Mercedes Half Marathon race report

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I recently took up running.  That’s not to say I never ran before, but until 2012 my annual number of runs was always in the single digits.  I began 2012 by running a little bit in the Spring (maybe once every other week or so).  Then I ran a little less during the Summer due to the oppressive heat.  But once Fall came around I began to run every Monday night while waiting for my daughter to get through with her nearby gymnastics class.

As my running fitness began to build up from 4 miles to 7-8 miles, I began having thoughts of running the Mercedes Half Marathon here in Birmingham.  It’s an annual event that gets a lot of great attention, and is also a race my wife has completed in the past.  In January 2013 I decided once and for all that I was going to participate this year and that I needed to start logging in some more miles to prepare.  I still did not come close to what I would call proper training, as evidenced by my Strava stats below, but this was BY FAR the most miles I had ever put in during a 4-week stretch in my life.

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Race day morning arrived with some very cold air (low 20s) as Mike Suco and David Brush swung by my house at 6am to pick me up for the race.  We made our way downtown, found a free parking spot around ¾ of a mile from the start corral, and got in a quick warmup by jogging to the start line.  As we were getting to the corral, I realized I did not have my race number pinned to my shirt.  I grabbed Mike’s keys and hauled butt back to the car, grabbed my race number and timing chip, and hurried back.  So by this time I had put in over two miles of running already.  But the good thing was that I was completely warmed up, despite temps still in the mid 20s.

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I lost track of Mike and David and ended up positioned way towards the back of the start corral, near the 11-minute mile pacers.  Considering most of my training runs were well under 8-minute mile paces, I was stuck with some slower runners.  When the gun went off, it took close to three minutes just for us to past the official start line due to the crowds in front of us.  This meant I had to mentally subtract that time in order to determine my true pace while on the course.

My buddy Travis Grappo gave me some great advice the day before the race, saying to be very cognizant of my pace and to not go out too fast or else I’d risk a meltdown in the later miles.  Considering I had never run more than 8.8 miles before, I felt it was important to try my best to heed his advice.  While on the course, I was amazed at how fast the miles went by even at a pace slower than I am used to running.  Having so many other runners nearby, along with the sights of the city, definitely helped distract me from just grinding it out like I typically do on my solo runs.  Whereas I have never really enjoyed the actual act of running much, this was rather pleasurable.

After 4 or 5 miles I saw my good friend Joey Longoria and was able to run with him for a bit.  He was doing his first full marathon and had to pace himself a little more than me, so after a short chat he told me to just go on without him.  I was happy to see that he finished his 26.2 miles a little later that morning.

I made sure to grab some water or Powerade at least three times while on the course even though I never felt very thirsty.  And just after 7 miles somebody was handing out gummy bears.  Who knew that one of my all-time favorite candies would be made free for the taking?!!  That was an awesome little boost of excitement, though I’ve got to admit that chewing a mouthful of gummy bears while running and out of breath is not exactly the most easy thing to do.

Because of my number plate issue prior to the race, I never got to pee out the Gatorade and coffee I had before the race.  Therefore, my bladder was absolutely ready to burst.  Every time I’d see a porta-potty there was always a line outside of it and I really didn’t want to stop and wait.  So, I kept going until around the 9.5-mile mark when I saw an unattended porta-potty ready for my presence.  While it cost me two minutes, it was the best two minutes I had on the course and was really a necessity since my bladder was starting to really sting it was so full.  I was amused to see that my pee had steam coming off of it as it slid down the porta-potty chute….guess it was still that cold.

The last few miles were what worried me the most since I was in uncharted territory in terms of my previous maximum running distance.  But, thanks to Travis’s advice to start with a slow pace, the last few miles saw me feeling probably my best all day.  I was able to keep hammering, actually having some negative split times.  In fact, if you take away the down time for my pee break, I would have had consecutive negative splits for every mile starting at mile 8.

It felt great crossing the line with a chip time of 1:51, and even greater knowing that I had plenty of energy left in the tank.  I think I realistically could have shaved six minutes off of my time had I known at the start how I would feel during the last third of the race.  While I still don’t plan to do much proper training, I am definitely looking forward to my next half marathon to see how much I can reduce my time.  But maybe even more so, I’m looking forward to getting back on my bikes for some good rides this Spring.

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