Tuesday, March 22, 2011

American Tobacco Trail Half Marathon - Race Report

Sunday March 20th.

The day started early with a rude alarm call at 4:05 am.  I had gone to bed early but, as seems to be usual before a race, had tossed and turned a bit through the night and woke up numerous times to check the clock.  It's the same when I have an early alarm set because of an early flight - some "worry center" deep in your brain seems to prevent you from reaching REM and getting some really good shut eye.

I had picked up my race number (2947) at the race expo. on Friday afternoon and soon had it pinned to my fluorescent green running shirt.  I managed to remember to apply some Body Glide and was soon dressed and eating breakfast.   I had strict instructions from The Puppeteer not to take any solid food within 1.5 to 2 hours of the race start (scheduled for 7:00 am - more on that later) so I needed to eat early.  Breakfast comprised of:   one bagel with cream cheese; one banana; one bottle Ensure; one cup of freshly brewed coffee - aaaaah!   The plan was then to have a GU gel about 20 mins before the start and to sip water pretty much continuously between breakfast and the start - this all seemed to work well.

The Snitch had (very wisely as it happened) purchased a parking pass that allowed her to park near the start, so I had arranged to meet her along with her good looking cheering section (husband and daughter) at their house at 5:15 am to share a ride so that I didn't have to deal with the off-site parking and a shuttle bus to the start.   Last year the transportation logistics were apparently a mess and this year it seemed to be worse!

I was a couple of minutes late arriving at The Snitch's house as I blew past their exit listening to NPR's coverage of world events, but I turned around and still got there in plenty of time - it was still dark when we arrived at our designated parking area at Brook's Park.  After spending a few minutes in the car watching all of the fit looking people arriving, The Snitch and I said goodbye to the cheering section and walked the half mile or so to the start area.  It was cool, but nothing like as chilly as the Outer Banks Half Marathon was back in November, and the forecast was for temps. in the 50s for most of the race - just about perfect!

The staging area was the usual mess of tents, tables, flags, porta-potties and lots and lots of people milling around.  We found a grassy area and did our prescribed stretches before jogging around a parking lot and doing a few sprints to warm-up.

At about 6:40 am the half marathoners were called to the starting corral (the full marathoners were scheduled to start 15 minutes behind us).  I quickly ran into my friend Dan Phillips and chatted for a while before wishing The Snitch good luck (she's much faster than me) and heading further back in the corral to find a spot close to the "2:00" pace runners who were wearing bright yellow shirts and carrying yellow balloons.

This is where race organisation started to fall apart a little!   Apparently they were having huge traffic and logistical problems at the parking area and there were still many people waiting for the shuttle even as we were already lined-up and ready to start!   To make things worse, the public address system was awful, so those of us further back had absolutely no idea what was going on.  7:00 am came and went....   7:15 came and went....   we could hear the busses on the other side of a hedge and see harried runners rushing to their preferred start position, so we worked out what was going on, but it was frustrating.  Soon there were a wide assortment of people of both sexes, who I'm sure are usually modest folks, jumping out of line to pee in the bushes - quite a spectacle!   The 30 minute wait for the start gun was pretty annoying and at one point a chant of "start this race! start this race!" went up from the disgruntled masses!   The only good thing was that I found myself next to my friend Chantal, so we were able to enjoy some friendly banter while we were waiting.

Finally, long after the scheduled time, the gun went off and we were underway!

My previously fastest half marathon time (of the two that I have done recently!) was 2:05 and some seconds.  After chatting with the Puppeteer I decided that breaking two hours may be possible and that this would be my goal, so my plan was to stay with the 2:00 pace group for the first few miles and then take it from there.   The first mile was the usual consfused mess as we ran through Brooks Park and there was a lot less room available "side to side" than in the Outer Banks Half.   Why, oh why, do people who are running slowly (and by that, I mean even slower than me!) feel the need to line up near the front?

Eventually we got out on to the real road and were able to start looking for a rhythm.  I felt pretty good and stayed with the pace group, as planned for the first couple of miles.  Without really trying I found myself running with a group of people slightly in front of the pace group somewhere around mile three.   I checked over my shoulder a few times and felt good about seeing those yellow balloons continously about 100 yards behind.  As we turned onto the American Tobacco Trail itself (http://www.triangletrails.org/ATT.HTM) I was feeling comfortable and moving pretty well.  I had a GU gel (with caffeine) at around mile 4.5 and took a little water at most water stations.

The course took us north on the trail to a turn around point at somewhere around mile 8.  I was concerned that the trail might be a bit "tight" with runners going in both directions, but for the most part it was fine.  On my way to the turn I didn't see The Snitch going in the other direction, but was happy to see both Dan and Chantal running well.  I also saw my friend Nas absolutely bombing it - she ultimately finished with a personal best of somewhere around 1:36 - that's freakin' fast!

Here are my splits for the first 9 miles (Avg. Moving Time):

9:09   8:36   8:46   9:16   9:03   8:44   8:51   9:18   8:59

Required split for a sub 2:00 time is somewhere around 9:09, so at this point I was feeling pretty good.  Then came......  the grade!......

I was aware that I had been running on a slight downhill gradient for a while, but it wasn't until a little after the turn that I started to realise for how long.   Going in the other direction on legs that were starting to tire was noticably tougher.  This is by no means a steep gardient, but it was long and steady (2 miles plus) and, in the end, it was this that dashed my hopes of a sub 2:00 time.   My splits for miles 10, 11 and 12 were:

9:26   9:34   9:46.......   a significant drop-off

By the time we turned off the trail and back onto paved road those darned yellow balloons were right behind me and soon sailed past.  I tried a bit of a kick to keep up, but my legs just didn't have it.  Then, frustratingly, they stayed in eye shot for the rest of the race as my final two splits were:

9:46   9:14

As I neared the finish I was feeling pretty tired but was happy to hear the cow bell and "quacker" being enthusiastically employed by the support team and to see The Snitch with them, having already finished in a great sub 1:45 time!   Soon I was passing the line with a final time of 2:02:10.

While this was a new personal best (at least in recent years!) I have to admit that I was a little disappointed not to have been able to push to keep up with those bloody yellow balloons!  Now I keep asking myself - was it my legs or was it mental toughness?  I'm not sure if I know the answer, but I can say with complete certainty that I gave it a good shot and my legs are still a little sore two days later!

I soon met-up with The Snitch and family and got to meet Martha, who is another one of The Puppeteer's "victims".  I was pleased to hear that both The Snitch and Dan achieved their target of going sub 1:45 and especially proud of Chantal for going sub 2:00 for the first time - way to go!   :-)

Close but no cigar for me.   No more halfs scheduled for this year (unless you count the last leg of the Beach-to-Battleship Half Ironman distance race in October) but I will break that 2:00 barrier soon!

Happy finishers:  The Snitch; yours truly; Martha

I wasn't going to get lost in that shirt!

Fast ladies!


  1. Great report Roger. I set a PR too in this race with a 2:17. I was wondering what the delay was at the start then I heard talk about the buses being delayed. The people jumping out of the corrals to "go" in the woods got a little ridiculous. I was amazed at how many people stood on the edge and went. They could have gone in further. Again, congrats!

  2. Thanks Chick and well done on the PR!