Race report: 2019 South Shore Half Marathon

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    • #63867

      Back story: I’ve run South Shore once, in 2001, and set my PR of 1:13:43. I can’t believe this even as I type it now but the last time I’ve run a half marathon on any course was 14 years ago, when I needed a qualifier for the Chicago Marathon.

      The half marathon should be my best event. It’s right in my wheelhouse. I love long tempo runs at about half marathon effort. It just feels so good and natural to me. It’s long enough that the speed doesn’t kill me but short enough that I don’t destroy my legs. It’s fast enough that I can settle into a good tempo but slow enough that the tempo doesn’t wipe me out Why in the heck has it been so long since I’ve run one?

      I thought of an answer for that after the race. I think it’s been so long because I have trouble accepting that I’m not a 1:13 or at least still sub-1:20 runner. I have trouble saying 1:25 or 1:27 is good. Those times are around a minute per mile slower than I think of myself as a runner.

      Whatever, though, I finally got over that and signed up for South Shore two weeks ago after a coworker told me he had signed up.

      As I was thinking about what to aim for, I did a couple of runs that gave me some idea of where my fitness was. I did 12 hilly miles two weeks ago in 6:57 pace and 10 hilly miles a week ago in 6:50 pace. These runs left me feeling confident in my fitness but a little concerned that maybe I wasn’t quite as well rested as I should have been. I decided to target mid- to high-1:20s. Essentially, I told myself if I run 1:27, I’ll be satisfied with the result. If I run 1:25, I’ll be thrilled. So I went in with that.

      The plan for getting there was to start at 7:00 pace for the first mile or two, then see about dropping to the pace to the 6:40s, see about the 6:30s in the second half and maybe see if I had it in myself to go sub-6:20 in the final 5K.

      At the start, I got out well, then settled in. I was somewhere in the top 10, then when I settled in a good pack of people went by and I was in the high teens. I then hit the mile, targeting 7:00, in 6:28. Oops.

      At this point, though, I decided not to back off. The effort felt pretty relaxed, it felt like it would be wasteful to slow down off that. So I kept settled in and began picking off occasional stragglers from the pack. After a couple miles in the 6:30s, I started feeling too good and smelling blood from others falling off the pack. So back into the 6:20s for a couple miles. Eventually, it wasn’t people falling off the pack. It was me working my way up through it.

      Then, in about mile 6, I really started getting the competitive spirit flying and I was making some moves. I was concerned about the fast pace but I felt like I could handle it so I just went with it. I moved into 10th place and was gaining on 8th and 9th. A little before the 6 mile mark, I caught them and passed with a little effort. They hung with me, though, and I just got the sense that they were not working as hard as me. Still, I could at least push the pace. 7th was there, with a pretty good gap and not fading but not completely out of reach.

      After dipping into the sub-6:20s for mile 6, the race was on. We went through the turnaround and into the second half together. Not gaining on 7th but also not losing ground. I was taking the lead for a good distance but I was comfortable there and willing to take the work, with the hope I could maybe break things open a little and wanting to see if we could chase down 7th place. Even if these guys beat me, maybe I can feed off the energy of having them right on my back to catch that guy.

      Somewhere around I believe mile 8, one of the guys made a move on me and I told myself I’d let him do some of the work of leading. As he passed, he encouraged me to relax my breathing but the truth was I was just working too hard to do so. I get his point but sometimes, you just need the oxygen to get in. That’s where I was.

      With him leading and our third runner there with me, trading back and forth a bit, we kept moving and I noticed one of the runners ahead was fading. At about the 9 mile mark, I found this motivating and maybe got a little too motivated. I picked up the pace and started chasing him down. Somehow, I dropped a 6:06 mile 10 and 6:02 mile 11 to chase him down and we did catch him and gained a good amount of distance on another fading runner.

      At this point, the guy who took the lead in our pack was getting away a bit and I had no response. The third runner had taken the lead on me but I could hang with him and he helped me gain that second fading runner. After we got ahead of that guy, though, our original pack was officially broken up and I was off the back. Still ahead of the two we passed but back behind the two who I had caught around mile 6.

      By the 11 mile mark, I was totally feeling those 6:06 and 6:02 miles. I was struggling and knew I couldn’t sustain. I kept telling myself to not fall apart, the two we just passed were right there behind me. I needed to gap them so they couldn’t come back on me. That’s basically the story of the final 2 miles. Keep pushing, don’t fall apart.

      It worked. I slowed but I stayed in the 6:20s and nobody caught me. I ended up 8th place, totally surprised to see 1:23 on the clock as I approached the finish line.

      The final result was 8th overall in 1:23:23. Almost 10 full minutes slower than my PR from 18 years ago but that’s something I’ll have to get used to. If I don’t want to run a fair bit slower than my PRs, at this stage in my life, the only alternative is to not race at all. I’ll get over it, I just need a shift in my mindset.

      I’m so glad I finally got back into the half marathon. I’m not going to let it take another 14 years to get back in for another one.

      My splits, which I think tell the tale of the race pretty well:

      6:03 (the watch told me 6:02, that’s where that came from)

      The numbers from Garmin.

    • #63877
      Aaron Pierce

      Good race recap. I wish I could have had a better race, I believe I was the runner you described as fading at mile 9. I wish I could have put up more of a fight when you guys passed me, but I was not doing well. The only response I had was trying to surge after mile 12 in an attempt to reel you in but end up 1 second behind you. About a month ago, I thought I was rolling in pretty good shape, but getting a bit of a cold/flu or something two weeks ago really knocked me for a loop and affected the race performance. I guess I will try again next year.

    • #63878

      Thanks Aaron. Yes, it was you. To be honest, I was surprised to see you fading. I’ve seen you at enough races to expect when I saw you ahead early that you would stay there. Sorry it didn’t go your way but you fought through well. I know I didn’t hold pace in the last 2 miles but I was expecting/hoping I could still get away from you. You really battled it out and kept me honest.

    • #63879

      By the way, for anyone interested, official results are here.

    • #63881

      Nice report, Ryan.

      Some of your report sounded eerily similar to a half marathon that I ran several years ago, but you finished stronger than I did at the time. I enjoyed both reading about your experience and remembering my own. Mine wasn’t my fastest half marathon, but it was one of my best race efforts.

      Aaron, nice job fighting to the end. It’s often hard to fight back after losing contact. Flu is no joke. I was totally down for three days this past week.

      • #63883

        Thanks Steve. I could say the same as you. This was far from my fastest half marathon but it was probably my most well run, simply because I can’t think of much I could have done better. A little slower in miles 10 and 11? Maybe I could have been 10 seconds faster overall.

    • #63882
      Aaron Pierce

      Thanks ksrunner. I rarely race longer distances, but when I do, I try to hold myself accountable. This wasn’t my slowest half, and it wasn’t my fastest.
      Looking at results, maybe I just sacrificed one to the running gods for the betterment of the running group I am a member of. We had 1st and 3rd overall for the men, and 1st, 3rd and 8th for the women. Numerous other PRs as well for the group.
      Looking to roll Deer Run 10k at the end of the month, that should be fun.

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