Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Fayetteville Half Marathon -- Race Recap

Saturday was an awesome day! It was our last race of the year and by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ we were able to close out the year with style. Janice, Courtney, and I all ran in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the second annual Fayetteville Half Marathon. I ran the half, while Janice and Courtney ran the 5K.

I hit a new PR (personal record) on the half marathon. Last April I ran a half in Jonesboro and finished with my best ever time, 2:15:41. But today, even in the up and down of the hills of Fayetteville, I finished in 1:59:59 to beat that time by almost 16 minutes! I was hoping to beat 2:10, and dreaming about beating 2:00. I was almost certain I could accomplish the former, but had serious doubts that I could break the 2 hour mark. But all things are possible with God and He deserves all the credit and all the glory!

"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"--Matthew 19:26

So why the doubt?

The hills.

Where I'm from, a 100 foot change in elevation is huge! So three 200+ foot inclines over 13.1 miles were more than a little intimidating. I kind of thought this run might be a little more like mountain climbing than what I've been accustomed to. But I knew I needed some good hill workouts on long runs to help me get ready for Little Rock in March. That run promises to be a challenge with its hills also.

Another great thing about today was that part of the course was on the University of Arkansas Campus, where I spent the '86-'87 school year as a student. Though the campus has drastically changed in the last 25 years, running through it and around the town brought back some good memories. We didn't run in front of my old dorm, but we came within a block of it and we raced through a part of the campus that I traversed often going back and forth to class. We raced past Razorback Stadium, Barnhill Arena, and finished the race on the amazing U of A outdoor track. It was a pretty awesome course.

So let's recap the race.

As we lined up for the start, it was COLD! When I left the hotel at 7:00 AM, The Weather Channel said it was 240. It didn't feel like it had warmed up any by the 8:00 AM start.

We started on the road in front of the track complex, running over a downhill stretch for about a half mile to Martin Luther King Drive. We turned left for a long block, then the first big climb began. This uphill wasn't too terribly bad because when we reached the top, we'd only gone a total of 2 miles. I ran without stopping and was rewarded with looking upon a really long, straight downhill stretch at the peak!

Since before the Marine Corps Marathon, I've been approaching these long, steep downgrades a little differently. Kind of a "Let go and let God" approach. I let gravity take control and run down the hill at whatever pace requires the least amount of energy. You see, I learned that it actually takes energy to slow myself down on such stretches during a race. So I literally flew down the hill. To those I was passing and others looking on, it probably appeared I was sprinting. But, in reality, I was mostly coasting. It leveled off some before the bottom where I reached the 3 mile mark feeling pretty rested.

5K Split--27:07
Pace--8:45 min/mile

I crossed the mats at the 5K mark feeling good after the long downhill stretch. Just a little farther down the road, we met the lead runner on his way back. He had already finished 5 miles and was moving at a blistering pace. Before we turned left through the parking lot of the U of A Animal Sciences facility, the second place runner also ran past.

The next water stop was just past the 4 mile mark. I knew the next would come 2 miles later. On my long runs I've been stopping after 5 miles to eat a few M & M's for fuel. (M & M's are cheaper than Gu or the other quick energy fuels made for runners.) Knowing I wouldn't have access to water at 5 miles, I decided to refuel here at the 4 mile water station.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."--Philippians 4:13

As I walked about 50 yards or so to eat and drink, a young lady passed and told me, "I needed to see your shirt just now." She was the only one who commented on the shirt this race, but I'm glad I slowed down and she found encouragement by the bible verse printed on the back. In every race I have runners make similar comments when they pass me or I pass them. A lot of runners find hope in that tiny verse.

Once I finished my water and snack, it wasn't long and I was past her again. We were now on a largely flat part of the course. I met the oncoming slower folks where the lead runners met me earlier, just after 5 miles. Then the course turned left and we twisted through a neighborhood for a ways before popping back out on Sycamore, a wider road with stoplights and turn lanes.

After a short stretch on Sycamore, we turned right onto Skull Creek Trail, a paved trail for runners and bikers. I have to say here that traffic control was outstanding throughout the race. Police officers were stationed at every major thoroughfare and side streets were barricaded to keep traffic off the course. Even this trail was free from cyclists. We did meet a couple of people out walking on the trail, but they didn't impede racers at all.

