I signed up for the 2016 Tobacco Road half, but a knee injury that kept me from running in January and February that year led to a deferral, so this race has been on the calendar for a long time. Initially, as it has been for a few years, the stretch goal was to break 1:30. That still seems a long way off, so the primarily goal was to run a new personal best (under the 1:31:25 I ran in Utah Valley), which meant a goal pace of about 6:58/mile. I've run this race twice beore (2014 and 2012), so I knew that despite the description, the course isn't actually flat. I have been training on the course for months, hoping that with greater familiarity the incline section from about mile 8 to mile 10 would be less miserable. Unfortunately, though it's only a 1-2% grade, it still slowed me down significantly and it still sucked every single time. I think that got in my head a bit, and I really started to wonder if I even had a shot at ringing the PR bell.
I made my way through the corral and said hello to a few people I know, and then realized I had more than enough time to throw in some strides. I made my way back out, added a few more minutes to my warm up, and then headed back up toward the start line. I found Allie and Meredith, who are both far faster but were just out for training runs, so once the gun sounded I was off on my own.
The race starts uphill and heads out on pavement for about two and a half miles before turning onto the packed dirt/gravel of the ATT, heading mostly down on the way out, then mostly up on the way back to Morrisville Parkway (the aforementioned dreaded slow miles), then back to Brooks Park for a downhill finish. My plan was to start out a little below goal pace, speed up just a bit to bank a little time on the downhill section out the way out, try to hold onto low 7s on the way back up, and then push the pace after turning off the trail. Everything went according to plan, and I hit the turnaround just past 45 minutes (6:53 average for the first half).
Once I hit the turnaround, I was a little surprised to see Meredith and Allie right behind me, since the rumor at the start was that they'd be running 7:05 and 7:20 pace, respectively. Emma was also right behind me, and she and Mere caught up with me shortly after making the turn. I chatted with them briefly but as we hit the incline they seemed to pick it up and I was rapidly slowing down, so that was the end of that nice distraction. I could hear them chatting as they pulled away from me on the lamented uphill section from Wimberly back to Morrisville Parkway, and I would have been silently cursing them if they weren't such nice people ;)
I took a sip of Gatorade at one of the aid stations hoping it would magically give me energy to fly through that section without losing too much time, but as expected, my splits moved up into the 7s. I am usually good about cheering on friends and offering encouragement to anyone who looks like they need it in these out and back races, but I guess I was in the zone because I passed a ton of people I know and never even saw them. I did have my eye out for my brother and gave him a cheer as he passed, and was able to glimpse a few familiar faces, but for the most part I would hear "Go Kara!" and have no idea who it had come from. I was actually shocked by how many friends and folks I know were listed in the results - I never even saw most of them! So if you were out there running or spectating: thank you for the support... the cheers and encouragement meant a lot and were very much appreciated, even though it probably did not seem that way at the time!
When I hit the 10 mile split under 70 minutes (69:57), I knew that I had not lost so much time coming back that a PR was off the table, so that was a nice boost as I got back out to the road. I don't have much of a finishing kick, and a good race for me usually means holding pace rather than speeding up, but with the help of a nice little downhill stretch through Brooks Park I was able to click off a 6:36 final mile. With the finish line in sight, a woman who I'd passed a little earlier came out of nowhere. I gave what I could (6:22 pace for the last tenth) and just edged her out at the line. I had 1:31:15 on my garmin, and though it was only 10 seconds better than Utah, a PR is a PR, and I got to ring the bell on the way out of the finish shoot. Mission accomplished.
I met up with Alan, cheered on some friends, and waited for my brother to finish (he also ran a PR, despite a recent injury, so that was awesome). While we were waiting, I checked the results to find that the woman I'd edged at the line (by less than 100th of a second) had started a step behind me, so her chip time was about half a second faster and giving her 2nd place in our age group. Gah! Granted, finishing 19th vs 20th of women or 2nd vs 3rd in my age group doesn't really have any significance, but I know I could have found one second somewhere, so it really does irk me a little!
|3rd/250 Female 35-39|
Though I would've liked to stick around the post-race party, it was a little chilly for my liking, so we headed back home to stretch in the warmth, then celebrated our new personal bests with lunch and beers at the Pit before spending the rest of the day in basketball-watching recovery mode.
All in all, I'm really pleased with the day. That 1:29:59 is really far away, but I ran a solid race, confirmed that running a sub-7 half marathon in Utah was not a fluke, saw my brother and some other folks I know run PRs, and am excited to shift focus fully to triathlon training.