It’s been 5 years since the last time I ran the New Prague Half Marathon. In 2005, I was in arguably my best-ever post-collegiate shape. I ended up running 1:21:49 at New Prague, a post-30 years old PR by 1:15. Of course, I wasn’t hoping to run that fast this year, but I was hoping to dip under 1:30 after running 1:32:30 at the Winter Carnival half.
Typically, it’s windy whenever I’ve run this race. The fact that it’s run amongst the farm fields usually makes the wind worse. Plus, the course is a big square, which means that you have to run in each direction for nearly 3 miles before getting any sort of break from the wind. Well, we didn’t have to worry about that this year as we got a break from the wind for the entire race. Conditions were right around 60 degrees, sunny and only a slight breeze.
From all my days of trying to break 3-hours, I know that I need to run 6:52 pace if I want to break 1:30. This is a pretty low-key race, so it was nice to recognize a few familiar faces before the start, plus it helps with pacing during that first mile when you’re trying to settle in. As the gun goes off, I’m trying to gauge myself against those around me. I’m just behind Michael and Willie, both who’ve kicked my ass all year long. I wonder if I’m going out too hard. But I’m also with Jim, who I figure will run in the mid to upper 1:30s. And the gal I finished just ahead of at Get in Gear is right in this pack. I feel comfortable, so I figure I’m right where I need to be. Finally, we get to the mile and I see 6:53 – nearly perfect!
We actually have a rather large pack of about 10 people as we make our way to mile 2 in 6:55. There’s a hill during the next mile and I lose the pack a little. I’m okay with that as I enjoy running by myself. At this point there are 2 high school kids about 15 feet in front of me, with the bigger pack just in front of them. The kids are chatting away as if they’re just out for a jog – must be nice!
Between miles 2 and 6, I remain in the same position, having rattled off splits between 6:49 and 6:58. The course is constantly rolling. There seems to be more up hill than down, which makes gauging my actual pace a little difficult. Afterwards Jim joked, “Where were the downhills.”
By now we’ve been traveling east and south of town. I’m looking forward to getting to “mile” 6.5 because we turn west and start heading home, which is a nice mental boost. It’s also at this time where the pack starts to string out and I am able to start catching some people. The first person I catch is Michael. This is another mental boost because I think he’s been in every race I’ve run this year – and beaten me every time. The mental boosts transfer to quicker splits of 6:43 and 6:48 for miles 7 and 8. During this stretch I pass 5 more runners. I also pass a little girl cheering. She tells me that I’m “almost done” even though I have over 4 miles left. “Cute!”
I get to mile 9 feeling pretty good. I can see the gal that I ran next to at Get in Gear up ahead of me about 30 seconds. Typically, I like to run a smart race and save something in the tank for the last 5K. If that was the case today, I think I can catch her. However, within a mile I’m not feeling so hot. We go up a fairly large hill and I lose significant ground to the runners in front of me, along with any mojo I had when I was passing other runners.
At mile 10 I take a look at my overall time and see 1:08:50. Quick math tells me that that’s 70 seconds less than 7:00 pace, which is 6:53. I am right on track for 1:30. Given the way I’m feeling, I figure I’ll be closer to 1:30:30. During the next mile I keep repeating, “Get me to mile 11, get me to mile 11…”. The remaining 5K is too much to comprehend, but I can deal with the last 2 miles.
Somewhere around this point my left calf begins to cramp. In 30+ years of running I can’t think of ever getting a cramp, other than a side-stitch. Every time people tell me they start to cramp in a race, I just kind of nod my head because I had no idea what they were talking about. I guess now I can relate. I finally get to mile 11 in 6:59. Now I tell myself to hang on for another half mile or so because that’s were the next turn is. I make it and take a quick glance over my shoulder. I know, I know, the race is in front of me, looking back only encourages the runner behind me, blah, blah, blah. I guess I just had to know how many runners I should expect to pass me during the last mile. It looks like only one guy is close enough to catch me. At least that seems like the best case scenario at this point.
Mile 12 passes in 7:05. I figure if I can run another 7:05, the guy behind me will have to run 6:50 to catch me. I remember that this is an MDRA Grand Prix event. Plus, given the rather small field, there could be age-group awards on the line, so I try to hold him off. We make a couple more turns and he doesn’t seem to be gaining. Then with about a quarter-mile to go I hear footsteps – at first they’re behind me, but very shortly they are in front of me. If nothing else, this guy help push me harder than I would have if he weren’t in the race.
While he pushed me during that last mile, there’s no way he pushed me to the 6:17 split that I saw on my watch. I figured the mile markers were probably just off a little throughout the course. Not a huge deal, but what it did mean is that I was no longer on pace to run 1:30:30. As I approached the finish line I saw 1:29:40, which meant I had to pick it up even more to sneak under 1:30. I managed to do so by 2 seconds. Good for 28th overall and 2nd in the 40-44 age group.
The 1:29:58 is 2:29 faster than my Winter Carnival Half Marathon, so things seem to be going in the right direction.
If you’d like to read about people setting PR’s, be sure to check out Nichole’s and Steve’s reports.