In having a number of friends who have participated in the past, I received lots of advice regarding the layout of the course. The most oft spoken piece of wisdom was regarding the hill after the Birmingham Bridge that occurred right at the end of the race. Of the entire half, this segment seemed to be the breaker of wills. I kept this kernel of truth in the back of my mind as I prepared for the race.
Waking up Sunday morning, the weather was not ideal. If anything, the torrential rain from the night before turned the air humid and hadn't entirely abated by the start of the race. In addition, I felt more nervous that I had in so many of my previous races. I had to remind myself to get out of my own head and just enjoy the experience. At 7:00am, with music blaring and cheers in response to the announcer's enthusiasm, the race began.
During the Expo, I had picked up a pace tattoo that would set me up to meet my goal time of 1:40. As my corral was released, I glanced down at my arm for the first mile split and then my watch to determine how things were starting out. Due to the tendency of a race like this having so many people at the beginning clustered together, I was about 20 seconds behind where I needed to be. I picked up the pace as things spread out finally reaching the right split by Mile 4. From this point forward, I kept pushing, which was made a little easier by the amazing crowd support.
Going forward beginning with Mile 5, I noticed that I was getting further and further ahead of pace. While I hadn't forgotten about the warning of the final hill and was feeling the burn in my glutes and hamstrings, I felt the desire to go sub-1:40 urge me on. It was this new goal that drove me when I finally met my adversary at Mile 12.
The Birmingham Bridge and the hill following it were no joke. This segment was one of those ones where just when you think it's over you make a turn and are proven wrong. While I had built up a decent buffer with regard to my time, the hill in no way was helping me break 1:40. It tested the tenacity of both the body and the mind.
I imagine the race directors must have felt remorse after choosing to include this hill, and so elected to have the race end on a downhill. For the last mile, I poured in everything I had. The fans lining the road (including my wife with her sign!) helped me feel proud of having survived the 13.1. When I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch, I was ecstatic with the digits I saw staring back at me: 1:38:10! I had met my sub-1:40 goal and PR'ed by 10 minutes!
While I wouldn't say I ran a perfect race or followed an ideal strategy (like trying gels for the first time - never eating one again!), I was very pleased with how things turned out. And I, like any runner who is thinking clearly the day after a race, decided to sign up for the Akron Marathon! As one adventure ends, another is about to begin!