestion. If I were asked what distance to tackle for a first race back, the half-marathon is far longer than I would recommend. In other words, this was probably stupid to go racing the way I did on Sunday. Or just my style.
The goals for this race were simple…finish, enjoy yourself, try to post anything respectable in terms of time. If my legs felt great, make a slight push, but make sure to avoid a one-and-done scenario with the foot.
The Start – Lap 1
I once again divided the race into six equal sections (“laps”), 2.2 miles at a time. The first lap went fairly smooth and I was actually surprised by how quickly the race course warmed up. The temp was in the low 40s on the start line, but once the sun broke (and the fact that most of the wind was blocked by the downtown buildings), it was much warmer than I anticipated. This section I wasn’t worried about, I figured it would be this kind of start.
Questions – Lap 2
So after a nice smooth start, the questions starting ringing in my head. Just how much do I have in me to push this race? Should I ease up a little and try to push the finish? Should I try to stay this smooth and just see how far it takes me? Could this be a better performance than I initially thought? Was my six weeks enough to maintain this pace for five more laps? My mind started to race a little during lap 2. I stayed pretty smooth for Lap 2 and actually ran mile 3 as my fastest of the day at 9:26. I knew part of this was just race day adrenaline, but I was still feeling pretty comfortable 4.4 miles in.
Stress – Lap 3
There are two things that cause stress on a race course…being behind your expected time, and being ahead of it. I was honestly expecting two 23 minute laps to start so being three minutes in front kept my mind racing during lap 3. Mile 5 & 6 I ran in 9:59 and 10:00 respectively, and I continued the smooth start through the 10k mark on the course. I went through a mental assessment at this point that went something like this…”OK, my foot’s held up well. My heart’s not pounding. I’m not struggling for breath. Am I capable of continuing this for 7 more miles?” Since I hadn’t raced in five months and had only been back running for six weeks I honestly didn’t know at this point. I was probably as anxious to find out what was about to happen as I’ve ever been mid-race. I truly didn’t know what to expect on the second half, but was ready to see.
Mid-point time: 1:05:34
Sailing – Lap 4
During my six week training I only ran farther than 6.6 miles once, a 10-miler two weeks prior to the event. At this point, I didn’t know what to expect. I decided I was going to let the wind take my sails where they would (get the sailing reference there? I’m tricky!). During this lap my knees were starting to kill me and I could tell I wasn’t striding nearly as well as the first 3 laps. To put it simply, my form was starting to break down. With my form breaking down my foot was starting to act up and it was pretty obvious this wasn’t going to be a chase for my stretch goal of 2:10. As lap 4 closed, I knew two things were very true. Number one, this was clearly my worst lap to this point in the race. Number two, I was wearing down but still had an opportunity to run a solid finish with just 4.4 miles to go.
The Music Push – Lap 5
I’ve discovered the best strategy for me on race day is to alternate between silence from the headphones and music. I make a playlist that’s approximately as long as my goal time for each lap and will play it about every other lap, and then I’ll save one special playlist for the final push. During this race I went silent for laps 1, 2, & 4, and leaned on my lap playlist for laps 3, and 5. I thought maybe the music would help me put lap 4 behind, and maybe start a push toward the finish. Wow, was I wrong there. As much as I tried to pick up the tempo here, my legs just kept telling me they were too tired. I tried to will some life into them but just couldn’t find a way. It was obvious, six weeks of training just didn’t have me in good enough shape for a solid wire-to-wire race. By the end of these 2.2 miles I knew to just stay with what my legs had in them and make a respectable finish.
Quite the Anti-Climactic Conclusion – Lap 6
While my stretch goal was gone, my goal of staying under 11:00/mile was still obtainable. But I had one very specific goal for the last lap…don’t injure the foot any worse than it already is. My form had broken down to the stage of horrible at this point. And during the last lap my foot was just about numb. The fans that were on the last section of the course were really enthusiastic and were doing anything they could to help runners that were struggling. So as I was walking during the last mile, a group of about 10 people eyed me and gave me the “you can do this.” While I couldn’t stop and explain to them the reason I was easing up during the final mile, I kindly gave them a thank you and probably walked another 200 meters before a comfortable jog in to finish. I crossed the line, moved off to the side and quickly removed my left shoe to get my sore foot out of the shoe. I don’t think anyone ever pictures being pleased with this kind of finish, but I just felt back home as I hobbled over to get my finisher’s medal, left shoe in hand.
