Pre race

After 5 straight seasons of chasing a marathon PR, I wanted to skip out on that and train for something a bit shorter. The USATF Half Marathon Championship fit the bill. It was just a short flight away in Columbus, Ohio at the Capital City Half Marathon. My good friend and Falls Road Teammate, Thom Ripley, decided to do the Flying Pig Marathon the next day in Cincinnati so it’d be a running filled weekend. Other Falls Roaders, Dustin Meeker and Conrad Laskowski, were in the championship field as well as Saucony Hurricane teammate, Chris Sloane. Four Marylanders making the trip out to Ohio to race with the big guns to chase some fast times! And Thom with the flying porkers.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to 3 other USATF Championship events and I’ve always been impressed with the elite athlete treatment at these races – pickup from the airport, elite hospitality suites, massages, pre-race dinners… lots of cool stuff that I’m not worthy of. And of course being a bit starstruck by the Desi Lindens, Nick Arciniagas, and Abdi Abdirahmans, of the world.  I’m just a schmuck trying to run hard for a bit! And then maybe sneak a few beers out of the elite hospitality suite and hang at the post race party. Anyway, I’m very appreciative and grateful for the opportunities to fill out the back end of the championship field.

Back in mid-January, I might have jumped the gun a bit on getting into heavier training and ended up with a femoral stress reaction… again! Same damn thing that I had back in October-December of 2014 but on my other hip. The good news is that I know how to recover from this bad boy. I didn’t lose confidence for even a day and hit the cross training 9-12 sessions per week: swimming, aqua jogging (the worst), biking, elliptical, jump roping... all that fun stuff. I even got into some structured workouts rather than just plodding along. I’m not sure that anyone in the Maryland Athletic Club in Harbor East has ever pushed an elliptical machine as hard as I did! It’s embarrassing, honestly. Sure, no running for 6 weeks… boo hoo. Been there, done that… no fussing, right dad? The fitness always comes around. Being faster than ever on April 30th is the plan.  

March 20th was the turning point when the training wheels came off. I did a BRRC (Baltimore Road Runners Club) hilly 8 mile road race, challenging myself to break my femur. I hit the downhills hard and had no pain! Very little pain in the days after too… good deal. That leaves a solid month of actual hard running to get into shape to chase 5:18’s for a half marathon. What’s life without some challenges? The workout paces I ended up hitting were nothing special but I felt strong and confident each hard session. It’s great motivation to get noticeably faster every week; it felt like being in high school again.

Race Day

Dusty and I figured that 5:15’s would be a reasonable pace for both of us for the first handful of miles and then we’d go from there. That gets you to 69:00 which would be a 37-second PR for me. That’ll play! We formed a pack of 4 by mile 1 or so back in 50th place. There was a bit of wind out there which played to our advantage of being able to share the work and pick out runners who were out there going at it alone. After swinging by Ohio State University, we laid our only stinker of a mile with a 5:29 uphill. All of the others came in around 5:15-5:20 which put us at 26:28 through 5 and 42:18 through 8.

We were both beaming with confidence, commenting on long it’d take us to catch the next runner up the road. Just to get into the elite field, you had to have posted a half marathon PR faster than mine which makes you really appreciate every scalp. Kind of like those PGA Tour commercials… These guys are good. Fine, we’re actually not special at all but nobody is a slouch. Somewhere around mile 6, Dusty and I pulled away from little pack and by mile 10, I had a couple of steps on Dusty. 52:46 was the 10 mile split (1 second PR!!) which meant 16:13 (5:13/mile) for a 68:59.

The next group up ahead was Conrad and 3 others who had ~35 seconds on me at mile 10.5. I had some fight left which isn’t going to do you much good in the months ahead so you might as well burn it up, right? Nothing to do but try hard! I was steadily gaining on Conrad and chasing that silly 68:59 time. The last mile is a vicious one – You can see the finish line straight ahead by just a few hundred yards but you instead turn left, head over the Scioto River, come back on another bridge, and then head back uphill before the home stretch. I remember looking up at Conrad and thinking, “Dude, he’s barely moving up that hill! I’m going to catch him.” And then the realization of, “Dude, I’m not gaining at all… I must not be moving up this damn hill. #$%&.”

The sprint to break 69 was a fun one and though my chip time was 1:09:00, I’m going to selfishly call it 1:08:59. Everyone gets gun time at these championship races so being in row 5ish, you lose a little from that. And I mean, come on! Look at the finish pic!

If you don’t think I ran through the line, here’s the video:

But really, I need to stop doing this… Berlin was the same darn thing. I swear that’s all I had both times! After cooling down and getting some light beer to clear my head, I shared with Conrad that yeah, that was one of the best races I’ve ever had. Really! I was racing people to the end, hit a great pace, ran very even splits, and felt strong the entire way. That’s cool. What more do you want?

Musings

The race’s winning time was only 1:02:52 (I can hold that pace for about a mile on a great day) which is the slowest at a USATF HM Championship in a decade. I was just over 6 minutes behind the winner which is a full minute closer than I was at the 20k Championship at New Haven last fall. Go, me. I really enjoyed the course but it isn't a place to chase a world record. You know, in case Eluid Kipchoge reads this or something... I’m not sure how many of the elite field athletes came away with new best times but I can’t imagine it was more than a handful.

I can’t say enough good things about the Capital City Half Marathon itself. The race organization, fan support, and volunteers were all great. If you’re a competitive guy or gal who is considering doing the USATF HM Championship at Capital City in 2017, I’d recommend it! I won’t be though… London or Boston beckon!

I thought it was especially cool that the fastest runners from the area were granted elite (competitive, compensated, whatever you want to call it) entries to their hometown’s USATF championship race. There was definitely a strong connection between the local running store chain (Columbus Running Company) and the race organizers. Those guys were happy to be there to race with the fast out-of-towners and the crowd’s support behind them really showed that. Supporting your local runners is the right thing to do for a big city race. Take notes, Corrigan!

The streak of at least 1 PR per season since the Fall of 2003 lives on. I’m not sure what I’ll be chasing in the fall but a 4:32 mile doesn’t sound too intimidating, right? Even that will take a fair weather day and some track work. What I’d really like to do is tackle a 100k… more specifically at the 100k World Championships. I found out this week that I’m 12th or so in line to make one of the 6 spots to represent the USA at the 100k World Championships based on my run at the JFK 50 last fall. I can’t imagine my odds are higher than 5-10% to make that but that’d be a once in a lifetime opportunity worth training for.

Unlike my last outrageously long race recap, I took in no calories this time so no PowerBar plugs! Just kidding, I used plenty of PowerBar product in training! And that’s the challenging part of this endurance sport stuff. My trusty Saucony Type A6’s were awesome again and I’d really recommend giving those a try if you want to chase a fast time for yourself on the roads. I put in a lot of miles on the Triumph ISO 2's this spring and the Guides. The Breakthru is still my favorite all around shoe and what I ran in for 20 miles at the Flying Pig Marathon the next day. The Saucony Hurricane team is putting together some inspiring performances this spring and I look forward to continuing to do my part. For now, it’s time for me to remove myself from the physical and mental strain of training until the desire comes back. Maybe a week... maybe a few weeks. The greater the downs are, the greater the ups can be.

Thanks for reading! 

Capital City Half Marathon Photos

Bonus Flying Pig Photos - Conrad and I had pacing duty for Thom chasing a 2:59. Came up a bit short in the end at 3:06 but it was a good fight.