I was towards the front of the 901 runners in the Alloa Half Marathon. It was overcast, drizzling lightly, and cool. Perfect for running. I wore a short-sleeve synthetic shirt, running shorts, socks and the newish running shoes that I'll wear in Boston. The timing chip was strapped to my left leg, just above my ankle-length sock.
I crossed the start line and started the chronometer on my watch.
I ran with the crowd, and consciously took the first mile easy. 7:06. This was a touch too easy maybe; to break 1:30, my goal, I needed to run 6:52 miles. On the other hand, it was useful to go out easy and have some gas in the tank for the later miles.
I tried to pick up the pace slightly in mile 2, and it came in at 7:02.
In mile 3 I picked out a runner who had passed me, and tried to stay with him. He was wearing black shorts and a black shirt and was older, or maybe my age. His calf muscles were thinner than you usually see in a distance runner. He was running a good pace though.
Mile 3 had a bit of uphill, and came in 7:17. I was certainly off pace, and was beginning to think it might not be my day.
In mile 4 I felt like I was picking up the pace. It too had some uphill, but also some downhill. The guy in black was pulling away. I was disappointed to see it come in at 7:18. Was I really that far off pace? It felt like I was running hard, but the clock was telling a different story.
Mile 5 contained a steady downhill. I strided out a bit, and felt that I was running as fast as I dared this early in the race. It came in at 6:27. All was forgiven - I'd cancelled out one of those previous slow miles.
The course descended into a village at the base of a local range of hills. The guy in black seemed to be slowing a bit, and as the route turned to follow a different road, I caught him.
The route was mostly flat for the next four miles, with only an occasional rise or dip. Mile 6 was 6:50.
I started picking people off. I fixate on the person in front of me, close the gap, and then pass. It was a gradual process. 7 came in at 6:58.
Mile 8 contained a short out-and-back on an adjacent road to make the correct distance. I knew this was coming from last year and sped up a bit. 8 must have had a gradual downhill as it came in at 6:16.
Mile 9 had the steepest climb of the race as the route turned back towards Alloa. I was passed by one or two people on the hill, and the mile came in at 7:07.
The 10th mile leveled out a bit, and I caught the guys who'd passed me. It came in at 6:53.
In mile 11 I caught a young guy who looked like a footballer. Now I was running hard. We passed the mile marker together, and I remarked that there were just two to go now. He grunted his assent. The mile came in at 6:49.
The route was now level, or slightly downhill. I passed one or two people, and was now occasionally passed by runner who were opening it up here towards the end. The pace was appreciably quick now. 12 came in at 6:43.
The last full mile. I was tiring now, but able to hold my pace. When I'd first done this race two years ago I'd suffered at this point with iliotibial band pain and fatigue. I'd thought then that I was so happy not be thinking about a full marathon.
This year I was in the midst of marathon training. 13 came in at 6:51. I still couldn't see the turn towards the finish line, but shortly after the mile marker I started to kick. I passed a few runners, and made the final turn towards the end. There was a guy in front of me, and I got close, but didn't pass him.
I'd finished in 1:30:49, 163rd out of 901 runners. I'd failed to break 1:30. Worse, I don't think I could have run any harder - I was at or near my capacity for this route.
But I'm 45 years old. This was a personal best time for the half-marathon, which, admittedly, I'd only started doing two years ago. I can't be too disappointed.
Hmmm.... wonder if I could break 1:30 on a flatter course.
Reluctlantly, I'm forced to concede that the bulk of my training is done.
I'm going to try for another 20 miler this weekend, and then I'm doing a half-marathon race next weekend, then a 20 miler the weekend after this, and then tapering. So, really, just two more proper long runs for this training cycle.
As usual, I don't feel particularly ready, but when I think about it I have done a lot of running. Listening to various running podcasts on my way to and from work, and particularly Marathon Talk, has made me feel that others do much more mileage. I wonder though, if running time, rather than mileage, might be a more appropriate comparison. My suspicion is that it may be easier to book higher mileages if your baseline pace is fast.
For me, it has been challeng to get out as much as I do now, with work, and my children. I had a good 20-miler last weekend, so if I can book one or two more of these, I'll be more confident.
My goal for Boston is to enjoy it. (OK, I'd like to run a good race, and break my marathon personal best as well.)
This morning we woke to snow, and a few inches have accumulated since that time. The snow is wet, and walking across our deck I left slushy footprints.
I'm part of an informal running club in my town. We run on Tuesday evenings, doing a 6-mile loop through town, and on Sunday mornings, doing a loop through a nearby woodland park.
The Tuesday runs are faster than the Sunday runs. Often, one or another runner will be feeling good, and will start to push the pace a bit midway through the run. On other occasions, it will be pretty fast from the start.
This past Tuesday the pace at the start was reasonable. I chatted with one or the other runners, and at about the midway point one runner, G., started pulling away. G. is older than me, but we run at about the same level.
I was feeling good, and wanted to keep him in sight.
He slowed a bit at the top of a hill, and another runner and I caught up with him. We ran together for a bit, and then the other runner pulled off to head home. G. picked up the pace and began pulling away again.
Another runner, A., caught up with me and we chatted. G. had now opened up a sizeable gap, and I started to pick up my pace.
A. is the fastest runner in the club, and likes to compete. There was little over a mile left of our loop, and to catch G. we had to start making up some ground.
We worked together. He'd set a fast pace for a bit, and then I'd surge ahead with a fast stretch. We began to close the gap.
We crossed a street, and G. looked back and saw us. He sped up.
It was cold out, but I was sweating hard. We had less than a half-mile to go, and we were running all out. G. was going hard; A. was on his tail, but couldn't catch him, and I was running fast, but couldn't stay with A.
G. finished first, A., second, and I came in, breathing hard, just after. On A.'s watch, we'd run the last mile in under 6 minutes. We shook hands.
The sun is now gaining some strength, and the weekend before last we visited the castle ruins in our town. My son and daughter enjoyed running through the various passageways, and sun made the stone walls seem warm. My son couldn't resist peering over the walls at the rooms below.