Tag Archives: PR

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

Let Freedom Run 5k Race Report

I haven’t mentioned the Let Freedom Run 5k on the blog, or put it in the upcoming races, not because I wasn’t excited about it but because I didn’t know just what I was going to be doing with it. Would I run a hot race, looking for a nice solid PR, or would I meander the hills of Fairfax, Virginia with my friends, chatting about birthday fun? Would the large crowd that a holiday race draws cramp my start? Or would those aforementioned hills cramp my quads?

So I didn’t know what I’d get, but here is what I got:

  • A kickass morning with my friends Emily and Fred.
  • Cheering squad x2, Steph + Styger!
  • A 29:37 PR, meeting my 30min goal, setting a new, respectable, PR by a landslide.

Steph and I arrived about 45 min before race start, and parked out in the corner of the lot. Runners were all around, and as you often see on holiday races so were a ton of supportive onlookers. Sadly, they were out of tee-shirts, so I had to walk away from the sign-in table with just assurances that it would be mailed. An explosion of patriotic costumes punctuated the crowd of stock-standard race folks wandering about.

My friends Emily and Fred were running the race, and Emily’s friend Janna. My friend Stiger and of course the ever-present supportive wife would be cheering from the sidelines. Thankfully, as a 5k, they wouldn’t be waiting long. Fred, Emily, Janna and I chatted in the starting chute. Janna and Emily are training together for the Marine Corp Marathon in September, so this little run was just a hop, skip and jump for them. I know they’ll both do great!

For Fred, this was the first road run in a while, so he was mostly there to stretch his legs and keep us all company, which was much appreciated and great fun. I hope he had half the fun I did, cheering him as he came across the finish!

At the starting horn, the crowd lurched across the starting line mile 1 was the typical gristmill of people who all start out in a big crowd, and the ‘exit’ from the shopping center had two turns off the bat. I hadn’t discussed whether I’d be running alongside any of my friends, and I took off running pretty early. I hope my burst of enthusiasm wasn’t misinterpreted or hurtful. I decided as I started that I could, and wanted to, get an official 30min 5k on the books!

We came around the corner and out of the shopping center, and broke into a long, downhill, straightaway. By the end of that straightaway, I had settled into my pace, passed just about all the people I was going to pass. I started to slow down, not dramatically, but noticeably, as we kept winding up hill after hill. The run was a big rectangle around the shopping center, but it felt like a mobius strip! All up, and no down. The course was, in it’s way, refreshingly challenging, but one bit I didn’t enjoy is that several of the roads weren’t actually closed; just one lane in the direction of traffic was closed, so occasionally a car would zip by from behind. A disconcerting feeling! Plus at a couple of points the intersections were open, so a car would be perched, not directed by a traffic officer, waiting to cross the road. I finished up and didn’t even look at my watch because I wanted to start by seeing my chip time.

Coming in to the finish. Eyes either on the prize, or rolled back in my head. Thanks, sunglasses!

I stayed by the finish in the crowd that had gathered there to cheer on the finishing runners, including my friends. It was a great feeling to cheer for random people and see them surge to hit the finish line.

Then, it was off to the well deserved post run noshing! As usual, the race had bagels, bananas, and water arrayed around a table, but it was suffering from poor organization. Or rather, too much voluntary organization, as mild mannered runners naturally lined up, and none of the old folks manning the food booth would venture out to tell those waiting that it was not set up for a line and people should just mob the table. When I walked around the far side of the table and saw two boxes of bananas and bagels untouched, I grabbed one of each, and then started shouting to the runners in line. Either they didn’t believe me or they didn’t want to be the guy jumping out of line, so even as I left, there was a massive line snaking away from the table.

So, for low points, worrisome traffic control, not enough shirts (c’mon, that’s like race organizing 101, isn’t it?) and a bit of a failure to communicate at the food table.  The highpoints were a good challenging rolling hilled course (as advertised) a fun run with friends, a 30 minute PR and a beautiful (overcast, not blistering hot) day for a run.

