October 22, 2016
Sub-6:00/mi avg, yes-ish
Break Official PR (1:18:17), no
Break Unofficial PR (1:14:59), no
After registering for Boston, I started hunting for a good winter marathon to train for. I decided on Dallas in early December, and I started setting up a training plan. I wanted to race a half sometime relatively early on in the training cycle to gauge fitness, and this one caught my eye: first year it's being run, on a converted railway (flat and fast), and crushed gravel for a majority of the race. I got in touch with the company that's running it, Ultra Expeditions, and found out they're a new company that's been getting ready to set up an ambassador program and that if I perform well at the race they'd love to talk about getting something set up with me. Add to that the coupon the race director sent and I was all over this one.
I'd been consistently hitting high 50 mile weeks for about a month previous, with a 20 mile long run on alternating weeks. Tempo runs about once a week, with some fartlek workouts early on, but I'm focusing on getting mileage up after only hitting 20-25 mpw in August while trying to get my 800 time down to make my school's team (dropped it from 2:03 to 1:57 in four weeks, but they recruited 16 freshmen in that time so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). The week before I ran in a local 5k (17:05; wanted sub-17 but with wind. hills, heat, and a win, I couldn't complain), so I took a few rest days the week before this race; still hit 55 for the week, though. I'm chaining more 50+ mile weeks than ever, but I've finally gotten it through my thick skull that easy days should be easy (7:30/mile or slower) and I'm feeling better than ever.
Given the ambassadorship on the line, I knew I wanted to win. Considering it'd be the first running, I figured it'd be small, so I was pretty confident I could at least do that. Hold 6:00 or better was a little iffy for me, since I've been doing mostly easy runs lately, but I ran a couple of my late-cycle marathon workouts about a month and a half ago and I killed those so I figured I'd be alright as long as I didn't go out fast. Breaking that official PR I thought would come with going sub-6:00, and I assumed the unofficial PR (set in a tune-up run prior to my last marathon, so no results to show for it) was a little ways out for me, but if I had a really good day I knew it wasn't impossible.
Did a super easy 10 mile run Friday morning, then travelled down to Texas after my classes got out. Wound up getting into Farmersville at 4:55, five minutes before packet pickup closed for the night. There were no hotels in Farmersville, so I drove ~15 minutes to Greenville where I checked into a Motel 6. Needed to get the drive out of my legs, so I did an easy 5 around the OnCue parking lot next door (no sidewalks, just highways... it was boring but the parking lot was a half mile loop so it wasn't too awful) plus some strides. Had a little confusion on the race start time; I could have sworn it was 7:30, but the website said 9:30. Made up my mind to plan on 7:30 and wake up at 5:30, but call the race director and find out before I woke all the way up so I could get that extra hour or so of sleep if it was 9:30. Went to bed (relatively) early, around 10:30.
Woke up at 5:30 as planned, gave the director a call (there was a 50k starting at 6:30 so I figured he'd be up), he said they ran into logistical issues with the 7:30 half marathon start so they pushed it back to 9:30, but I could still start at 7:30 if I wanted. Opted for the extra sleep since the temperature difference was only gonna be about 5 degrees and went back to bed.
Had my classic two bagels for breakfast, one with peanut butter and nutella, one plain. Got to the race around 8:30, made a porta-potty stop, talked to the race director (also one of the company's co-owners) about the ambassadorship thing, then got in a nice easy 2 mile warm up. I was a little worried, because my legs felt a little heavier than usual, but after stretching and getting some strides in I was good to go. Asked the timers what the fastest half marathon from the 7:30 start was and they said they hadn't had anyone cross yet, so that was awesome. There was one guy who looked pretty legit; actually had on short shorts, and was wearing a snazzy looking Tracksmith jersey. Other than him, the men's field looked like they'd be coming in around 2 hours.
