2015 Mercedes Half-Marathon Race Report

People who know about my running probably know that I consider the Mercedes Marathon something akin to my “Super Bowl” race. It’s my hometown marathon. It’s the site of my first completed half-marathon and marathon. It’s generally the race that I get most pumped about every year since I’ve started racing.

So it was a pretty daunting task in front of me on the morning of October 27, 2014. The race was four months away – and I had just come out of surgery.

I haven’t talked about my surgery online. Most of my friends and family already know about it, and you, dear reader, don’t probably care to know the particulars if you don’t already. It’s probably just best to leave it at the fact that my doctor told me at my surgical consultation that I could probably run again a couple of weeks after the surgery, as long as I “took it easy”.  The problem was that I hadn’t run in over a month due to the condition that had led to the surgery in the first place. I knew that the marathon was out of the question, but I thought that I could get ready for the half marathon in 3 1/2 months. So the night before the surgery was to take place, I plunked down my entry fee.

The first few runs after the time off were slow; I tried to follow my doctor’s advice as best I could.  However, I found myself acclimating quickly enough, and even better, still enjoying running even after the break. At the Meadow Brook Runs, a mid-December 5K, I finished in just under 25 minutes on a pretty hilly course, which gave me some hope that I could get myself into shape to run Mercedes.

Some of the long slow runs were tough. For whatever reason, the first seven-miler just felt like a slog. Fortunately, the next week one of my co-workers met up with me to run eight together. Having the company made it a breeze. The ten-miler leading up to the taper was demanding, but I got through it!

If you asked me what my goal was before I toed the line on Sunday, I would have told you straight away that it wasn’t going to be to PR. I knew that I wasn’t in the shape that I’d need to be to make that happen.  My primary goal in races – “finish, have fun, don’t get hurt” – would be first and foremost. I definitely wanted to break 2 hours. Anything under an 8:30 pace would be really good.  For an “A” goal, I was targeting my personal course record, 1:48:21.

The weather cooperated, somewhat. It was warmer than in years past – about 48 or so at the race’s start – but it was rainy. I’d never run a long race in rainy conditions before, and I didn’t look forward to the idea of breathing in 100% humidity throughout the race.

I started out way too quickly. I had my RunKeeper calling out average pace every mile, and when it announced that my first mile had gone down in 7:48, sirens went off in my mind. There was no way I could keep that pace up. I had to do something that I still haven’t gotten very good at: throttling back so that I didn’t burn out while keeping enough pace to keep my race goals alive. The second mile was proof: 8:02. Turn down another notch, Brandon. Mile 3 brought a small side stitch, which fortunately worked itself out quickly.  8:15: one more notch.

I finally found a bit of a groove. The next three miles clicked off: 8:28, 8:33, 8:22. I was approaching the long uphill climb. My mental check left me feeling that I was in pretty good shape, and I wasn’t experiencing any physical issues. Miles 7 and 8 brought the steepest climb of the day, and two of the slowest mile times as a result: 8:38, 8:48. Not a problem. I knew the big hills were done.  At this point, RunKeeper told me that I was going at an 8:22 pace, just off the mark I needed for my course best. And now I was going downhill. I thought to myself, “If I can run 5 miles at 8-minute pace, I can do this!”

Ah, the dreams we dream. Mile 9: 8:20. Those first few fast miles were catching up to me. And while the rain had finally stopped, my waterlogged shorts were clinging to my legs, making them feel like lead. Then, during mile 10, disaster almost struck. A twinge in my right calf.  Instantly I had dark reminders of my marathon last year where I had seized up completely in mile 18 and had to walk most of the rest of the way in. Fortunately, the cramp didn’t set in and i kept going, albeit analyzing every step of the way. 8:41 for mile 10.

Now the turn for home, and with it, more scares with my calf. Three times it twinged at me, three times I took a hop-step of alarm, and three times it went away. However, it was taking its toll, along with my rain-soaked gear and my too-eager start. Mile 11: 8:28. I was about spent.

Miles 12 and 13 of the course aren’t particularly difficult; in fact, they’re net downhill. However, any uphill at this point was testing me greatly, and I had to fight off the “you could just stop and walk some” demons in my head a few times. Mile 12 was completed in 8:43, and my “prayer mile” began. I don’t know when I started my tradition of praying at the beginning of the last mile of a run, but I like to do it. This prayer was mainly just about thanking God for being able to run. In fact, I think I ended the prayer with “just let me run, God.”

There was Kelly! At the base of the final hill before the completion of mile 13! I rarely ever spot her during a race, so it was a nice boost. And I apparently needed it: mile 13 was my slowest, at 8:49. But I found a little energy at the end, and kicked in as hard as I could. My total time: 1:50:20 (8:27 pace), only two minutes off of my course best, and less than four months after surgery. I’m satisfied with how everything turned out. The new bling is always good to get, and recapping the events of the day is fun. But I’m really mostly happy that I’m just back to normal, running again.