Yesterday morning I ran the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham, AL. Although racing a half marathon usually ends up being pretty painful, I had plenty of incentives to run. First and foremost, racing a half on Sunday morning meant I didnt have to go biking on Sunday or Saturday which is a huge bonus in the winter. Biking sucks in general but biking in the winter is just plain awful. Additionally, this race had Jim & Nick's BBQ and AYCD free beer at the end, so what else could you ask for?
The morning started with a nice jog with fellow Huntsvillian Tim Vinson who was "just using the race as a tempo run" and "wanted to get in four before the start." So I jogged a couple of miles with him before finalizing my clothing decision. The weather at the start was around 30F and sunny, so I went with shorts, a singlet, arm warmers, a Headsweats running hat, and, yes, compression socks. As silly as they look, I am not embarrassed to admit that I actually really like running in my Sugoi R+R Compression Socks when its cold out as they really do a nice job keeping my lower legs, especially the achilles, warm.
After a few brief words by the mayor, we were off. There was quite a bit of activity the first mile with people figuring out how fast they wanted to run but I was happy to come through in 5:27. The field was still sorting itself out so I set off looking for someone with whom I could pass a few miles. I came on one guy but he was already breathing pretty heavy so I left him pretty quickly.
I came through the second mile in 5:29 feeling nice and relaxed. By this time a group of three guys had formed about 20 or 30sec ahead of me. I wanted to run with them but at the same time didnt want to expend too much energy to catch them if it would only lead to a blow up later in the race. So I tried to reel them in over the next few miles but it seemed to be a rather fruitless pursuit. I was closing the gap a bit but not nearly fast enough. I did manage to keep them in sight and keep the gap pretty constant through about six miles but then they started to pull away a bit. The course was getting a bit hillier and it seemed that the uphills were outnumbering the downhills. Of course this couldve just been fatigue setting in, but who knows. Regardless, I just tried to focus and keep a good rhythm. I really just wanted to get to mile 10, telling myself it would just be a 5k to go after that.
Finally I came through 10 in around 54:40 or so and I hopeful that I could kick it in and finish around 1:11:30. Shortly after that we headed back into downtown and I knew we were getting close. Also around this time I saw another runner who must have been falling back quite a bit because he was not one of the three I had seen for the majority of the race.
At mile 11 he had 20 sec on me but I decided I could catch him. I set off, really focusing on keeping a high tempo and running faster. Shortly after passing mile 12 I had a bit of weird sensation, as I kind of started hyperventilating. I'm thinking maybe it was due to the cold air but I'm really not sure. Luckily though there was less than a mile to go so I just had to put if out of my head and keep running.
Finally, at about 12.5, I caught and passed him right before a right turn which proceeded a ~0.5 mile uphill stretch to the 13 mile mark after which we'd have a sharp left, right, and finally the finish line. So coming out of the turn he came back past me and I tried to go but started tying up. I really tried to quicken my stride but the slight uphill just sapped my speed and the legs really werent going to move any faster. I missed my 13 mile split but really just wanted to get to the finish.
I finally stumbled across the line in 1:12:12, about 6 sec behind the kid who out-kicked me. As for the group of three I was running behind earlier in the race, it appears that one of them ran the marathon and the other two ran 1:11:12 and 1:11:15. Too bad I couldnt have stayed with them. Finally, Tim Vinson, the guy I warmed up with, ended up 13th overall and 1st Masters in 1:17:32. All in the middle of a 21 mile day and a 100 mile week. Not too shabby!
All in all, I'm pretty pleased. Although I would've loved to out-kick that kid and/or go under 1:12, I cant complain about being 10sec off a PR as other than two tempo runs, I've only done easy running up to this point this year.
Finally, full results are here and my splits are as follows. Incidentally, I think the fast third mile was primarily downhill and not fully compensated for until the last mile. 5:27, 5:29, 4:19(!), 5:31, 5:32, 5:34, 5:41, 5:40, 5:31, 5:32, 5:24, 5:28, 6:58 (1.1)