Tag Archives: half marathon

The 2012 Detroit Free Press Half Marathon – Training

Committing to a running plan is, paradoxically, a relief for me, rather than an intimidating event. Writing the plan, or researching it, or picking a race, all of those tasks, that involve choice so heavily, are intimidating. With a choice, or worse, with dozens of small choices, I am faced with the reality that not only might I not make a good one, I will likely not make the best one. These are the kind of things that afflict those of us with nervous minds.

Once the plan is laid in, typed into the calendar, the goal race set, and the paces all determined, the relief is palpable. At last, no more choices! There is only “run” or “don’t run” and I know which one of those is the best choice.

My plan for the Detroit Free Press Half comes, lifted whole, from Runner’s World Smart Coach, a free iPhone app that takes a recent race result, a goal race, your basic training stats (miles per week, experience) and spits out a training plan. This is perfect for the symptoms described above. I signed up for Detroit because I didn’t get to do it last year, and when I was still agonizing over 5k and 10k for the summer, I realized that the 16 week window I had used for optimal training for Pittsburgh was creeping up for Detroit.

So I told the app to spit out a plan, and it did. 16 weeks of runs, with the three pillars being a long run, a workout, and 3 easy runs each week. It also features a drop back week every fourth week with only easy runs. To see the whole thing in detail, check out the plan over on the Training Calendar tab above.

My ability to stick to the plan may take some flexibility, as my current schedule is a little out of phase with Steph’s workouts, but it feels good to have a plan again. The Detroit Free Press half is in a few months, and I have no reason to believe I won’t show up there with another sub 2 half. And if it goes well, maybe another incremental PR.

That said, I think there’s some room in the plan for using a 5k or 10k as a check-in race, but I’m not sure I want to go down the road of looking for one again. My indecision shines through when I start that process.

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When training takes a back seat

Sure, this could be a post to say that I haven’t kept up with my goals, that I haven’t stuck to my plan and earnestly recommitting myself to my half marathon plan with just a month to go before I toe the start line at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon nice again.

But that’s not necessary, because despite not writing about it, I have been running. I haven’t missed a single workout through the entire training plan. I just haven’t been writing about it. And rather than getting all tearful and “dear diary” about it, I’m just going to admit I’ve been plenty motivated without the blog. So when I say in my title that training has taken a back seat, I really just mean that it’s not up front, arguing with me about directions and whining for bathroom breaks. It’s in the back seat, getting to the destination. Along for the ride.

I’ve had some great runs these past few weeks, mostly in the form of my increasingly-brutal, wouldn’t-miss-it-for-the-world, speedwork each Thursday. Last one was 4 mile repeats at a pace I didn’t think I could hang for a 1/4 mile, never mind 4 mile long intervals. My tempo run, this coming Thursday is set to be among my longest, fastest runs yet; 5 miles at 8:56, very near my targeted race pace for the Pittsburgh Half.

My weight loss broke another plateau this week and I’m down in the 205-210 range; approaching the normal BMI range for the what seems likely to be the first time since college. I am struggling with some issues surrounding that weight loss and my feelings about it; something I want to write about more soon.

Ultimately all this unabashed good news in the areas of health and fitness is, like I said, riding along with a lot of career/work concerns that are really steering the ship. My boss announced he was leaving his current position at the beginning of March, and the time since then has been a tumult of speculation, application, interviewing and rumor as my colleagues and I all grasped at something that’s been rather sparse of late; a big opportunity to advance. Without running, I think I’d be handling myself with less grace and composure right now. I’ve gotten some great thinking done on the 5 mile runs that dominated my plan this week, and I look forward to the control of my situation that running gives me every time I step out the door.

My goal for tonight is not to let this one languish in the draft folder, so forgive the rough edges. 4 miles tomorrow. 26 days to the Pittsburgh Half.

Stomp The Grapes Half Marathon Race Report

The third half marathon of my life, year, and the last of my first ‘racing season’, was a race definitely worth writing about. After a 2:02:04 performance at the Brooksie Way, I had a shot, on this much flatter course, at brushing by just under 2 hours. That wasn’t to be, this time around but it was quite a memorable race and race weekend.

I should start at the beginning.

The Injury

3 weeks ago I started a 12 mile run, planning to head to the gym via a route that would take me through the Lower Huron Metropark near my house. Less than a half mile from the house my knee ‘clicked’, whether audibly, physically or mentally I will never know, but it sent me running back to home to readjust my shoes, stretch and seek the pity of my wife and my mother. After stretching and sitting for half an hour, I hit the road again, this time with no pain. I dismissed it as an oddity of running on cold legs and had a great 12 mile run. I had only minor hints of it through another average week of running, that week, culminating in my 14 mile partially-topless show 2 weeks ago. That 14 mile run left me addle-brained and exhausted, but still, no sign of this underlying trouble.

Still, that long run effectively marked the beginning of my taper, and I expected the possibility of things going wrong to be behind me. It reared its head in a six mile stretch of the legs done in Pittsburgh, and seemed to object to me spending ~8 hours in the car that weekend. Still, it was worth it to meet Persephone for the first time (Congrats Chuck & Annette!)

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Then the last straw, which is when you started reading about it here. I ran home from the RAC to home, a 5 mile run, and at a mile I felt/heard the knee pop. I was miserable the rest of the run. Not so much physically as mentally, knowing that this could be the end of my goals for a while.

But I got some great advice here, and the huge support of my wife, and I got a crash course in ITBS treatment methods. I foam rolled, I stretched 3-5 times a day, I bought a rubber strap with a bump in it that ITBS sufferers said had cured their ills. I rested so much I started to get fidgety. I ate enough advil that I thought I should start counting their calories. If you had offered to sell me a totem necklace or a magnetic crystal bracelet that would ward off the evil spirits or bad blood that cause ITBS, I would have bought one from you.

The Preparation

Normally, the week before a race is full of different nerves. What should I eat? Will it be too cold for this outfit? Too warm for this other? What pace should I run? How early should I be? Perhaps I should be thankful that an injury made all those things fade into the background. The possibility of being wiped out by my leg made all the unnecessary worries come into perspective. Of course, maybe one or two valid things were forgotten as a result.

Stomp The Grapes is an afternoon race, in Hartville, 3.5 hours away from home. This made for a couple strange things about the prep. First, no longer was dinner the night before my ‘last big meal’ before the race. Second, I would have to spend 3.5 hours in a car before the run. Still, a creature of habit to the last, I had a beer and a spaghetti dinner @ Sticks in Ypsilanti, going out as much to take my mind off of the possibilities of the race as for any other reason. A decent beer, and some lousy service, and some 2 hours later, we headed home by about 10pm. I had to get some sleep before that alarm clock.

Breakfast was a second chance to eat some energy-providing, or at least feel good, food. I gobbled up french toast and eggs at Dimitri’s with the sun still below the horizon. The waitress was good enough to fill up my coffee cup for the road, and we set out.