Start through mile 3
From the start I knew I'd be alone up front. The Tracksmith guy had a girl with him, either a girlfriend or training partner, and he was either pacing her or they were around the same pace because they stuck together for the entire race, and they were about 20 seconds back by the half mile. Hit 6:13 for the first mile, which was just about right. I wanted to ease into the pace, rather than jump right down to sub-6 and risk blowing up if I was not, in fact, in that kind of shape. Mile 2 was 6:08. The paved portion of the trail ended at mile 2.5, then switched to gravel. I hate the feeling of slipping a tiny bit backwards each step, and I think I overcompensated by dropping to a 6:00 for mile 3, but it didn't hurt as bad as I thought it would and I settled in nicely. Worth mentioning that the course was beautiful - almost constant shade, the path was lined with trees that made a canopy/tunnel effect, and everything felt really isolated nature-y after the first mile or two and the town was behind me.
Mile 4 through Mile 6.55
Pretty uneventful. Mile 4 was a 5:59, mile 5 was 5:56. Switched over to grass/dirt at mile 5.5, and there was some fancy footwork to avoid mud in a few spots, but I made it out relatively unscathed. Mile 6 was 5:56 as well. With the turnaround coming up I was excited; while I was only just sub-6, it felt good and I was confident I'd be able to crank it down even more after the turnaround. The turnaround was just an orange sign that said "half marathon" with a U-turn arrow, and since the trail was pretty narrow (about 6 feet wide) there wasn't room to swing wide and turn without losing momentum, so I had to plant and pivot (which I hate, but it was that or lose time by easing to a stop and then slowly accelerating).
Mile 7 through Mile 8
Mile 7 was 5:55, and I was still feeling great, despite the turnaround temporarily throwing off my focus. Passed the guy and girl around mile 7.5, which meant I had 2 miles on them. Just me and the clock. Hit mile 8 in 5:54, and I was hyped about how my splits were gonna look.
Mile 9 through Finish
The last 5 miles were more of a struggle than I would have liked. Mile 9 was a 6:00, a positive split but not too far off pace. I was finally starting to wear down, and it felt like I was running out of fuel. I have little to no scientific evidence to base this theory on, but I think my body was making the switch to fat burning. Anyway, doubled down and dropped a 5:56 for mile 10, slowed back down for mile 11 and went 6:06 (that one made me sad), went 6:03 for mile 12. I knew I'd be close to the 6:00/mi average, and I really wanted to close well, so I gritted my teeth and gave the last mile a little more gas than I probably would have otherwise. Hit mile 13 in 5:48, then rolled through the last 0.1 at 4:52 pace (although it wasn't really a kick, I kind of accelerated gradually into it the last quarter mile). Final time: 1:18:31.
In the spirit of Oktoberfest, they had brats and beer at the finish. I'm 20 though, and brats are a little fatty for a post-race meal, so after downing a couple water bottles and oranges I settled for some root beer made by the local brewery (really good, actually). Talked to the company's other owner about how the administration side of the race was going, and she said the only hiccup was people thought they could just show up whenever and start regardless of the listed start times. Apparently they had a couple people show up around 10 who were registered for the 50k and asked if they could go ahead start even though it started at 7:00, plus a few people who started the marathon just before I finished. Really weird; I wouldn't expect that to be an issue (I mean... the half marathon time change was a bit confusing, but that was the only race they had to adjust). But due to that, she said they wouldn't be able to have an awards ceremony and asked if it was alright if she just went ahead and gave me the prize (a neat little ultralight REI bag for hiking/ultramarathoning). I had no issues with it, so she gave me the bag, I touched base with the race director/co-owner about the ambassadorship, then headed to Plano for Torchy's Tacos with my SO.
Overall, pretty happy. Wish I'd done better about getting calories in me pre-race, but I can't complain with my result. The course was awesome, although the three different trail types was weird. Switching back to concrete for the last 2.5 really threw me off, since I'd gotten used to the gravel/grass, but other than that I loved the trail and I'll definitely be going back next year. The race director and volunteers were all really nice, and the crowd was energetic despite its small size. I'm looking forward to getting mileage up in the next couple months in preparation for December, and I can't wait to see what I can do in Dallas!