Sunday, September 5, 2010

Race Day...There's Nothing Like It!

Those of you who have been following my blog know that back in May I took up running with a goal of running in the 31st Nationwide Columbus Half Marathon on October 17th thanks to the inspiration of my wife, Carla, who has completed two half marathons over the past two years. The training started slowly, but gradually it has become a part of my routine and something that I actually look forward to. (I know...I'm running and no one is chasing me...that seems like a strange concept to some of my friends.)

Last Saturday, I participated in my first race since running the mile in eighth grade track over two decades ago. I signed up for the first annual Knox Community Hospital Gift for the Heart 4-Mile Race here in Mount Vernon. A nice turnout of nearly 150 runners and walkers showed up to help raise money for a great cause and the race went off without a hitch and was very well organized for a first-time event.

I had forgotten how much energy was involved with a race. Being a local race, I knew a lot of the people who were participating either as runners or walkers and it was a lot of fun socializing with people before, during, and after the event. It really was a great way to start the day and the four miles flew by as I was spurred on to run a new personal best time in that distance and managed to finish second in my age group and 21st overall out of 135 finishers. (Click here for the official results.) I especially felt good about that finish considering that 11 of the people ahead of me were current members of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University men's or women's cross country teams.

It was fun to run the race with several of my friends and watch them also achieve their time goals and set new personal bests. Probably the two most impressive feats were my friend, Donald Cobb, who showed up and finished the four miles in 28:53 (7:14 pace) despite not running much recently prior to the race and my friend, Chad Sims, who didn't train at all and cranked out a 40:37 (10:10 pace). I went to college with both of those guys and it was fun to see them do so well. George Hartz and Brad Whitaker also turned in stellar performances, and we also need to give a big shoutout to my family, the Whitakers, the Sims, and the Cobbs for making up most of the cheering section at the finish line and for also bringing donuts, which I know was mine and Chad's motivation to cross the finish line.

Well, after the thrill of race day, it was a real downer the next day when I set off on my eight-mile training run as part of my half marathon training program. Not only was I a little sore from running the race the previous day so hard, but I only crossed paths with about 10 people over the course of my hour-plus on the trail. It reminded me that race day is really a reward for runners for all the hard work that they do in training when no one is watching them.

I guess George, Brad, and Chad all felt the same way that I did after Saturday's race, so it was really neat to see them coordinate efforts so that we could do a couple of early morning (and I mean well before the sun came up) training runs this past week. Running with other people really helps with your accountability and adds to the excitement that you need to drag yourself out of bed. Even though we all run at different paces, we find a way to make it work for all of us and the bond of running just adds to our friendship. It really is a great way to start the day off on the right foot, too.

I was excited late last week to learn that Donald had decided to sign up to run the inaugural Dublin Emerald City Quarter Marathon that took place yesterday. I was signed up to run in it in order to secure a corral start time for the Columbus Half Marathon since I hadn't raced before and didn't really want to have to navigate all the walkers at the start if at all possible. I knew that Donald and I had a pretty similar pace in the four-mile race and that it might help both of us knock out the 6.55 miles at a fairly quick clip.

As we approached race day, Donald and I talked about our strategy to approaching the race. He really wanted to get a sub-50:00 time so that he could qualify for Corral #1 at Columbus. I knew that time would be pushing it for me as my best time in that distance in training was right around 53 minutes. However, I also knew that the energy of the race and running with someone would help me at least make a go of it. As part of my preparation leading up to the event, I ran three miles on Friday as fast as I could because our plan was to try to keep a 7:15 pace for as long as possible. I accomplished step one on Friday with a personal best 21:11 in the three miles.

After taking Saturday off to make sure that I was well-rested, I headed out at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday to meet Donald for the drive to the race. We got to the designated parking area - Krogers - and found the lot already filling up with cars despite the fact that the race was still half an hour away and the sun wouldn't come up until after the starting horn was sounded. We made our final preparations and headed for the starting line.

When the horn sounded, we took off and were a little ahead of our pace for the first quarter of a mile which is pretty typical for the start of any race. We made a conscious effort to back things off and really settled into the pace that we wanted as we clicked off one mile, then two, and then three. The pack of runners began to spread out pretty good at that point as the half marathoners branched off to the right while the quarter marathoners began their trek through a local bike/running path to the left. The trickiest obstacle along the way turned out to be a wooden zig-zag bridge that was still very damp with dew which made it a little treacherous to cross.

As we reached the five-mile mark, I knew that I was really starting to fade so I made sure that Donald knew to just take off and finish as strong as he could and that we would meet up at the end. I hung pretty close to him until almost the six-mile mark and he began to slowly pull away. We both finished as strong as we could and were excited about the fact that we met our goal of a sub-50:00 finish with more than two minutes to spare. (You're never quite sure of your official time when the race ends as your chip is scanned at both the start and finish and you have to wait for the official results to be posted later.)

After cheering for our friends Tricia and Brad Pokosh as they came in with Tricia also posting a sub-50:00 time, we grabbed some of the post-race food and headed back home. Later in the afternoon, we found out that Donald finished 11th out of 729 runners and first in our age group in 47:22 (7:18 pace), while I was 13th and second respectively in 47:47 (7:22 pace). (Click here for the official results.)

I really appreciate all the people in addition to my family who have been supporting me in these running endeavors through their comments and encouragement especially on Facebook and Twitter. That support spurs me on to want to do even better the next time and also gets me through a tough mile or two when I'm running by myself. Encouragement is probably one of the best parts of taking up running. That is why if you ever run with me you'll hear me thanking the people along the road during a race for coming out even though they aren't necessarily there for me or telling other runners or walkers "good job" or "keep it up" whether we are passing in a race or on a training run on the trail. To me, that's what it's all about...everyone finishing the race.

Well, I'm excited to see what this week holds. Yes, I have aching knees and jello-like legs after yesterday's race in Dublin. However, reading messages from friends and trying to figure out when we can organize our next group training run has me ready to head out the door when the sun rises tomorrow.