The start line was at the corner of 7th and Main Streets, right next to the Holiday Inn where I was staying. I waited until about 7:50 AM to leave my room and take the elevator down to street level. A short walk three blocks up the street parallel to Main Street brought me up to the cross street that got me into my assigned corral, Corral C. Friend Steve was already there, waiting for me and as we stood together waiting for our corral to move forward, a woman standing next to us recognized me from the Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon last February. I wrote previously about our meeting. She and I had met at that race while we stood outside in the miserable cold and wet, waiting for the race to start. We still had a long wait, so I brought her back to the Tremont Hotel where I was staying, so that we could sit in the lobby until just moments before the race start. I was surprised that she remembered me!
Our corral of runners moved forward as each of the corrals in front of us were released and then...it was our turn to cross the start line! The route took us straight down Main Street to 15th Street and there was a nice downhill slope which meant a smooth flow of runners in what can sometimes be a clogged first few miles.
The race course was really well-planned! While it was a hilly course, and there was a particularly long uphill stretch through mile 2 and into mile 3, the downhill sections more than made up for this.
The course flattened out when it got down to the Arkansas River and continued south. It also got a bit boring as well, as it turned away from the river and then turned south again on a parallel road through a tacky business section. This happened to coincide with what I call the "flats of the half," which are miles 7, 8 and 9. It's when the initial excitement wears off and boredom sets in. When this happens to coincide with a particularly boring stretch of the route, the race becomes a mental challenge. But once the race route turned back toward the river and continued south again, I knew that I was getting close to the turnaround point just south of the 10 mile mark.
I've had a rough patch of races this past spring and fall, my finish times being much slower than I'd like, mostly due to unseasonal heat at the spring and summer races, a PAC episode during one race, and a nagging foot/shoe issue. So this time I paid particular attention to maintaining pace. I would know if I succeeded in doing this when I passed mile 9. You see, I knew that in order to finish with a sub-3 hour time I'd need to pass the mile 9 marker in 2 hours or less. So when I passed that mile marker on Riverside, I glanced at my Garmin watch and saw my time: 1:55! I was well below my objective of 9 miles in 2 hours. I knew at that point that I was in good shape for a sub-3 hour finish time, possibly even a PR.
I was feeling good at this point. I wasn't tired and my legs still felt fresh. My strategy of walking up the hills and taking advantage of gravity on the downhills seems to work well for me. I know that I can walk up hills nearly as fast as I can run them...I learned this years ago, while running the Houston Marathon and struggling through those dips on Allen Parkway that go under Waugh and Montrose at miles 22 and 23. So I have stuck with this strategy wherever the hills are long or steep. I used this strategy in this race and it really paid off.
But between miles 11 and 12 I found myself slowing to a walk for absolutely no reason. It was a mindless, unconscious slowdown. Then I'd realize it, chastise myself, and break into a run again. But then a quarter mile or so later I'd unconsciously slow down to a walk again. I had no reason to be doing this - I felt good, my legs felt strong. It was a habit I'd developed through last spring and summer when I was struggling with the heat and other issues. I had none of these issues now, and really had to kick it up. And I was definitely doing better than many other runners at this point in the race, as demonstrated by this cool graphic.
When I got to within a mile of the finish line I realized that these brief walks had stolen my chance for a PR. But I was still in good shape to post an excellent finish time.
When I made the final turn off Riverside toward the finish line, a woman about my age, standing along the sidelines cheering us on, ran over to me and asked me if I wanted her to run me in. "YES!" I said. "I'd LOVE that!"
So she ran along side me for the next 100 yards or so, telling me I looked great, to keep it up, finish strong. Then when we reached the "runners only" chute area she broke away with the parting words of "You go, girlfriend!" I loved it!! She definitely put some spring into my step those last few hundred yards. As we ran along she told me that she ran a 1/2 marathon last weekend and had run the Route 66 5K race on Saturday so was out there to cheer us on. Way to give back, girlfriend! Gotta love the camaraderie among runners!
Then next thing I knew, I was running across the finish line timing mat and getting high-fived by the finish-line crew. I haven't felt this good, this strong, at a race finish in months! My finish time was great! My 4th best career 1/2 marathon finish time! Very sweet, when I consider that my current all-time PR was earned in January, 2005 when I was 8 years younger!
The really cool Finisher's Medal:
And here's what the 50 States Half Marathons Completed map looks like now:
Another great race experience...and I'm feeling really good about myself after having completed this one in very good time!!
Next race: Scottsdale Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon, December 2, 2012.