Monday, April 02, 2007

Athens Half Marathon Race Report

Aimee, Dale and I drove down to Athens, OH for the 17th running of the Athens Half Marathon. This was also the 40th anniversary of the marathon. Dale and I had done this race before in 2004. This was Aimee’s third after successful races in 2004 and 2006. Both Dale and Aimee graduated from Ohio University so it is always a nice time to visit Athens. April in Athens is usually warm and sunny. The 2006 race was a beautiful day. For the 2007 race the weather report called for showers and thunderstorms but temperatures starting in the mid-50s and increasing for the day.

Once we arrived in Athens we checked into our hotel then drove to campus to pick up Andrew and his friend Becky. They were going to join us for dinner at the Italian restaurant where packet pick-up was being held. We had a very nice meal to get us ready for race day. As always it’s nice to visit with Andrew and his friends. However, this time there would be no late night drinking.

There are definite pluses and minuses with this race. On the plus side the race doesn’t start until 9:00AM. On the minus side, this is a Sunday race in a college town. Oh how we wish this was a Saturday race so we could enjoy campus Saturday night. But alas we have to be good and not drink any beer pre-race.

Sunday morning Aimee and I woke up with plenty of time to make final preparations. Rain had come in overnight but it currently wasn’t raining. I drank the first of two Boost for breakfast then took a shower to remind my body that it was time to wake up. After my shower, Aimee and I went to the hotel breakfast room and had more to eat. I ate an orange and bowl of oatmeal then topped it off with a glass of orange juice. I stepped outside to check the weather and noticed the rain coming down. The temperature was already above 50 and it was a light rain.

Back in our hotel room we gathered our race bags, watched some ESPN and I had my second Boost for the morning. After several more stops in the bathroom we were finally ready to head to the race finish. We parked the car at the university track where we would finish with 1.5 laps to the finish line. We had also made a trip to Wal-Mart the night before to buy some lawn trash bags to wear to the start line in the center of town. The intensity of the rain was changing every 10-15 minutes. One moment it would be a light drizzle then a heavy shower. It looked like the rain during the race would be doing the same thing.

The start of the race is at the corner of College Green and Court Street. Court Street in Athens is where all of the bars are located at. Most students at OU spend quite a bit of time walking through the Green to enjoy themselves on Court Street. The Army and Air Force ROTC programs are big supporters of the full and half marathon. At the start the Army ROTC used a small cannon to start the race. That is definitely one way to wake up the sleepy, hung over students of OU.

The race plan provided by Coach Angela went like this. Start easy for the first three miles in my upper Zone 2/lower Zone 3 (150 – 155 heart rate). The middle miles (4 – 11) find a comfortable pace that would have my HR at 160. The final miles would be around 165 effort. My lactate threshold is 166 so the 165 sounded good.

The first mile out of town is immediately downhill. I seeded myself mid-pack so I wouldn’t be tempted to start too fast. I had to dodge around a lot of other people but the first mile was 7:13. My heart rate was already higher than I wanted it to be, but my pace was lower than I wanted it to be. Due to the high humidity and persistent rain I abandoned my heart rate race plan and went with perceived effort and it seemed to pay off. I kept myself steady and consistent at each mile marker. I missed the markers for miles 2, 3, and 4 but managed splits for the remainder of the race.

Having started near the middle of the pack I had some good company for the first half of the out and back course. The runners in front of me provided me with small targets to reach and pass. Granted some of them were some very good female runners but a small milestone is still a mental boost for any race. At mile 6 there was an aid station. I would be returning to this aid station soon so at the turn around point I started to take in my first Hammer Gel. I wanted to have enough water in my stomach to absorb the gel. I was very good about taking in water or Gatorade at each aid station. We had a total of four aid stations and we would be able to visit each twice. I wasn’t going to succumb to any dehydration and suffer muscle cramps.

After the turn and mile seven I was in the company of the top runners. A lady riding her bike against our direction was letting us know what position we were in. She called off nineteen as she passed me. As much as I appreciated her information I didn’t want to get involved with any head games. I didn’t want to worry about placing or anything like that. I wanted to maintain a steady pace that I could hopefully increase during the last few miles. I had to keep my head in the game and prevent the “wheels” from coming off.

This is the mental aspect of racing that I enjoy. How do I keep myself together despite the signals that are coming in from the legs that they are getting tired? Several times I had to remind myself to keep my running form solid. My head was tipping back. My arms were bunching up. I was taking longer strides. I would pull my form back together and feeling stronger.

I was also telling myself “No!! You don’t only have 3 miles to go, this is when the race really begins.” I was starting to pick off more runners. A group of four young guns finally broke apart and I passed two of them with confidence. I could tell they were struggling and I showed them I meant business. At the eleven mile mark I had three runners in my sights. All of them were not within striking distance but I could see them. One runner I had seen walk before so I figured I could snag him. He did succumb to muscle cramps and I breezed by him.

I kept up my pace and waited patiently for the twelve mile marker. At mile marker 12 it was time to push for the final 1.1 miles. I continued to keep my form as I wound my way through several turns and onto the track surface for 1.5 laps. As I came out of the first turn and in front of the bleachers I heard Andrews friend Becky yell, “Way to go Papa Gibb!” I looked quickly along the railing and saw Andrew standing there watching me finish. Except for Ironman this was the only time he has seen my finish a race. It was a great mental boost to have someone there cheering for me. It’s not often someone is there for me at the finish.

I kept powering around the track towards the finish line. I crossed the line at 1:27:49. As my tag was torn from my race number, a race official asked my age. I told him 40 and he informed me that I was the third masters runner and that I would be getting money for my finish. I didn’t realize that this was a money race. I don’t know how much I won so I have to wait for the check in the mail. I guess getting older and racing as a “master” actually pays off. I chatted with some of the runners that finished near me, cooled down a little, changed into dry clothes then stood with Andrew and Becky while we waited for Aimee and Dale to finish.

Statistically this is how I finished.

13th overall of 421 runners / 230 males
3rd Masters Runner
1st in age group if you take me out of the Masters category. The first place master was 46 and the second place was 50.

Finish time: 1:27:49
Average Pace 6:42/mile
Average Heart Rate: 164

Game On.


Nancy Toby said...

Wow! Way to go!! Taking money makes you nearly a professional runner, right?? :-)

TriSaraTops said...


Can I have your autograph?! :) Great job! You ran a smart race and it paid off.

We have GOT to get them to move that to Saturday! Maybe that can be my "comeback" race next year!

SkiRough said...

An "in the money" finish! AWESOME, Eric! :)

JenC said...

Fabulous job Eric! You are one fast man! Congrats!

greyhound said...

Little by little I keep getting better, but dang, you're a serious racer. I don't think our performance curves will ever cross.

E-Speed said...

Damn speedster! Rocking race!
You won money!!! That is sweet! I hope I can perform as well as you this Saturday and grab a PR for myself!

qcmier said...

Dang, I don't think I can keep up with you on the run.