Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Towpath Half 2016: Half PR two years later

Goal: 1:23-1:24:40, defend win, don't get passed by so many men in second half
Result: 1:24:22, first female, only passed by one man! Actually a 15 year old boy but whatever.

     2016 marks the year that I'll start visiting races for the third year in a row. This includes the Medina Half, the Twin Sizzler 5k, the Towpath Half and the Peace Race 10k. My goal is to create relationships with local races that I enjoy and promote them with social media and blog posts. These races deserve it! The Towpath Half is the only race that I've managed to win two years in a row. I have no idea how I keep pulling this off. There was some seriously stiff competition in 2014 and 2015. I'll admit that I wanted the three-peat. But you never know who might show up on the towpath. My coach offered the best advice: go for the win and have fun! The truth is I really do have fun on the towpath. It is as flat as can be, but because I'm surrounded by woods I feel like I could be on the trails. That and the forgiving surface is easier on the body. Especially when that body endured a rough marathon two weeks prior.
     I did a 12x400m repeats (400 rest) on Wednesday as my last workout before this race. I started at 89 but quickly worked my way down to low 80s and my last was a 78. It was my first good workout since Akron and a good confidence-builder. I'm beginning to love 400s just as much as 200s and 300s. Even though I'm a 50k/marathon runner I like the short interval track workouts. I have a naturally fast turnover that somehow translates to quick times for these repeats, though I struggle with equivalent times over longer repeats. One hundered percent of my training is public on Strava (Renee Harden) and on (NeybugRuns). If you check these out, be prepared to see lots of slooowwww easy runs.
     I arrived very early to avoid the traffic and waited in my car as all of the runners came pouring into Brandywine Ski Resort in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. At about 7 a.m. I started my warmup with my speedy friend Alissa. We ran about two miles back and forth on the service road in the early morning chill and fog. It was a perfect temperature out. High 40s at the start, mid 50s at the finish. I skipped my drills and runouts because I was struggling with a tweaked left hamstring from pacing one of my athletes during her workout on Thursday. I babied it all week and it felt fine for the race.
     Miles 1-5: 6:16, 6:22, 6:20, 6:14, 6:23. I went out relaxed and was immediately in fourth overall, three men gradually fading away in front of me down the road. I could see them for most of these miles and the male winner ended up going 1:21. Too bad I'm not in low 1:20 shape because they would have been perfect pacers. The third place male stayed very close to me and I even upped the effort in the fourth mile to try and catch him so we could pace together. I was not looking at my watch but it felt a bit fast (it was) so I backed off again. These miles were a relaxed hammer-fest, if there is such a thing. I didn't know if there was a woman close behind me so I worked hard until I hit the turnaround.
     Miles 6-10: 6:35, 6:32, 6:34, 6:31, 6:40. I grabbed some Gatorade at the aid station right before the turnaround and within a few steps I hit the cone and the 180 degree turn. I basically came to a complete stop to turn around and tried hard to get right back into my hammer rhythm. Two men were quite close behind me but I ran a while before I saw women. Three women, including Alissa were more than a minute behind me at 6 miles. I pushed this out of my mind and made it a goal that no men would pass me since it was unlikely any women would make up the time unless I completely crashed. The stream of people coming the other direction started and I stayed focused during this part, only smiling in return to the awesome cheers of "you're first woman, go get those guys!" and "go girl!"A guy caught me during the 8th mile and I commanded myself to stay with him until the 9 mile marker. I did this and it kept my pace in the low 6:30s for these miles. Mile 10 was tough because I was tempted to look at my watch. I was afraid of what I might see. I felt too good, as if I wasn't working hard enough. I answered this thought with "don't get too excited, you still have miles to go. Just stay smooth."
I think this is around mile 11. Photo credit: Capstone Photography

     Last 5k: 20:22 (6:34). I had a 6:40 for mile 10 since I grabbed a Carb Boom!, sucked it down and grabbed a cup of water to wash it down. I did this in a very intense, focused way that I hoped jived with the aid station workers. I was in a hurry to get back to my race! By this time I knew I was having a good race. No more men passed me and I was far, far ahead of the women. The fourth place male was close in front of me. If he was a woman, I could have hunted him down. Now I'm wishing he was, because he ran just under 1:24. I made it a goal that he not get further ahead of me. The song in my head was playing the same chorus over and over (Star Boy by The Weeknd), I was getting tired and was annoyed by the sweat in my eyes. This race needed to be over. I passed the section that Alissa and I had done a workout on the week before and I knew I was within two miles of the finish. I passed the last aid station and heard Rachel cheering but I didn't break focus. I was definitely struggling a bit here. About a half a mile from the finish Todd and Ethan were out on the path with a sign that said "You're NOT almost there" and started heckling me to "run faster" and "hurry up." It was hilarious and I did my best to wave and smile. At the bottom of the only baby hill on the course, I started my kick. There was a big crowd of spectators at the finish, lined up on the Boston store porch and along the fenced off finish area. As I rounded the corner I saw the clock and it had my pr on it. I started breaking down before the finish line and cried for a few seconds after I crossed. I may have thought that I would never run a half marathon pr again. I'm so glad that I did! Cynthia was right at the finish as I crossed and I was a little embarrassed that I was crying but it was happy tears and she didn't seem to mind. I quickly hopped back on the course to go cheer in Alissa who I knew would be coming in soon. Sure enough she set another pr in just over 1:30 to win her age group and earn fifth woman overall. She managed to break 1:30 for the first time the next week at the Columbus Half!
     After I watched most of the top women come in, I needed to book it up to my car so I could call the kids and check in on them. I also texted my coach to let her know I finally pulled off a half marathon pr. This is the sixth time I have attempted this since Towpath 2014. It is a breakthrough in my speed endurance, something I have been working very hard on with Becki. It is my biggest weakness as evidenced by my faster lower distance prs and much slower marathon pr. My half pr now closely matches my mile, 5k and 10k prs so that is a step in the right direction!
Well I was trying to rep the Akron Marathon but then I go and cover the logo up. Photo credit: Canalway Partners

     I came back down to Boston store for the awards and ran into Jeff who was just finishing a long run in the area. He stayed for the awards and I'm kind of hoping it convinced him to run it next year! I stayed to watch the lead marathon men come in but I had to book it out of there after that. The kidlets were waiting!

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