Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Run to the Rock" Half Marathon - Plymouth, MA - Race Report

Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of rain pounding the roof of my mother's house in Plymouth. At that moment I realized that my experience running this race for the first time would at the very least definitely be one thing: damp. It just seemed inevitable. Just as the rain seemed to be letting up as I left the house, it started to pour. As I got out of the car and walked over to the shuttle to the start, it poured. Twenty minutes before the start of the race the drizzle quickly turned into a deluge. And as we stood at the start line waiting for the gun to go off, the sky opened up and even before the beginning of the race we were all soaked through.

I actually am a fan of running in the rain. Perhaps it is the trail runner in me that craves water crossings, but I have always enjoyed rainy conditions. The tropical downpours and gigantic puddles were a little bit of an inconvenience from time to time, but honestly, why complain? It could be worse, oh, say, 90 degree heat? The humidity was definitely present, but, though I felt it with almost every breath, it honestly didn't bother me.

I came into the race unsure of how much I would get from my legs. I prepared by giving myself the day off on Friday, but after running a 25k less than a week ago, I was a little curious what kind of response I would get the first few miles. I also resolved that I would not use this run to mirror my potential marathon pace. Instead, I wanted to have a controlled race, but I also wanted to test myself and see what I could do for a half marathon. I knew the course relatively well, so I figured if I could established a PR, it would be here.

I must interject here that nearly eight months ago I woke up one Sunday morning hell bent on running a half marathon, so I did. It was filled with lots of walking, immense soreness, and a pain and dejection I have never felt before. When I finished I was physically, mentally, and spiritually finished and I believed somewhere inside of myself that a marathon would be impossible. That day I ran 13.1 in 1:58:41 (9:02 pace).

The first mile of this race is by far the fastest, as the first half mile is a long downhill. I thought of this as a way to put some hay in the barn for later on in the race time-wise, but I also didn't want to run too fast and have to deal with that mistake for the multitude of the race. I managed to come through in 7:50, good news. This was the moment where I thought I would sit back and settle into a decent pace, I was a little concerned when I arrived at the 2 mile mark with a split of 8:02. The third mile produced more of the same and a split of 8:07. At this point my old watch was acting up again - I didn't want to bring my Garmin out in the tropical storm - and from this point on I have no reliable splits. It was probably just as well because I ran the rest of the race on the edge. Close enough to feel like I was giving too much too early, but back enough that I thought there would be an outside chance of holding my pace.

The course is very hilly, and where some people found this tough, I seem to have found my enjoyment of hills once again. I was able to push up the hills and use the down hills to gain a little more time, or make a move past some slower runners. Around mile 6 I made a really brave move, throwing in a 30 second surge past a pack of 10 runners I was contently running with, feeling a little bit like they were slowing down. It paid off as I started chasing another slightly faster pack.

I continued to use my strategy on the hills, making it to mile 9 and feeling like I was still in control. Miles 10 and 11 were where I started feeling my earlier pace, but not feeling like I needed to back off. I continued to push and pursue the runners ahead of me. Reaching mile 12 was a relief, but it was also the moment of truth. I really had to bear down here, and I had no idea where I was time-wise. The final half mile I just turned off my brain and ran. The runner ahead of me was sufficiently holding her distance ahead of me, and I didn't feel like I had enough to chase her down. Coming out onto Water Street, seeing the finish line and hearing one my friends from HS track, Steve Infascelli, who won the Half-Marathon in 1:19, scream out "Rob, you totally are breaking 1:50", I got a little bit of a lift. Through the finish and through the shoot I was elated: 1:46:32 (8:08 pace).

I honestly thought that 1:50 would be a great accomplishment, but 1:46 was simply a wonderful surprise. This really makes me believe that if I can listen to my body and stay healthy, along with paying my dues by doing the long runs, I have a fairly good shot of breaking 4 hours for the marathon. I think my ideal pace for the marathon will be anywhere from 8:50 to 9:10 per mile, and I think my experiences racing this week warrants that as a realistic goal. Above all, today I am not all that sore and I feel confident about the remainder of my training. I have also vanquished that doubt about covering distances of marathon and beyond - with the right training anything is possible.

Mostly, though, I am so happy to be a runner again, because if there is anything I proved this week, though I may still have a few more pounds that need to be dealt with, I am definitely a runner again!


Dan said...

Hey Rob
Good job. Sometimes I think we run our best when we're not clock watching and just run how we feel. I think you have a legit shot at breaking 3:50.

Joshua Hill said...

ROB! Awesome Job running the half. You did PSHS Class of 1997 proud, I wish I could have been there. So what marathon are you going to sign up for now? :)