Sunday, June 05, 2011

Race Report: Sunburst Half Marathon 2011

ORN: 13.1 miles, 1:55:43

If any race has become a tradition for me, it's Sunburst. This was my seventh consecutive year to run either the half or full marathon in this event. And, as in the past, each year has had it's significance. The winding course from downtown South Bend, Indiana to a magnificent finish on the turf of Notre Dame Stadium brings a unique emotional experience for me, given my many ties to Notre Dame.

Finish Line at ND Stadium

Race day went the way it usually goes. I backed out of my garage at 4:05am, was parked across from the start line at 6:10am and had time to pick up my bib, get dressed and get set for the race.

My objective this year, unlike previous years, was to try to run a "fast" half for me anyway; I really wanted to be under 2 hours and hoped to be under 1:56. After doing 6 marathons in 7 months from October 2010 to April 2011, I was set for a bit of a different challenge. My recent training was focused on this objective. Even though the forecast for the day was for a high near 90, I figured I'd be done well before the temps got into the 80s. It was in the low 70s by the time I went for an easy two mile warm up run. But I decided to stay with the objective. I stretched well and was ready when the gun fired at 7:30am.

The plan called for no walking, just a steady 8:40 mile continuous running pace until we hit the big hill in mile 12, slog up it and then hang on to the finish. The first 7 miles went as planned...I was comfortable, relaxed and rolling with steady miles between 8:38 and 8:42. I didn't carry any water (another big switch from the marathon routine), so had to decide when to drink. By the third water stop, it was evident the day would be warm. I was taking water each time and dumping another cup on my head.

By mile 8, the temps were warming, rapidly. I could feel the energy sapping. My splits leaked a bit, with three miles in a row coming in at 8:45-48. The usual mental battles began.

The Big Hill arose, just past the Mile 11 marker. Nephew John and I dubbed this hill "Mount South Bend" (those of you who have traveled the flatlands of Indiana see the humor) and in most previous races, I have walked this incline. But this year, I shortened my stride and ran the whole thing. Amazingly, it got over a lot quicker than I remembered and I felt better than anticipated.

At that point, there was 2+ miles to go and I just started running by feel. I didn't really notice the pace on my watch the rest of the way. I just ran and reflected. The running was a joy and quite automatic. The reflection was much on my Dad and the wonderful way Notre Dame had an impact on him in the late 1930s. I ran for Dad, to identify (in some distant way) with the effort he must have expended on that same campus playing football for the Fighting Irish back in the leather-helmet days. I'm so grateful for him...I couldn't quit smiling as I rolled along the west side of the Stadium. The turn into the tunnel down to the field is just a marvelous experience and it was then a dead sprint for the finish line. While I was sure I'd be under 2 hours, I was stunned and thrilled to see 1:55:43 on my watch. I'd hit the goal, even on a hot humid day.

Each year, I relish just walking around the famous football field for a while. As usual, it's a chance to talk with others, compare notes and encourage each others. It also is a time to reflect on my own roots, so strong is my appreciation for my Dad. I truly miss being able to call my Dad and share this with him each year. Yet, I'm truly thankful that when he died in 1993, we had a relationship which had nothing left to say...we were in great friendship.

I finished up and headed home. I discovered on Sunday that the weather conditions got more hot and humid and the organizers had to "Black Flag" the race and shut it down about an hour after I finished. On reflection, it did seem to me I saw more runners than normal who were hurting and feeling the heat. Somehow, it didn't bother me but sure did have an impact on many.

The official results were also amazing. Overall, I was 267th out of 1455 finishers, the 82nd percentile. I was most big races, I'm lucky to be over the 40th percentile. Even more amazing was the age group results, where I was 4th of 51 guys age 55-59. Astounding. Things fell nicely for me in this one.

I have a 10K race in two weeks and am still working on my race schedule the rest of the year. That's fine, though..for the moment, I'm enjoying a good run in a fun race.

On the Field

Persevere. My dad sure did and I'm grateful for it.



Darrell said...

Wow, you really killed this one. What a great accomplishment especailly considering the conditions. Your connection to this race and your Dad are so cool. Way to go, Joe.

Wes said...

I saw your race result and time on Facebook, and I knew something special had happened. Congratulations, Joe!!

Karen said...

Great race for you, Joe. Dad would be proud of your ranking 4/51 in your age group! And Mom would be happy that you mowed your yard when you got home after the race!

susie said...

What a great race! Way to go...that is AWESOME! I just signed up for my 2nd marathon...I still read your blog for inspiration. Thx for always giving such great race reports!

Sarah said...

You ran a perfect race! Congrats on beating your goal...and on a hot day too!