As I looked around Corral #1 at my fellow racers, I kind of chuckled inside. Three hundred and sixty five days ago I was swaying nervously in Corral #16, having only started running three months earlier. But Saturday, on a cold rainy morning, amazingly, I felt like I belonged.
I exchanged chit chat with other runners, people just like me, who were cool and confident about the road ahead. I looked down at my bib #1805 and knew that meant I had predicted a finish around 1:30 for the half marathon. I’m not sure how many corrals there were, but the throng of people went backwards as far as I could see. I was literally starting 5 rows behind the elite runners.
I had been sick all week and the only exercise I mustered was a 2 mile run on Wednesday night that left me weak. Sometimes being a little under the weather can help calm the nerves and it definitely did as the horn sounded and my feet started paddling their way down a water logged West End Avenue.
Everyone I talked to before the race said, “Don’t start too fast,” and I clearly didn’t listen. I was floating along at my 10K PR pace for the first mile and downtown Nashville lingered like a carrot at the end of my stick. I promised myself to regroup and slow down, but the second mile was even faster! I was raging out of control, and by the time I reached the top of the long hill and hit mile 3, I had basically set my new best for a 5K at 22:54.
The good news is, I used to live on the course and knew I had a nice long downhill before climbing to the top of Music Row. Mile 4 was a little more under control, clocking in at 7:32.
The end of that hill nearly nailed me to the cross, but I forged into the Belmont campus where another long and steady decline awaited. I was humming nicely when I felt my shoelace flopping, and my mother screaming, “Tie your shoe, Michael,” so I stopped to do just that. My hands were cold and suddenly I forgot how to tie a double bow knot! It was full in-race spaz mode and must have tied 5 knots into that lace which I’m guessing took about 20 seconds, accounting for my slowest mile (7:49) of the race. The worst part the feeling you get standing out of a crouch, but I quickly found the groove and nearly ran over some animated kid raking water stop cups in the middle of the street.
We turned left at the bottom of Belmont and snaked through a nice little neighborhood that is normally packed with people, but this time I saw a lot of abandoned signs staked in the yard that said, “Good luck, Jim” or “This water is for Felix.” Really, that was the most unfortunate part of the rain, it kept the fans inside or on their porches. And even the ones who were out there were kinda cheering from inside their ponchos. The band support was a little sketchy, too, but I totally get why musicians wouldn’t want to fish their gear through the middle of a monsoon.
Coming up 12 South was a bit of a bitch. There are about 6 rolling hills and the last two tested my limits. That’s about the time I started feeling my left IT Band get a little squirrely as well. From experience I knew it was the downhills that made it flare, and sure enough I was headed toward the longest one of the course, 16th Street, Music Row East. I did my best to hold back a little, but as I began my decent, the music and screaming fans jacked me through the roof. That was the most energizing part of the course for me and sent me down the hill like a rocket.
Cruising into the Gulch at mile 10 was my nemesis last year. I could hardly feel my legs, but Saturday I felt pretty strong as I passed on yet another water stop. It was really hard to drink water in the freezing rain, but I probably forced down three or four gulps during this race.
We turned the corner and ran through a shin deep water puddle on our way to the Farmer’s Market at Mile 12 and I was more or less in a daze by this point. I knew we had two annoying switch backs ahead and did my best to stay with the ever-increasing pace of the closing runners, but at mile 13 I hit a wall.
As we exited Farmer’s Market, we curled right then back left to climb the final hill. My knee was on the edge and I took it easy. I was running out of gas quickly and knew I had to focus. We swung around the block, then pushed another small hill before hitting the bridge and I heard sort of an inspirational run on sentence from fellow East Nasty, Geeky Gunjan, that gave me the jolt I needed. I was on the bridge, nearly at the “point one” finish and another East Nasty, who I didn’t recognize, gave me a verbal push as he blew by toward the finish. I turned the corner and sprinted home.
It seemed like it was over in a flash. I felt pretty good about the race, and happy with my effort, but know I still have room to grow. Ironman Wisconsin training has been unbelievable in my progress. Training with guys like Jim, Daniel, Mark, and Kevin has pushed my limits beyond anything I could have imagined. And coach Robbie’s inspiration and wisdom has opened my eyes to endless possibilities.
So, that was the race. I signed up on a whim 10 days before and crushed last year’s time by 32 minutes, while beating my February 1/2 PR from New Orleans by five minutes. The coolest part of all of this is that I wasn’t really sore this morning and knocked out 20 minutes in the pool and a short bike ride to keep it loose.
Oh, and I started all this business at age 48, did this half at 49, and got 19th out of 677 in the 45-49 age group. It’s not too late if you really want it.
Here are my watch splits from Saturday:
Mile 1 – 7:15, Mile 2 – 7:03, Mile 3 – 7:28, Mile 4 – 7:29, Mile 5 – 7:49, Mile 6 – 7:09, Mile 7 – 7:19, Mile 8 – 7:38, Mile 9 – 7:19, Mile 10 – 7:23, Mile 11 – 7:26, Mile 12 – 7:32, Mile 13 – 7:42, Finish 6:11
Last year’s pace: 10:16
This year: 7:27