Big thanks to my friends for running with me.

Fred is grinning inexplicably, I am pouting inexplicably and Emily is counting the number of dorks appearing in this picture.

 

Solstice Run Race Report

First of all, I know you’re all going to scroll down to the bottom to get to the juicy part (since that’s what I do on *your* race reports) so here it is, right up front.

The weather was perfect. I ran a 1:00:35 10k, a PR by over 15 minutes. That means I achieved goal 1, goal 2, and came 35s away from achieving goal 3.

I picked up my number on Friday night. Pretty unremarkable experience for that, so I’ll spare you. The point of mentioning it is that I *always* pick my number up beforehand if I can. I like to know that all I have to do the morning of is cross the start line. Because I don’t ever want to screw that up. Half the reason I do races is so that I can have a totally official record of my exact time, backed up with some serious SCIENCE. Sure, I run to have fun, I run to organize my running goals around something, and the environment of the race is just something totally apart from just ‘running as fast as I can’. Still, one very important aspect for me is having a big list, where I appear somewhere on it, that says my name, and a time that proves that I, according to an objective observer, completed a measured distance over a measured time.

However, it appears the universe wanted to teach me a lesson. I ran the best I could. I started out slow, I ran progressively faster miles, and I hurtled to the finish with a kick to be proud of. I nailed my first goal to beat 1:05:06, my Pittsburgh Half Marathon 10k split. I nailed my second goal to beat a 10:00 mile, with a 9:45 pace. I brushed my fingers achingly close to my stretch goal, to turn out a 1:00:00 or better 10k.

I did all that, but none of it gets to be as clear and as clean as I imagine in my strictly metered, precision engineered idealization. You’ll hear more of why, in the blow-by-blow description below.

I started my day with the every-day-and-race-day-is-no-exception breakfast. A english muffin with peanut butter and a cup of coffee. I drove to the race, arrived with plenty of time, and had the good fortune to park in a parking lot that was under construction. I was lucky because that meant there was a port-a-potty at the parking lot that I used before joining the snaking river of people heading toward the start line from all directions. I didn’t know how lucky I was until I was closer and saw that the whole river of people seemed to have lined up for the 4 port-a-potties near the start.

The start was on the Northville Downs Racetrack, a horse racing track made of crushed gravel that reminded me of the wooded trails in Pittsburgh’s city parks. I warmed up a bit with striders I’m sure I did wrong, stretched a bit against a wall. It was odd to be alone before a race for so long; normally I spend the time with Stephanie, but from the map we knew she wouldn’t be able to catch me at multiple places on the course, so she slept half an hour longer and would meet me at the finish line. The waiting didn’t go on long at all. The clock crawled closer to 7:15 and an announcer, lost somewhere in the milling crowd of runners, got our attention with a microphone for the 10k start. While I knew the drill, I was happy that he had called out that it was the 10k start very specifically, as I am sure that other runners might be confused, and I wouldn’t want to be the 10miler runner who found out at mile 4 that he had taken the wrong start. The invisible announcer jabbered about the stops on the course, thanked the sponsors, apologized that the Start Line arch was not up on account of the wind.  Then he gave a variation on ‘ready-get-set-go’ (of which there seem to be an infinite number) and blew an airhorn.

I ambled behind the crowd to the start, content to cross the line late and let chip time give me my time, and content to let the crowd ahead of me start to break up. Plus, it’s always motivating to be passing people during the race, and I’ve grown used to being slow enough to justify starting way near the back. Races normally seem to prefer to start with a long straightaway, to let the crowds thin out as the fast and enthusiastic spread out in front, and the natural pace takes over, without the jam of a corner. Starting on the horse track, as novel as it was, didn’t afford this opportunity. Everyone knew where the shortest path was, and the natural slowing of a turning crowd jammed up the start more than I’d expect from a race with ~900 runners. Once we exited the track, we followed a reasonably rational course out of the parking lot and out onto the roads.