To solve the possible problem of being stuck in a car, tightening up before the race, Stephanie let me ride in the back, relaxed and in style. I could lay out across the back seat of our Edge and stretch my ITB a few times.

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The drive went quickly, and we soon found ourselves crossing through the small town of Hartville, driving along part of the race route, and pulling in to the Maize Valley Winery. True to its great name, and theme, the race gear in my pickup packet was festive and fun, adorned with the unique name. In addition to the obligatory long sleeved tech shirt, there was a great fleece beanie, and I had elected to buy a hooded sweatshirt for wearing around the house during the winter.

The weather was perfect, and getting nicer as we got settled in. Steph was volunteering to help out, because she had fun doing so unplanned at some previous races, so she wandered off to find her assignment while I worked out pinning on my number. Soon, she had the word that she’d be manning one of the late turns, so she could hang out with me until the start, and head out to mile 9 after the gun.

She got her orange race official vest, and hid it under her shirt. I made her wear it for a picture!

Then came the first moment of truth, I put on that snazzy little band on my thigh, and started running slight warmups in the parking lot. Two laps of the parking lot, and Steph could see it on my face. My knee wasn’t hurting, but it also wasn’t invisible. I felt it. There was a huge chance that this was going to end as quick as it started.

Still, I tried to smile, and enjoy the beautiful day. I told Steph that if I didn’t manage to race, I could always come back to the winery and drink away my troubles.

And before you know it, that started to call for relay participants to be gone, and then for racers to head out onto the road for…

The Start

We walked out along the road, following a vintage ambulance, the kind that looks uncomfortably like a hearse. I heard more than one runner joke to their friends about that particular ill omen, as we gathered up on Edison Rd to get started.

Shortly after the airhorn, I saw another runner in a Pittsburgh Half Marathon shirt, and I chose to take it as a good omen. I cheered for him, told him to have a good race, and enjoyed the energy of the moving pack. I kept the pace pretty even, and pretty reasonable. I saw 9:30 on the watch at some point, but the average turned out to be 9:16, which was a good ‘above the line’ first pace. I was (metaphorically) holding my breath for that whole first mile, but my leg behaved itself.

Then, when I saw the mile 2 marker, I started to feel like I was going to make it. Something, whether it was foam rolling, frantic stretching or the good wishes and good advice of all my friends, had worked. My next two miles were below 9 minutes, and feeling strong.

The Traffic Problem

In those first two miles, we passed something that was a harbinger of the race to come. A car that had been stopped by the police closing down the road had been rear ended by another car. Pieces of the front end were strewn all over the place as runners passed by in the oncoming lane. That was the only accident I saw, but the traffic control for this race was very problematic. Cars were allowed on to the “oncoming” traffic lane, a few at a time, on several parts of the course. As is to be expected for random cars, had no idea what to do when confronted with a road covered in runners. They sometimes sped past, aggression oozing from their tailpipes. Sometimes they crawled by, sensibly realizing that clipping someone with their mirror at 40mph was not going to get them through the blocked road much faster. And at least once, they got completely baffled and drove down the center of the road, runners streaming around them like water running by a stone. Some of the runners took this well enough, just shaking our heads in silent confusion. Others spat curses or flipped off the drivers, no doubt feeling the bravery to do something they can never do when running alone on the roads at home.

The Talkers

At around mile 5 we passed a timing mat, and I passed a couple of women who were not just chatting, but outright laying some serious life discussion.

Wendy is not talking to her mother. Come on, Wendy. She’s your mother. So, she made a mistake? In 10 years, none of this is going to matter. She can’t take it back, she apologized. Also, it was just hurtful to suggest to your mother that you go to counseling together. When she told you that you needed counselling, she meant that YOU needed it. Not that she needed it. She’s fine. Also, your sister who isn’t talking to her and the one sister that is are just part of a cycle of whatever the hell is going on in your OH MY GOD PLEASE SHUT UP I WOULD RATHER JUST DROP OUT OF THIS RACE AND LAY ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD WEEPING THAN LISTEN TO TEN MORE SECONDS OF YOU GUYS PSYCHOANALYZING YOUR FRIEND WENDY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HER MOTHER.

Fortunately, after about 5 minutes of that, one of them said to the other, “We are running way too fast.” and they mercifully disappeared in the rear view.

Wendy, call your mother.

The Pacer

As we came around a corner, a volunteer warned us that the cars at that corner were CRAZY, and we should watch out. I shared a fun moment with another runner where we comiserated about how cars are always crazy, and that it wasn’t exactly news. I asked her if she was trying to run a 2 hour half, and she was. She asked me if a girl ahead in a shirt marked “2:02” was an official pacer. I didn’t think so, but I told her that there was only one way to find out.

I ran up the hill to catch up to 2:02, and asked her if she was an official pacer or not. Her response? “Thank you!!”

I’m guessing the headphones up at approximately 300% volume had something to do with that. Oh well, mystery solved, not an official pacer.

I turned around and my new found friend was lost in the crowd behind me, having fallen behind when I chased after the pacer. I took being ahead of someone as a good omen, and went on my way, wishing her the best in my heart.

The Fade & The Finish

The course was not hilly, at least not the way that the Brooksie had been, but there were still climbs, 50ft over a tenth of a mile here and there. A 10% grade is certainly enough to have an effect, even if it can be called at best, rolling hills. I ran a solid start in my opinion, with those first 2 miles right above the 9:10 mark, easy enough to be a responsible start, but not so slow that I’d have to push impossibly hard past the halfway mark.

Then mile 3 finished up and my pace blinked on my watch. 8:59. Under 9 minutes and feeling good. Then I tried to take it easy, be consistent, and reeled in an 8:44 on mile 4. I didn’t need to go that fast, and so I slowed down, started to see the miles with a 9 in front and keep myself steady. Somewhere around 7 or 8, I stopped having to hold back to get 9:0x. By 10 I was struggling to get it. I could try to name culprits, specific hills, the spectating girls who tried to run with their mom and almost piled into me. Nerves from all the nearby, and anxious, traffic. The half mile section of road that was loose, sloped, dirt because a construction crew had torn it up that week. But really, I just didn’t have it in me to run as fast as I needed to.

By mile 10 I had a sense it was going to be hard, but by mile 13 I knew I was right on the razor’s edge. As I got close to the winery, I was still under two hours, and someone said “Turn at the orange cones ahead, that’s your finish!”

Just before the turn, just a few dozen feet from the finish mat, I heard my Garmin beep out it’s fourth half hour chime, signifying that I had missed my goal of 2 hours.

I kept the pedal down, and ran across the finish line. I saw the race clock was between 2:00 and 2:01 as I crossed.  I retrieved my medal, a badly needed bottle of water, got interrogated by a guy who seemed concerned that I wouldn’t answer with words, only by nodding my head and staring blankly. After finally regaining/proving my mastery of words by sputtering “I’m fine, just out of breath”, they let me go, and I found myself adrift. It took me about 5 minutes to find the food table, which they had hidden way further way from the ‘finish chute’ than I’ve seen in other races.

