Saturday, May 31, 2014

Race Report: Medina Half Marathon

I can't tell you the last time I "raced" a half marathon. I have been running them but always alongside my wife as it is her favorite race distance. For this race, though, I was given the green light to run it on my own and do whatever I wanted. After a pretty strong and untrained performance at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon a month ago and setting a new 50K personal record two weeks ago, I felt ready to give it an earnest shot and see what I could do.

A year ago, the folks in Medina put on this race but it was totally free. It was kind of a dry run, I suppose but still a real race...just free and not all the goodies. This year was the official "1st Annual" event and after learning from last year and listening to runners, they worked all year to make it a first class event. Led by a team of seasoned runners, they did it all right. From an excellent course design to a finishers medal that is one of the coolest I have ever held in my hand to volunteers who were clearly trained on how to "handle" runners and do the job they volunteered to do. I registered long ago as did my wife and best friend...before it sold out. I never did go to any of the group course runs, though, as it's a solid 45min drive from my home. Today at the race was my first time running on the roads of Medina and every turn was a first time for me. I wouldn't have done it any other way.

Back in Canton a month ago, I held an 8:10 pace through mile 21.7 then the wheels fell off. A 1:45 finish at this race would be faster than that but with only 13.1 miles to cover, I thought I could do even better....IF disciplined. My strategy going into the race was for one, to leave the Garmin watch at home. No timing device at all. With the Garmin, you see, I'm worrying about splits, doing calculations in my head, blah blah, blah...NO! Instead, I was going to stick with the 1:40 pace group. They offered a pace group in 10 minute intervals. 1:50 was too slow and 1:30 was...well, ridiculous for this guy. I didn't even know what a 1:40 finish translated into regarding pace per mile and even though it would take me 2min to figure it out, I kinda didn't want to know. I just wanted to head out, lock in to a pace, and hold on. I knew it was a good bit under 8min per mile but that's it.

Yesterday, I took advantage of packet pickup at the Medina Hospital near the ER (that was a first!) and it was excellent. From a nice sampling of exhibitors to volunteers who were doing an excellent job answering questions and helping runners to running into several familiar faces and catching up, I'm glad I went. I even picked up a cool red Ohio-shaped magnet for my car that says "run" in the middle of it from the running store sponsoring the race, "Active Runner" out of Strongsville...who also sponsored the pace teams. Today, on race morning, I showed up in Medina about 45min early and parking was plentiful and easy. Porta-potties had long lines but were plentiful. The air was about 55F and the sky clear. It was setting up to be a perfect race morning. Gathering at the starting line area, I ran into fellow ultra runner, trail runner, blogger, NEO Trail Club member, and WVMTR member (whew!) Kimba and snuck in a quick selfie shot and caught up real quick. About 5min before 7am (the race start), the National Anthem was sung and eventually, everyone fell silent and a loud applause followed the beautiful rendition of our Anthem. Right at 7am, the command was given to go and we were off. There was no rush to cross the start as we were being chip-timed but the 1:40 pacers were a good bit up there. I had to break out of the crowd sooner than later so they didn't get too far away as they'd lock into their target pace quick. Once I got up to them, the pack was large and I just hung out and focused on not tripping on someone's heels.

Click on map to enlarge
Overall, the course is a nice mixture of elevation changes. The first few miles had to be a net downhill but the rest of the race was filled with gentle ups and downs with lots of flat roads within neighborhoods. In mile 5, we popped out onto State Route 18 where we faced the steepest climb of the day along with some angry motorists who were going nowhere fast. Kinda funny (for me, not them!) to see the anger brimming across their faces as we happily ran by their car and truck windows. Just prior to that hill, though, we finished running along Lake Medina and the only non-asphalt section of the course. Below, I caught a great photo from within the 1:40 pace group of the lake. Absolutely gorgeous!

So back to that hill. That obliterated the 1:40 pace group as far as its size. Once we turned off of Route 18, the group still existed and the pace group leaders hadn't missed a beat but a bulk of the group fell back. At this point, I just tucked in behind them and focused on a nice, smooth stride and even breathing. It did help as we went along to hear them talk about what's coming up on the course. They're local so every turn and hill was known by them. This helped out mentally. At the halfway point, I clocked in at a 7:32 pace. That would be the only recording of my pace until the finish. I had signed up for text alerts so I did read that from my phone which was the first time I realized the pace I was holding. As we neared around mile 8, they told those remaining in the group that a slow gradual uphill was about to begin over the next 1 1/2 to 2 miles...and that it did. After that, the course would ease up from 10 miles to the finish. My goal then was to get to 10 feeling strong then lay out whatever I had left to go under 1:40. "If I lose 1:40 now," I thought, "it's my own fault. This is my race to finish strong or my race to blow up. My choice." As I navigated through a few more water stops that were very well staffed and loaded with water and Gatorade, I got to just past 9 1/2 miles and decided to leave the group in my rear view mirror. It wasn't flat all the way nor downhill all the way to the finish...it did have a few rises, but all in all, I pushed with all I had. Turning the last turn, it was a slow gradual downhill that ended and began an uphill finish. Literally, as you reached the bottom and looked up, there was the finish in the distance...I'm guessing about .20 to .25 miles away. I had been following this one guy for the past 3 or 4 miles but he kept answering my challenges as I'd get close. With the finish in sight, some girl yelled from the right "GET HIM!!!!!" Ok, then...let's go! I charged on and encouraged him to roger up and respond with me and fight to the line but he didn't so I cruised on by and got my finish. So yea...crowd support DOES matter!!! I would've just let him go had I not been rooted on. THANKS!

At the finish, familiar faces were everywhere and I got that sweet 'ol medal. (shown below) Ron, one of the race directors, immediately wanted feedback about the race and I poured all I had out for him...but none of it bad! I saw a plethora of awesome foods lined up including large, round, smiley-face cookies and Subway sandwiches but I still had a job to do. I grabbed a bottle of water and headed on back out and ran in both my wife and best friend. They weren't together so I ran into them one at a time and brought them home. Afterwards, we cleaned up at the car, took our Hammer Recoverite, then enjoyed the Medina Square, a cup of java from local the local coffee shop, "Cool Beans" and the bustling Farmer's Market (9am-1pm every Saturday). I'm used to the Kent Farmer's Market but this one was four times as big.

In the end, I couldn't be happier. I'm going to chalk this up to a new half marathon PR (personal record) because while I have raced half marathons before, it's been probably 15+ years and I don't think I ever ran one with this fast of a time...I don't "think." Plus, I have no records from back then. Here are my overall results along with a photo of the tech tee they gave us and the super-duper-cool medal. The detail is really quite amazing.

I loved this race and would highly recommend it to a novice or veteran runner. Not only were the logistics spot on and everything else I already mentioned, but it supports some awesome local programs, including the Patriot Runners who support local veterans who returned from war hurt or suffering from PTSD. I picked up a Patriot Runners tech tee at the expo and wore it for them today.

Finishing Time: 1hr, 38min, 49sec
Overall Pace: 7:33 per mile
Overall: 59th of 942 finishers
Male: 45th of 361 men
Age Group (40-44): 9th of 62
Male Masters (all men 40 and over): 21st of 175

1 comment:

Kim said...

They did a really nice job with the half marathon!