17 September 2011

Davidson Run for Green Half Marathon

Earlier today I had my biggest running result ever!

Wanting to test my fitness ahead of next month's Chicago Marathon I decided (last week) to enter the Davidson Run for Green half marathon. In planning it seemed like a great opportunity -- not only would the Run for Green half provide a raceday effort for me, but it would also raised money for the Davidson Land Conservancy. Having taught for the Duke Talent Identification Program at Davidson College for two summers, I have fond memories of the numerous miles I logged on the area's roads and trails. Needless to say, I was eager to get back to Davidson for some running. Confident in my fitness and injury-free, I was optimistic going into the race. With two previous half marathons on my running resumé (Baltimore 2010 - 1:29:08 and Outer Banks 2010 - 1:27:45) and a string of 4th place division (male and age category) finishes, I thought it might be possible to break 1:25 and finish in the top 3 of my division (in this case, 30-34 male). Little did I know how well things would go.

When I stopped at Fleet Feet in Huntersville (if your ever in need of running gear and/or local running knowledge, please stop by Birkdale Village and visit them) to purchase some Clif Shot Bloks, the friendly and knowledgeable staff informed me that the race would feature some rather fast runners (i.e. previous and current NCAA runners and olympic hopefuls. There was explicit mention of Kalib Wilkinson, a local superstar high school runner now at Liberty University and sponsored by Brooks). Now, this didn't really put a damper on my race expectations (I never expected to complete at that level -- winning was never on the pre-race radar), but was certainly humbling (and simultaneously motivating). The conversation did cause me to more seriously consider my pre-race preparation. Since the pace was likely to be quick right from the start, I wanted to be near the front to begin, hopefully I would be able to situate myself with a few other runners who were moving at fast, but manageable pace (i.e. one that I could maintain for 13.1 miles).

Well, things definitely started fast. Nearly immediately, Wilkinson pulled away from everyone. He opened a multiple second gap after the first mile. It was impressive. Meanwhile, I managed to mix in with some members of the local running club and a young lady with knee-high compression socks. The pace was quick, but not outlandish. By mile 4 or so, the lead group (save for Wilkinson who was in the lone leader by far) dwindled and I found myself alone with one man from the local club and the aforementioned long socked woman -- it turns out she is Molly Nunn (former Wake Forest distance runner and current olympic hopeful).

Everyone did a their fair share of leading (thus supplying a bit of draft for the other two). As we hit the halfway point and started heading back (my only critique of the race is the rather tight turnaround -- see the map above) toward the start/finish area, the group of three became a group of two as Molly and I increased the pace for a quicker second half.

Without any discussion or plan, Molly and I ended working together to keep the pace up and draft off one another. By sheer happenstance, we ended up running together, each runner silently motivating the other. Strategy was minimal -- work together, talk about specifics as needed, run fast. A generally rolling course, the final few miles did present a few leg burning climbs (short, but steep inclines that required quick bursts of energy to maintain the pace). With longer legs and gait, I opened a small gap on the one of the final climbs.

Nearing the finishing area (which also included a climb), I heard shouts of encouragement coming from behind. Glancing back I could see two things. 1) Molly exclaiming for me to pick up the pace and surge toward the finish and 2) another male runner, who seemingly appeared out of the ether, rapidly closing on me. At this point, all I could think was "move legs, move! you've worked so hard for the entire race, there's no way you can get passed now!" Somewhere from the reserve tank, I harnessed a few remaining atoms of energy (thanks Clif Bar). Through the magic of bodily fission, I split those atoms and released a vast, immeasurable quantify of energy and flat out (or at least what resembled a flat out sprint after 13 miles) sprinted to the finish line. As luck and legs would have it, I finished in 1:22:29, good enough for second place overall! One second faster than Travis Tarbet (Greer, SC) and a humbling twelve minutes slower than Kalib Wilkinson. After our cooperative pacing, Molly crossed the line just a few seconds behind me (1:22:40) and won the women's overall by nearly six minutes.

After the race, Molly and I chatted briefly -- offered congratulations and thank the other for working together throughout the race. At the prize ceremony (oh, yes, I also collected $50 for my effort -- which, I believe is the first time I've ever collected any sort of compensation for running), I spoke with Kalib for a few moments. Super friendly guy (not to mention blazingly fast). It turns out that he is running Chicago and was using today's half as a test of fitness. Small world, huh? After congratulations and wishing each luck in Chicago, it was time to get on with the day (and check out the Davidson Farmers Market).

I've said it before, but the collegiality of runners never fails to impress me. Whether a top-flight athlete, newbie, or anywhere in-between, runners always seem to be the friendliest, most helpful, and consistently encouraging bunch of people. Competitive? Sure, of course. But nary a hint of pretension anywhere.  

Want to know more? Read a pre-race forecast and full post-race report from DavidsonNews.net.

The look of pure excitement and total satisfaction.
A second place finisher's self portrait.