Beginners and Beyond


The UC Half Marathon: A Strange Race (Read 103 times)

    This race is put on by the Sports Administration students at the University of Charleston where I teach.  They are mentored by a faculty member who used to be on staff with NYRR.   Last year was the inaugural event and it had inaugural growing pains such as poorly placed aid stations and unclear course markings.  To the credit of the students running this race, they took the comments from last year and made great improvements.  I headed into this race two weeks after Boston without having done any specific half marathon training although I have been focused on speed and stamina this spring.  Talk about contrasts.  Boston has 27,000 runners and spectators along the entire course.  This had about 150 runners and, other than folks working the race, I saw 3 spectators under a bridge, an occasional intrepid family member, and that was pretty much it.


    I say intrepid because my alarm went off at 0500 and I had a bowl of oatmeal, put my race stuff together and went out the front door.  I was immediately hit square in the face by a stiff blast of wind and hard rain.  I nearly, nearly turned around and went back to bed.  I actually got about halfway to the bedroom before I decided to just suck it up and run.  If I didn't work there, I might well have stayed home.  So I headed on in.


    Between Boston and now I only did one bit of speed work.  My legs simply weren't ready last week and it was Wednesday before I felt recovered enough to do anything resembling speed.  I intended to do a workout on Wednesday but got caught in one of those last minute meetings and didn't run at all that day.  Thursday, I did a two mile warm up followed by 4 x 1 mile at tempo effort with 1/4 mile recovery jogs.  Enough for my body to get used to moving the legs faster again but not so much that I'd induce a lot of fatigue.  Ran more than I should have on Friday but just did a 3 mile recovery jog yesterday.


    I got to the race and started doing my warm up.  About 3/4 mile into the warm up, I looked at Jeepus and it gave me a pace of 9:10.  WTF?  I know I was running slowly but I wasn't running 9:10 slowly.  I'm fairly good with my pacing and I could state with a fair degree of certainty that I was running about 8:15.  That possible error will come into play later.  My warm up went well and I finished just about 5 minutes before the gun.  I stripped off my arm sleeves (I've become a fan of those things) and tossed them in the car and lined up.  


    My intent for this race was to use it as a kick off for my "A" goal this year of breaking 3:00 at the Marshall University Marathon in November.  The plan was to run the first 6-7 miles fairly hard and then dial it back to marathon pace for the rest.  The idea was to induce a lot of fatigue and then practice maintaining that pace after fatigue had set in.  Plus, I didn't want to induce so much race damage that I'm out of doing speed work for another two weeks given my typical slow ass recovery from races.  I should have known better.


    The race is essentially a double loop that runs north for a few hundred yards, east for about 3 miles, south for a few hundred yards, west for 3 miles to near the start and repeat.  It's a bit more complicated than that but that's the essence.  It's advertised as a flat race but there is a fair amount of elevation change.  None of it is severe but it is definitely not completely flat.  Jeepus shows a total elevation change of over 1,600 feet and that's just complete nonsense.  My guess is that there was maybe 200 feet of total elevation change.  Still, even when I tell RA to substitute GPS elevation data, it gives 1,200 feet of elevation change.  I just find that very hard to believe because I run on these roads daily.


    At any rate, my pace was fairly steady in the 6:30-6:35 range for the first 8 miles.  The wind was blowing from the east so when you headed back on the second 3 mile easterly loop, you had the wind smack in the face.  It was cold and miserable.  At this point, I'm thinking that I'll just maintain 6:45-6:50 since a 2:59:59 marathon requires a 6:51 pace.  When I got to the farthest easterly point and turned briefly south, I glanced over my shoulder.  Damn.  A guy I thought I'd dropped a long time ago wasn't more than 50 yards behind me.  This race was small enough that by Mile 2, I was on my own.  They runner in front of me was in front by a long way.  So, I abandoned my plan and determined that I wasn't going to be caught.  Competition is a good thing.


    I didn't exactly drop the hammer but I did pick it up.  In fact, I picked it up hard enough that during the last two miles, I was having to do two block fartleks.  I'd run two blocks hard and then ease up for a block.  Then I'd run hard again.  I had long since quit worrying about my pace and was just trying to run by effort.  It's a race dammit.  It's supposed to hurt.  I risk a look at one turn and can't see my pursuer so I think I've dropped him again.  Just after Mile 12, there is the only significant climb on the course.  How's that for blech?    About half a mile from the finish, I hear someone coming up on my left shoulder.  SHIT!  I thought he was way behind me.  I start trying to pick it up but he is gaining on me fast.  I come to terms with the reality that if he has that much left, he's probably been jogging the whole way and is now trying to finish strong.  I've been beaten like that before and it's by runners who are plain and simply better than me.  As he reaches me, it turns out that it's not my pursuer but one of my students who volunteered.  He has dropped his bike and decided to run in with me.  Cool.  I lay into with with all I have left in the last half mile and end up running about a 6:15 pace for that half mile and close out the last few hundred yards around 5:45.


    I cross and the first words out of my mouth are "Son of A Bitch."  Why are those my first words?  Because the clock shows 1:25:34 as I cross the finish and my PR is 1:25:58.  Damn.  Where the hell did that come from?  A PR was the last thing I expected as I figured I'd run around 1:28.  Now for the issues.


