June 16, 2012

USA Half Marathon Championships Race Recap - Jake

I ran 1:06:02 for 27th place today in Duluth. Here's my recap...

I simply didn't have a sub 1:05 half-marathon in me today. I'm not disappointed in my race, although a few seconds faster would have been awfully nice (more on that later). In terms of time/performance, this was probably the second best race of my life (after last fall's Long Beach Half Marathon). My 30:03 10K last week would have predicted that I should run in the high 1:06s, so I beat that by quite a bit... although I expected that I would. Here's how it played out...

Bus left our hotel at 4:45am. Weather was good - calm winds and cool (but definitely very humid, 90-100%). There were basically 4 separate races - the Men's National Championship at 6:15, Women at 6:25, the Gerry Bjorkland Half Marathon at 6:45, then the Grandma's Marathon at 7:45. Quite a lineup - its amazing that the race pulled this off without any hiccups at all. I'm incredibly impressed by everything Grandmas/Duluth has done this weekend - they put on a world class event.

Warmed up 2 miles + strides. Then we were on the line and ready to roll. I positioned myself a row or two back - I didn't want to get sucked out too fast. Gun went off and I held back... there was immediate separation of ~40 guys in front of me. I let that pack go - it wasn't where I needed to be. A big gap formed within the first mile between the gigantic lead pack and my pack, which was 12-15 guys strong. We hit the mile in 4:54 - perfect. The next two miles were 5:00 and 4:55. Still right where I wanted to be. Due to the rolling nature of this course, even effort does not result in even splits. Its a deceptive course - fair, but definitely not super-fast unless you have a tailwind. Its point to point, but the starting and finishing elevation are the same (make sense, it goes along the lake, and lakes don't have a "lower" end).

Miles 4-6 were 5:04, 5:04, 4:56. Still running well, but already falling off that sub 1:05 pace I wanted to target. Our pack was down to about 7-8 guys and we were working together pretty well. When the pace would start to lag, I'd move to the front and try to inject some speed. I did that several times throughout the middle 10 miles of the race. I recognized a few of the guys in the group - Fred Joslyn and Kevin Castille (who recently set USA Master's records of 14:00 and 28:57). Kevin and I pretty much ran stride for stride the entire race (he ended up beating me by a fraction of a second). Super fast for an "old" guy! :-)

I'm getting off topic... back to the race. This is where is started to get tough. Miles 7-10 were 5:05, 5:10, 5:04, 5:10. Ouch. Those 5:10s really hurt, mentally. We were all still in a pack and no one really took the incentive to stretch it out - I tried to on the downward side of Lemon Drop Hill (~15K), but I just couldn't get my legs to go any faster than low 5-minute pace.

After 10 miles you start to come into Duluth and the crowds get a lot bigger. Its a fun place to be running. Our pack splintered at some point during miles 11-12, it went down to 3 guys, and we were starting to pick off guys who had been out ahead of us and were falling back. I missed the 11 mile marker but the split for 2 miles was 10:10. Not terrible but this should have been faster since its gradually downhill at this point. I started to find some faster rhythm in the final 1.1 miles (5:25, so ~4:50/mile pace). There were about 5 of us all running together in the final stretch. I didn't quite have enough kick. Official time was 1:06:02 and I was 27th place overall.

It wasn't a long wait before our friend Erik came in (PR!), and then we watched Andrea bring it home. Very exciting to see her duking it out w/ Dot McMahon in the final straightaway! 1:17:21 was a very, very good race for her. I was happy, relieved, and proud to see her run great (and that her injuries held up). We cooled down 2 miles along the lake with Allison D (who ran a huge PR and finished one place after Andrea). Then back to the hotel for a shower before watching Derek D finish up a very good run in the marathon.

Top Results from Letsrun. Full results are here.

Analysis / Thoughts...

There was a $500 bonus for sub 1:06:00... so missing that by 2 seconds totally stinks. But I can't complain too much because its my fault for not sprinting harder at the end - I cut it too close. Plus the race paid my way out here and covered our hotel, food, etc. The hospitality here has been world class - I've never been treated like such a rock star... Grandma's even outdoes Boston. I already have this one on my calendar for next June.

I gave it a good shot today. It was clear by mile 4 or 5 that I wasn't breaking 1:05. Really, the times across the board weren't super fast. If you look at the guys who finished ahead of me, pretty much all of them are Olympic Trials qualifiers, so its not like I'm getting beat by a bunch of scrubs. It was an elite, deep race, and going into it, I figured a Top 25-30 finish would be a good outcome. My prediction was spot on. I'm competing well against good competition, and I want to keep racing and testing myself against the best runners. I want to be in the Top 15 in races like this, and that is what I'll keep working towards.

I'm going to shut it down in terms of hard workout and races for a while now. Its been an overall successful first half of the year. I was in the best shape of my life in the month before Boston, and while the marathon was a bit of a disaster, I was able to move forward from there and race well in May and June. Other than Boston I've raced consistently well for 5-6 months now. But I feel like I'm on a bit of a plateau at this point, or at least about to hit one - its hard to hold a high fitness level for months and months - so backing it off for a while (while I am still feeling good and like I have a few more races in my legs) will pay off later this year and beyond.

Today was a fun race. Its fun to be a part of a national championship event and perform at a level that shows you deserve to be there. What makes it even more special is that Andrea and I both had good races today... its awesome to be able to share these kinds of experiences!

We have lots of photos that we'll post when we get back home in a day or two. Duluth is a really cool town and we are having a great time here.


  1. Nice race man, and I was stuck with you in "three seconds too slow land." Keep on training hard and we should go for a run at this race next year.

    1. Thanks Scott. For sure - hopefully next year we'll both be seeing 1:04:XX on the clock.