Wednesday, June 26, 2013

USA Track & Field Half Marathon Championships

Half Marathon Championships (Duluth, MN)

Wowzers. Still in a bit of disbelief at how well things went this weekend. It was an unforgettable experience.

Some have heard the race recap in person, but those who haven’t, here’s what I’m sure will become a rambling account of the day…

The plan going into the weekend based on recent results and last year’s results, was definitely don’t lead the race, but be in contact with the leaders to give myself a shot to be competitive. Based on my 1:10 at Dam to Dam, and based on the top 12 last year (which is the number of finishers that receive recognition and awards), I was hoping to crack a spot anywhere from 8 to 12. My coach Ron was more confident in my placing, going so far as to claim that looking at the list of entries that he didn’t see more than five women who were running better than I am right now (no pressure there). He told me to plan on running 1:13 on a good day, and 1:15 on a “bad” day, which is completely crazy when you consider that my PR (before this race) which occurred on this very same course at the same time last year was 1:18:10. BUT… despite a normal amount of nerves and doubts, I was for the most part, confident and comfortable with the plans. I was ready to mix it up near the front.

Race day run-down:
3:30am – rise and shine.
4:15am – dropped off at shuttle bus for my 10 minute/1 mile jog.
4:30am – depart for the start.
5:00amish – arrive at the start where it is dark, cold, and misting. There is a tent for elites to chill, but it’s big enough for about 50 people with about 20 chairs, and there are 200+ of us (156 men and 61 women – arguably the largest field in race history). I grab a towel and sit on the ground, trying to save my legs until warm-up time.
5:30amish – head out to warm up, visit the restroom multiple times (mostly nerves), and then strip my pants and jacket off before doing my final drills and strides.
6:25am – I line up one deep from the start line (I’m going for it), and we’re off!

From the gun, Adriana Nelson is gone. She doesn’t even care! She creates a 15 second gap within the first mile and at one point will lead by nearly one full minute. She’s essentially a non-factor in the race (because she leads throughout by a comfortable margin).

Behind her, a pack has formed. It’s difficult to tell exactly how many women are in the lead pack because I’m right on the heels of the leaders, but it feels like 10-20 of us. Des Davilla, Michelle Frey, Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, Katie McGregor, Ladia Albertson-Junkas, and a few other full-time pros are cruising together comfortably.
Lead pack around mile 3ish...I'm buried on the opposite side of road from where picture was taken.  If you have an eagle eye, you can see one little toe of my salmon-colored New Balance Revlites on the pavement.

I choose to ignore my watch like the last few races, and instead run by feel and based on strategy. The pack rolls through miles 1-5 as a large mass. Then around the 10k mark, there’s a noticeable shift. The pace quickens and I have a split second to decide if I’m going to go with or hang back and wait to make a move later. I decide I’m in this thing to see what I can do, I’m going with the movers. Des Davilla (US Olympian in marathon and Hanson-Brooks Distance Project athlete) is leading the split, Serena Burla (Mizuno-sponsored athlete), Steph Rothstein-Bruce (Davilla's teammate), and myself are part of the pack that’s moving.

Miles 6-9 see our little pack spread a bit. Des is making a move to start reeling in Adriana. Serena is fighting to keep a gap from forming between herself and Des. And I’m sitting on Rena’s hip, refusing to give an inch because I don’t want to find myself in no man’s land running alone. At this point, I have no idea what’s going on behind me.

At what I think is Lemon Drop Hill (an arched bridge) there’s a sign indicating 4.1 miles to go, I climb the hill and pass Rena. She doesn’t respond. This is good. But just as quickly as that happens, on the backside of the hill, Rothstein-Bruce comes cruising by me. NOOOOOO! It’s at this point that I decide I am not running a good 10 mile race. I am finishing this. She starts to roll by me and I pin on to her. She wants to play, I’m feeling confident and like I still have some gas in the tank, so I’m going to play.

What ensues over the next four miles might be the most epic racing moment/memory in my life. Rothstein-Bruce is making move after move to create a gap, but I’m not letting her go. I remember vividly at the 11 mile mark, her GPS beeps indicating 2 miles to go, and she surges hard… I continue to focus on the fact that I have a real shot at the TOP THREE. It motivates me to push on with her.

We cruise down the cobblestones of downtown Duluth and my legs feel ready to buckle when I hit low spots, but I push on. We’re coming up on one more bridge, the last uphill, before we’ll wind our way around the convention center to the finish line. I think to myself, I’ve been strong on the uphills. If I’m going to make a move, this may be my shot to do it. So we hang a sharp left (which also helps because I’m running on her left shoulder which gives me the inside of the turn), and charge the hill. I don’t create much, but I create a gap.

                                                         Around mile 10-11ish

With about a mile to go, it’s now gut-check time. I made the move, and now I have to finish. I wind my way through the streets, riding the tangent like it’s my job, and suddenly can see Davilla. We’re only a few turns from the finish (although it feels like an eternity), and still no sign of Rothstein-Bruce coming on from behind. I don’t know if I have 2 steps or 20 on her, so when I round the final corner it is all out effort, everything that’s left was getting poured into that final dash to the tape.

I cross the line…in third place. What just happened?! A race chaperone comes to inform me that top three need to immediately report for media and drug testing and I’m whisked away still in a daze. Holy crap. The rest of the morning is a blur of hugs, tears, and smiles with family and friends as we all revel in what just happened. 

I know this recent rash of incredible break-thoughs in my running may not last long, so I am cherishing each race that ends with a result like this one did. I think the biggest pinch-me moment from the incredible weekend might have been as I made my way to my seat from the award stage and MEB KEFLEZIGHI congratulates ME on a great run… What the…? I wish I could say I played it cool, but there was absolutely no chance of that. I’m so appreciative of this experience.

                                                         Olympian Meb Keflezighi

Oh, and now that I've finally looked at my splits is pretty crazy how perfectly they match up with my perceptions of what happened during the race (the moves, the surges, etc). Splits:
5:30, 5:32, 5:30, 5:28, 5:23, 5:18, 5:29, 5:32, 5:34, 5:25, 5:22, 5:19, 5:14

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