I started making phone calls, to let my friends know that I’d gotten my PR, but not my 2 hours!

The Analysis

Or, the part where I try to answer ‘what went wrong’

My time ended up as

  • Watch Time: 2:00:35
  • Gun Time: 2:00:50
  • Chip Time: 2:00:31

My chipped splits came out pretty consistently (I subtracted off my gun time-chip time, to get the ‘chip’ split):

Mile	Split	Pace
5	0:45:51	0:09:10
9	1:22:52	0:09:12
13.1	2:00:31	0:09:11

Here’s a chart of my mile splits. They’re done by pace, not split time, because sometimes I missed the flag by 50 or more feet, which made the split times look weird, whereas the split paces are still about right.

So, heading by heading, what could have gone wrong?

Head out too fast: I ran the first half in about 59:46, making my 50/50 split, 59:46/1:00:49, about a 60 second difference over 6.625 miles, a difference of about 7 seconds of pace. Those chip splits (above) look even closer than that. So if I went out too fast, it was only barely.

Downhills: I was afraid to run the downhills as hard as I could, because of that IT band. Better to not gain the time, than to blow up at the foot of the hill and regret it.

Loss of Tangents: I ended the 13.1 mile race with 13.25 on the odometer. Counting the slop, I averaged a 9:06, fast enough for a 1:59:12. Trying to stay off of grades meant that I didn’t run tangents as well as I could have. Still, nobody runs perfect tangents, and 13.25 isn’t all that bad.

Unintended Consequences: That bit about not doing or wearing a new thing during a race? I really take it to heart. So the little black strap around my leg was a big departure for me. I could always take it off if it bothered me, right? If my IT band gave out, I wasn’t doing myself any favors, avoiding a new thing. Sure, but I’m pretty sure near the end my left hamstring was reacting to 13.1 miles with an unaccustomed restriction near my knee, I don’t know if it slowed me down much, but with only 31-35s to account for, I didn’t need to account for much.

Lost Workouts: I intended some leg loosening workouts in my final week, and I would have certainly run some of my workouts during this training session a little longer. Hard to second guess it here, and, really, this all just stems from the ITB.

Stress: I did my best to be brave and smiling going in to this race, but I felt the ghost of failure standing on my shoulder right up until mile 2. All that mental stress is no good for the body, and all that worry could have had a very real impact on my ability to dial in the time I wanted.

Final verdict? I can’t be sure which of these really cost me the sub 2. Maybe a little bit of each. I do know that I’m happy with the time, and I don’t feel the need to agonize. Instead I just wanted to categorize these things here for when I look back. Preferably from when I look back from my next PR of 1:xx:xx.

The Good Part

Since I fell short of my goal, it’s easy to look at this race with the jaundiced eye of regret. As fun as self pity is, racing was a lot more fun than just getting that time.

The race was a great race, populated by friendly people, on a beautiful day. I ran an excellent physical race, a 2:00:31 half marathon that I wasn’t sure I could at any speed a year ago. I ran a PR by another minute and a half. I finished my third half marathon.

My injury didn’t take me out of it, and that, in itself, is a huge win.

The Race Logistics

The reason I selected Stomp the Grapes was the time of year, a great theme, and a website that admitted the shortcomings of a previous year. Apparently failure to plan for a 1000+ racer field last year had left the organizers with a course with a bottleneck, a point to point race with not enough busses, and a lot of lessons to learn.

They learned those lessons for this year, and really improved (from all accounts) those factors. The course was all on the roads, with good police support. It was a loop, that ended where it started, which makes the most sense. Unless you’ve got a really spectacular course that only works as a point-to-point, the logistics are just better with a loop. The weather smiled on them this year, but they had preparation like it wasn’t going to, with plenty of friendly fall fire pits, big tents for runners to shelter under, and more bathrooms than I’ve seen for races quite a bit bigger.

They left a few things on the table though. The fun theme and two free glasses of wine would have been better without a 45 minute line to get the two glasses of wine. Post race food for a ~thousand runner race needs to be more than 2 6 foot long tables. Don’t make delirious runners wonder where to go; chutes that end in food tables encourage people to get their food, eat it, and move on. Tables down the hill, open to the public, encourage people to come back for seconds, to take their time, and ultimately to jam up your table without really serving your runners.

Also, photography of racers at the finish line should not end 4 minutes before I hit the finish line. The only photo of me from the race is below. Wobbling away from the finish line, bottle of water in hand. If a race has one photographer, I say keep them photographing the runners. Get your fun party shots after more than just a third of your runners have finished. You’ll get plenty of great promo shots for the web page somehow. Anybody can take the awkward Age Group Award photos. Leave someone with an SLR at the finish line, please.

The After Party

Steph and I were staying in the area, and we had to hang out at the Winery for quite some time. First I had to wait for her to finish her shift, and then we waited for the line to die down so we could get a bite to eat. After that, we sampled a few sips and a glass or two of wine in the Maize Valley Winery (the hosts of the race) and found a *great* bottle of dry red called “Secret Stash” that we’re saving to celebrate with.

Of course once we’d sampled and purchased, the line at the ‘free 2x glasses’ booth had died down, so I got my free glasses of wine. (Including the dry “sinful red”, which wasn’t as good as the Secret Stash from inside, and the sweet, and aptly named Redneck Red table wine, which tasted like grape Kool-Aid).

Once I was appropriately wine-tipsy, we headed to check into the hotel, and seek out a place with a burger. Thankfully there was a place with Yuengling on draft and a decent bacon cheeseburger across the street from the hotel. A little bar/restaurant called the Blue Fig. The service was friendly but forgetful (I mourn the Zucchini Planks that were never delivered), and by the time I’d eaten (and had two beers) I couldn’t think of anything but sleep.

The Acknowledgments

Thanks for reading, or skimming, my Stomp the Grapes Half Marathon Report. My thanks to Paul, Sherry, Brian, Annette, Shelby @ Eat. Drink. Run., Brit @ Duke’s House, and Lauren. Your advice, support and inspiration made me want to go out there and make something of this race, and I really did. Thanks for being there to call, comment, e-mail, question, poke, prod and share.

Thanks a hundred thousand times to my wife of three years, Stephanie, without whom I could not have accomplished any of this. You’re my motivation, and my enabler. Volunteering to contribute to a race 3.5 hours away from home takes a special kind of person, and it takes an even more special one to put up with my moodiness, obsessiveness and to help me agonize over everything from gear choices and race plans to blog pictures and hairstyles. I love you, and happy anniversary.

I want to close this up with the picture from my other blog post of the medal, because, mysteriously, these little hunks of metal that they give to every finisher of every race mean a lot to me. This one is always going to have a lot of memories associated with it.

