Another fine day along Buffalo Creek in Freeport.
The weather could have been a tad bit warmer, but it didn't rain and ended up in the high 30's. And, just in case Jen Harrison checks this out--no the snow was more in the center of the state by State College. This year Beth was running also as a tuneup for Clearwater and my cousin K and her dad came along and ran also.
We had this elaborate logistical plan of positioning of cars since this is a point-to-point race. It involved three cars--we leave two (one for Beth & I; one for K & UJ) at the finish line so we didn't have to ride the shuttle back. Then we all head up in one car up to the packet pickup and start. We had to figure out what bags to put in what car and what keys needed to be carried during the race and what bags to drop off, but it all worked out smoothly.
To the race, I've been happy with my training all fall balancing with the XC guys, Beth, and my own long runs. Last weekend, I averaged under 6:30 pace for a 14-mile segment of a 17-mile run and felt like I had some left. So, I figured I'd try to better my 6:00 pace from last year's half and see what happened. We all warmed up together and had some nice conversation catching up on K and her life. A couple pit stops and a couple striders later and it was time for the race.
Having done it last year, I knew the course layout and the level of the field. I was 11th last year and figured I could sneak in to the top 10 this year having the marathon training base underneath me. Off we go and I was 9th or so a mile in to the race. Last year, our places from the first mile were just about the same as we finished so I figured I just needed to settle in and hit my splits.
This is a downhill point-to-point course, so that definitely skews the splits some. At the same time, the majority is on a crushed limestone rails-to-trails course, so that neutralizes some of it (but it's still pretty fast!!). Mile 1 I'm out in 5:28 and rolling. Here's the rest of the splits and some commentary:
Mile 2 - 6:04 (the only real uphill in the race)
Mile 3 - 5:44
Mile 4 - 5:41
Mile 5 - 5:44
Mile 6 - 5:46
Mile 7 - 5:51
Mile 8 - 5:50
Mile 9 - 5:54
Mile 10 - 5:58
Mile 11 - 5:54
Mile 12 - 6:02
Mile 13 - 6:00
13.1 - 0:35
Total 1:16:32 - 5:50 pace - (1:19:06 last year)
From about 1.5 miles in until 10 miles in, I was running side-by-side with another guy (last year I was in a pack of 5) and we just steadily worked our way up, picking off one person around mile 6 and one around 8. I was feeling good, but didn't know what I had left hitting these 5:50's, but I just tried to hang with the guy beside me.
We closed in on the 3rd place guy around mile 10 and I could tell my running partner was breathing pretty hard. We had just caught said 3rd place, so that guy probably was losing some. All of the sudden, I shifted my entire mindset to just clicking off miles to actually RACING. This hasn't happened for years if you don't count trying to outkick people on the homestretch of races. I thought, "Okay. 2.5 miles to go. I feel good, let's surge and see if they go with me." Surge happens and they didn't respond. Hmmm....
I hit the 11 mile marker and just hit my watch to get the split but don't even look at the time since I'm now racing vs just hitting times. There are some curves in the trail since it goes along a creek, so I even tried to put in a few surges around turns. All those HS XC strategies were coming back to me! Since Beth and I train on the trail almost every weekend, I knew the remainder of the course pretty well and I started mapping out the strategic places to sneak in some surges.....actually I'd like to think that but I was time-wise probably just running as hard as I could and running scared so they wouldn't catch up to me.......
What the heck--I was in 3rd place with just a little more to go! I get to about a 1/2 mile left on the trail (1.5 miles left in the race) and I knew the trail changed from the crushed limestone to blacktop, so I put on another surge (at least in my head). I pass the 12 mile mark and just hit the watch and get ready to leave the trail for the final 0.8-ish on roads to the finish. There was an uphill switchback to a bridge and then into town.
I was mapping out my final surge strategy up this hill when I see this guy jogging back towards me with his hands up in the air. It was the 2nd place guy and he missed the switchback off of the trail and had to come back. He yelled out, "Where to we go?" I said back (out of breath), "Up the hill and over the bridge in to town." Now, he's 50 yards behind me. So, I'm in 2nd place (in sort of a cheap way). I felt bad that he didn't make the turn (last year they had a person at the turn) and had my mind made up that I'd slow up at the finish since he earned 2nd but just got off course (after the race, he said he lost more than 30 seconds there).
But, no worries as he flew past me with about 800m left. He happens to be one of the better runners in the Pittsburgh area after all. I follow him down the hill, we make a left turn at the 13.0 mark, I look over my shoulder and see that the other two guys (the former 3rd place and the guy I ran most of the race with) were too far back to get me. I split my watch at 13 and then just focused on kicking it in as best as I could and cross at 1:16:32--a 2.5 minute improvement over last year!!! And, as Beth's triathlon posse would say, a 'podium' finish--third place. Wooo hooo!
And, it was a good day all around. Beth beat her PR in the 1/2 marathon by 3:15 and was the 2nd female. My cousin ran well and won her age group and finished 5th or 6th female OA. My uncle, coming off of sickness and injury issues, almost equalled his 1/2 marathon time from Pittsburgh.
After the race, some bagels, Eat'n Park Smiley Cookies, Pizza, bananas, and other stuff to refuel as Beth and I then go over to the YMCA to swim since Beth had a workout to get in (those crazy triathletes!!!). She did a real workout. I just meandered back and forth doing slow laps except for being a rabbit for the 2nd 25 on a couple of Beth's 50yd repeats.
A stop by GetGo for a footlong for lunch, pick up the car, a PSU shoutout win (great job, defense!!), house clean, and now it's time for bed. Good day, indeed!