Sunday was my third time running the Buckeye Half Marathon & 5-K through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Pre-game Report: My training schedule thus far has revolved around Hal Higdon's plan to run half the distance of my long run the day before. Initially, however, I planned a mini taper with a day off Saturday before the Buckeye Half Marathon.
Scheduling conflicts interfered and I was six miles in the hole come Saturday. You know what I did: I hit Sand Run Park for two miles at the pace I wanted to start the race (9:21-9:26 per mile), three miles all out and then the last mile at recovery pace.
My first mile, which is mostly down hill, was too fast at 9:10, the second mile was better but still too fast at 9:19, my three fast miles were indeed fast at 8:28 uphill, 7:51 and 7:31, and my final mile was nice and easy at 9:47.
Come 7 a.m. Sunday morning, my legs felt great as Martini, my bike companion and I drove to the race. I was ready to enact my three-pronged race strategy.
First Five Miles: The goal was 9:21-9:26 per mile. This race is only gun timed. I lined up almost even with the two-hour pacer so I could maintain pace during the early position jockeying.
My first mile was right on target at 9:25 as I allowed the pace group to gap me. After that, I had a lot of trouble maintaining a slow pace. I finished Stage 1 about 40 seconds too fast with an average 9:13 per mile.
Second Five Miles: The goal was marathon pace at 9-9:10 per mile. Although I had reached the second phase of the race too soon, I didn't panic. I stuck with my plan and started reeling in the two-hour pacer.
My legs felt a bit fatigued around the halfway mark and I remembered my quick six-miler the day before. I pushed on and logged miles at 9:06, 9:00 and 9:07. I caught the two-hour group -- if two is a group -- just before the eighth mile marker. The leader slowed to let me and another guy ahead of him. I kept the pacer in my peripherals to avoid pulling away too soon. My next mile was 9:30.
Twenty seconds too slow? Some pacer! I was pissed. But I stuck with him for one more mile. Stage 2 was complete within my overall goal range for 10 miles, but about four seconds slow for that phase with an average 9:11 per mile.
5-K to the Finish: The goal was an all out effort. My anger at the pacer fueled my acceleration. I hit the next mile at 8:30. I was picking off runners left and right. I scanned the racers ahead, marking each one for defeat.
Two guys asked me if I'd seen a guy with a balloon (the pacer) behind me, and I barked, "Yeah, I left him at 10 miles," and surged ahead for a 7:46 mile, my fastest of the race.
Mile 13 was a little tricky, with some tricky turns, the only real hill on the course and some rough terrain. I got through it at 8:07.
I rounded the last turn, a tight left after a dogleg right, and chased down my final mark, a short woman in red whom I mercilessly passed as the cones funnelled us toward the chute. I glided all the way to the stringer, handed him my bib tag and made a fast exit to the side to allow my fast-clench muscles to subside. My final 5-K was at 8:00 mile pace for a 1:56:5x finish.
Fellowship of the Race: Martini knocked off about eight minutes from his time last year for a PR. My biker companion finished within 20 seconds of a previous (and only) 5-K PR with just two weeks of training. Witness the drawing power of that hoodie! A successful day all around.
Post-race Revelry: Martini shared his La Chouffe, a tasty Belgian blond ale, and we hung around for the final finishers and awards. Later, the biker and I went to breakfast at the Blue Fig, which has $2 mimosas every weekend. As we all know, alcohol reduces pain and improves confidence. It's no wonder why I'm feeling like a Georgio's pizza as I enter full taper mode.
Job Well Done: This was my slowest half marathon ever, dating back to my first Buckeye in 2007, but the race was successful as a training run. I ran a negative split race, running about 59:42 for the first half (9:07 per mile) and 57:10 for the second half (8:44 per mile). I beat two hours. And I got the hoodie. Overall, I'm satisfied with my performance.
Things I Need to Work on: Despite achieving all my race goals, I still need to work on starting and staying slow. I know everyone has this problem, but it's key to pulling off the negative split. I need to stop worrying about losing sight of the pace group. During the marathon I should reach the half about two minutes back. I also need to focus on my own pace instead of basing it off other runners. And I need to remember that I won't catch the four-hour pace group as fast as I caught the two-hour group. I need patience, and that is a virtue I don't have time to learn.
Realization of the Day: Sometimes pacers suck. Maybe there's a reason why his group was only two when I caught up to him.
Quote of the Day: "If I'm not bleeding or puking, it's not a good race."--the Viper, of course, to Martini as we sipped from our cups of not Gatorade recovery beverage.
Be thankful I didn't take a picture of my footwear. Somewhere along the course, I had this odd feeling like my sock was bunched up under my toes. After the race, the sock felt thick, wet and heavy. Look at that nice ridge of blood along my toe! I even clipped my toenails before the race, but apparently missed a barb on the middle toe.