Thursday, October 27, 2011

Race Report: Adams Mill Covered Bridge Half Marathon

ORN: 13.1 miles, 1:51:35, 8:32/mile


On a perfect fall day for running last Saturday, another PR flowed in this small, local half marathon on the nearby countryside.  Better still, an enjoyable day with three work colleagues.

Below, I have some photos of the day, many thanks to Half Fanatics pal Mike Hoyt.  Following that is a painfully detailed write up of the race which I sent to my nephew John.  So, whether you like photos or excessive levels of textual details, you'll have something to like here :-)  .

The Pix

Every race has a theme.  This one evolved into an outing with three work colleagues.  And it was ultimately a really good day for the home team.

Post Race: Mike, Joe, Cara, Wendy
From Adams Mill HM

I am really lucky to work with some terrific people at a company doing some neat things.  And some of these fine folks enjoy running as well!!  With this half marathon in the small town of Flora, about 20 minutes from us, on a quiet weekend in late October, all four of us decided independently to take it on for different reasons and ultimately helped each other achieve much more than we thought possible.

Race day came with perfect conditions, at least for me.  A big blue sky, temperatures in the low 40s, no wind and a mostly flat course.  It turned out to be a small field, as well, with only 81 runners showing up.

We started on time, heading straight south for 4.5 miles across the dead-flat farm country of our part of Indiana.  

From Adams Mill HM
I hope this incredible flatness, here at mile 2, does not create a phobic reaction for any of you from hillier locales.  But this is pretty typical of how our area looks, particularly once the corn is harvested.  And look at the blue sky!!  Horizon to horizon...spectacular on the prairie.

Before we got to mile 5, we took a turn to the races namesake, the Adams Mill Covered Bridge.  The curves and bridge were surprisingly motivating.

Covered Bridge

From Adams Mill HM

Just before the turn around, the road flattened out and we enjoyed running next to Indiana's top cash crop, ready for picking.

Running next to cornfield
From Adams Mill HM

We retraced our route.  With one mile to go, I knew I'd have to hustle to get to my 1:52:00 goal.

One mile to go

From Adams Mill HM
And so it was a welcome sight to me to see Mike, who had already finished, coming back to meet me.  He pushed me in the last 250 meters, and helped me get the goal!

Mike pacing Joe at end
From Adams Mill HM

Our work team did well!  Mike finished his first ever half marathon in 1:39, taking sixth overall.  Cara finished her third HM, 21 minutes better than ever.  Wendy finished her first HM, meeting her goal of feeling strong at the end.  So strong, she was able to happily hold her 1 year-old daughter just a couple of minutes after crossing the finish line!  And I was pleased, setting a PR by almost 2 minutes.

Wendy with Hannah
From Adams Mill HM

And now a wordy description of mileage, distance and other numeric detritus

Well, we got to the site with plenty of time.  I have learned  I need to warm up if I want to run hard.  So, I ran about 1.6 miles and stretched well.  We lined up and took off just past 9am.  I had set my Garmin for even splits (8:33) and had a pace chart to boot.  Miles 1-4 were flat and straight south from Flora.  They went in 8:30, :33, :52 (one more pit stop) and :41.  So I was 24 seconds behind pace at 4 miles.  

At mile 4.5 ish, we made a left turn and had some scenery.  We did a cool sweep down a curvy road to a covered bridge (thus the name of the race) and an old corn mill, now a museum.  We then climbed up out of this made a right, ran about a half mile into the tiny town of Cutler, Indiana.  Population of maybe 100.  Tiny little town and we did a nice loop of about 4 blocks and headed back from whence we came.  Miles 5-8 were 8:22 (w/ downhill), :38, :38, and :25.  I really enjoyed this part of the course...the relief, the very visually appealing curves and slopes and turns, the nice little loop through Cutler.  Also saw a lot of folks coming and going, since Cutler had the half-way mark.  And, at mile 8, I was only 15 seconds behind target pace.  

I should comment on hydration and calories.  I carried no water on this race, having decided aid stations were going to be adequate and the coolness would not make water a big deal.  There were 3 aid stations, so we had 6 opportunities to grab a drink.  I took something at 4 of the 6 and only had about a three gulps at each.  And that worked real thirst issues.  As for calories, I had a small squeeze bottle of JoeGu and I used it 3 times.  Probably the equivalent of one Gu pack but spread out.  It gave me a small boost, seemed to work.