Stomp The Grapes Half Marathon – 11/5/2011 – Official Time: 2:00:31

Stomp the Grapes Time

I ran the Stomp The Grapes Half marathon today. I made it through the race without my IT band blowing up, and I set a new Half Marathon PR. But I didn’t break 2 hours.

2:00:35

That ends my race season folks. I will resume my race career in the spring. I will get a sub-1 10k and a sub-2 half.

*drops the mic*
*waltzes off stage*

Brooksie Way Half Marathon Race Report

Race Morning First Thing

The Morning

It all started like they always do, with an alarm in the darkness. I’ve never been a morning person, but I never have a hard time waking up on race days. Two beers the night before and my excitement for the race always gives me the right mix of anticipation and calm for a good night of sleep and a timely rise.

The alarm chimed at 5:00 and I prepared my breakfast. Black coffee, peanut butter on a whole wheat English muffin. While I slowly ate that, Steph worked her way out of bed and took a shower. I toted a banana with me for the ride, and Stephanie and I set out for Rochester Hills, about an hour away, at 5:45.

It was still dark as we got near the race start, Meadowbrook Music Festival on the Oakland University campus, a place I was more used to seeing for concerts. The last time I was there was for a Tori Amos & Ben Folds concert in 2003. Through the pre-dawn dimness, Steph spotted a pair of searchlights lancing upward and tumbling over each other in the sky. We followed that beacon to the parking for the race, guided in by flashlights and pointing parking attendants.

We arrived just before the wave of timely folks, for which I am grateful. As we walked up the road, a river of headlights lined the dark road winding off the campus and south toward the largest highway running through Rochester Hills, I75, which if you follow south far enough dumps you out on the Florida Keys.

We, led and trailed by a trickle of people already parked, headed toward the searchlights. There was hardly anyone around as we checked in for the race, and I selected a new windbreaker branded with the race name. As seems to happen when you pick up your packet on race day, they had run out of XL shirts, so mine would be in the mail.

All the registration complete, I warmed up on a gravel trail alongside the start, stretching, and trying to strike a balance between moving to keep warm and warm up, and avoiding off burning off that magical energy you get at the start line.

The Real Secret of Races

The Start

Steph kept me company, and shot those dawn-lit photos for a an hour or so, before the 8am start time rolled around. A delay, first 5 minutes, then 15 minutes, was announced. In the start corral, the warmth of the day made it clear that Steph had been right, that while the start would be cold, I would not need anything more than a long sleeve shirt once I got started. Overcoming that feeling was like getting out from under the blankets on a work morning, so I was grateful that the Race Director was hitting the snooze button for me.

The start corral was small, the Brooksie was about 5000 participants, about half running the half-marathon. I was over the start line 2 minutes after ‘on your marks’. I intentionally started forward this time, after spending tons of time (and distance) running around folks in crowded starts. Still, even with my modest guess at a start time, I didn’t have any idea how fast I would end up running this race.

Dawn had broken, but after the first steps off the Oakland University Campus, the course ran into the rising sun. I heard people around me agitating each other over choices to wear or not wear sunglasses. My Tifosi Slip Fototecs (the glasses I bought a few weeks ago in REI) suited the situation well, darkening in the sunlight, I didn’t pay attention to them, which is exactly how they should feel. The first mile came and went before we turned southward and out of the sun. I glanced at my watch, looking for a number in the mid-10’s for the first mile pace. Instead, I saw a 9:40, haunting me.

“Too fast”, I thought. “You *must* slow down. No matter how good you feel now, you will feel awful after 13 miles of this, and you have a big hill to climb.”

So I slowed down.

The Race

Except I didn’t. The next mile marker popped in at 9:27. I rationalized, and tried to keep the pedal off the gas. I was going down hill. The second half wasn’t going to be negative splits, and I could have a fast race if I ran it like a flat race now, and like a hilly race later. I am a big believer in negative splits, but unless I was a mountain goat, that wasn’t going to happen. A 2:18 would be easy if I ran a 60 minute first half.

After that, I didn’t think. I just ran at the pace I felt I could sustain. If that doesn’t sound like much of a secret, it didn’t feel like one. There were rest stops every mile, which was a great change from planning out in advance and agonizing over where the next would be. While they weren’t lined up right with the mile markers (the excellently marked and emphasized markers, by the way), they were available within a reasonable distance.

As I was coming up on mile three, a woman I passed spotted my Pittsburgh Half Marathon shirt and called out that she had run the race for years. We exchanged the quick conversation you are capable of during a race, three sentences, at most, but it ended with her saying she had to drop back, that we were faster than her pace. That was a boost, whether she meant it to be or not.

I carried 3 gus with me, and shortly after that conversation, as I ate the first one, I balled up the throwaway gloves and tossed them, into the cup pile after the 3 mile mark. I tried to thank the volunteers at that marker (as well as all the rest of them). While you’ve got to love the guilt free littering of dropping a cup during a race, dropping the gloves felt much weirder, even though I saw a breadcrumb trail of tops, hats and gloves.

The race had a variety of segments after mile 4, moving onto a bike/hike trail through the parks of Rochester Hills. That’s where I first started ‘picking targets’. First was a girl in a pink outfit, who was weaving to pass folks on the trail, next I locked on to a woman in a purple top, her ponytail swaying side to side, then it was a guy in an orange top with an Aquafina water bottle tucked into a pouch on his back. The recognizable colors are the best, because I don’t have to watch them all the time to see them. I kept with the passer, and passed her. I kept with the ponytail, and passed her. I kept with the water guy, and passed him.

One great thing about running without music is that feeling you get when there’s suddenly music on the race course. I didn’t know if Brooksie would have bands along the course, so I got the feeling several times that day. A band playing guitar rock got a huge thumbs up from me, a guy playing drums and singing got a wave (which oddly, the drummer didn’t return!) and a guy singing about being Detroit Steel, and built like a truck inspired me in a completely corny way.

But the most memorable moment was during that last 5k. At Mile 11 there was a woman playing a trumpet. Her entire repertoire seemed to be to repeatedly bleat the recognizable taratantara chaaaaarge. It was effective, it made me laugh and leap at the sound in exultation. 2 miles to go.

The crowd support at this race was amazing, for a modest sized race. Tons of people out cheering or ringing cowbells. People with signs meant for the whole race, not just for a single racer. The volunteers as we got closer to the finish were more and more excited to see you, including the memorable girl at the mile 12 water stop reading names off of bibs. The unofficial refreshment stop at mile 9 was the first time I’ve had a half cup of mid race beer, which I didn’t drink much of, but it made me feel that inspiration and pampering unique to races.

After all these disjoint and amazing experiences, this kaleidoscope of a race report, I came into focus near the end. Coming down Adams road, I didn’t look at my pace. I knew it couldn’t be changed then. The turn onto Walton felt familiar, even though I only saw it once, 2 hours ago. Cheering volunteers increased in intensity, and the road started to roll downhill. The final musical boost was BOOM BOOM POW blaring over the PAs. I surged past that tent, screaming thanks to the volunteers.

