On Sunday, October 21st, I ran the Empire State Half Marathon in Syracuse, NY, which also happened to be the USATF Niagara Half Marathon Championships. The course, which starts and ends at Alliance Stadium and follows Onondaga Lake in an out-and-back style, is very flat. The topography, coupled with the expectation that lots of USATF Niagara members would be racing, gave me high hopes that I could be pulled to a fast time.
I should have known it was not going to adhere to my plan when I was not able to find either of my usual racing shorts, and had to pack a pair of regular training shorts, and did not have time to eat a proper lunch on Saturday. But we will get to that later.
As I am training to go under 2:40:00 at the Philadelphia Marathon in November, I estimated that I could run around 1:15:00 on a good day, and still PR (1:16:41) on an off day. Race morning was as close to perfect as one could ask for: around 50 degrees, moderate humidity, although there was a decent breeze.
As soon as the gun went off, a pack of 6-7 runners who were obviously out of my league (Sam Morse, Dave Rappleyea, Kevin Collins) all took off at around 5-flat pace. I settled into what felt like a comfortable hard pace, and realized I was completely alone by 400m. The breeze was such that we were running into it for most of the way out, and I had no one to tuck behind. I expected there to be a large contingent of runners in the 1:14-1:18 range, but apparently they all stayed home that day. I debated trying to stick with the lead group for roughly a nanosecond, but knew that would just be suicidal. Then I contemplated slowing down a bit to have someone to run with, but didn’t want to ruin the chance of running a fast time .
I got out pretty much on pace with a 5:48 first mile and a 5:38 second mile, both of which felt great. Then, right after that, we turned off the road we were on to run on a path right next to the lake. This is where the wind really picked up. I kept the same effort as the previous two miles, and somehow split a 6:04 for the third mile. This was the first indication that I might not run 1:15:00. My next 3.5 miles up to the turnaround were all around 6:00, with the 7th mile a disturbingly slow 6:10 (5 seconds slower than my marathon goal pace). While I was pushing as hard as I could, not being to see any of the other competitors may have been part of the problem, as I didn’t feel like I was actually racing anyone.
One of the annoying things about this race is that the faster half marathoners hit the slower marathoners, who started 30 minutes earlier and ran the first 6 miles on the same course. So around mile 4, I had to start weaving around the full marathoners. Then, on the way back, we had to deal with the full and half marathoners who were making their way out to the turnaround. Several times, I had to actually step off the path onto the grass because the sheer volume of people running towards me allowed no room on the asphalt. Also, on the way back, the sun was shining directly into my eyes, as if the individual photons went racing towards the Earth with glee, intent solely on blinding me with their intensity. Jerk photons.
Luckily, the wind was more of a cross-breeze than a headwind on the way back, but since the path we were on followed the contours of the shoreline, there was never a full mile where we didn’t run into the wind at least a little bit. I tried to pick up the effort on the way back, and was rewarded with two miles around 5:50, but I split 10 miles in 59:10, exactly what I split when I ran my PR of 1:16:41 at Flower City last time. I was definitely feeling discouraged that I wasn’t going to run my goal of 1:15, but I figured I could at least run a PR.
This feeling lasted about one more mile. Right around mile 11, I started to fade hard. My left quad started to tighten up, and I thought for sure it was going to cramp. That, coupled with my growing fatigue, prevented me from being able to really throw down the hammer and run hard. This was also the loneliest part of the course. At least before I could see other people (the slower full marathoners on the way out, and the other half marathoners on the way back), but after mile 9 or so, I didn’t see a single other person other than the volunteers, who didn’t seem too thrilled at cheering for someone 10 minutes behind the leaders.
I was able to keep 6-flats through mile 13, and put in a half-hearted kick to finish with a time of 1:17:41, exactly one minute slower than I thought I could run on a bad day, and 7th overall. My legs were extremely tired and sore, but I found that I wasn’t even breathing that hard, which gave me some hope that my aerobic fitness is high. In good news, I was the 3rd USATF Niagara member, so I ended up winning some cash, but I still can’t help but feel discouraged. I have not had a good race since May 5th, when I ran 16:05 to win the Bill Lawler 5K. I have been struggling to run 70mpw, when I was easily doing 90-100mpw before Columbus last year. But I have been doing some good workouts (22 miles at 6:58 pace, 2x 6 miles at 6:06 pace), so I’m hoping that when it comes to the race that really matters, on November 18th, that I will be able to pull it all together and run to my ability.
Thanks to my parents for driving out to watch my race, and for taking the photographs displayed above!
Results (Notice the separation between me and the people who placed immediately before and after me)