Saturday, December 16, 2006

Finally: Blue & Gray Race Report!

Better late than never. Hi, y'uns. I haven't fallen off the face of the earth - work has eaten my life up this week. Finally able to take a quick breather. So, herewith, a debriefing of the Blue & Gray Half-Marathon last Sunday, in lovely Fredericksburg, Va.

Pre-race: The day dawned clear and cold. Low 20's. Didn't want to get out of the comfy bed at Susie & David's house, where Jeanne and I stayed the night. Out the door at 7:20 a.m., all bundled up. Jeanne was positively ebullient as she didn't have to race. Her high spirits were not to last. (foreshadowing!)

The starting line was in a shopping center parking lot. Many runners sat in their cars with the engines running to keep warm. Susie, David and I warmed up with a 5-minute jog, and we agreed that I should pace them. So I relaxed: No more pressure on myself to achieve 1:47. Rather, an enjoyable commitment to help them break their 2:11 PR.

Miles 1-5: Somebody said, "Go!" and we were off. We saw Jeanne as we crossed the starting line, but she was looking the other way. Ah, well. We'd see her again at Mile 10. Cross fingers.

The course wound through downtown Fredericksburg, with its charming shops, and along the Rappahannock River. Spectators were few and far between. Too early for the sane folks to be out of bed. But the sun was out and there was no wind. Excellent racing conditions.

Whoa, Nelly!: I tried to hold Susie in check, as she kept pushing the agreed-upon 9:35/mile pace (which would have us finish in about 2:06). I could see she felt strong and rested. David was also keeping a fine pace. But we still had a long way to go, with big hills at the end.

"No need for speed," I reminded both from time to time. Or, "Keep behind this group. We're ahead of pace."

All of us tried to grab water or Gatorade at the aid stations every two miles. Some folks also handed out orange slices, which were absolute heaven. I grabbed two from a teenage boy. I jammed one slice into my mouth, closed my left hand protectively over the other slice, and gave a thumbs-up in appreciation. I spent the next two miles picking orange pulp out of my teeth.

Gotta look good for the photos, you know.

(M1: 9:41. M2: 9:23. M3: 9:28. M4: 9:32. M5: 9:39.)

Miles 6-10: We encountered our first big hill right before Mile 6. The course had been mostly flat, with a few rolling bits here and there. "Even effort," I said, as we steadily ran up. A runner descending the hill screamed at us in encouragement, "You own this hill! You own this hill!" Very amusing, but the runners ascending were too focused and out of breath to reply. So I yelled back. "I OWN this hill!" We both laughed and went our way.

As we rounded a track, I ate an espresso GU, and Susie and David munched on sport beans. They seemed to be getting a little tired, and I know that David's arthritic ankles must've hurt. But their pace was still fairly strong as we continued our tour of sleepy, bucolic neighborhoods. At Mile 10, we looked for Jeanne - who was on the other side of the street, and separated by a wide, grassy median and monument of Revolutionary War general Hugh Mercer .

We waved to her as she tried to take photos from a gazillion feet away. Then we rounded a corner, out of her sight line. After a half-block, we saw her again about 200 feet ahead, as she was getting in her car. "Oh, no," we thought. We started screaming and she finally turned around.

"I thought I missed you guys!" she said. Jeanne snapped some photos, Susie handed off her jacket, gloves and hat, and we told her we'd see her at the end.

I took the lead and started talking to Susie and David every once in a while. Susie turned on her iPod and listened to Christmas carols to help block out the tiredness seeping in. She started running a little faster.

I warned her: "If you run ahead of me now, don't let me pass you on the hills." Mean Bex! She slowed down, and we ran towards our final, two big hills.

(M6: 9:43. M7: 9:49. M8:9:25. M9: 9:41. M10: 9:36)

Miles 11-13.1: "Deep breaths," I told Susie and David as I eyed the first long hill around Mile 12, which, conveniently, was next to a hospital in case one expired from exhaustion. "Time to turn it on!" I said.

David (or was it Susie?): "It IS on."

Me: "More on! Um, that didn't come out right."

I glanced behind me and saw Susie and David looking down, their faces grim. They were falling behind. I started running backwards to face them, and yelled encouragement. No answer from the peanut gallery. But also not one word of complaint. I took that as a good sign.

"C'mon," I continued, getting pumped up. "Up and over!"

Silence. Complete, and utter.

"Okay," I said, spotting a red "Yield" sign. "Just run to the sign, and we'll catch our breath."

Susie and David did so, chugging steadily up that hill. At the yield sign, we jogged more slowly. Then after about 15 seconds, I told them to run to another landmark. I think breaking up a hill into sections makes it more manageable to conquer.

The last hill: Is a bitch. I have to admit. Long, steep, and at the very end of a half-marathon. Susie and David were great. They never walked. They did not quit. And, most surprisingly, they did not tell me to shut the hell up.

"C'mon guys, push it!" I said. "See that runner ahead?" I pointed to a woman about 125 meters ahead in red and black with "Annapolis Striders" emblazoned on her back. "Catch her."

Susie and David didn't answer, just kept their heads down and their feet moving. I could hear their labored breathing. We crested the hill. Now just a short decline, then a right turn into the shopping center and to the finish line.

"Move it!" I yelled. "This is it!"

We started running faster. Then David started falling behind. Susie said, "I've got to wait for David." We slowed down. Then David yelled, as we turned onto the straightaway to the finish line: "Go, Susie, Go!"

Susie turned on the jets. Running next to her, I motioned to two men ahead of us, and said in a low voice, "Take those guys out."

So she did. She ran past both, one of whom, said, "A show-off!"

I ran by next, and he said, "Another show-off!"

The finish line was seconds away. I was yelling my head off at this point.I ran next to Susie but did not want to finish ahead of her. "Go, Susie!" I yelled. "You've got it!"

She raised her arms as we crossed the finish line in 2:07:35. David crossed soon after, looking strong and smiling.

(M11: 9:33. M12: 10:23. M13: 9:15. M13.1: 2:10 - Garmin is 1/10 of mile off here, saying .25 instead of .1)

I'm starting to like this coaching thang.


  1. Love that race report. I think you might want to plan a 1/2 or a 10K out here sometime this summer and you might want to coach me through it. Yeah - I see that in your future ;-)

  2. Nice of you to help someone else through a 1/2 marathon. It's so easy to get carried away over the first 10K. You're feeling great, life if grand and you don't have a care in the world. Then reality sets in when you realize that you still have another 7 miles to go.

    Great job pulling everyone through to the end.

  3. You are fantastic. Please, never stop being you.

  4. wow, bex, I felt like I just ran that thing again!! Thanks for everything. You know you were the BEST coach. Thanks for your encouragement and push at the end....
    I forgot how bad it was until I read this. I also forgot you running UP the hill backwards!! You are the best! Thanks

  5. That's cool that you were there to encourage them. Some of my friends did the same for me at my first half, and all the talking (even when they don't respond) really does help.

  6. Nice work on the hills and nice kick at the end on M13. I'll take your race preparation coaching any day, but I'm not sure I'll survive your race day coaching!