“None but ourselves can free our minds…”

2021 Sportsbackers Half Marathon

Race Report

1:43:22    (7:53 min/mile) 

4/22AG     25/372 Overall

March 19, 2021 – After my regrettable performance at the Richmond Marathon in November of 2020, I was reeling and my confidence was somewhat shattered. I’d started wondering if that race had been a one-off or whether my best racing days were behind me. Objectively, there were many reasons why things went to shit during that marathon, which are outlined here, but once the pain faded away, I started to question whether I could’ve or should’ve been able to push through it. Funny how that works, and my psyche is always messing with me. When I race well, then I’m only as good as my next race. When I race poorly, I’m only as good as my last race.

In any event, I learned about the Sportsbackers Half Marathon sometime over the winter. I knew that I wouldn’t be as prepared as I’d have liked to take on another full distance marathon by March, so I decided to seek redemption at the half distance. I had enough recent mileage under my belt thanks to the marathon in November, so I really just needed to focus on some speedwork for the shorter distance. My training wasn’t ideal thanks to some bad winter weather, but I was able to get in some quality miles, while still prepping for the upcoming triathlon season at the same time.

The race was on a Saturday, and would take place on the Capital Trail, starting and finishing in Dorey Park. This was almost the same course as the full marathon in November, and that race got quite lonely out on the trail with no crowd support – even with Coach Karen riding along beside me. I knew that this race would be much of the same, but at least it’d only be half the distance. Even so, I’d be pretty much alone since I wasn’t bringing anyone with me for support.

The weather on race morning was cool (around 52 degrees) with a little bit of wind. Overall, good running weather. I arrived at Dorey Park and picked up my packet, and had flashbacks to the marathon in November – where dry heaving and run-walking compromised the last 10k. I kind of felt like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for game 7 of the ’86 World Series. After getting my packet and hitting the portapotty one last time, it was time to seek redemption.

Race

My half marathon PR was 1:44:30 at the Richmond Half Marathon in 2017, when I was four years younger and fresh off of completing Ironman Chattanooga that September. That was probably when I was in the best shape of my life for longer distance events. Nevertheless, my goal was to beat that time, so I’d need to average about 7:57 miles or better. My plan was to run slower for the first three miles and then to pick it up from there. Hopefully I could hang on until the finish.

Miles 1-3 (8:14)(8:08)(8:06)

The first three miles were a short out and back on the Capital Trail towards Richmond, which was opposite of the marathon (which finished with that out and back after initially heading away from Richmond). I planned to make the first mile my slowest of the day, and was fine with my 8:14 pace. The course doubled back around mile 1.5, and then I was running back east towards Dorey park. Somewhere around mile 2 I started feeling bad. It was nothing in particular, I just didn’t feel well and was breathing too hard and thought that I was going to have a rough day. I tried to think positive thoughts and just kept running, hoping that it would work itself out. Thankfully, after about the third mile I started feeling better and got into a groove.

Miles 4-6 (7:50)(7:54)(8:00)

I passed the entrance to Dorey Park just before the end of mile 3, and set out onto the eastern portion of the course. It was time to pick up the pace, and I dropped to a 7:50 mile in mile 4. I was feeling pretty good and hit 7:54, but ballooned a bit up to 8:00 in mile 6 for some reason. No major cause for concern though, because I was still feeling ok and was almost halfway done with the race. Still, I knew that the really tough miles were coming in the mail soon.

Miles 7-9 (7:54)(8:05)(7:52)

I got back on pace in mile 7, but mile 8 was a bit slower due to a net elevation gain. I hit the turnaround point just before the mile 8 marker, and that gave me a bit of a mental boost since I was headed back towards Dorey Park. At that point, I was on pace to PR if I could maintain my pacing plan. Unfortunately though, I was near the “bottom” of the course profile, so it was going to be an uphill run to the finish. I had barely been making my pace up to that point, and I’d had the benefit of a net elevation loss. I knew that the last few miles were going to suck.

Miles 10-12 (7:52)(8:02)(7:40)

The course had been sparsely populated with racers, but around mile 10, another guy passed me on my left. He was breathing much harder than I was, but was overtaking me. That motivated me, so I sped up and got beside him. We didn’t really speak, but pretty much agreed to run together with a couple of nods. It helped to have someone to suffer with, and I was able to turn in a 7:52 mile, even though the course was going uphill. Mile 11 was a bit slower, but had an even worse hill to climb. By the time we got to mile 12, the other runner had fallen off behind me. I knew that I was at or just below a PR pace (my brain was a bit slow with the calculations) and that motivated me to run even faster. I did mile 12 at a 7:40 pace – my fastest of the day – even with the net uphill.

Mile 13 (7:47)

By the time I got to the 12 mile marker I knew that a PR was in hand unless something catastrophic happened. I wanted to keep accelerating, but I was on the verge of blowing up and was barely keeping things together. I also remembered that there was a nice little hill to get back into Dorey Park. Eventually, I made the right hand turn in the park, and then made my way to the finish line. The final time was 1:43:22, which was a PR by over a minute.

Post-Race

Due to Covid, the race itself wasn’t all that exciting. No spectators on the course and no post-race food or beers. That’s ok though, I went there looking for a little bit of redemption and was able to find it alone with my thoughts on the Capital Trail. In a way, that made it even more satisfying since I was only really racing myself, the clock and Father Time. Father Time always wins in the end, but I’d held him off for a little bit longer. More importantly, I was able to get my head on straight for the upcoming tri season, which was only weeks away. There was some redemption needed there too, since my last triathlon (thanks to Covid cancelling 2020) had been at Ironman Louisville in 2019, which had been a monumental disaster, as described here. The 2021 tri season was beginning for me in early April at the Smithfield Sprint Triathlon, and I was determined to exorcise the Louisville demons and to win some more pig bling!

View of the starting line in the distance.

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