Race Report - 2011 Huntsville Half Marathon

11/11/2011 12:29:00 PM

A Brooks finisher's shirt AND a medal, very nice!
My marathon training schedule actually called for a half marathon as a training run two weekends ago, but I shuffled my schedule around so I could do the Huntsville Half Marathon that I hadn't done in two years. While I had done other halfs since then, I had my last PR at the 2009 event. With my new marathon BQ goal, it was time to get serious again and try for another PR. Since my marathon goal was already very ambitious, the pace my training plan called for for the half marathon distance was just as ambitious when compared to my 2009 performance. I actually needed to go at least 22 seconds per mile faster than my previous PR just to stay within my target pace. This would be fun!

I met up with Jason Shattuck on the Friday before the run to pick up our race packets at the local Fleet Feet of Huntsville store. I was starting to get just a little nervous, because I just couldn't decide on my target/goal pace for the race. Close to 1000 folks had registered for this year's edition of the race and I needed to make sure I didn't get sucked into an impossible pace during the first couple of miles. Knowing that there was going to be a lot of very strong competition participating in this event and having looked at last year's results, I knew I would only be competing for a PR and not for any age group awards like I often do during the shorter distances. After picking up my race packet, I continued to fret over just what pace to go for.

Having gone to sleep very early Friday night, I wasn't too surprised when I awoke on my own and without the assistance of my annoying Blackberry alarm just before 6 AM Saturday morning...race day! I had plenty of time to get ready, have my usual cup of coffee and pick up Jason on my way to the race. Race organizers had asked people to car pool in an effort to avoid parking issues at the race start and Jason's house was on the way anyway, barely 2 miles from the race location.

We arrived at Hillwood Baptist Church in Huntsville at 7:35 AM with plenty of time to stretch out our legs and to head to the starting line. The race starts and finished in the parking lot of the church. The event website describes the course as follows:

The fall 2011 running of the Huntsville Half Marathon & Heroes Run 5K will be the event's 23rd annual, along a course that follows a mostly fast and flat out-and-back track that begins and ends at Huntsville's Hillwood Baptist Church, with a run through the southeast portion of the city and along a two-mile section of the Aldridge Creek Greenway, a 3.5-mile paved pathway designed for runners, walkers, joggers, cyclists and strollers that runs from Mountain Gap Road to Ditto Landing in the southern part of the city.


Designed to honor the service of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan and support those recovering from combat injuries in both conflicts, the race starts for those running the half marathon at 8:00 AM and for those running the 5K at 8:20 AM, and starts with a run around the neighborhoods around Hillwood Baptist Church for the first three miles of the race. The remainder of the race takes runners along Huntsville's Chicamauga Trail Southeast and through a number of twists and turns down to the intersection with Green Cove Road, where the race course winds its way to the Aldridge Creek Greenway.

In other words, this is a fast course that is made for PRs. Jason and I made our way to the starting line with about 10 minutes to go. We shuffled to the front of the pack and while Jason initially lined up in the first row (yes, he does think he is that fast;-) I went for the third row. After all, I know my place;-) I had finally decided on a race strategy. My goal was to keep my pace under 7:10 per mile and to keep it steady all the way. Should the wheels come flying off late in the race, I decided that I would still be happy with a sub 7:18 pace as required my my training plan.

The race start was signaled with the firing of a "prehistoric" rifle. Hey, shoot me (get it;-), I'm neither a historian nor a firearms buff, so prehistoric is what I'll call it. By the way, feel free to correct me by providing the proper description of the rifle in the comments section below. The field of front runners took off and I was trying to hold on early on until I found my pace. After about a mile, things had settled down a bit and back and forth passing of runners had died down. Jason and I had settled into a pace that seemed to be just under 7 minutes. Too fast for sure, but I was certain that we would slow down to a more manageable pace soon. By the end of mile 2, I had hit my target zone just above 7 minute pace.

The early miles ticked by fairly fast and my pace stayed somewhat consistent. If I noticed a slow down during one of my split times, I would pick up the pace a little on the next mile. That is, when I actually checked my splits. I've started to pay less and less attention to my splits in an effort to run more based on perceived effort and level of comfort. Continually checking my pace and heart rate seems to have a somewhat adverse affect on my performance. While I am aware of it's psychological impact, I am unable to control it other than just telling myself not to check it too regularly.

After reaching mile 6 we entered the Aldridge Creek Greenway. For some reason, I like this section best. It's fairly narrow, but you see folks ahead of you as well as behind you as you pass each other on this out & back section just around the halfway point of the race. I don't know, but it has some kind of motivational factor for me. I actually feel like I'm speeding up during this section without added effort. After reaching the turnaround point I took a mental inventory of how I felt physically and all systems were still go. I felt like I could maintain this pace, but I also knew that I could do much more than this. I was running at the upper end of my abilities.

It was during this section that Jason and I got separated and while I thought he was right behind me all the way, he had actually dropped off just a little, nursing some joint issues by running on the grass just next to the Greenway in an effort to relief some of the pain. However, he kept it steady finishing just behind me. At this point of the race, I had started to pick out a couple of guys just ahead of me that had been running a steady race all the way. I figured I'd focus on staying with them rather than worry about my watch, etc. This turned out to be the perfect strategy for me. The road section just after we exit the Greenway always gets a bit boring and feels never-ending and focusing on a runner just ahead of me took my mind off this particular section of the course.

I slowed a little during mile 12 where the road rises ever so slightly to give you the impression of a climb. I tried to keep it steady, because I knew I would be able to push just after this section as it would be "downhill" all the way to the finish after this small hill. Indeed, I was able to drop my pace to well under 7 minute pace for the final 1 1/4 miles. When I crossed the finish line, the official clock read 1 hour 34 minutes and 41 seconds, good enough for a new PR by 6 minutes and 53rd place overall out of 800 finishers. I couldn't have been happier.

But looking at my final time also made me realize that it seemed very unlikely that I will be able to qualify for Boston in 4 weeks time at the Rocket City Marathon. According to the McMillan Pace Calculator, I was on track to do it based on my 5K time a couple of weeks ago but my half marathon time now puts me at finishing the marathon in 3:19 which is 5 minutes too slow for a BQ. Actually, it would have been good enough for a BQ had they not decided to reduce the qualifying times by 5 minutes starting with the application period for the 2013 running of Boston. Oh well, I know I'm on track for a PR and who knows, if the stars align just right, I might still be able to pull if off;-) Either way, I'm going to continue my current training plan.



Me and Jason Shattuck, Team Green Silence;-)
P.S.: I almost forgot the little accident I had immediately after crossing the finish line. My thanks goes to James E. Hurley for posting the great pictures he takes at the local races. The one below reminded me of what had happened. I guess I was in denial. After about 11 or 12 miles into the race, I decided to drink some Powerade for a final boost of energy as I felt like I was fading fast. And while in races past I had often been overcome my the urge to throw up after pushing myself to the max towards the end of shorter races only to be dry-heaving at the finish since there was no food or water in my stomach, this time the Powerade provided just enough stomach content to actually make me throw up, I'm embarrassed to admit. The picture below shows me just after I crossed the finish line. My hand gesture is an indication of things to come, literally:-)

Oops, I think I'm about to throw up!

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2 comments

  1. The photo caption made me laugh out loud. You could have said me and the sweaty guy also. I must have already been nervous about my prospects at mile 3.

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  2. Congratulations for a great job well done. Looking forward always, it was a great race.

    ReplyDelete