With racing put on hold all across the world, we'll be spotlighting past races from our Chaski coaches. Week 4 is Josh Sadlock's recap of his experience racing the 2013 USA Half Marathon Championships.
Josh's original post was featured on The 2:18 Grind blog here.
Well, I certainly learned the hard way that the body only has so many good long-distance races in it in a short time period. I have been training and racing hard for over four months now without a break, and it all finally caught up to me this weekend in Duluth, MN at the 2013 USA Half Marathon Championships.
I did set a new personal best time of 1:08:04, but it was not the type of time I was looking for given the type of times I have come to expect of myself. Despite the poor showing in the race, it was a valuable experience, and I am still happy with the decision to run.
My journey to Duluth began very early (4:45 a.m.) that Thursday morning with a quick flight out of Harrisburg into Newark to catch a connecting flight to Minneapolis. From Minneapolis, I boarded a shuttle bus to make the final leg of my journey, a three-hour drive, to Duluth.
This is where things got a little interesting. Glenn Randall (another runner headed to the race) and I made a beeline to the back of the bus to try and capitalize on the little extra legroom from the long back seat. This turned out to be a huge mistake on our part, as the final passenger to board the bus was an extremely large (we're talking 4 bills large) gentleman. My supposed comfortable back seat was now reduced by half its size as he ballooned across the boundary of his seat and squeezed me into the window with his considerable girth.
Needless to say, it was not a pleasant ride, but the bus finally pulled into Duluth around 4:30 p.m. Central time. After that long day of travel, it felt good to finally lace up my shoes and get out for a short shakeout run through downtown Duluth.
Everyone I had talked to leading up to the race told me to try and soak in as much of the race experience as possible. Not just the race itself, but the entire elite athlete experience and the chance to learn from some of the country's truly elite runners.
When I woke up on Friday I did a short run with some strides and then headed down to the elite athlete headquarters to hang out in the hospitality room and get a pre-race massage. It was slightly intimidating walking into the elite room because everyone in there looked older and faster than me, so I tried not to stay in there too long lest I psych myself out.
One of the funnier things I have seen was in the elite room though. Since Michelob Ultra is a big sponsor of the race, there were tubs and tubs of untouched beer in our room on ice. After a massage, I headed over to a press conference for the top male runners. I already blogged about sitting in on the press conference, but it was a really great experience listening to them describe their mindset heading into a big race like this.
A luncheon followed, and I sat and hung out with some guys who had run for Cincinnati. It was weird when I realized one of the guys, Eric Finan, was a 13:40's runner whose blog I always read on running2win. They were fun guys to eat with and I got to catch up with them a little after the race on Saturday too.
After all that and a little bit of rest in the hotel, I headed back downtown to watch a good friend of mine, Matt Grey, who had moved to Minnesota, dominate in the 5k held on Friday night. He led wire-to-wire and ran 15:25. It was really great to see him run so well and then catch up for a while. Then, it was early to bed since the buses left for the start line at 4:45 on Saturday morning.
I woke at 3:45 on Saturday morning to eat and hydrate before the race, and man it felt early. I don't know the last time I was awake and functioning at this time. I woke up well enough, but my legs did not feel good. I began having second thoughts about my goal time of 1:06, especially after feeling lousy on my pre-race strides. I pushed these thoughts aside, and decided to go for it.
The race was drawn out quickly as Mo Trafeh sprinted out to a 4:20 first mile and I came through the first mile in 4:52. Definitely a little quicker than I had hoped for and I had a feeling that it would definitely not be my day, but I was tucked into the back of the Brooks-Hansons pack and just tried to roll with it. I hit 5k in 15:28, still hanging onto sub 5:00 pace and the back of the Hansons pack, but I was quickly dropped between miles 4 and 5.
My 10k split was 31:31, still on pace for 1:06, but with the way my mile splits were trending upward, it was at this point where I really knew that 1:06 was not happening and that the second half of the race would be rough. Mile 10 was hit in 51:39, and between 10k and 10 miles was where it really got ugly as I averaged 5:19.
From there, I could not really get the pace back down to a respectable level and finished in 1:08:04. Not at all the race I had hoped for, but still a sizable PR.
Am I happy with the final time? No, not really. It's not really a time to be happy about when you have such high expectations for yourself, but given how I felt leading into the race I am not surprised that it did not go as well as I had hoped.
The ten days prior to the race, the hard workouts I had been trying to put in very close to a marathon began catching up to me, and I was feeling very fatigued for a few days beyond my workout. After each workout, that fatigue period seemed to last longer. I did a tough workout the Tuesday before the race, and in hindsight, was still recovering from my last workout the week before.
Working out tired kept me tired going into the race. I had never really felt what it was like to push my body past its breaking point like I finally did here, and it's not something I will look to replicate down the road. It is not a pretty thing when it takes your body almost a whole week to bounce back from a workout.
All that being said, I would not change my decision to run this race. I feel like the college kid who has a dream season and somehow manages to make it to NCAA's after a big breakthrough. It probably took everything to get to NCAA's, but there is no way you would ever turn down a chance to run at a national championship.
I do realize however, there is still a need to be smart about your body, and I now have a better understanding of what I can and cannot handle in training and racing. Luckily this training did not lead to any overuse injuries, just fatigue and flatness. This race also gave me a chance to compete on the national stage for the first time in my life.
I was not a college All-American or even NCAA qualifier like many of the runners I lined up against, and I feel that finally competing at this level was a big eye-opener in terms of what it will take for me to continue climbing the ranks of US long-distance running. I need to get over being starstruck around other elite runners and think of myself as one of them. I was definitely intimidated racing in the Hansons pack.
Finally, it was just flat out fun being in town for such a high-quality race and getting so many perks. They know how to treat a runner right in Duluth. From the free massages to the various banquets, they really make you feel special and I definitely hope to return for another race at Grandma's race weekend, be it the full or half marathon.
Of course, I can't forget the great post-race parties they threw for us too. The great people of Duluth like to race hard and then celebrate hard too. It's always great seeing other elite runners out letting loose a little to remind you that you need to let yourself have a little fun every once in a while after a race.
Now, I will take a full week off from running followed by a week of very light running as I recover from all the hard training and racing I have done this spring.
Hope you enjoyed this race recap. If you did feel free to share and as always we will be answering any questions you may have for us.