So close to a PR, just 20 seconds short! You think I’d be frustrated. You think I’d be annoyed. Instead, I’m as happy as can be because for once, I ran as I always imagined I would: strong, disciplined and consistent through an unfamiliar, tough and hilly course. In fact, I dare say, this may have been my best performance in a half marathon! And to think I almost decided not to race this one on account of it’s hilliness. Sheesh!
The story of how I came to race in the Colonial Half began at the Awards Gala when I heard from one of my running buddies AG that there was a caravan of Flyers heading down to colonial Williamsburgh for a destination half marathon. Because I had been in the market for a half anyway during that time and I’d never been to Virginia for a race before, I decided to take the plunge and sign up. I figure if nothing else, the trip would serve as a short mid-winter weekend vacation with a scenic long run to boot.
The Crim Dell
We arrived in town on Friday night after a seven hour car ride in the midst of a tornado raging through the mid-Southern states. There were a few accidents just outside Williamburgh on I-95 which looked bad but the storm passed quickly and by the time we got to the bed and breakfast outside the College of William and Mary where we were staying, it was warm and dry again. My travel mates and I had a great time exploring the college and the town for the next day and a half while enjoying the food and the southern hospitality that we aren’t privy to back home. Because our host for the weekend is an avid wine collector and bourbon/scotch connoisseur, we couldn’t help but indulge ourselves with a few “tastings” during our time there. I did my best to stay away although this proved difficult because the alcohol was so free-flowing and all so good. Still, by the time Sunday morning rolled around, we were all prepared and ready to race!
I had been told all weekend by all who had done this race previously that this was a scenic but very challenging course. In fact, in the one race report I found online by a guy who ran this half last year in 1:21, the first two words of his report were “HOLY HILLS!” Being that Flushing Meadows Park, where I do most of my training back home is mostly flat and I don’t consider myself a naturally strong hill runner to begin with, I had already resigned myself to the fact that this race would probably be a slower one for me. As I went about the morning (race started at 1pm, how odd!) figuring out what I should wear, when I should eat and how I should run, I reminded myself constantly that I MUST stay conservative right from the start or risk blowing up in the middle of the race like I did 2 weeks ago in the Boston Buildup 20K when I ran a 7:08 at mile 4 and never fully recovered. I vowed that I wouldn’t do THAT again.
I positioned myself about five or six rows behind the front with a few minutes left to go until the start. Although the announced field totaled only about a thousand, I did not want to take the chance of being boxed in behind slower runners on narrow streets. Because the race was starting and ending in the College of William and Mary, It didn’t surprise me that there would be a bunch of people both young and old running in their garb. What did surprise me though that most of them were wearing their coat of arms in their long-sleeve shirts and jackets . It was rather amusing that while I was perfectly comfortable waiting to run in my singlet and shorts in the sunny and 52 degree weather, many of my neighbors felt it necessary to prepare for the run wearing much more clothing. Before I had a chance to wonder if that was a ‘me’ or ’ them’ problem , the final command was given and we were officially off and running!
The race began to a smattering of cheers from many families and neighbors who had come out to watch us run. For the first half mile or so, I ran at what I perceived to be a comfortable pace. Running fast along narrow country roads with a crowded pack made me a bit nervous in the beginning so I did not have the fast start I would have had normally. Since I wasn’t expecting to PR or even come close, I didn’t really mind starting a bit slower. I really wanted to enjoy running in the perfect weather and the picturesque course. I reminded myself of that as I patiently waited for the pack to thin over the first couple of miles. I watched as the top elites fly off into the distance and I wondered if by now they had even started to sweat!
As we escaped the residential neighborhood and into the heavily forested parks and trails over the next few miles, I eased myself to the effort and pace I was hoping to sustain for the duration of this race. Even in the early going, we were already greeted with several rolling hills which would make the west side hills of Central Park seem tame in comparison. Not wanting to suffer through another dramatic reenactment of the “race now, die later” storyline I had practiced so many times before, I allowed several runners to blow by me in each of the first four miles while carefully gauging my effort up and down the hills. I kept my back straight, my breathing even and my steps small as I successfully negotiated my way through the steep elevation and descents. I didn’t dare look at my Garmin as I was climbing up and sliding down. I somehow convinced myself in between the mile markers that pace and time just wasn’t that important to me (even though it was!). Keeping a steady gait and preparing for whatever may come around the next bend seemed somehow to be much more pertinent.
By mile 5, when I found euphoria in the form of a quarter mile long bridge over a quiet uninhabited lake, I knew I had found my groove. Over the next four or five miles, I allowed the zen-like state I was in to carry me over peaks and valleys, trails and roads with seemingly very little expenditure of energy. I knew I was maintaining a fast pace because all of a sudden no one was passing me anymore and I started passing other runners at a regular rate. Yet, my heart and lungs didn’t seemed bothered by the quick effort at all. My mind sailed and wandered to the four corners of the earth as I admired the scenery and picked runners off one at a time. The only trouble I had on the way back was when the road became hilly and cambered after leaving the forested park. I had trouble figuring out where to run because the most level part of the road seemed always to be the farthest portion of the road away from the tangents. By mile 11, I lost my groove because my hip started hurting after battling all those hills and running on the uneven surface for more than a mile. I battled and dealt with the slants as best I could. I was glad once I resurfaced back on the residential streets but by then the damage had been done. Two runners passed me over the final 2 miles as I ran up and over the several hills that led to the finish. I wanted to catch them and beat my own previous half marathon time, but I had no energy left to sprint over the several hills that led to the finish inside the William and Mary basketball gymnasium. There would be no dash to the finish for me in this race.
In the end, I just kept to the pace I was at for pretty much the whole race and crossed the line in a still-shocking-to-me time of 1:23:41. That was good enough for #36 overall and 4th in the 35-39 age group. More importantly, it was my second fastest half marathon time EVER on probably the toughest and most challenging course I’ve ever run. Although it wasn’t a PR (because I wasn’t shooting for one) and I finished just one place short of some race medal bling, I’m still happy and content I was able to show some patience and run a great time on that challenging course despite having no prior knowledge of the specific course details. It should set me up well for both the Coogan’s 5K that I will be racing next weekend as well as the 50K I’ve got coming up in a few short weeks.
Congrats also goes out to my Flyer mates (BS, AG, HM, and LR) who individually and collectively ran better than they all thought they would! A great time was had by all. Rumor has it we may be back next year with an even bigger crew to run this race. If so, I’ll be better prepared for the peaks and valleys of this treacherous course. You can bet I’ll be ready to race from the word GO and do an even better job the next time around. Then I’ll truly be able to enjoy the post-race single malt-scotch back at the B&B and the delicious post-race apple pie at the Aroma café that I didn’t get to taste because they ran out before our crew got there. You’ve been warned, Virginia. Next year, BE READY!
(Thanks again for Captain AG for organizing and driving the ship and our gracious hosts of the bed and breakfast where we stayed and were treated like royalty!)
Weather – Temp 51F, Sunny, Humidity 32%, Wind N 3.1
Official Time – 1:23:41
Average Pace — 6:23 min/mile
Mile Splits – 6:09, 6:18, 6:14, 6:26, 6:16, 6:24, 6:21, 6:34, 6:20, 6:28, 6:22, 6:23, 6:16, (1:09)
Overall Place – 36th
Age Group Place – 4th
Age Graded Percent – 71.2%