My watch had been acting a bit screwy for the past month. It was dead on race day. Do you know what time it is? Time to get a new battery.
I lined up behind the 1:50 pacer as planned with Martini and a guy I met a few weeks ago on a trail run. When the race started, I followed Martini through the pack until I came upon another friend who was running easily at my pace (this guy has BQ'd). We chatted for the first mile or so until he darted ahead to run with his friend, the 1:45 pacer. I moved up a few places to run slightly ahead of the 1:50 pacer. My legs felt great.
The temperature was supposed to reach the mid-80s, but the morning started off nice and cool with clear skies. I couldn't have asked for better race conditions.
The stage was set.
The 1:45 group pulled away while I maintained a steady and comfortable pace. I split away from the 1:50 group a bit earlier than I planned -- like by the second mile.
Without my watch, my only indicator of pace was my placing between the 1:45 and 1:50 groups. My focus was instead on my running form and reeling in the runners ahead of me. Nobody presented a challenge to my passing and therefore I had not yet targeted my mark for the race.
This whole year I have noticed that the running club that hosts this race has been a bit disorganized. The website hasn't been as well maintained. They've had trouble getting volunteers. Parking was a mess for the race. They were still putting up mile markers during the first couple miles. Things have just been off.
My first indicator that these problems might affect my performance was when they didn't have a water stop along Akron-Peninsula Road as in year's past. I took in water at the second, fifth and seventh miles. After that, they ran out of cups.
The aid station workers were offering to pour water into our hands and on our heads. I just skipped it altogether. I drank a bunch of water before the race and hoped what little I'd taken in so far was enough to finish well.
If nothing else, those who did stop for water ahead of me would have to slow down so much that I could blow past them while they licked their fingers dry.
By Mile 10, I could no longer see the 1:45 pace group. However, I saw a runner far ahead of me with a bright yellow tanktop whom I marked for defeat. I continued to pull in the runners strung out ahead of me one by one.
I cruised through the final, cupless water station and moved up a few more places. Yellow Tanktop had just rounded the corner from Bolanz to Riverview. He was cruising along. He'd pass a group of runners, then I'd pass the same group a few moments later. I was slow to gain on him, until I saw something ahead that primed my accelerator.
Suddenly, I was at Yellow Tanktop's left shoulder. I was set to pass him, but I thought I needed him to push me along. "Let's catch those 1:45-ers," I said to the red herring, urging him to help me chase down the green balloon that the 1:45 pacer was carrying.
"You can do it," the man in the yellow tanktop said, as he relented and fell behind me.
The only real hill on the race course loomed ahead. I pushed hard to gain as much ground as I could while it was flat. This was a perfect place to close the gap because after the hill is a sharp right turn at a railroad crossing, followed by a gravel road with a hairpin left turn, before the final straightaway on a grassy field to the finish line.
Many runners tend to slow down as they traverse this technical section. Those runners are dead in the water if I'm close behind.
The 1:45 pacer was about 35 feet ahead of me when he reached the turn at the railroad crossing. My friend who was still running with the pacer peeled off the course there (bandit!) and I shouted at him.
"There you go, [Viper]!" he yelled back. His cheer pushed me past the pacer. Two runners were ahead. I weaved between them on the gravel road. I cut the left turn tight. Finally, I could hear the crowd at the finish.
I saw the Enthusiast and Dobson with his new haircut. Their cheers gave me the final push, and I let it all out. My stomach gave a slight heave with the effort. The clock ticked up. A PR was a certainty. I heard Martini's cheer as I cruised across the line.
I saw 1:44:27 when I crossed, but the race (dis-) organizers spotted me a few seconds in the official results.
I tore off my bib tab as I stumbled through the chute. I handed my number to the race official and slipped under the rope to avoid vomiting on the woman ahead of me. I bent double and my stomach heaved. Nothing. I took a few more steps toward the food and water tent. My stomach heaved again. This time, hurk, jackpot!
Oh, and there were no cups at the finish either. Runners were using pasta bowls to drink water.
And again the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad delayed runners at around the two-hour mark. The guy Martini and I lined up with at the start ended up running extra because there was no one at the railroad crossing to tell him he was supposed to turn right to get to the finish.
From what I've heard, the number of entrants doubled for this year's Buckeye Half Marathon. This is still among my top two favorite races, but those runners won't be back next year if the race organizers don't fix these problems.
- Have more cups
- Make signs to direct runners on course
- Start earlier to avoid train delays
Here's this year's hoodie.