Yesterday, I ran an easy 7.8 hilly miles, just cruise controlling the run. I was really happy when I realized about halfway through the run that I was moving almost effortlessly, not thinking about pace or effort or anything else - just moving and feeling good. These kind of runs are good indicators to me that I'm getting into decent shape - a good pace with almost no effort.
After my run, I took a look at the VDOT charts in Daniels' Book of Running. I realized that running 1:39:00 or so, as I hoped to do in today's 1/2 marathon, was not going to be quite the cruise-control effort I'd originally thought. My best race of the year so far, based on the VDOT chart, was my Labor Day weekend 5K, which was at level 47.5. To run a 1:39 today, I'd need to run at level 46, which is fairly close to my max from a month ago.
But, I thought I was capable of running at that level, even with a solid week of training behind me, and no taper at all. My goal was an 8:00 opening mile and then 7:30s for the rest of the way. I didn't do it exactly that way, but the end result came out pretty well.
We had a perfect day for racing here in VT - mostly cloudy, a slight breeze, and cool - 50F at most, I'd guess. There was a 5K that started 10 minutes before the 1/2 marathon, and then at 11:15 or so, we were off. I'd lined up pretty close to the front - maybe 15 rows behind the starting line on a narrow lane where we started. This turned out to be the perfect starting place to start, as I wasn't in the way, yet didn't find too much traffic in front to me.
There were 900 runners entered in today's race, which is the limit and the race filled weeks ago. I first ran this race in 1986, when there were probably fewer than 100 runners, maybe only 50 or so, we started on a dirt road outside of town, there was no 5K, and there was one porta-potty. Today, there were probably close to 2000 runners between the two races and this is the second biggest race in VT. Today's race set a "PR" of sorts for me, when I started a race 22 years after my first time running the race. I don't know if there are any other races where I have a gap of more than 10 years from first to latest running. My first attempt at 100 miles was at the VT100 in 1997 and I ran it again in 2007, so I have a 10 year gap there. Today was also the 25th anniversary of this race, so my run in 1986 was very early in the history of the race.
Oh yeah - the race itself.
I took it easy to start, trying to control my pace. I knew that in the crowd, it would be easy to start too fast. I simply wanted an 8 minute warm-up mile, and I was OK with the 7:50 that I ran. It felt truly easy, which made me feel very confident.
At the 1 mile mark, I deliberately sped up and started to pass people. I hit the second mile (by my Garmin - not the race markers) in 7:32. This race is run on a certified course, but my Garmin registered it as 13.27 miles. That's about 1/6 of a mile longer than the certified distance, and I worked hard to legally cut the tangents. I know the error from the Garmin is small, but it's usually very, very accurate. I'm kind of curious if the certification was done for the entire width of the road, while they forced us to run in the eastern lane on the out and back. Not a big deal, but this was the biggest difference I've seen on a certified course with the Garmin.
Just past the second mile marker, the rolling hills started. Mile 3 was the second hilliest mile of the course and it took me 7:42. The next three miles were still rolling, but less climbing overall, and I ran 7:34, 7:34, and 7:36. Around the 4 mile mark, a friend who I teach skiing with in the winter, passed me, but didn't recognize me. I caught back up to him and we started talking and running together. We were having fun, because we were passing people and no one was passing us. By the end of the race, my friend would be the only person to pass me in the last 10 miles.
Miles 6 through 10 are the hilliest part of the course, mile 2 excluded, but my friend Tim and I were working together and we were running well. As it turned out, he told me that I slowed him down early, which helped his pace over the length of the course, and he probably sped me up, forcing me to work hard enough to stay close to my goal pace. Our splits for miles 7 through 10 were 7:25, 7:13, 7:33 and 7:26. The 7:13 was for the hilliest mile of the course.
I took a gel just before the 8 mile mark, thinking the aid station was just around the corner. Regretfully, I was wrong, and I ran almost half a mile with a gel half-stuck in my mouth before I got some water. During this stretch, Tim pulled away from me, but I kept fighting to stay close.
I was trying to keep my level of effort constant, slowing down on the ups and working the downs and the flats. At times, I'd close the gap on Tim and then I'd back off on a hill and lose ground.
Mile 11 was a 7:20. In mile 12, I worked really hard to catch Tim. I got within 5 feet or so, just off his shoulder, and then we hit an uphill. I backed off a bit on the intensity again, and he increased the gap. After this hill, the course was relatively flat the rest of the way, and I was working hard. Regretfully, so was Tim. I ran 7:15 for mile 12 and didn't close the gap at all in the latter half of the mile. Mile 13 is mostly on trails, mostly flat, and I was sure I'd get Tim here. I pushed hard the entire mile. I ran 6:53. I didn't gain a step on Tim.
Because of the distance difference, it took me another 1:58 to get to the finish after my Garmin recorded the 13th mile, which the Garmin recorded as a 7:13 pace. I didn't catch Tim, but I ran 1:38:56 - 4 seconds faster than my goal.
In some ways this time reminded me of my days racing 5Ks, back when I actually had a little bit of speed. I'd work my butt off for the entire race, only to finish within 5-10 seconds of a predicted time. Today, I was within 4 seconds for almost 100 minutes.
Overall, I'm happy with the run. The second half was done pretty much all out, but I'd forgotten how tough this course is. I wasn't tapered, I ran speed work on Wednesday, and I ran a hilly almost-8-miler on Saturday.
I still have 2 long runs and 2 Yasso 800 sessions between now and my marathon in 5 weeks, but I believe I'm going to be capable of sub-3:30 on 11/9. I'm just going to have to want it enough.