That 2 hours that had elapsed had apparently allowed me to forget that the first tenth of a mile had been down a huge hill.

The Finish Line

I couldn’t see the clock, but I could hear the crowd, and I soon saw Stephanie. Gratifyingly, I heard her shout out, “Look at the clock!” as I crested that cruel final hill, and hauled through the finish to the sound of an announcer reading out my name and town. The red digits read out something below 2:05:00. So no matter what I had done, I had beaten my goal for the NEXT race of running 10 minute miles.

I wandered, in a daze. I hunched over and crushed my thighs in my hand. I wasn’t out of breath, which may sound weird to someone who hasn’t run a distance race, but you can’t really run out of breath like you can if you’re sprinting some shorter distance. The end leaves you exhausted, momentarily, but it’s my legs that limit that final kick, and not my lungs. So I gripped my thighs and exhaled sighs of gratitude and excitement. I felt my legs starting to tighten up, so I kept moving, kept walking in a circle, chattering happily at Steph, saying the same thing I would say all the rest of the day. I couldn’t believe it. I honestly could not believe what I had just done, running the race so fast.

I finally looked down at my Garmin, which read 2:02:14 total. Numbers swam in my head. I couldn’t do the math, I couldn’t decide what my time would be. I banished the clock and the Garmin from my head and went to find Stephanie, to see her smile and cheer for me. She incredulously repeated her question, whether I had seen the clock. The hands of a clock spun out of control inside me, fantasizing about what the time could be, would be. The clock at 2:04:xx? The Garmin, with it’s teasing 2:02:14? The finish line results said 2:02:35. I had a PR over Pittsburgh of more than 15 minutes! Then, if you read my brief check in, that afternoon, my time was updated to [b]2:02:04[/b]. It was real.

None of those times would have limited my pride in that race, bursting out of me at the seams. Still it’s pretty great that the fastest one is the final, and that it’s a PR over my prior half marathon time by 16 minutes.

Exuberance

I retrieved my medal and a bagel, though I forewent the energy drinks, because they were NERGIZE. Or maybe INERGIES or ENERGEEEZ; someone mistook bad spelling for good marketing. Seeing that made me glad I hadn’t had what was labelled as gatorade at the water stops! Instead, I had two cups of apple cider, and a disappointing pint of lowfat chocolate milk. There also may have been some leaf shaped cookies. It was kind of a blur!

Afterward, there was a brief celebration and photo session.

The Medal

Hermes doesn't look tired, because he got to sit in the car. Also, because he is just a stuffed penguin.

And then the real reward. Steph and I sniffed the air (well, we may have seen roadside signs) until we found a Red Robin, where I whined and made begging eyes at the waitress until the stroke of noon. (She may not have heard the begging over the scarfing noises as I ate a burger like a lion on the savannah) Then, patience was rewarded.

Sporty-dressed folks behind me in the image were also counting the seconds until noon.

The Numbers Part

For those who are interested in those kind of things, here are the splits, and you can click on the image to see the whole gps summary for the event, including HR, pace and elevation data for the run. You can relive that big hill between 7 and 11 with me!

Splits from the Brooksie way

 

Forgive the 0.99/1.01 miles; I was hitting the Garmin at the aforementioned well done race markers. I wanted to know how much slop I was generating, and to have actual mile splits to compare Garmin distance vs. course distance. I was gratified that so many of them were right around 1.0.

Looking at the total mileage, I’m amazed at how close I was to 13.1. Even if I got favorable Garmin errors, I must have run a really tight race as far as tangents go. I thought about it, but didn’t obsess, and that really seemed to work. Same thing applied to pace, and nutrition/water.

Without going over the splits line by line, you can see that there was really only one slow mile in the whole thing, mile 8. But according to the elevation chart, that was a 130ft gain, with 0 feet lost, meaning it was a purely uphill mile, and the first of the three jagged hills that made up that hard second half.

Brooksie Way Elevation Chart

 

So, to recap this recap.

 

  • 2:02:04, a new PR, and the confidence to go sub 2 in November at Stomp The Grapes next month.
  • Blue laws should be repealed, or at least given a moratorium on race mornings. Waiting for beer until noon is cruel after stepping off the course ready for a cold one at 10:15
  • Being early for a race is almost always better than being late. I’d rather be cold than panicked. And those start delays? They were so the Sheriffs could the line of cars trying to park for the race.
  • Perfect weather and the support of a perfect wife can make even a challenging course into a PR.

 

 

Finished! A new PR!

I finished the Brooksie Way half in 2:02:34 2:02:04 (Active.com updated!). Completely blew away my PR by 15 minutes.

Going to have some thinking to do about whether I can get under 2 hours in Ohio next month at Stomp The Grapes. But for now, I just scarfed a burger at Red Robin, and pestered my waitress for a Heineken as soon as they could serve beer at noon.

Full race report incoming, big thanks to all my support folks, and to all the volunteers and organizers at the Brooksie Way.

Daedalus & Son

In one sense, I don’t think things like running are worth it unless you explore the extent of your abilities. Literally the only way to do that, is to reach that limit. To run as far as you can, in a minute, or an hour, or in my case, today, in a week.

See, this week was my second 31 mile week. I had thought maybe that the ease with which I accepted my last one meant I could line up workouts summing to around 30 miles, and start there. 2 Easy runs, 5 miles each. 2 workouts, 5 miles each. One long run, 10 miles plus. Easy math, appealing symmetry, still left me time to schedule in the other things I do.

Only one flaw.

I can’t do it.

Maybe I will be able to, at some point. Maybe after a few more months of base-building, or maybe just after the pounds that still lurk around my middle come off. Maybe after I’ve run two more half-marathons or three more or a dozen.

Today though? Today I went out to run 11 miles and I just felt out. The fact that my five miles yesterday was nice and leisurely didn’t matter. The fact that my tempo run Friday was short in distance and long in time didn’t matter. The fact that my hill repeats were a distant memory (Tuesday? That’s practically *last* week!) didn’t matter. My body knew.

I could have balanced more carbs into my meals over the weekend, and I have been losing weight over the past few weeks as I came off the 240 plateau, but at mile 8 when I glanced down and realized I had 3 miles left, I knew physically and mentally that I had run too far, too much this week.

So I’m going to cut 5-7 miles out of the plan. I don’t need 31 mile weeks to run a half marathon. I don’t even need many 25 mile weeks to run a good half marathon. So it’s time to re-adjust.

As I chanted to myself through those last 3 miles, the title of this blog isn’t just a quote, it’s also a mantra.

Time to wisen up, and slow down.