Overrun time (my GPS ended up closer to 13.3): 0:47
This race was a classic case of not being in good enough shape for this distance. I knew that going in. I expected something along these lines and nearly split my goal and stretch goal times right down the center (2:24 & 2:10). Looking at my lap times, each lap got slower with the exception of the last. I kept wearing down as the race progressed.
Since I ran the full in Des Moines last year (and fell in love with it, see that race report here), I was anxious to run my first repeat event this year. Des Moines definitely lived up to the expectations I had from last year.
I didn’t have a lot to complain about last year. The timing chips that have to be accounted for were still in play…annoying but not going away. I remember in the survey they send to the athletes I made three very specific suggestions. #1 – A better speaker system for pre-race announcements. From the mid-point back in the starting grid you couldn’t hear them. #2 – Being able to hear the national anthem. A product of number one, but the anthem had almost finished by the time I heard any part of it last year. #3 – Tech shirts. The shirts last year were fine, but it they can be tech shirts, runners love ’em.
Des Moines nailed all three of these this year. There were added speakers throughout both sides of the starting grid, clear to the back. The anthem was well performed and heard by all. The shirts look similar to last year’s, but are the tech shirts that all of us run nerds love.
This speaks of the race organizers’ commitment to continued improvement of this race for the athletes. As someone who shells out the money to run, it’s encouraging to see that the race wants to take care of their patrons. For the second year in a row I’m walking (or I guess hobbling this year) away ready to come back for next year.
There are two things I wasn’t particularly fond of. Number one, the half is a touch crowded. I’ll say this, I ran my pace all day, didn’t get cut off anywhere, the crowded path won’t affect your time here. But the half goes back past itself on a path that’s not quite wide enough for it. The motorcycle in front of the leaders comes up on you and suddenly there are lots of people realizing they’re in the way. Since I ran the full last year, the trails aren’t as crowded when I got to them a few hours later. They’re just about maxed out for the half.
Issue number two, the finishing lanes. I had the
honor misfortune of watching the winner of the full marathon blaze past me in the last quarter-mile of my race. There were cones setup to try and separate the full and half finishers…yet no one was ushering the runners to the correct lane. There were two men having quite the dash to the finish, separated by no more than 10 feet (and probably much closer than that) and spent the last quarter mile dodging half runners who weren’t paying attention. I saw the second place runner go around a group and hurdle a cone trying to make his move, but this did him in. I don’t know whether this made a difference in the finish or not…but it might have, and that’s not acceptable for your number 1 & 2 finishers. This race was such a beautiful event, to have that happen was an unnecessary disappointment. (Note: I thought this was 1 & 2, a quick search of the race results indicates this may have been 2 & 3. Not sure how I would have missed the winner. Still money on the line there, disappointing.)
My wife, sister-in-law, and I all ran this event last year and were fortunate enough to spend the weekend with my wife’s aunt and uncle just outside Des Moines. And we got round 2 this year. As good as they took care of us last year, this year was even better and I’m still puzzled how they got rid of me after the awesome time we had this year. Three spectacular meals, wonderful conversation…I said this last year and will say it again, I should have wrote a paragraph on the race, and the rest of this on our stay instead of the other way around.
Erik, Emily, Rebecca, Mike, Michael, Genna, & Mary. They’re all smiles!
I wouldn’t be doing justice to this report if I didn’t add my wife and sister-in-law both ran PR performances. My wife Rebecca ran a 2:16:17 that not only was a personal best, but bested me on the course (which she is pumped about). I could tell on the start line that Emily was ready to hammer out a great performance and she broke 2 hours with a 1:58:40 time. After the race we ran into their cousin Abby who ran a 1:58:34 to make this an awesome race for the family. I’ve got to hand it to all of three of you…really well done.