There, I came up against my first assumption, which was that a road race in Michigan was by necessity a flat affair. Not true here in Northville, apparently. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it was definitely a hill, and the crowds thinned out and moved to the side to run it slow. I heard a woman say to her running mates that she was going to walk this one. I remembered advice I’d gotten from Lauren, to always run the hills, and I tucked my head down and ran it, passing people as I went. As we came near the crest of the hill, the 1 mile marker loomed, and around me a chorus of cheeping Garmin’s noted, at different spots, their own interpretation of the location of the first mile marker. That first mile was the slowest of the race, as it should be.

Mile 2 was inspiring. A few people appeared at the ends of their driveway, most memorably a family who all held hands outstretched for a high five, if you ran close enough. We ran along Sheldon Road, and turned into a subdivision, and as we did, at around 1.75 miles, I heard someone shouting my name, cheering for me. Confusion only lasted momentarily as I recognized my co-worker Lauren’s voice. I had invited she and her husband to run the race with me, but they have a 2 year old son, and couldn’t make the logistics work. Instead they had plotted to come cheer me on along the race course! Since I wasn’t expecting any personal cheering until the finish line, I was really inspired by it! I saw Lauren again a couple corners up, as well as her husband and son along the lines cheering for “Mister Sullivan Running!” and it was a huge boost. Big thanks to my friends for coming out and cheering for me on a race day! On Monday, Lauren pointed out the first unusual thing about this race; the second corner she met me at was NOT part of the race course. Either the course was mislabelled, or a mass of runners ignored some critical marking, but we ran like this:

The Way We Ran

And the official course mark looks like this:

The Right Way

A quick gmap pedometer check shows that this is only shorter by 0.01 miles or so; so 50 feet. 

Mile 3 was rolling subdivision time. The major event of note was running alongside a Mustang GT that was being escorted out of the neighborhood by a bike cop at like 4-5mph. I resisted the urge to be one of I presume 200 people yelling “I’m racing a Mustang!” at the driver. I’m glad the cops had it under control, but I would rather not have had to contend with a moving car on the route! After passing the Mustang, I grabbed a cup of water at the water station, and drank it slowly. Unlike a bigger road race, this water station was in a subdivision, so dropping the cup on the floor felt MUCH more like littering than usual, but I didn’t have a choice, because I was nowhere near done nursing it after passing the garbage cans 20 feet away from the tables.

Mile 4 wound its way through an older neighborhood, less of a uniform subdivision and more of a collection of houses. The major feature was a big loop through that area that pinched off at itself just after the 4 mile mark. Somewhere here, I spotted my new race Friend/Nemesis (Frenemesis? Maybe I should leave the portmanteau words to the Hiltons and Kardashians of the world), henceforth referred to as the Green Shirt Girl. She was wearing a distinct color of green, had a somewhat odd arm flail (tightly tucked wrists but her elbows were EVERYWHERE) and running at about the same pace as I. Always pretty much in sight up ahead, I saw her for long enough that I started to ‘lock on’ to her as my pace. Unlike the seriously dressed black guy I had seen earlier, and the singlet wearing skinny guy. Those two had the look, but were either running easy or run walking, such that I passed them and never saw them again. Green Shirt Girl on the other hand was there long enough to not only be seen and noted, but to gain her nickname in my tired brain. 

The fluid station at 4.25 was Gu Brew only, and I risked an upset stomach by having a couple sips to wash the Gu I took at mile 4 down. I lucked out in that I didn’t have any adverse reaction, and I know that risking it was silly. It worked out, and I headed through mile 5, which was another generally uphill mile. I chased Green Shirt Girl up this long hill, and she and I passed a ton of folks who slowed down for it. When I started to slow, I realize she was also starting to slow, and picked it up. And of course, all without seeing me, she picked it up too, came around the corner and created more space between us. 

