"If you can run one 6:30 mile you can run 13." Those were the words of wisdom from Gina after I told her my goal time for the half was to break 1 hour 30 minutes. She immediately challenged me to run 1 hour 26 minutes. While 4 minutes doesn't seem like much time when you break it down into a pace over 13.1 miles it's a 6:51 pace verses a 6:33 pace. It doesn't really matter. It all became irrelevant around mile 9.5, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
This was the moment of truth. After spending 3 months working through my training program race day had finally arrived. I woke up around 6 am to get a quick shower and my pre-race grub. This time I went with an egg sandwich, a banana and a cup of coffee. I wanted to get in an early kick of caffeine. Honestly though, I think for future races I'll go back to the peanut butter, honey and banana. The egg sat fine, but I think it didn't stick with me long enough. By the end of the race I was starving and wasted.
We arrived in Oxford to an overcast and cool morning. It looked like a perfect day for racing. As long as it didn't rain or the sun decided to break through to scorch the runners out in the corn fields on the way to Indiana. I got in a quick warm up while Gina scoped out the Starbuck's across the street near the starting line and it was race time before I knew it.
Off the line I felt pretty good. Maybe I could run 13 6:30 minute miles after all! I knew this was just the adrenaline talking. If I let it go to my head it would be a quick 5 or 6 miles followed by miles and miles of pain. The plan was to stick it around a 7 minute mile and then see how it goes from there. For the first few miles things went perfectly. I would creep up around a 6:45 pace then draw it back to 7-ish. Eventually I found a few runners going at a similar pace and stuck with them. It was an "easy" cruise into Indiana.
The course was out and back. We started in Oxford, near Miami University, and headed out to the Indiana state line, across it for a mile or so and back. There were a couple little side loops on the way out and a straight shot back. That made the trip back a little shorter and should have been a mental boost knowing that you would get back sooner. For me it didn't quite feel that way. As we crossed the border into Indiana I could fee the first little bit of discomfort in my right hip. This isn't terribly unusual on long runs. I often get tight around my hips, so I didn't worry about it too much.
Some time between mile 9 and mile 10 I did start to get concerned. The discomfort had increased and now both my hips were growing tight. It was becoming difficult to maintain my pace at this point, and I had to slow down to regroup. I found myself caught out in no man's land between the ultra fast runners way up ahead of me and the slower runners behind me. As the discomfort increased and my pace decreased I lost the few people that I was pacing with earlier in the race. I slowed down concentrated on my breathing and tried to psych myself up for the rest of the race.
I could see the 10 mile mark approaching, so I talked myself up. Only 3.1 miles left. I know I'm out of the hunt for breaking 1:30, but I can still set a PR today. I did a quick calculation in my head. If I can keep the pace at 7:30 or faster I can still beat my PR of 1:35:55. Breathe deep, relax and let your legs do the work. With that it was back on.
Miles 11 and 12 went by at a snail's pace in my head. I pushed the pace as much as I could. Shortly after mile 12 I went through the strangest water stop I've ever encountered. Usually the volunteers at the water stops are very encouraging, jovial, fun people. This one was a different story. I swear everybody at that water stop was completely silent and almost solemn. It was like being handed water by the children of the corn. Did they know something I didn't? Is this some sort of death march? yikes.
I think what they knew and I didn't was that there was this ridiculous hill 100 yards before the finish line. They knew I was going to die on it. It was out and back, so we ran down this on the way out. It wasn't nearly that steep was it? Where did it come from? 99% of the rest of the course was completely flat. What sadistic race planner does this? I reminded myself that I had done my hill work. This little bump was nothing. That little bump took the last bit of energy out of me.
When I reached the top I could see the finish line. I summoned anything I had left in the tank and "sprinted" to the finish. Official time: 1:34:53. A one minute and 2 second improvement. Not the race I was hoping for, but any day you can PR is a good day. Hell any day pounding the pavement is a great day.
I'm not really sure what happened after the race. Gina has the post race coverage along with her trials and tribulations tackling a grande latte at Starbucks. All I know is I woke up some time later that day to head out to my parents with Gina to watch the Bengals pull off a miracle win over Pittsburgh and eat lots and lots of snacks.