Thirty MPW & Fall Half Marathons

I ran a 31 mile week last week. No caveats, no asterisk, no tricks, no gimmicks. I ran 6 miles Tuesday & Wednesday, 7 Friday and 12 on Sunday. (I have always trained with ‘European’ weeks, because it makes more sense to me.) Man, I feel good. I feel like I never expected to when I started running. I feel capable, and somewhat athletic. I came here to brag about my 31 mile week because I am so proud of it that I’m like to burst, or at least to find a way to awkwardly work it into conversations with coworkers.

Lest we think this a fluke, for the past 5 weeks, I haven’t had a single week under 20 miles. After the Solstice Run 10k and the Let Freedom Run 5k, I dropped off on “speedwork summer” and have been focusing on running for fitness and keeping a training volume which would support some half marathons this fall. I’m so proud to have a reasonable weekly mileage, and staying “up to date” on my mileage has given me real motivation to get out there 4-5 days each week.

That goal of two more half marathons this fall has now crystallized into two registrations for races: The Brooksie Way Half Marathon in Rochester, MI and the Stomp the Grapes Half Marathon in Hartville, OH.

The selection process was totally nerd driven; I found a listing of half marathons, arranged them in excel, then posted columns with date, size, driving time and goodies. I eliminated the handful of really tiny half marathons in Mid-Michigan (several less than 100 finishers!) but I wish that intrepid race organizer the best of luck, and may run those events in the future. Check out Michigan Half Series for info. (This is a reminder to future me, plus info for anyone else looking for half marathons in Michigan!)

I also had to cut out many Michigan Half marathons that were 8+ hour drives away. Man, this state is big! After that I started looking for two races seperated by about a month, and originally thought about signing up for the Air Force Marathon in Dayton. Unfortunately, registration for that was full. So the field eventually narrowed to the Brooksie and StompTheGrapes, at least in part because A, Brooksie is local, and B, StompTheGrapes is giving out a race-embroidered fleece cap, which is awesome.

Brooksie is the larger of the two events, and probably the more challenging. Part of the Brooksie course is on some light trails, and reviews and the website indicate that the course is “challenging” which is race director code for “hilly”. So I’m planning to run that one as a prep race for pushing for a new PR in the StompTheGrapes, which looks flat and cold, which will combine into a great condition for me to race in.

Which brings me to the time to train again. I get to lay out a training plan that centers around a October 2nd progress half marathon, and a November 5th PR attempt. I know I’m capable of the distance; I just did 12 yesterday! So now I have to figure out how to construct a plan to meet a new PR goal. Many of the plans I find online are geared toward the first-time runner, or geared to the longtime runner. I need to figure out what the training plan is for the 2nd & 3rd race is.

I have some ideas; I’ll probably keep a nice long run on Sunday, and I’d really like to hunt down a spot for hill repeats here in MI. Aside from hills and long runs, I’m going to keep up with two 5 ish mile steady state no frills runs a week. That leaves one run that I can use for a speed enhancing effort, perhaps?

I better decide quick. Only 48 days to the Brooksie.

Race Report Part 2: The Race!

The Morning:
Anybody who doesn’t wake up naturally at o’dark-thirty knows the trick of setting as many alarms as you have access to. However, because of a slight Stephanie malfunction, the intended last of the three alarms we set went off at 3:33. That momentarily set me into “I can’t believe I slept through two alarms omg omg omg”.

I fell back asleep, but I don’t think Steph did. When the real alarms went off at 4:30, I pulled on all my meticulously stacked up gear, made the call not to bring the armwarmers (it was already 62degrees) and ate the Same Breakfast I Eat Every Morning. We drove down to the parking near the finish line, all chattering excitedly despite the early hour. We parked right near the finish, and walked a mile to the start line.

The Roberto Clemente Bridge

I assure you, this bridge is actually blurry.


We saw the 13 mile marker on the walk over there, and it was thrilling to think of it as my goal; that I would be there (and just a little bit farther) in just a few hours.

At the start line, we ran into two of Annette’s friends who were also running the half. We kept each other company, sitting beneath the overhang of PPG Place.

Before the start, I felt my first real bout of nervousness. My stomach got unsettled and I couldn’t eat the Gu I was planning to eat before the run got started. Instead I just kept laughing and talking, until some kind of energy washed down (all the way into corral E) and people hurried through the porta potty lines and into the corral for the start.

Swem eating Gu

Swem clearly had no trouble eating that pre-race Gu!

The Start:
That same invisible wave (we were too far back to hear the start line announcers) happened 3 or 4 more times, each moving us 10 feet, before the real start happened, and we were off. On the third, I had taken a much needed pit stop at my porta potties of last resort (the ones alongside Corral D!). I hadn’t had much to drink, and my body has never had much problem with nerves or GI distress while running, but I think just the enormity of the day complicated things. That said, as soon as they called for us to get running, and the crowd started to move fluidly, I felt really solid, and pretty much immediately after the start I was able to eat that gu so that I had energy for the run.

At about 0.5miles in, I saw the cheer-squad for the first time, holding up signs that read:

“You’re almost there!” and “<—- That's what she said!"

You could hear laughs, cheers and groans coming up from the crowd as they read the signs. Steph was grinning at me like a maniac, and it really revved me up for the race to come!

The start line shot!

Not just running this! Photobombing it!

The first part of the race was through downtown, which made my Garmin pretty much lose its mind, but that’s fine, because I was trying to hold back to keep myself from turning race day excitement into dead legs in the last mile.

Mile 1 passed like a dream. I couldn’t believe the line of 12 people at the first porta potty, but besides that the whole first mile was spent marvelling at the sea of humanity with a purpose, stretched out behind and before me.

The Strip and the North Shore:
Mile 2 came up through the strip district and to our first turn. The Strip District was home to a guy dressed in a full body lobster costume. If you don’t know why a guy dressed in a full body lobster costume is tremendously motivating, you’ve obviously never seen one cheering for you during a race. Thank you, Rock Lobster Guy.

Mile 3 passed quickly, as I ran through the first water station. My philosophy was that I don’t need water this early, and I certainly don’t need to join all 15,000 participants as they learn how the fluid stations are going to work. I could figure out how it worked by watching rather than walking.

At 3.5 came our second encounter with the cheer squad, this time sans signs. I wasn’t wearing glasses, and I was looking for their yellow umbrella, which resulted in the following excellent photo.

Mile 3.5, too much confusion here...

"There they are!", "Oh, I see them!", "No, here!", "Ya, there!"

From there, it was almost 6 miles before we’d see the girls again at the mile 9 point over in the South Side, so I strapped down to really push myself through this run.

As we left them, before mile 4, we crossed over the first of the four bridges we’d be running that day, the 16th street bridge. There, among the see of people, I saw a girl in a purple UnderArmour Shirt that said “Don’t Be Last” on the back of it. Even though I could see a huge field of people behind me, something about that shirt said “Beat me to the finish line, Donald.”, and it was distinctive enough that I remembered it, until I saw it again.