    Jeepus says the course was 12.9 miles but I know that's wrong because my pace throughout the race is all over the place.  It's much more erratic than I was actually running.  Moreover, that 9:10 on the warm up was dead wrong.  Last, when I was doing my cool down, I ran back along the course and saw my wife's bosses wife with just about a mile left.  I ran in with her and she ran a 1:49.  That's an 8:21 pace but my watch was showing 8:53.  All I can think of is that the cloud cover and rain was causing problems with reception.  I mapped the course on and and both show a 13.05 mile course.  Hey, it's put on by students and it's not USATF certified so a bit of a discrepancy isn't surprising.  I suppose I'll go out later this week and run the course on a clear day and see what I get.  So, I'm not sure whether to count this as a PR.  Doesn't matter all that much I suppose.


    What it does do is give me a boost of confidence for November.  If I can train consistently between now and then, if I can start getting my mileage into the 70-90 mpw range rather than the 50-60 range, I think I have a good shot at 2:59:59.  My plan is to continue working on speed and stamina for another couple of months before I shift into endurance and marathon specific training.


    Keep on keepin' on folks.

    Short term goal: 17:59 5K

    Mid term goal:  2:54:59 marathon

    Long term goal: To say I've been a runner half my life.  (I started running at age 45).


    Go figure

      Sounds like you got back to your roots by running a race of this scale, which I seem to remember you preferring.  I liked the pre-race strategy going into this.  Given where you've been with Boston, the training, and wanting to start building, it seemed really smart.  Still, sometimes a race unfolds and you just have to go with it.  If you didn't, you wouldn't have that sweet new PR to carry around!  And I say forget the gritty details.  They called it a half marathon and you ran the fastest half marathon you've run to date.  As for the sub 3, I have no doubt that you'll have it in you.  We differ in our training a bit, but increasing the volume as much as you can while still getting in the speed work, even if it means slower GA type miles, will give you more than what you need.

      Trying to find some more hay to restock the barn


        Wow, congrats on the PR, a great report, time and overallvery impressive.

        Ron's PRs 5K 24:14 (12/07/2013); Half Marathon 1:53:33 (5/26/2013)

          Nice job, LTH, congrats.


          It's weird how often the best races are not "goal" efforts, but just kind of happen.

            PR or not, what a great time and confidence booster going into training for fall.


            Skirt Runner

              Congrats, LTH on the unexpected PR!!!


              That's weird about your watch errors.... could have been cloud cover and weak signal.... one day my Garmin seemed possessed and was showing erratic pace changes such as 22:25 and then 5:45 then 14:25, ect all within a matter of seconds, and I know it showed less distance than I really ran because it is a route I have run many times. I blamed the clouds.


              Anyhoo, great job!

              PRs:   5K- 28:16 (5/5/13)      10K- 1:00:13 (10/27/13)    4M- 41:43 (9/7/13)   15K- 1:34:25  (8/17/13)    10M- 1:56:30 (4/6/14)     HM- 2:20:16 (4/13/14)     Full- 5:55:33 (11/1/15)


              I started a blog about running :) Check it out if you care to

              Jack K.

              uʍop ǝpᴉsdn sǝʇᴉɹʍ ʇI

                Awesome race, LtH. Man, that was cool. I have no doubt that if your training goes well you will get your goal of 2:59:59. Thanks for a great read... I felt like I was one of the three spectators!

                  Great race and I really enjoy hearing your in-race thoughts on how you race those around you. What a great run considering the conditions and you being just a couple of weeks post-Boston. What a confidence booster as well for your attack on the sub 3 mountain this fall. Given your competitive nature and how seriously you approach training I have no doubt you'll meet the Marshall.

                  Train smart ... race smarter.


                    Congratulations on the great "I'm not going to race this" race.  The competitive drive that lead you to not letting what you thought was a competitor pass you is the same drive that will get you your sub 3 hour marathon.  Great job!

                      Nice race.


                      I had a 2 minute half-marathon PR four weeks after a full marathon PR back in 2010. Surprised the hell out of me. Funny how things work out sometimes.




                        Congratulations on running such a good race, even though it wasn't what you intended, especially given the conditions.

                          Way to go man. That's freaking flying. Sub 3 in the fall will be bad ass.

                          ”Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

                          “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”



                          100K or Bust - Busted

                            Seems like a weekend for odd courses. MothAudio has some issues with either his course or Garmin as well. If I didn't know the course so well that I ran my LR on yesterday I might have accused the Garmin of being off. The other measurements you got have enough accuracy that even if you don't consider the time a PR, you know you have one in you along with a good shot at sub-3:00 if the weather cooperates in the fall.


                            BTW in my last sub-3:00 marathon I ran 2:56 two months after running 1:25 for a HM. If it weren't for the number of variables that can affect a marathon, I say you had sub-3:00 in the bag.

                            2017 Goals: for races not to be exercises in futility

                              Congrats on a strong race! You made a statement in the report that I find myself doing sometimes in races too, and was wonder what are your thoughts on this. Is it a strategy? Or more like just catching your breath for a minute?


                              " In fact, I picked it up hard enough that during the last two miles, I was having to do two block fartleks.  I'd run two blocks hard and then ease up for a block.  Then I'd run hard again."

                                Way to go, you'll definitely see a sub 3:00 in the fall.