We climbed up out of the valley, turned right and were back, headed straight north, back to Flora.  Mile 9 was uphill for an 8:42 but mile 10, back on the flat, was 8:42 as well, putting me 33 seconds off the pace after 10.  I was surprised to see the 8:42 there.  I had a straight shot into Flora and this became a bit of a mental search.  How badly did I want the 1:52?  Not like it was a world record or anything.  Yet, I really did want to see if I could pull it off and I felt OK.  The legs felt good.  But I was fully by myself...with only 80ish runners, we were royally spread out, I hadn't passed or been passed since mile 5.  So I settled on just to amp up the pace a bit, knowing I needed to feel like I was pushing it.  I checked the Garmin (which I had set on training mode, so my indication of pace was whether or not I was gaining on the imaginary competitor...I started to steadily gain).  But I was startled to go through mile 11 with a split of 9:08.  What??  I really didn't stress much... I knew I was running faster and experience says this had to be a mis-measured mile.  I kept pushing.  When I got to mile 12, the split was 7:56.  I knew I wasn't that quick!!  So, mile 11 was long, mile 12 was short, I was OK with that.  Yet, I was still 30 seconds off my target.  I had only recovered 3 seconds in 2 miles...not enough.  Could I push hard enough to do an 8:00 mile in mile 13 and carry that thru the last tenth? 

I tried to dial it up.  We had a long straight run towards the finish, interrupted by a short 4 block jog in and out of suburban Flora  (I'm sure necessary to get the distances right).  I was trying to catch a guy I had been chasing for 6 miles and was slowly closing on him.  Further, I saw my work colleague Mike who had run a 1:39, getting 6th overall, and had come back out to help me run in.  He saw me coming towards the last turn to home, with about 250 meters to go.  I turned the corner where he was standing, looked at my watch, which said 1:50:30.  I told Mike "I have 90 seconds to get across the line...take me in!!!"  

He relished that job and off we went.  Mike right in front of me, making me stay up with him.  Mike ran varsity cross country at U of Toledo, and quickly got into the "coach" was really cool.  I've never had this happen before.  I locked in on staying with Mike, listening to him urge me to get my knees higher, pushing off stronger on each stride.  We blew past the guy I had been trailing and pushed really hard for the end.  I was thinking we'd be close to 1:52.  I saw the official clock as we got close and it was only at 51:30!!  And, so, when I crossed, hit my watch, and I had it in 1:51:37.  I went from 30 seconds behind the pace at mile 12 to 23 seconds to the good at 13.1.  I'm still stunned it happened.  Just did the math...8:30 for 1.1 miles, which is a 7:44 pace for that distance.  Wow.  Mike's help was huge...and I think he had fun helping the old guy hustle to the end.  

Well, a long post for a mere half marathon.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Thanks for persevering. 


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Race Report: Heritage Trail Marathon 2011

ORN:  26.2 miles, 5:18:13, 4/1 R/W, 12:03/mile

Quick Summary

You know a race is fun when you are sad to see the finish line, knowing the race is over.  It's even better when such a race is a marathon.  Better yet when you run the last half of the race 2.5 minutes faster than the first half.  Yet over the top better when your fastest mile of the day is the 26th. 

All of this and more in the Heritage Trail Marathon on October 2.  A perfect weather day on a fun, local trail made for one of the best running experiences I've ever had.  Here's the whole story.

The Gory Details

Lots of pix in this race report, thanks to the race organizers who published nearly 1,500 images to the web, all free to download.   What a treat!! 

This is a local race, a mere 10 minute drive from my house to the starting line.  So, unlike my usual race morning routine, I could "sleep in" until 5:30am, have a warm bowl of oatmeal in my own kitchen and then take a short drive to the start.  Check in was simple and well before sunrise.  Chilly thermometer at home said 40 when I got up. 