Our entrance onto the trail began the second long climb. Looking at the course map before the race, I wondered why there were two water stops just a little more than a mile apart, one just past 6 miles and another just past 7. Perhaps the long, steep grade was the reason.

10K Split--54:59
Pace--8:52 min/mile

The mats at the 10K mark were laid between these water stations. My pace had fallen off a bit by then, but this doesn't surprise me because I didn't have that long downhill to fly down in the second 3.1 miles. I really expected it to drop on the second 10K because of the two big climbs coming up. By the time we stepped back out on Dickson Street just past mile 7, my legs were definitely feeling the hills. And they knew we weren't even close to finished with them either! I was glad to see that next water stop and even took Gu there to refuel.

It was only a short climb on Dickson before we turned onto Arkansas Avenue and ran past the fraternity houses there. I don't know if the boys were up late on Saturday night studying, but they weren't out and about when we ran past. Still climbing, although not too steep a climb, we made our way to Maple and turned left. A short, steep downhill there was quickly compensated for by a symmetric short, steep uphill before we took a hard left through the middle of the U of A campus. Past historic Old Main and running on cobblestone walks and sidewalks engraved with the names of graduates, we ran on.

Once we had crossed the campus, another short stint on Dickson carried us to Garland just after we crossed the 8 mile mark. The hills were definitely wearing on me by this time, but I knew it was only a short distance now to the beginning of the big loop that would send me back down that long, steep hill where I could catch my breath. And it wasn't long in coming. I had to top one more hill just past Maple and then we started down.

15K Split--1:23:46
Pace--9:00 min/mile

That much needed downhill carried me past mile 9 and again, I was feeling good at the bottom when I stepped across the 15K mats. I kept up a good pace until we reentered the Skull Creek Trail and started uphill again. The only disappointment with the race happened just before the 10 mile mark. The water stop on the trail had run out of cups by the time I reached it the second time. It wasn't anything major because the other was waiting just a little more than a mile up ahead, but I was looking forward to that water.

I think they might have underestimated the number of cups needed because this stop was on the loop to be hit by every runner twice. Again, it didn't turn out to be a big deal because they had another stop at the 11 mile mark. Just before I reached that stop, I was passing an older man who said to me, "Just 2 more 5Ks to go!" Remember, this was my second pass on this part of the course and I was between mile 10 and 11. I didn't have the heart to tell him I only had a little over 2 miles to go when I realized he was only on his first loop and thought I was too. But I was glad I didn't have "2 more 10Ks to go" at this point.

I made it to the water stop at mile 11, ate a few more M & M's and drank some water, then stepped into the climb back up to the U of A campus. This time, I walked the short, steep climb on Maple and took off running again at the turn into the campus. My pace was a little slower now, but I was convinced I'd still make it in a decent time.

Hitting Dickson again after crossing the campus, at the 12 mile mark and within sight of my old college dorm, a former student of mine was standing at the corner and started yelling my name! Nathan Pruitt gave me a much needed boost of pure inspiration with 1.1 miles to go when, screaming like a madman, he ran out on the road to give me a high five and cheer me on! It was like a shot of adrenaline.

Rejuvenated, the last little climb back up to Maple seemed easier than before. The left turn there put me looking down the long, steep grade that would carry me down to Razorback Road. Again, I let gravity take over and flew down the hill. Once on Razorback, running behind the football stadium and the basketball arena was downhill all the way to the entrance to the track.

The downgrade made it easy to make great time on the last mile. Then, onto the track for the lap to the finish. As I rounded the far turn on the track, the clock at the finish line came into view. With less than 200 meters to go, it was reading 1:59:24. I tried to step into it, hoping to finish before it reached 2 hours. The closer I came to the finish, the more I realized I wasn't going to beat it. But I still had hope my chip time would beat it.

I crossed the line with the clock reading 2:00:11. I wanted to hang around to find out what my chip time was, but Courtney had to work at 4. So we headed back to the hotel so I could get a quick shower, we could get checked out, and get back home in time to get her to work.

Once we got home, I checked and found out I did beat the 2 hour mark...barely. My chip time for the race was 1:59:59, one second under 2 hours!

It was an amazing day and an amazing race to close out the year. God has been so good to me and I feel so completely blessed. Looking forward to even more great things to come with this ministry next year!

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