The first bridge over, and a sizable but not massive hill up into the North Shore. I felt strong, and the race had thinned out from the substantial crowds back on Liberty and Smallman, but was to remain a relatively thick field all the way to the end. The North Shore was amazing, along with another of my favorite course moments. As we came up the incline of East Commons street, we heard one voice, backed by a choir. Swem turned to me and said “I really hope that’s a full choir, and not just a backup track”. Lo and behold, as we came up to the corner, passing a huge section of cheering supporters, we saw the full church choir singing outside the Allegheny Center Alliance Church for encouragement. If anyone in Pittsburgh knows any of those great folks, please give them a hug from me. It put a huge grin on both our faces to hear voices cheering us on through song.

West End and the South Side:
At mile 6, we headed over the West End Bridge, which we’d driven over the prior day. There was a pretty steep rise to this bridge, and I heard people around me yelling encouragement to their partners. I ducked my head down and tried to keep my pace up strong. The good thing about a bridge is that unlike a natural hill, there’s no deceptive double rise, no confusing mid hill curve that gives you more hill. Once you hit the crest, you know it’s pretty much the same downhill as you just went up.

Beyond that, in the West End, we were rewarded with a zen moment of the race. Because the roads out there aren’t very populated, and we were on a closed highway connector, there was almost no sound, except for the sound of feet slapping on pavement, and the breathing of runners. Swem pointed this out to me and then we quietly enjoyed that cadence.

That feeling characterized the entire 6-9mile stretch. At around 8.5 or so, the stored and crowds of the south side started to rise to either side of the road. The familiar sights of East Carson Street were lined with some of the biggest crowds of the race. At mile 9, we saw Steph, Jen and Annette for the penultimate time, this time with their second batch of signs, the inspired “Something Inspirational”, the laser-correct, “Bold, Bald, Brian” and the inside joke, “Run Faster! The fish-bees are chasing you!”. Knowing that this was the last low key passing of the girls, we both stopped to sneak a kiss, and headed on to the half-marathon split.

From here to the end, the crowd support was excellent. Running the high side of the south side, soldiers in BDU’s were waving and cheering the runners. Then, down along Muriel St. a huge crowd featured 3 bands, a high-school cheerleader squad giving high-fives with their pompoms and a guy revving a harley loud as a rocks in a garbage disposal. Swem and I remarked that it was our favorite half mile of the course.

Downtown:
Around the end of the South Side, Brian pulled away to find a porta-potty, and I ran a lot of the remaining race alone, which suited me very well. The crowds and racers were plenty of company. We crossed the third bridge of the course, the Smithfield bridge, and made our way up Smithfield street and through downtown. I was tired, but was still moving at a solid 10:30 pace when mile 12 sprung up on my left. I glanced at my watch and saw 2:07 as I passed that marker. I didn’t have to do much math to know that unless I broke something I was going to blow away my ‘secret’ target of 2:30, and if I gave it a good effort, I could easily beat 2:20!

Knowing this was the last mile, I buckled down to run it hard, but as I did, I passed one of the weirdest bands yet. After 12 miles of up-tempo, uplifting, power guitars, blues on upright bass, and even the odd, but somehow inspiring ambient electronica, I passed a solo female vocalist playing down-tempo coffeehouse folk. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good female folk vocalist, but it was NOT what I needed as I dug in and prepared to spend my reserves to make my last 1.1 count!

Downtown went by in a blur though, and soon I was running alongside a female runner who was imploring the crowd for support. I joined her with the big hand gestures and we were rewarded with excellent crowd roars as we entered the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and the home stretch to the finish.

The Last Mile:
On the Roberto Clemente, I saw the girl with the Under Armour “Don’t Be Last” shirt, and I told myself I was going to beat her to the finish. That last bridge piled more abuse on to my quads, as was trying to maintain a 9:50 pace for this last stretch. But I did it. I left her behind as I passed the 1/4mile to go sign.

I saw the cheer-squad on the left and threw them a big smile and a fist pump. The huge yellow inflatable finish line was visible up ahead, and my watch read under 2:20 as I crossed over the finish line, my arms raised above my head in triumph.

Pushing into the chute, my eyes clouded with tears, and I actually started to cry. The emotion of finishing, and finishing strong, and finishing faster than I had even imagined I could just completely overwhelmed me. Even thinking back on that moment now, as I reached out to a volunteer to get my medal, I mist up a little. I must have yelled thank you at 50 volunteers as I piled food into my hands, and guzzled 4 or 5 cups of gatorade.

My official time was 2:18:17, a 10:33 pace. Almost a full 12 minutes faster than I thought I could run, and I had polished off the last 1.1 in just about 11 minutes.

The Celebration!:
The reward was our trip to Burgatory, which has been planned for almost as long as the race! I didn’t even realize it wasn’t noon before I finished my first Stone IPA. The second went to wash down my (MASSIVE) bacon, bbq, onion strings burger. The place, despite being distant from the race, was populated by people in the green shirt of the half marathon. We celebrated for an hour or more, chatting with some of the other racers and repeatedly toasting each other with glasses raised. I had a long awaited bourbon & caramel milkshake (which tastes exactly as good as it sounds, and looks, see below) and I got all the details of the girls’ day in the company of great friends.

Carbo-Reloading

Food hasn't arrived yet and I'm considering eating Steph

Don't you wish your burger was hot like me?

Dignity is overrated. BBQ sauce is not.

Bourbon Caramel Milkshake

Bourbon Caramel Milkshake; No caption will do it justice, trust me.

I had an amazing experience running this half, so much so that I really can’t wait to sign up for my next. This post took so long to write because I wanted to get it exactly right. I know I’m always going to remember the huge support of the excellent people of Pittsburgh on my journey to do the half.

Big thanks to Annette, Swem, Jen and Stephanie for being there to support me, and to Sherry, Lauren, Paul for showing keen interest via the internet. My time was rocketing its way ’round twitter and facebook a few moments after the race. The love and help you’ve all given me has been huge. I hope that I can repay you all, or pay it forward to someone else. I couldn’t have made it 200 feet without you, never mind 13.1 miles.

I did it! And they gave me this terrible cookie to prove it!


One more thing: This journey isn’t over. I’m already planning out my next race. And I ran 4 miles this morning, in the hills of Ellicott City.

Race Report Part 1: My Half Marathon Weekend

Here’s the full, recorded-for-posterity, race report of my first ever half Marathon, ran this past weekend on 5/15/2011. Please, forgive the length, but I had such a good time that I wanted every detail I could remember plugged up in here. I split it up into parts, starting with the tale of some of the build up!

The Trip:
Steph picked me up at 4:30 on Friday, after a tough day trying to work. With all my excitement about the race, I could barely focus on office work, but I forced myself to clean some things off my desk so that I didn’t come back to too much hanging over my head on Monday. We set out for the drive to Pittsburgh in our new car (we *just* bought a 2011 Ford Edge in late April) and let me tell you, having a car that fit me made all the difference on my comfort for this road trip.