When checking in, I got my first surprise of the day.  I learned the organizers had to alter the course for the marathon.  Where the original plan has us running the full 13.1 mile length of the Wabash Heritage Trail and then back, trail construction and a logistic conflict with another event in downtown Lafayette forced them to make the course a 6.55 mile out and back route, which half-marathoners would do once and marathoners would do twice.  Understandable, given the circumstances.  But, as a card-carrying overthinker, it took me a while to re-orient my race plans regarding hydration, aid stations and landmarks for effort assessment.  (photographic note:  when training for this race during August I shot a photo album of the trail and two short videos from around mile 2 and around mile 4.5)

I worked through it OK and the sun came up on a clear, beautiful day for running.  Musical Note #1 happened when the organziers gathered the 200+ total participants in the marathon, half marathon, 15K and 5K runs for some instructions about the trail and then we sang the National Anthem together.  It was a nice touch and we didn't sound bad at all!  The event began as they launched each of the four events at five minute intervals.  The 46 of us running the marathon gathered first and took off right at the appointed 8:00am start time.  I'm in the back of the pack here, just behind runner 143.

The initial out section served to help me find the day's rhythm.  The trail was narrow and, with the early pack, not one where I could do my usual run/walk for a while.  We were also eventually passed by the leaders of the half marathon and then the 15K fasties.  I wasn't sure just where the aid stations were, nor how I was going to reload my water bottles along the way.  Not unusual, really.  But, by the time I got close to the turn around point, it was starting to settle in.

Musical note #2.  Just after the turnaround, I met local running friends Tony and Lu who were taking a slow approach to the half marathon.  Tony had bragged on his lovely wife Lu's birthday at the start when we talked.  As I saw them running towards me, I broke into a loud version of "Happy Birthday", and noticed that "Lu" is the perfect name to sing that song to!!  Try it...all four lines rhyme...even better if you use "Lu-Lu" for the name.  She must have liked it...I got a hug on the trail.

On the first trip back, things quickly fell into place.  I reoriented my earlier thinking to the reality of the aid station locations as they were.  The traffic thinned, the blue sky was gorgeous through the trees, my blood was warmed so the long sleeves and cotton gloves were perfectly comfortable.  The legs felt good, though I knew full well that good legs at mile 8 were necessary but not sufficient for a good race. 

Musical note #3.  Figuring I'd be alone a lot in this small race, I took along my mp3 player, plus some new earbuds from Yurbuds.  They had advertised them as having a "lock in" feature which kept them from falling out of your ears, something I've been annoyed with every type of ear bud I've used.  And they were falling out.  But, putting my proclivity to overthinking to good use, I realized how I could rearrange the cord to keep them in.  I sat back and enjoyed my favorite local station.

I got back to the start/finish line, feeling good.  I reloaded the water bottles, reoriented the cord, smiled for a photo and went out for another 13.1 miles. 

And the race got really fun.  Fully familiar with the altered course, still enjoying a perfect fall day, pretty much by myself all the time, dialed into the tunes, it was a treat to keep going.  On my way out, I started to see the leaders on their way back.  Boy, were they moving.  But, hey, so was I, just not as quickly.  The 4/1 run/walk cycle was feeling just fine.  In fact, somewhere in the 15th mile, I recall feeling sad a walk break sounded.  I smiled, knowing I needed to walk, but was glad I was so antsy to keep running.  I got to the turn around point once more, 20 miles into a trail marathon, and grinned more...I still felt fine and I was 6+ miles from home. 

Musical moment #4 hit around mile 22.  Todd Agnew's "Grace Like Rain" came on the radio, a marvelous arrangement of the familiar tune "Amazing Grace".  It's a favorite of mine for several reasons.  And it made me laugh.  I recalled being around mile 22 of the US Air Force Marathon in 2009, hearing this song play at an aid station.  I was dehydrating badly at that point and the song was a huge encouragement to me.  How funny that the same song would come on again at about the same point on a day when I felt terrific!

Before the race, I had decided a great race on this course would happen if I still felt good at the last crossing of the Wabash River, about 3 miles from the finish.  Well, I crossed the Wabash, felt good, and grinned again.  Let's let it open up and run well to the end.  And so I did.  It was pure joy to move smoothly, comfortably, confidently through the woods with 23 miles behind me.   When I came to the small marker indicating one mile to go, I scrapped the run/walk and pushed the pace near as I could tell, I ran the last mile between 8:30 and 8:45, my best mile of the day.  Across the finish line, marathon #23 in the books.

Why did this race go well?  I think several reasons.  First, the weather was perfect.  It was in the low 40s at the start and was perhaps 55 at the end.  No wind.  A flat course along the river with firm footing helped, even with all the logs we had to go over.  I had enough miles in the bank.  In otherwords, all the factors lined up for a good race.  And it was good. 

Long report...a good race, worth remembering.  Thanks to Planet Adventure for a good organization.  And thanks for reading.