Before I say anything, I just want to post a link to a very well written article by Amby Burfoot, which pretty much sums up the day nicely. Also the interview by Chris from RunnerSpace.com….
Apparently that third place monkey on my back is holding on with a death grip because I can’t seem to shake him off!!! Hey I’m not complaining, I guess 3rd place is better than 4th, but I would just REALLY like to start placing higher at some point in my competitive running career. After placing 3rd place in basically every nationally competitive, non-local race I’ve run in the past five months including the New Haven 20K, Cow Harbor 10K, Baltimore Marathon, CC Club championships, and again today in the USATF Half Marathon Championships, you could say that 3rd place and I are well acquainted.
While the past five months of “3rd place running” has included many breakthroughs and PRs for me, today’s 3rd place finish was the most exciting 3rd place finish of them all. The field today was probably the deepest field I have ever raced with Olympians and some of the top marathoners in the country toeing the line. The course was a preview of the Olympic Trials course for the Marathon where, one year from now, the top three finishers will qualify for the Olympic Games in London 2012. Granted, many of the top American women marathoners were not entered in today’s race but I was still very encouraged to feel strong and comfortable running up front with the women who were there .
The USATF, Houston Half Marathon elite athlete committee, and race organizing committee did a FABULOUS job planning and executing a very prompt, organized, spectator friendly race this morning and I was very pleased with the excellent support which provided a fair, smooth, fun race.
There was some speculation by some of the girls I talked to after the race that maybe the course was a little bit long based on the fact that their Garmin’s measured it at 13.46 or 13.47 but I know as well as any other Garmin wearer should know that while the Garmin watches are a great training tool and are usually pretty accurate, they can be pretty off on some courses, especially when the course runs through a city (as this one did). I’ve often experienced the problem of tall buildings interfering with the GPS signal on my Garmin which is why I chose to wear my Timex today. I’m not saying the course most definitely wasn’t a little bit long but I certainly don’t think it was .37 long because I’m certain that it was measured many times by USATF and would not have been more than 25 yards long, at most (per USATF rules). If it was in fact slightly long though, this is a kink that I’m sure will be worked out before the Olympic Trials Marathon next year.
Anyway, on to the race…..
As the gun went off the men shot out fast and women faded to the inside lane for the fist turn. Lindsey Scherf shot out like a cannon on an aggressive pace for the first mile, a good 10 seconds ahead of the rest of us while we came through the first mile in 5:27. I was pleased with how comfortable and easy that pace felt and was hoping it would stay mid 5:20ish for the entire race because that would translate into a PR for me and I felt ready for it. Other than Lindsey out in front, no one was really eager to lead so Katie McGregor and I shared the lead. We came through the second mile in 5:33 which felt pretty comfortable (this is the mile that some of the girls thought was a little bit long). After seeing 5:33, I picked it up a little bit because I was hoping to see 5:2X the whole race rather than 5:3X. Katie and Serena were back and forth beside me as we reeled Lindsey back in through the third mile in 5:22.
The next few miles felt groovy as Serena, Jen, Katie and I worked together for 5:24, 5:26, 5:23, 5:22, 5:28, 5:31, 5:24 splits. There were three 180 degree turns, six or seven 90 degree turns, and some overpasses (Houston hills) mixed in there which kept the race exciting and added some challenge to the 13.1 mile distance. The USATF specifically designed this course to simulate the Olympic Marathon Course for London, which will have quite a few 180 degree turns and 90 degree turns as well. I can’t say it is my favorite type of course to run, but I understand and fully support the reason behind it. Going into the Olympic Trials Marathon I’ll figure out a way to do more terrain specific tempo runs with sharp turns mixed in because I could use some practice taking the turns fast and and keeping my speed and form crisp through the sharp turns.
After 10 miles at the front of the pack with some headwind, some side wind, the turns and rolling terrain, my body started resisting the pace. I still felt mentally strong but my legs were no longer willing to keep doing 5:2X pace anymore. Serena and Jen continued with the pace while I fought hard to stay with them but my wheels started to fall off. At one point I found myself fighting so hard that I started to feel lightheaded and had to back off a bit. To put it simply, I was out of gas and I was forced into running scared (hanging on) for my final 5K, knowing that Katie McGregor and Tera Moody were on the hunt. My final three mile splits were 5:37, 5:44, 5:41, final sprint 5:40 pace for a finish time of 1:12:03 (an unaided PR for the Half Marathon). As I tried my best to push through “the wall” and maintain my 3rd place position, I felt nothing but gratitude and joy for how well the day had gone and for another solid run in a competitive and fast USATF Championship event. I would have loved to place higher to shed my 3rd place “condition” but I guess that will have to be another day. In hindsight, I do think I may have been capable of running a little faster had I chosen a more conservative race tactic that included tucking into the pack and drafting for at least some of the race (what was I thinking?) But I definitely appreciate the lesson learned and I have no regrets pushing the pace for an honest, well-fought race. I laid it on the line today and I feel happy and grateful for 3rd place. 🙂
Some Pictures, courtesy of Photographer Aaron…thanks, hon!!