When mile 5 finally finished up, and mile 6 came to the fore, I caught up, even passing her briefly, and exchanging the awkward “I’m sorry”/”no don’t worry about it you’re okay” conversation as she stumbled almost into me during the pass. But she took it back before long. Mile 6 was all downhill though, through downtown Northville, through a busy intersection with officers directing traffic (Thank you officers!) and down into Ford Field. A girl in a sports bra interposed herself between me and my target. The hard corner into Ford Field, where the mile 6 sign was perched, slowed all three of us down. I remember seeing that 6 Mile sign and the hard corner and thinking, “No way I’m looking at my watch. I am close to all of my goals, and I’m just going to run this park as fast as I can.” As we came into the park, you could see that we’d be running around the gathered crowd at the finish. Knowing that only 0.2 miles remained, I tried to find something to let me catch her, and at least cross the finish line right on her heels. The girl in the sports bra fell behind after the corner, and as I started running (thinking of it as my first interval, thinking of it as my finish line kick, thinking of it as my race picture pose) I found myself passing Green Shirt Girl quickly. People to the left and right of the path were taking their race medals off and admiring them, cheering. The race announcer must have had a program or some helpers, but he was announcing actual names as people came across the finish! I turned onto the straightaway, where Steph spotted me and start cheering, before her head disappeared behind her SLR for her to snap pictures. I felt my shoelace, traitorous thing, start to come untied! But I burst through the finish line, over the chip timing mat and it was over!

Note the confident stride, the strong arms, the untied shoelace. Truly a runner in peak form.

I got my medal, my lei and a big hug from my wife. Only then did I glance at my Garmin, which proclaimed 1:00… meaning I was SO CLOSE to my goal. I poked through the menu to get the seconds… 1:00:35! Chip time would tell! Or so I thought…

At the results board, my chiptime and clocktime were recorded as the same number: 1:01:27. I held out hope briefly that they had posted in haste (clearly to make sure that the highly competitive bottom fifth of the 30-34 Men’s bracket had by the minute updates, right?) but it soon became clear it wasn’t getting corrected.  Stephanie and I hung around a while longer to watch the first 10 milers blaze into the park and across the finish, and to enjoy the really great finish-line-expo the organizers had put together.

At home later, the time was still uncorrected, and reality was that my start time must have been lost. Even though 1:01:27 still beat the same two of my goals, and was pretty close to my chip time, I really wanted that independent and objective truth quality of a chip time I could point to. I chalked it up to experience thinking of something I heard in Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: “Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you wanted”. 

I told a few folks about the chiptime/clocktime predicament, and Steph’s friend Margreta suggested I contact the timing company and ask. So I e-mailed Gault Race Management, and they e-mailed me back INSANELY promptly on Sunday night at 9pm, and adjusted my time to the 1:00:35 that my Garmin recorded by 11pm that night. I want to thank them for being so helpful; I know that there’s no money on the line, and that the difference between 1:01:27 and 1:00:35 is no skin of their nose, but it was a huge boost to my morale to be able to point at the time  I earned.

The festive theme makes me look more celebratory, but no less tired. Rest assured, I'm excited about my time, not just the prospect of a slice of pizza at 9am.

So that’s the story… I timed the race myself, I took a wrong turn.  A crowd of other runners made the same turn, and it was a small difference at 60 feet or so, and the time on my Garmin was start-to-finish, so not much different from stopping a watch any other time. All these things still kind of remove the ‘air of authority’ from my race. Thinking about it that way, I’m STILL proud of myself. While the timing mat and the official results and the measured course are certainly appealing, the bottom line is that I KNOW I raced better than I have before. I made a new PR for the 10k, with a sub 10:00 pace, smashing my Turkey Trot ‘PR’ by over 15 minutes. I had a great time on a beautiful morning, and I got a great medal with an adorable running tiki-guy on it.

Doesn't that tiki guy look happy! I bet he's got a ton of body glide on under that grass skirt...

What’s important is that all sources agree, I didn’t break an hour in this race. That’s for next time!