I have been out of endurance racing for the last year. I partially herniated a disk during Ironman Chattanooga (details here). The injury had caused significant loss of strength in my left leg, some loss of motor control, and numbness in my shin. Through weight training and doing workouts with a more upright over position (e.g. mountain biking and running) I was able to recover most of the strength and a lot of the motor control (the only remaining issues are a stiff knee after a number of miles riding or running and some shin numbness–unlikely to go away at this point). On the positive side, the pain went away a few weeks after the injury and has not returned (so far).
I wanted to see how the back/leg would respond under race conditions. I’ve been doing cyclocross races but 30 minutes is not a sufficient test. So my first test was a half marathon (or two!).
Training was a bit sporadic as I had been doing running over the summer and then with cyclocross season getting cranked up, there was less time to get in the runs I needed. The basic plan was to do two workouts a week in addition to weekly road ride and cyclocross intervals. The weekday workout was two, three, or four intervals of 1.5 mile (~11-12 min each) at close to threshold with a 2 min rest. Here’s an example:
I could tell right off the bat that my speed was off from before the injury. I would have been closer to a 7:00 pace than the 8:00 minute pace. But still, a decent pace. The other run was a long weekend run building from 6 miles to 10 miles over several weeks.
Richmond Half Marathon
My daughter, a junior in college, wanted to run a half marathon with me. It needed to be reasonably flat, close to her college, and in the Fall. The Richmond Marathon and Half Marathon fit the bill. My wife and I drove to Richmond and met by daughter there, She brought one of her sorority sisters, running her first half. We stayed with my wife’s aunt in Richmond. Packet pickup the night before was straightforward with the usual collection of vendors.
The major topic of discussion was the weather. It was going to be sunny but chilly (~26 deg F) at the start and warming to the mid-30’s by the finish. . Luckily we had my wife to take our extra clothes at the start but what to wear during the run required some thinking. Previously, I developed a detailed chart to help decide what to wear while cycling (mostly because I could never remember what I wore the last ride, much less two or three weeks ago). I’ve been creating a similar chart for running by recording the date of the run, distance, temperature, day/night, sunny/cloudy, what I wore, and whether I felt warm, cool, or just right. I had not run in any weather quite this cold so I extrapolated: SS base layer, LS base layer, vest, light jacket, thick gloves, thermal headband, and running tights.
We got to the starting line without too many problems (they’ve got lots of parking downtown). But, man, there were a lot of people (~8000 people were running the half). I had registered us with an estimated finish time between 2:10 and 2:15, having not run with my daughter and not knowing what shape she would be in. So that put us in corral F, the sixth wave to start. After lots of jumping up and down to stay warm, we were finally off!
We soon realized we were in a too slow wave. Although you should start out conservatively, running a 10:00 min pace was way too slow for us. Plus you can see by the size and shape of the runners around you that you are in the wrong group. We spent most of the race simply trying move up through the crowds. And since it was wall-to-wall people, this took some work. Of course, passing hundreds of people gets you pumped.
The weather was sunny and even though I was heating up and sweating, the evaporation from the multiple layers kept me from getting chilled. Having the jacket wth the full zip helped regulate the heat nicely, going up and down hills or in and out of shade. The course was generally flat with a few climbs here and there.
One of the most interesting parts of running a long-distance race with a mass of humanity is watching the different running styles. There are so many body types, each with its own biomechanical assembly and each assembly swinging and coordinating in different ways: Long strides, short strides, trunks swinging left to right, arms tight, arms flailing, bodies bobbing up and down. On top of that, I was particularly interested in what people were wearing. They started the marathoners slightly after us and they ran parallel to us for a bit. Other than the leaders being blazingly fast, they wore very little compared to my multi-layer kit. Most had on some type of light hat or no hat, a short sleeve shirt or a tank top or both, arm sleeves, gloves, and shorts. The runners around me were in everything from short sleeves to down jackets. It was also interesting seeing folks with full belts of gels or a hydration pack. Hard to believe they were going to need water between aid stations or take in that many gels (I think I had maybe one gel).
Being so focused on getting around that many people as well as doing so much people-watching made the miles melt away. Before we knew it, we were at mile 10 and time to crank up the pace. I was getting a little tight in the calves and my daughter was doing well but it wasn’t clear we could push the pace (we had left her friend at the start; she wanted to run at her own pace–she ended up right a 2:00 and was totally psyched). We turned a corner near the finish and YMCA was blaring. A bunch of us started the hand motions and it was huge lift to the finish!
Here are the finish details:
You can see from the mile splits that we were slowing increasing our pace as crowds thinned out and we made up time.
[Just for fun, and to see how the body would hold up, I did two cyclocross races the next day; I felt remarkably good!]
Raleigh Half Marathon
A buddy of mine was going to run a Thanksgiving day half marathon (FS Skinny Turkey) with his son. Given the fitness from Richmond and that my daughter was going to be in town, we decided to run this one as well. A Twofer! Since there was only 12 days between the two races, the only training I did was a 10 mile run.
This race was super low key, with maybe 400 runners doing the 5k and the half (no full marathon). The weather was slightly warmer (sunny, 36) so I thought I’d try a lighter kit: SS base, LS top, down running vest (Nike), medium gloves, thermal headband, running tights. We all stood in the school atrium until the last minute, gathered at in the starting coral (no waves here!), heard a few announcements, sang the national anthem, and then we’re off! My buddy believes in lining up near the front so we followed him. With so few people, the crowd got strung out fairly quickly. We ran together with my buddy (his son dropped back early to run his own race). We slowly dropped my buddy and passed some folks along the way. Among those we passed was a father running with his young son (nine or ten). I gave him some encouraging words (“Good job, little man!”), thinking maybe he was running the 5k or that he might make it part way through the half marathon. Around mile 10, he cruised by us with his father barely keeping up (he ended up finishing in 1:50 and won his age group, obviously!).
Even though we started out faster, the course was hillier, which slowed our pace. We finished with a time similar to Richmond but the mile splits were more even.
Turns out I finished first in my age group (weak field!) so I won a turkey.
As a vegan, I was able to trade the turkey in for a gift certificate at a local farmer’s market.