Our only stop was at Panera bread for some dinner. Now I know what you’re thinking; CARBO LOAD! But I restrained myself! While I did have their French Onion Soup in a bread bowl, I didn’t load up with extra carbs above that. And honestly, my race still felt like a distant object at this point. We settled in for the last couple of hours, and drove into Pittsburgh at about 9:45pm.

My original plan was to run a quick 2 miles that night to be my last ‘leg stretch’ before the half, but it was way too late and it was hard to consider strapping on the headlight and the running gear rather than spending some time chatting with Chuck & Annette. So I postponed the warmup to the next morning, tucked in by about 11, and dreamed of swift feet.

The Warmup:
I woke up at 7am, and I think Steph almost clubbed me in the face for it. I get up at about the same 7-8am time every morning, but Steph prefers earlier on weekdays and later on weekends, so my rummaging around for run clothes was very unwelcome! Still, getting some good rest had meant I was up early, and I wanted to get my 2 miles in and get to my first ever race expo.

As the king of worrying, I’m also the king of overpreparing. This is not the same as preparing well, though on a good day they intersect. I had brought my brand of English Muffins (Thomas’ Whole Wheat FOR LIFE), the k-cup of my favorite morning coffee (Coffee People Organic; because it tastes good, not because it’s organic) and a nearly complete duplicate of my race outfit. So I wiggled into the ‘not for the race, but almost’ outfit, including accessories, like armwarmers tucked in the waistband of my pouch, and the quantity of GU I had decided to run with. had the same breakfast I have before every race (and honestly, pretty much every morning). It was overkill, but it was really reassuring to know I had everything I needed, and that nothing was going to fit wrong or be missing a piece for the next morning.

And after all that, I set out the door for 2 miles. Such a short run can make a big difference! Annette gave me the directions up to Schenley park, and I ran out there, and onto the Panther Hollow Lower Trail. It was a picturesque place to psyche myself up for my big run! The road to get there was a hard climb (for a flatlander) that I took slow, but it was good to remind my legs that tomorrow would not be the Midwestern terrain they were used to. Then the trail! Laid out in the city, you get so far from the roads, so quickly, that you feel lost in the woods. The crushed limestone thumped lightly under my feet, and I got to see a part of Pittsburgh I might have only seen once before, on a day walk during college. The trail goes over a footbridge, brick laid by hand so long ago that it all had smoothed together to look like abnormally helpful natural stone, and then along a retaining wall constructed of solid stone blocks, placed long before I was born. The whole thing had a feeling of one-ness, like the city had accepted Panther Hollow and Panther Hollow had accepted the city. Overall it was a very meditative run, and a good prep for the half for body and mind.

I got home, feeling wonderfully refreshed, and we set out to the Expo!

The Expo:
This is when Steph realized that she hadn’t put a CF card into her camera bag, which is why there are no pictures up to this point! She’d grab the CF card during the less hectic afternoon, but until then, you’re stuck letting me try to draw pictures with inadequate words.

The Expo was in the downtown David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and I was unbelievably excited to go. To me, getting the number, and the shirt, and to browse the expo was going to start the process, to make it irrevocable and real. We picked up my number, and there was a twinge of sadness when we picked up Brian’s number, as they offered us Nathan’s as well. Nathan had to cancel running the half so that he could maintain his (Crazy, exciting, cool!) travel plans before starting a PhD in Economics program in the fall, so he wouldn’t be keeping us company on the roads of Pittsburgh. Maybe another year Nathan! Good luck at UT!

Numbers in hand, I then set out to look at every bag, pouch, gizmo-holder in the place! It was a relatively small expo, so it didn’t take long, but I made the girls circle it with me twice while I just enjoyed the feeling, browsing around, surrounded by all the positive energy that anticipation brings. I was demo’d some awfully uncomfortable headphones, which mostly involved being momentarily tethered to a bored salesgirl by an iPod cord. They were guaranteed not to fall out, though after two seconds I wished they would so I could escape!

They had this great stack of temporary tattoos with splits on them that you could put on your forearm. I was all excited to apply one until Annette pointed out I’d have to shave my arm. Disadvantages of being a furball, I guess. Still, we took a few, in case I changed my mind. This is where Annette first confessed to me that she was pretty sure I would run a 2:10-2:15 half. It wasn’t even in my wildest dreams. I had set my goal as a finish, and stubbornly avoided numbers, but in my heart of hearts, I had a 2:30 debut effort in mind. More on that, later.

I was hoping to have my name emblazoned somewhere large enough that people could cheer for me by name along the course, an idea I got from Chase, @ TheChaseProject in her National Marathon Race Recap. At home, before the trip, we had tried to look for iron on numbers (which all seemed to require a hot enough iron to melt polyester) and we found a fabric marker that we really thought was going to work, except it smelled like fish, and I didn’t want to chance huffing seafood flavor for 13.1 miles. So one of my big hopes for the Expo was to find a place that would put my name on my chosen race shirt, but it was not to be! I had heard some places will do it for a fee, or others will sell transparencies intended to be a temporary name, or even have Triathalon style markers to write it on your arm, but nothing like that was in sight.

As far as shopping damage, I managed to only buy two new pouches. My first selection was a water resistant SPIbelt, on my wishlist since I shorted out my Blackberry and killed its battery earlier this year. I also grabbed a bright green Armpocket to try carrying my stuff on my arm rather than my waist. I’d use this more as a wallet for my arm. It seems more accessible and closer at hand if I ever do want to carry my phone for use rather than just emergencies.

Post Expo pictures! Cheesing with my number & my shirt!

Maybe he

Hermes is my race penguin. I got him after the Detroit Zoo 5k.

The shirt!

My shirt! I'm ridiculously excited!

I was very excited to see it was a Half-Marathon shirt, rather than a “Pittsburgh Marathon/Marathon Relay/Half Marathon/Day Before 5k/1 mile Kids Run!” combo shirt. I was *not* looking forward to the following conversation every time I wore it.

Well-Meaning Friend: OMG! You ran the Pittsburgh Marathon!
Me: Well, actually, I ran the half.
Well-Meaning Friend: Oh, just the half? I guess that’s pretty far too.
Me:

The Friends:
Expo fun all complete, we had lunch back at Chuck & Annette’s (sandwiches!), Steph obtained a CF card for the camera, and we headed to the airport to retrieve Brian and our third cheer-team member, his bride-to-be, Jen.

When we returned from the airport, a ton of my Pittsburgh friends had started to gather to hang out, tell stories and to split the pasta dinner Steph & Annette had prepared. Along with a Yuengling, that was my indulgence/’carb-load’ before the event. Maybe not strictly necessary from a physiological point of view, but nonetheless an amazing way to spend the evening with my friends. I’m so grateful to everybody who came to hang out that night and see me off, and extra thankful that they didn’t call me lame when I set off for bed at 10pm.

Next Up: The actual race!