A Classic Finish to a Stand-out Season

Event: Cleveland Fall Classic Half Marathon
When & Where: Nov. 22, 9 a.m., Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation
Results: 1:44:42 – PR! (8:00 pace); 5/46 Female 35-39 AG; 39/233 overall Female

After a successful and healthy fall running season, I decided to use my residual fitness from the Grand Rapids Marathon five weeks earlier to try to add one final PR to my 2009 collection. I set my sights on the Cleveland West Road Runners’ Club Fall Classic half marathon, where I needed to better my 1:44:56.25 from 2 1/2 years earlier at the Norfolk East Beach Half Marathon.

Recovery from Grand Rapids was trouble-free. It was the best I’ve ever felt after a marathon, and soon I was back to 40+ mile weeks made up of all easy pace running. Last week I did a 4 x 1 mile Tempo cruise interval workout on Wednesday then Saturday ran the Twinsburg 5-mile Turkey Trot as another tempo workout in 38:27, although the hills, gravel footing, and 60+ temperatures made it feel more like a race effort. On Tuesday of this week I did a 3-mile sustained Tempo pace run (average 7:31, probably a little fast) and that felt very comfortable. I was confident I could PR and ready to shoot for a 1:42-1:43. My plan was to start easy and settle in to a 7:50ish pace, then finish the final miles in whatever I had left.

After last year's wintery Fall Classic

The race day forecast was extra encouraging: temperatures in the 40-50 range with no wind or precipitation expected. In contrast, year’s Fall Classic had started with snow and 20 degrees and sent us skating over patches of ice.This year I would be comfortable in shorts and short-sleeve tech tee instead of encumbered by slippery ice and bulky layers.

I got in a 2 mile warm-up, did some dynamic stretching while waiting and chatting with some first-time half marathoners in the Port-o-John line, and jogged to the start where I stashed warm-ups in my car. Lloyd would use it to drive to his volunteer post – Miles1 and 5, where he would call out elapsed time.

In no time we were off and running. As always, even though I held back and watched dozens of runners blast by and felt like I was going slow, I was faster than the desired 7:50-8:00 pace. Lloyd and the Mile 1 marker came in to view at 6:08 by my watch, and I slowed to almost a walk to pass him at 7:13. He said the mile was short, and as I moved past now my task was to find a suitable pace. Mile 2 came at 8:37/15:50; now my pace was too slow. Feeling like Goldilocks and the Erratic Mile Splits, I kept looking for a good groove through miles 3 (8:13) and 4 (8:18) and finally found it coming in to Mile 5 (7:51) where Lloyd read a time of 40:10, just on the slow side of my target.

The Fall Classic also includes a 5K race, and I caught the tail end of that field at Mile 5. Just as I’d found a good rhythm, the next 1.5 miles broke it with a constant need to pass and weave around slower groups of 5K participants with faster half marathoners approaching as they started the second 6.55 mile loop out. Most of the slower groups of 5K entrants congregated in the middle of the road rather than staying over to the right. It was crowded and challenging, but I told myself not to become frustrated as that would only waste energy. Much of the 5K field consisted of the local Girls on the Run chapter, which is an organization I think highly of and as an older, wiser(?) “girl on the run” I didn’t want to seem unsportsmanlike to the girls who were having a good time out there.

Finally the 5K and Half Marathon fields split and I estimated I was half-way through the race at 52:30ish. I need to have a stronger second loop to make my goal. I came in to Mile 7 in 56:12, so I was still on the cusp. Problem was, the 8:08, 7:55, and 8:22 (could that mile marker be off, I wondered?) mile splits for 8-10 felt harder than they should. “I’m working for this,” I told Lloyd, who had joined to help at a water stop. “Dig in,” he replied. I wasn’t sure I could and was beginning to doubt my ability to PR, but I kept plugging away anyway. The weather was so perfect, I wasn’t hurting, and it was my last race of the year. No excuses, I told myself.

I arrived at Mile 10 in 1:20:40 (8:04 pace) and though by now was fantasizing about stopping and putting my feet up, decided to try a little surge. Surprisingly, that felt better than the slower pace and got me to 11 in 7:53. So I made up my mind, no matter how much it eventually hurt, that I was going to stay with the more aggressive pace and refuse to give in to discomfort, no matter what. I had fallen in step with another runner and by the way we stuck together, without speaking it was obvious we were helping each other out. This and seeing Lloyd one more time was a boost that put me to Mile 12 in 7:42 more minutes. I knew the last mile of the course well and plotted out points where I would step on the gas a little more. Before long, we got to the last little circular path section. I had run it to warm up and knew at 1:41 in it would be a fight for a PR, but I was prepared for battle! No way was I going to waste the morning’s effort to barely miss it. With each turn, I pushed harder, coming to mile 13 in 1:43:56. I pressed on with more intensity to cross the line and stop my watch at 1:44:41. I was disappointed that my new personal record wasn’t by a bigger amount of time, but still pleased that I’d managed to barely eke it out.

I’m not sure why I didn’t have a stronger showing at the Fall Classic. Though I feel great, I’m probably not in peak condition 5-weeks post marathon with lower mileage and only three Tempo workouts. It’s possible I’ve run my Tempo workouts too fast and overestimated what I could do. Or, since the faster 3 miles felt  better than any other, I wonder if I played it too safe and should have been a little more aggressive with pacing. My hydration balance has felt off the last couple days despite drinking enough fluids, so maybe I’m just slightly off-center.

No huge matter. It is time now to put my legs up, reflect on and appreciate my most successful season to date, and recharge for the next one!

2 Responses to “A Classic Finish to a Stand-out Season”

  1. 1 Maria November 22, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Fantastic finish to a big year of running. Congratulations Andrea!

  2. 2 cmjhawk86 November 23, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Great job, perfect way to finish out the season!

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