I did my best to stay calm amongst the hoopla and anxiety on and around the starting line. It had been nearly three hours since most of us rose from our respective slumberlands and knuckled the dreams from our eyes. The time was 6:10am and the sun was now high in the sky, but, more importantly, to our backs. The temperature remained somewhat cool. Although it wasn’t ideal conditions, it certainly wasn’t bad either.
My plan was to run 5:11-5:12 pace for ten miles (51:50-52:00) and then give that last 5k hell. Whatever the case might be, I was damned if I were going to run another poorly executed race. That pace shouldn’t kill me and I’d rather go out a little conservative then die another slow death. I had done what I could, in the time allotted, to get into the best shape I could. Finally, I was very concerned about running too fast too soon given the competition. Patience would be key. I had to contain myself.
Warm-up, bathroom breaks and strides complete, I found Adam Condit, who wanted to run a similar race plan, and I tucked in behind him. The horn blew and the crowd surged forward towards Duluth proper. Massive Lake Superior sat on our left and helped keep the road cool. I hit the first mile in 5:12, which was just a tick over goal pace, exactly as planned. There was a lot of maneuvering in the early miles as groups and individuals vied for position and settled into their respective paces. The next mile was another 5:12. The back of my head glistened with sweat and I realized it was warmer than I thought. I grabbed a water, the only time during the race I did, pinched the cup and threw back a gulp. I was ahead of Condit by this point, but assumed he was right behind me. A lot of runners were already coming back and each time I settled into a pack it seemed as if that pack would slow. I’d glanced at my GPS and knew I wasn’t picking it up too much so I just kept trying to join new packs interested in running 5:12 pace and reel in some individuals lingering up ahead. Eventually, the packs started to thin out and by mile 3 (5:14) I could see Sam, Karl and Sloane in a line well ahead. In fact, you could probably see a 1/3rd of a mile ahead of you at times, which was incredibly helpful.
By mile 4 (5:14) I had caught what appeared to be a struggling Sloane. He had gone out hard, but not too hard, and I figured he’d latch on to me as I passed, but instead all I heard was a moan. By now, Condit wasn’t on my heals anymore either. Again, my biggest fear was dropping the pace too soon, but the splits didn’t indicate that was the case, despite the fact I had been moving up through the ranks.
I passed mile 5 around 26:08, which was perfect. 25:59 was the approximate goal pace, but it was still too early to start picking it up. For me, the race began around here. I told myself that I “only” had 8 to go, then I set my eyes ahead and stopped looking at my watch. My plan from here on out was to just hold steady for another 5 miles and then let the course have it. I put on a little surge and tried to get into a new rhythm. I started to feel the race around mile 6 (5:13), but I was far from being in any pain. Karl was coming back to me now. I saw him glance at a couple of runners who passed him. I surmised he might be looking for me. In another mile or so I came up along his side and gurgled a “c’mon buddy”. Karl found new life and together we steamed ahead towards Lemon Drop “Hill”, the largest incline in the race. A long, steady downhill preceded Lemon Drop and on the way down I took a quick glance at the watch – 5:22 pace. Damn it. I was falling back. Up until now I had stopped checking splits and was running on feel alone, but now things were getting tough. I had to get tough too. I upped the pace on Lemon Drop Hill and caught a number of other runners in the process. Karl had fallen back some and now I could clearly see Sam ahead. I just kept chipping away at the road and hit 10 in around 52:50. I knew now that my goal time was out of the question, but at least I’d still PR.Or would I? Not much of a compromise, but there really wasn’t to debate at the time. I just had to run. I was definitely not getting much faster, instead settling into a hard, albeit somewhat comfortable, grind-like pace around 5:20/mile, but other runners kept coming back to me. By the time we were on brick-covered Superior Street, the half marathon was starting to take its toll. My left big toe was wet with blood, the result of a blister and my legs were wailing from 10+ miles of hard road racing. Then I tripped on a brick, or on some undulation in the road, and staggered. When I found my footing I snapped out of my rut and doubled down on the pace. I knew there was only about a half mile until I hooked a left and began the last mile + to the finish. The slight pace adjustment sent shivers down my legs, but for someone who lacks a kick, I knew I had to start doing something now. I used the quick downhill towards Canal Park to get started and in doing so passed a couple of the guys lingering on Sam’s back. I was running the fastest pace I’d run in the race thus far and by the time I caught Luff near the docked giant ore ship. He turned towards me some and I tried to speak, but all I could do was spit. Then I took aim at one last harrier a few yards ahead. I made the last turn, saw the giant finish line, and just ran out the rest of my legs passing someone in blue shorts just a few meters from the finish line.
The time, 1:09:19, was far from my goal (1:07:59), but I really can’t complain because I don’t think I was capable of that time right now. Well, maybe I was, but I can tell you that I really gave it everything I had on Saturday, especially in those last few miles. At least it was a PR, which was low-hanging fruit…but still it feels really good to PR again. Really good. And for some strange reason almost everyone (myself included) I know didn’t hit the time they were after. I can’t quite explain that as the weather, although not ideal, was far from awful and the course is both beautiful and fast. Nothing slow about it. And there are plenty of places to take advantage of tangents. After suffering so bad at Cherry Blossom and Pike’s Peek, I was anxious to run a smart race and feel good in the last few miles instead of dying a slow, miserable death. In Duluth I went out easy, let my legs find their gear and just focused on walking people down who went out too hard or people who weren’t feeling it. I don’t think I was passed by anyone after 4 or 5 miles.
GPS splits: 5:12 5:12 5:14 5:14 5:16 5:13 5:21 5:19 5:20 5:22 5:21 5:16 5:10
I’m going to take the next couple of weeks easy and do some active recovery. I might engage if a few weekend runs that focus more on exploring new areas than getting in distance. In July I've got some summer work/travel that will prohibit me from getting in good training, but I hope to be back in full training mode come August with my eye towards a late fall season.