Long Training Runs Pay Dividends on Race Day

IMG_0930I had to question my own sanity as I found myself up stretching at 6:00AM the Saturday before last, chowing down a Clif Shot Energy Gel and chasing it with coffee and Gatorade, as I stuffed gear into my gym bag. Here I was about to go outside, where the temps had dropped to the low 40s, and  run a 13.1 mile race. In fact I paid $84 to force myself out the door, which was a major motivating factor, as this was the inaugural running of the KY History Half Marathon.

I had no doubt I could complete the distance, the question was did I have the base training to actually race the event or would I simply survive it. It ended up being a little of both, but definitely slanted to the survival side.

The four weeks leading up to the race I completed long runs of 9.5 miles, 11 miles, 12 miles and 8 miles. The final 8 mile run the Saturday before was certainly no thing of beauty. I allowed my legs six days off between running 12 and going out for the 8, but dead legs was all I had. It was a shorter distance, and no problem to complete, but I had no impulse power and was huffing wind most of the way.

I’m guessing much of this had to do with the excess weight I was carrying around. I had only seriously been training for one month. I started at 210 pounds and was down to 204. That still is a lot of weight to drag about for 13 miles.

I also noticed my right knee was dinged going into the 8 mile run. It was typical runner’s knee. Most likely my patella ligament was stressed from running between 9.5 – 12 miles over the last three weeks. It didn’t hurt during the run much but it got nice and tight afterwards.

Between finishing the 8 mile run and getting to the race starting line that Saturday was filled with taking prescription strength anti-inflammatories (Naproxen), icing my knee, wearing a compression sleeve over it during work, and walking and stretching daily to help loosen it up. It was the best it could be when Saturday arrived.

The race began at 8:00AM at the History Center in downtown Frankfort. As I stepped into the starting area I was happy about one thing, the rain had held off. It had rained most of the week, and that morning was gray and overcast with an 80 percent chance of rain.

I put my trust in the weatherman that the rain would hold off till later. With a cannon shot we were off and running.

I staked out a spot between the place runners advertising finish times of 2 hours 15 minutes and 2:30. Besides just finishing, my overall goal was to be under 150 minutes.

By the half mile mark I already knew this wasn’t my day. My training had been too condensed. I covered the necessary distances, but needed more smaller runs connecting to the long runs over a greater length of time in order for all the work I had done to assimilate into my body so I could actually recover and race this distance.

I was wheezing, huffing & puffing and cursing under my breath from the start, enough that my training partner asked if I was going to make it.

“I’m fat and I’m old – that’s all I got today,” was my reply. “There’s beer in the car – I’ll see you there.”

This was a very hilly course, almost 1,300 feet of elevation. It would be tough to run a personal best in this race regardless, so I opted to minimize the pounding, and simply shoot for a finish under 2:30.

Right at Mile-2 there was a water stop offering S.W.O.R.D. Performance Hydration drinks in little cups. I stopped and walked as I drank it, and elected to not try and catch back up with Matt. He was going to run faster than I had that day. No need to suffer just to catch up when I knew I couldn’t stay with him.

We ran around the back of the Capitol and back down Cap Ave, across the concrete bridge and up the hill on E. Main Street. I trained on this hill but it hadn’t gotten much easier.

Instead for running all the way up to MLK Blvd., the course took us into the Frankfort Cemetery. This had a decidedly somber feel with the overcast morning, and hushed heavy breathing of the runners. Adding to that atmosphere was the playing of “Taps” that echoed through the hills from two pairs of musicians dressed in Civil War-era military garb, playing drums and bugles.

As I ascended the steep hill leading past the grave of Daniel Boone, with “Taps” ringing out, I thought to myself “Let’s not die today.”

There ended up being two significant hills in the cemetery loop. Those are on top of the Cap Ave incline, Capital Hill and E. Main. Then we came back down the E. Main hill to hit the 6 mile mark.

The remaining 7 miles involved running the Riverview Bike Trail and going out Wilkinson Blvd., past the Buffalo Trace Distillery, until turning onto Old Lewis Ferry Road. We did miles 9-11 on an out and back, they offered dense foliage and a few deers to observe.

Thankfully there was a water station at the rear entrance to Buffalo Trace, that was staffed with some fun, energetic folks. The turnaround was about a half-mile from the water station, but I must say it seemed like it took forever to find that sucker. We just kept running further away from my car. I just wanted to turn around and start heading home.

As folks yelled encouragement I kept repeating my mantra through staggered breathing, “There’s Beer In The CAR!”

Back out on Wilkinson felt a little like we were near civilization, but that is a barren stretch of four-lane road. On the positive – I was taking miles off the board: 8-9-10-11 were done. I was running for 12, and hit that near the conclusion of the bike trail.

Back in the downtown area gave a jolt of adrenaline, as shops were open and my car was nearby. BEER, BEER, BEER!

A right onto Broadway and there was Mile-13.

“Around the corner – 100 yards to go,” a guy screamed out from the street as I approached the History Center.

I crossed the finish line at 2:26:22. Thank the baby Jesus that is over. Matt finished a minute a mile faster than I did, but I didn’t have that gear on this day. Once I quickly realized my taper over the previous two weeks was not going to miraculously make me lighter and faster, I simply settled into a comfortable pace. I just wanted to get done in under 2:30 – no need to push ourself beyond that goal on this day.

I felt pretty decent once I crossed the finish line and could quit running. My mom and dad were there, Maia and Isabella, Matt and his parents and sister. (Many thanks to those who came out to cheer us all on – especially my family and friends)!

There were bananas, bagels, granola bars, mini-candy bars and water available inside the History Center.

I grabbed a few snacks and we headed for the car. You know what – there was cold beer in the car. Michelob Ultra in particular. I really didn’t like this stuff much before, but now I have a taste for it. With low carbs and only 95 calories. These suckers go down smooth and easy.

Time on feet is what got me through this race. Due to weight, age and an abbreviated training schedule, I was only capable of performing at a certain level. But by going out slowly, plodding through 9.5, 11 and 12 mile runs, my body built up the necessary tolerance required to endure the pounding that a half marathon puts on a body.

With this level of fitness conditioning having been achieved I see no reason not to go run another race or two this season. Next up will be the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon in Louisville on Oct. 24. This is a much flatter course than the KY History in Frankfort, and should allow me to finish a few minutes quicker. If all goes smoothly then I’m planning to follow that up quickly with the Black Cat 5K in Frankfort on Oct. 30.

A little more pounding and then I will see what to plan for the winter months to keep my fitness level at an operational point and continue my weight loss strategies. In the meantime I just keep running and repeating, “There is beer in the car.”

*    *     *     *     *

(Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers of the KY History Half Marathon! This race was a wonderfully run event, especially considering it was the first year. This race went smoothly, with no major missteps. I think if organizers can continue to work to further build the post-race festivities into more of a street party – where Broadway is blocked off and visitors can consume alcoholic drinks and food is being grilled out, this could become a destination race like the Iron Horse in Midway or Urban Bourbon in Louisville.)

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