Thursday, February 16, 2012

A PR Without Trying? Why Yes! I'll Take It

This is definitely not the race recap I was expecting to write. After all, Saturday's Strawberry Plains Half was supposed to be merely a training run for me as I prep for the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon.

I had no real expectations for this half marathon. It's through the east Tennessee countryside, and the weather was less than ideal. Though I've heard the hills on the Strawberry Plains Half are small compared to the Knoxville Marathon, I wanted to run a hilly course to get me ready for my first full.

All in all, I was running for the fun of it. In the back of my mind, all I wanted was a sub 2:15 time. That's become my benchmark.

Seems I now need a new benchmark ... BECAUSE I PR'ED!

After posting a PR of 2:09:42 last October, my next goal was to post a sub-2:05 time. However, that was not the goal for this half marathon. This was a half marathon to enjoy, to have fun.

I didn't hit a sub-2:05, but I came very close. Had I realized how close I was, I might've pushed a little harder. Oh well, I'll take my time of 2:05:13 and relish it. That's a 4 minutes and 29 seconds off my PR, and I honestly was not trying for it.

To the victor goes the spoils!
There is so much to say. I really don't know where to begin. Well, let's begin with the weather.

I wrestled all morning about what to wear. Forecast called for temps in low 30s with wind chills in the low 20s thanks to 15-25 mph winds. Oh, and snow! I wanted to make sure I was warm enough but not overdressed to where I'd burn up.

At long last, I decided to wear a running tights, short-sleeve tech shirt with a long-sleeve tech shirt over it and my all-weather Columbia jacket. Of course, I had Nike toboggan and gloves. My thought was I wouldn't mind being slightly chilled because it might spur me on to run faster. (Apparently, it work ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Not going to lie: just before the start of the race, I was seriously questioning my sanity for running in this race. The temperature wasn't the bad, but when the wind gusts of 15-25 miles per hour, it just cut right through me as I stood there waiting for the race to start. The thought "What the heck am I doing here?" actually crossed my mind.

Then, the gun fired, and we are off.

As was my plan during the Calhoun's 10-Miler, I wanted to start off nice and easy. After all, I'm running 13.1 miles. No need to wear myself down too early. Plus, I'm not gunning for a PR, just going for a training run and hoping for a time between 2:10-2:15. The first mile was relatively easy, no big hills or slopes to speak of. I was going at an easy pace, ready for the herd of runners to thin out.

The finisher's medal
In my head, I was running a 10:20, 10:30 pace. Imagine my surprise as I came up on the first mile marker and the volunteer was calling out times and I heard: "9:18, 9:19, 9:20" as I passed by!

In that moment, everything changed for me.

My plan was still to treat this as a training run, but now it was too see how long I could keep this pace up. My legs felt great. While my pace was faster than my norm, I did not feel like I was laboring or pushing hard. It just felt natural.

So I kept cruising along.

Somewhere along Mile 2, I received an unexpected surprise: a new running buddy. Backing up just a bit, before the race, I ran into an old friend from college, Pam. Truth is, we hadn't seen each other since we graduated in *cough*1994*cough*. We'd been Facebook friends for a while and knew each other were into running, but our paths had not cross in some time. We briefly spoke prior to race because we runners are funny about our pre-race routines, right? We had to get ready for the run.

Anyway, around Mile 2, we caught up with one another and ran together until Mile 6 - the point I always refuel with a GU. During those miles, we chatted away, talking about our running backgrounds, what we've been up to, where we're living and working now, our families. You know, the things friends discuss when they haven't seen each other in forever. Amazingly, the miles clicked right by as we were averaging around 9:30 per mile.

After I slowed up for some GU and Pam went on, I was able to keep my strong pace. I'm not sure if the elevation chart agrees with me or not, but Miles 6-8 were the steepest portion of the race. Mile 8 was most grueling part of the course for me. It wasn't necessary the steepest, just the longest incline. Add the fact in the road cut between two horse farms with the barns right next to the road, the smell was not necessarily appealing either. That said, Mile 9 was Mile 8 in reverse, allowing us to pick up steam going downhill this long stretch.

The realization that I was going to PR hit me as I completed miles 9 and 10. I hit Mile 9 at 1:25, and Mile 10 was crossed at 1:34 - over two minutes faster than my time at the Calhoun's 10-Miler two weeks prior.

My favorite mile of the entire race was Mile 11. It was another long, uphill climb. There was a 20-mile-per-hour wind blowing directly in our faces. And it was snowing hard, the hardest it had snowed all day. And my only thought was: "Man, this is fun!"

After hitting Mile 12, I don't remember a great deal about the final 1.1 miles. I knew I had the PR in the bag. There's just something awesome about knowing I could walk the final half mile and STILL post a PR.

As I got closer and closer to the finish line, my pace quickened. I turned into the Rush Strong Elementary parking lot and almost immediately saw my son standing near the finish line. Then, my daughter and bride came into view. I was on top of the world now. I'm about to PR and my family is braving the cold, wintry weather to cheer me across the finish line.

Official time: 2:05:13! I bested my PR by 4 minutes and 29 seconds.

Here are my splits for the race:
Mile 1 - 9:18 
Mile 2 - 9:12 
Mile 3 - 9:28 
Mile 4 - 9:31 
Mile 5 - 9:14 
Mile 6 - 9:03 
Mile 7 - 10:02 
Mile 8 - 9:31 
Mile 9 - 9:40 
Mile 10 - 9:51 
Mile 11 - 10:25 
Mile 12 - 9:15 
Mile 13 - 9:25 
Final .10 - 7:41 pace

I would have loved to have posted a sub-2:05, but my goal here was not to PR. The PR was the cherry on top of one fantastic run. Besides, with the way I've been improving my times lately, I know a sub-2:00 time is not far out of reach. Yes, I said a sub-2 hour time.

The Strawberry Plains Half is a fantastic event. Very well organized and ran. Having been a race volunteer before, I know it's a lot harder and under-appreciated role. As much as I could, I thanked every volunteer I passed because that was the worst weather I could imagine standing around, handing out water.

The course was fun and challenging. Loved running through the east Tennessee countryside. In addition to the horse farms, the course took us by a turkey farm and along the Holston River. It was very picturesque.

Lastly, a big thank you to my family. Having them waiting for me at the finish line is always a welcomed sight. To see them standing out there in that mess did nothing but warm my heart.

As much as I enjoyed this race, I might just have to make this an annual stop.

Happy running!


  1. Congrats on the PR! That's a solid sign that you're doing all the right things in training.