Last week I had several people tell me that I was going to do really well at the half marathon. They all had the same reasoning : "Well you ran a full marathon, the half should be easy now." I agree, after running a full marathon, the half marathon does seem less daunting, but I really wasn't sure my running fitness level was where I needed it to be to perform well. The Redbud 10k two weeks ago didn't do me any favors by instilling loads of confidence after I struggled to hit the 52:47 mark in my first race since the Dallas White Rock Marathon. I really just didn't think I had it in me to run well. I knew I could finish and I knew I could have a respectable time, but not in my wildest dreams did I expect to PR. Yes folks, that's what happened! After almost a month and a half of no running, and a last ditch effort to cram in some mileage the last two weeks, I managed to pull off a PR in the half marathon thanks to pretty decent weather and an overall improvement in fitness thanks to triathlon training.
Going into the race, my running partner and I talked about keeping the pace slow and just striving to get in under 2 hours. We really didn't have any other goals and neither one of us felt confident about our running fitness going into this race. Even on race morning there were words of doubt being spoken by both of us. Running is just one of those sports though, sometimes things just seem to fall in place. This happened to be one of those days for me.
After meeting up with my Team-in-Training crew, we headed over to the start area to assume our spot in the masses of people in the corral. This was the first year that OKC had two separate corral areas. There was a "black dot" corral, which we were in, and an open corral which was behind ours. I guess we were assigned corrals by our projected finish times on our entry forms and I really liked the concept of splitting up the corrals. This year's start was much smoother than the previous year and I didn't feel like I had to dodge as many people through the crowded downtown streets during the first mile or so which allowed me to get my legs warmed up without having to jump curbs and people like I did last year.
After the first mile or so, the course turned north and I expected to be fighting a headwind, because early on it felt like we would be getting blasted by a brisk north wind on the first half of the course. To my surprise, the wind actually wasn't too bad and we settled into a nice, conservative pace of 8:30-8:40 minute miles for the first 4 miles. At that point, I knew I was felling pretty good so I started to pick up the pace just a bit to see how we would do. My breathing was comfortable, my legs and knee felt ok, and my confidence was growing that it was going to be a good day on the course. As we wound our way through the historic neighborhoods in central OKC, it was refreshing to see so many people out supporting the runners and offering words of encouragement along the way. We even had a group of people give birth to the now infamous "Gorilla Hill". It is definitely one of the longer hills on the course and all of those who ran will forever remember it by the spectators dressed in monkey suits waiting at the top.
After hitting the 10k marker, I looked down at my Garmin and realized we were on pace to do really well. I looked over to my running partner and told her that we were doing really well and we could possibly close in on qualifying for a better start corral at Chicago if we picked up our pace a bit. At that point, I also realized that a PR was within reach and the adrenaline started pumping.
At mile 8, we turned the corner on NW 50th and started our southbound trek back to downtown OKC. As we turned, Classen didn't seem quite as intimidating as it did last year when I almost got knocked over by the stiff south wind. This year, we had a nice northwest breeze blowing us home. It was at mile 9 that I grew confident. At that point, I knew that I could get in under 1:50 and qualify for a better start corral in Chicago and set a new PR. I still felt really strong so my plan of attack was to slowly start bringing up the pace as we got closer to downtown. Here are my splits for Mile 9 until I reached the finish:
Mile 9 : 8:32
Mile 10 : 8:23
Mile 11 : 8:00
Mile 12 : 7:54
Mile 13 : 7:31
Mile 13.1 : 6:06
Mile 10 is where my running partner and I split up as I made the final push for the sub-1:50 and a new PR. The course took us through Heritage Hills, just to the north of downtown and even though we were up and down hills through the last 3 miles, I slowly kept knocking off time each mile. Mile 12 proved to be tough as we hit several hills back to back and it made me doubt whether I could keep up the progression, but I kept telling myself that "PR's aren't easy!" "Come on Bryan, you can do this!".
As we turned the corner onto NW 13th, I decided this was the time to make the final push. It was going to be the determining factor in whether my chip read 1:49 or 1:50. I really put the hammer down and made myself sprint. No looking back now, it was all in or nothing. I really felt like I was flying. My legs felt so strong and I was astonished at how much I had left in me. My Garmin officially averaged me out to 7:31 and 6:06 the last mile and change, and my best pace clocked in at 5:22. As I crossed the finish line, I was smiling ear-to-ear. I really had just PR'ed and I qualified for the next starting corral for the Chicago Marathon at the same time. Holy cow! I pumped my fist and smiled as I walked back to the refreshment area to wait for Katie. I felt great. I felt like I had more miles in me. I felt motivated. I had renewed confidence in my run and I felt ready to tackle another challenge. It was a great race and what will hopefully be the start of a great year of running. Official chip time : 1:49:16! A PR by 2 1/2 minutes.
Improvement is the key and we learn lessons from each race. I thought this race taught me a lot about my running self and I felt like I grew up on the course. I am still a rookie at this running thing and slowly but surely I am gaining confidence in my ability to read my body and know what works best. Right now I know that I need to take a week or two off running to get my knee back to full strength. It's really tender today and it just needs some rest. I don't have any big runs coming up and the 10k at CapTex Tri is not of a concern. I am only 5 weeks out from my triathlon so my taper will start about the same time that I will be coming back to full strength hopefully. The plan is to take some time off from running, get stronger in the swim, and hit Austin firing on all cylinders.
Thanks again to everyone who participated, spectated, or volunteered at the race this weekend. It was a very special weekend here in OKC, capped of by a Run to Remember. The OKC Memorial Marathon is a top-notch event. If you get a chance, you really should come pay us a visit. Mark your calendars : May 1, 2011. Hope to see you at the 11th Annual OKC Memorial Marathon!