Monday, December 5, 2016

Getting There: Cambridge Half Race Report

I don’t really “race” especially on the trails. I certainly set goals and have a plan for how I approach a race but I I’ve never considered myself actually racing a race. Based on my recent speed/track work and Houston Marathon (January) goal, I decided to race the Cambridge Half Marathon. In its first year, the Cambridge Half was kind enough to create a Visually Impaired Division and truly supported all runners.

About six weeks out my friend Thor strongly encouraged me to run the half as hard as I could. Between his advice and the support and racing knowledge of my guide Alina, I set the following goals:
A+       7:30 pace  1:38:19
A         sub 1:40
A-        7:45 pace   1:41: 35
B         sub 8 pace    1:44:39 or below
C         PR (current half PR is 8:17 pace at 2015 Run to Remember)

I’ve been running Yasso 800s so I was anxiously excited to put my race pace to test. I fully tapered for the run and also came down with a nasty sore throat and cold the week leading up to the race.

Start line selfie with Alina & Cory.

The runners who are Visually Impaired (VI) were invited to start at the front with the elites to help with the crowds. I was thankful for the opportunity and very cautious not to go out too hard. Alina was my main guide (giving verbal cues etc) and my guide Cory, who was officially registered, volunteered to run with us to help with the traffic and water stops.

Neither Alina nor I could get our watches to sync but thankfully Cory’s was working. My plan was to run at 7:40/7:45 pace for the first 3-5 miles then evaluate from there.

It was a fast start but I did an OK job of keeping things in check. We averaged approximately 7:27 (Alina’s watch gave mile splits but no other data) which was a tad hot and I was putting out a bit more effort than I wanted to. My legs also didn’t have their usually post-taper spring to them. Maybe I was still recovering from my late October 60-mile run? So we dialed it back a bit closer to 7:40.

Around the three-mile mark Thor bombed by us. Thor has been struggling with a serious health issue the last year or so and is just starting to turn the corner. I was stoked to see him hammering it out there and we agreed to meet for post-race beers.

Around mile four (ish) my buddy and homestay mate John Chan pulled up behind us. John is blazing fast with a recent 3:26 (give or take) marathon a month or so ago and he had also run the NYC Marathon the weekend before. My goal from the start was to hang with John for as long as I could. John didn’t start at the front so I wasn’t sure of his exact time.

We wound through a bike path section that made things pretty tight. Alina did a wonderful job guiding me around numerous obstacles and Cory provided a much needed buffer from other runners and help with the water stops.

While running by a small crowd I heard an onlooker say "Oh look, they are running connected with a string. HOW CUTE!". We all got a chuckle out of that.

Around mile six or seven we entered into Belmont then began to head back toward Cambridge and the finish. We ran by the Team with a Vision water stop, which was staffed by an amazing team of Boston University Delta Gamma members. They were super loud which provided a nice pick me up.

We were incredibly consistent in the middle with a few 7:33 miles and two 7:40s. John and his guide Tommy, who is one of my regular guides (and who just BQ’d at NYC with a mind-numbing 3:01 !!!) continued to run behind us. However, after a water stop I noticed (I have extreme tunnel vision with about a 3-5% field in each eye but corrected 20/40 vision which is why I can read bibs) a “GUIDE” bib about a hundred yards in front of us. I wondered out loud who that was. At some point John passed me and even though an old calf injury was bothering him he was looking strong.

Around mile nine or 10 we had a decent hill that wasn’t necessary steep but kind of dragged on. I leaned on my glutes and powered up at an even effort. I was stoked when we crested and knew the fun was about to begin.

The only time split I memorized was the 10-mile mark. I needed to be at 1:15 to hit my A+ goal and Cory said it was 1:16. Not terrible but not where I wanted to be. Cory was dealing with an injury issue so we knew prior to the race that it may become an issue. Shortly after mile 10 (maybe 11) Cory had to back off and Alina and I powered on.

I had already taken two Gus but was still running on fumes. I truly wanted to walk for a few hundred yards but I knew if I did I was done. I started to think about all of the pain and hard work I put into the speed work (I’d rather run 25 miles than do track work). I kept on looking at my watch (it turned on at some point so at least I could use the current pace function) to see my pace. Still holding steady.

I caught up to John for a few strides but I couldn’t hold it and he pulled away.

Alina took on the additional role of motivator and coach at the perfect time and kept me moving. At one point she said “it will hurt more if you go slower” which took my tired brain a few minutes to figure out. I pushed as much as I could but the final kick and burst of energy never came.

Alina and I around mile 11 or 12

We made the final turn and there was a LOOONG straight-away to the finish. I dug as deep as I could and pushed. A few runners passed me and I passed a few. Finally, I could see the clock and it was in the 1:38s.

We crossed the finish at 1:39:25 so I hit my “A” goal!!! Although I was toast, my final three miles were my fastest of the day (7:25, 7:23. 7:24, which also represents my fastest 5k ever). I didn’t have it in me to catch John so I placed second in the Visually Impaired Division. John pushed through the pain which is a tribute to what type of person and runner he is. Congrats, brother!

Final push! 
With less than a minute to spare to get under 1:40, I am so grateful for all of Cory’s and Alina’s support. Every second counted and they helped me run as an efficient and strong race as I could. I am so grateful to them.

Also, congrats to Jill for completing her third (maybe fourth?) half marathon of the year.

I am thrilled with my time and increased speed. Now onto the Houston Marathon.

Big thanks to Eddie O’Connor and his team for putting on an amazing race. For a first time event the logistics were on-point and I am so appreciative of the support they provided Team With a Vision.

See you on the streets (or in the woods).

Topo Athletic Ultrafly
Garmin Forerunner

Post-Race Beers: there was an incredible after party with locals Notch Brewing, Bantam Cider, and Slumbrew. I am very proud to say that Jill, John, and I closed the party down so we had a “few” local beverages! :) 

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