Let’s begin with what will seem to many people like a bit of a weird confession. The last time I raced a half-marathon was in 1985. Even that fact requires a bit of revisionist history because that half marathon was part of a full marathon that I attempted to run at the Twin-Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The temps were in the low 30s and I only wore a tee shirt and racing singlet. The winds off the lake froze me until my tongue turned blue and I pulled out after sixteen miles suffering hypothermia.
Up to that point, I was running with a group that included Olympic fourth-place finisher Don Kardong and a gaggle of fellow sub-elite runners trying to average 5:20 pace for the entire distance. Kardong was cracking jokes along the way and the miles clicked past quite amiably.
The year before I’d run a half marathon in 1:10:58 as part of a yearlong competitive schedule that included a PR 31:10 10K in June and a PR 10-mile race of 53:30 in July. That fall, I was not planning to run a marathon or even a half-marathon because that’s not typically what we did with our fitness. As an athlete sponsored by a running store, it was my job to go out and race a bunch of 10Ks and 5Ks wearing the singlet and shorts of Running Unlimited.
I did, however, wind up racing an “accidental” 25K (15.5 miles) on a September weekend when I did not expect to be racing at all. That week in training I ran a 15 miler run hard on Thursday, a brisk 10 miler (62:00) on Friday and an easy 10-miler on Saturday. That Sunday I was scheduled to be the race escort for none other than Bill Rodgers, the era’s most-famous marathoner.
Jump right in
Long story short: Bill Rodgers decided not to run. He offered me his race number instead. I jumped into the race and ran a 1:25 25K, finishing third overall. That’s about 5:20 pace if my math is correct. Thus I likely ran a 1:09 half marathon day, which would be my PR.
I’ll admit that I wish I’d have actually raced a marathon that weekend. Clearly, my distance fitness was primed for a good performance, having run fifty miles, much of it hard, in just four days. But there weren’t that many marathons available in those days. Even half-marathons were relatively rare. And 25k? What the hell was that about anyway?
A long time coming
So yes, it’s been a long, long time since I raced a half-marathon. Truth be told, I essentially ceased doing relatively long runs somewhere in the early 90s. The most I ever did was ten miles. There was no need. I wasn’t racing much and had essentially retired from competitive running to invest time as a dad.
That brings us to 2018. I started running a bit longer again when I met my wife Suzanne through FitnessSingles.com. However, my body’s not what it once was. All those miles in the early years of distance running do have a bit of wear and tear effect on the body. More than a few of my peers from those days don’t run at all. Either their knees or hips or Achilles no longer work or they’re frankly just sick of it. There are certainly noble exceptions, such as my former Luther College teammate Dan Johnson who just ran a Minnesota state record for 60+ runners at 1:26. That’s fast.
But for many of us, the body just won’t cooperate. Still, others can’t stand the idea of running so slowly compared to their peak efforts. That does bug me too. I was a running snob during my competitive years. If a runner beat me who didn’t look like they were capable for one reason or another, I was deeply offended. It drove me to train even harder. I don’t have the luxury of running away from anyone these days. It’s been good for the spirit to have to swallow some pride and just be a regular old runner. I’m a middle of the packer now.
I went out this weekend in 7:49 on a downhill first mile and then held 8:00 pace on average through five miles. Then we hit some hills and I dropped to an 8:30. All the way through nine miles I was doing quite well, not super fatigued or feeling pressed in any way. I’ve trained enough intervals at sub-8:00 pace to race for quite a while.
But I knew from our long runs together with Sue that somewhere after eight miles there would be problems with hip tightness. I was just hoping to run as long as I could before it hit. I’m apparently weak in the hips and when they fatigue it strikes like a slow-moving shot to the pelvis right where my butt cheeks converge on the outside of the pelvic bones. It hurts, and my stride has to shut down.
The front of my hips are weak too. All that sitting at work doesn’t help. So I’ve been using a stretchy band to fix the problem, and frankly, that’s why I think I was able to run through seven miles all the way to nine miles without the hips cramping up. So there’s progress, because typically I’m starting to tighten up even at six miles in races.
So by nine miles I was half hoping I’d get away with it this time. But… not so fast. On a flat section of road going past one of the lakes, I felt a twinge, then another, as my hips started to cramp. From then on, it was not the prettiest scene on earth.
By any other name
From then on it was a “race” only by name. I lamented watching the pace group for 1:50 pass me at just past 10 or 11 miles, because that was my goal. But that shows how much I slowed down the last few miles. Truly I just shambled home. Several times I stopped to stretch and even laid down to do so. My Strava showed 2:04 in total time, a stat confirmed by my watch. The revealing stat on Strava was the 2:01 “moving time.” That was how fast I actually “ran” the distance.
Sixty+ and feeling it?
So I technically “ran” a little faster than the final time showed. I was set to average between 8:00 and 8:20 for the whole distance and that’s alright for a sixty+ runner with tens of thousands of miles on his body.
In other words, I’ll take my half-and-half half-marathon effort and the finisher’s medal that came with it. I guess the two leaders finished within a second of each other in the low 1:08 category, so I’d have not won the race even if I was a young buck. There’s always someone faster than you on any given day and all that it means for me these days is that there are more of them, and more power to that. I share the road with all of humanity it seems these days, and that’s not half-bad.