I enjoyed this race about as much as any I've run in the past year. It was one of those wonderful but elusive races where I was in touch with the pace all the way to the end. With the hot temperatures and 95% humidity, it was the best race conditions allowed. Emotionally, it was once again a great way to honor my Dad as well.
The Gory Details:
This was the sixth year in a row I've run this event (doing the half 5 times now...I ran the marathon last year), the most I've run any single event. I know the drill pretty well now, so decided to save a few dollars this year and not go up the night before. Up at 3:30am, I was on the road 10 minutes later and parked near the starting line in downtown South Bend at 5:50am. It took only 2 minutes to get my bib and goodies, I watched the marathon start at 6:00am and then had plenty of time to get ready and stretched before the HM gun went off at 7:30am.
My goal for the day was to get under 2 hours. My training and other indicators indicated this was possible. The weather forecast projected temps in the low 60s at the start, with a breeze from the North. Alas, 'twas not the case...a still, muggy overcast morning awaited us. The air was fully saturated with the thick, heavy humidity characteristic of Indiana summertime. I debated scaling my goal back to 2:05 but decided to leave it as 2:00 and see what happened. My plan all along was to run continuously, not using a run/walk approach. I also "ran light" not carrying any water, instead choosing to walk a few seconds while taking water at each of the plentiful aid stations. I had one Gu with me, planned for mid-race.
The gun went off exactly on schedule at 7:30am and what fun it was. This race is 50% bigger than it was just three years ago and there was a jolly mood in the pack. I set my Garmin for the 2:00 goal and proceeded to see how well I could handle it.
Did I mention the humidity?? Before mile 1 was over, I had sweat pouring into my eyes. Before the mile 2 marker, my singlet was soaked and by mile 3 my shorts looked like I had just climbed out of the pool. However, I was running comfortably, noticing my breathing was a lot easier than many around me. By mile 5, I was about 20 seconds behind my pace. A quick pit stop at mile 7 took another 45 seconds away. At mile 8, a Notre Dame student I was running with asked how close we'd come to her goal of 2 hours. I predicted 2:02 at that point. Maybe I should be the weatherman.
What was fun, though, was feeling fully in touch with the pace and the conditions. I pushed myself yet had a feel for how to avoid going over the edge. Miles 8, 9 and 10 were actually well under my 9:20 average and I was enjoying myself. A big hill (well, big for Indiana) at mile 11 slowed things a bit but I felt strong heading into the final stages of the race.
The last 1.5 miles of this event, as the course approaches the Notre Dame campus from the south, are always moving for me. As many of you know, my Dad played football at Notre Dame in the 1930s, so participating in an athletic event on that same turf is meaningful at so many levels. Each year it hits me in a different way. In this race, as we motored through some wonderful new commercial buildings along Eddy Avenue, I just got laughing. I thought how funny Dad would find it to see this wonderful renovation of an area which was not nearly so nice when he was in South Bend. We crossed onto the campus, made our way past the unfortunately-named Mendoza School of Business, along the west side of the stadium and my thoughts of Dad just grew. The smile on my face, of fondness and gratefulness, was impossible to wipe off. As we turned into the tunnel and charged onto the north end zone of Notre Dame stadium to the 50 yard-line finish, it was once again a moment of great joy, and one which honored my Dad's memory.
The organizers of this race, in concert with Notre Dame officials, really make this a memorable event. Cold towels and abundant quantities of Popsicles are unique additions to the usual post-race fare. The chance to simply stroll on the hallowed turf of Notre Dame stadium is a thrill for any sports fan and a personal treat for me. I enjoyed this time as usual, then headed out, riding the well-organized shuttle bus service back downtown to my car. A quick trip to a public restroom let me shed my soaked gear for some dry shorts and a clean T shirt, much appreciated. As I started the car to drive home, the clouds finally let loose with a dandy, soaking rain. I was home a little before 3pm, with quite an amazing 12 hour adventure done.
A nice surprise awaited me when I looked at the official results. In my age group, I placed 13th of 53, in the top quartile. I leafed back through other race results and couldn't find an example of doing that well. I was astounded. While I was pleased with the results, I had no idea it would have put me that high. I was just over halfway up for all men, 420 of 845. So, my 56 year old psyche was also satisfied.
So, a nice race and a nice day. I move on now to mostly just training through the summer heat for a couple of fall marathons.
Thanks for listening. Persevere.