Thirty-five thousand is a large number, especially when it is the number of people standing behind the start line of a race. Until Saturday I had never participated in America's largest half marathon. With my training already devoted to the two CO fifty milers, I knew that I was not properly prepared for a strong effort in a half marathon, so I decided to treat it as a training run and hold to an honest and even pace. And that was what I did, most of the time. What fun!
Race day weather was near perfect; cool, light winds, and cloud cover. A low pressure system was moving in and it was a bit humid. (Rain fell for about ten minutes 90 minutes after the start.)
I entered Corral A and took a position about forty feet back from the start line. Gene Mesker, a running friend for thirty years, appeared beside me just before the start. We wished each other well as the announcer led the crowd in a NASA-like countdown to the start.
During the first mile I found myself talking to Sarah, another running friend. A major goal for the day was to make certain I did not go out too hard. A first mile of 5:57 was slower than I anticipated, but I smiled at the fact that my pace goal for the day was to average 5:57-6:00 per mile. No time lost or gained on the first mile.
The next four miles were a different story. By holding to the crowd around me, I went through several 5:4x miles to cover the first five in 29:17. It was then, after five miles and with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dominating the horizon, that I decided to slow down to my goal pace. From that point on I ran each mile between 5:55 and 6:04.
The 6:04 was the result of my poor feeding abilities. I ate an Espresso Gel just before an aid station during the seventh mile. It was pathetic! I broke stride while taking the gel, while grabbing the water, and while drinking the water. The group of runners I had been running with were suddenly about thirty feet ahead of me. The 5:55 8th mile was a result of my frustration. Interestingly enough, the other two miles over 6 minutes occurred when I took aid. I better work on that!
After going through 10 miles in 59:15, I easily held onto the 6 minute pace until as I finished in 1:17:59 by my watch and a rounded up 1:18 by chip time - which shouldn't matter at all, but it does. (Why is that?) I should have sprinted harder near the humorous ending!
It was as I approached the finish line of the Victory Mile that the announcer, standing on the roadway, leaned in and congratulated a guy sitting on his couch at home. I smiled and put my arms up as I kept the 6 minute pace. And, while I was doing this, two people came sprinting past me! A woman passed me on the left and a man on the right. The announcer became excited and asked if the guy on the couch could respond. They both admitted a few minutes later that they were going for each other and, more importantly, that 1:18 mark. (Why do we do that?)
I burst into a sprint that was blocked when they veered toward each other. I redirected left and dug a little deeper, passing both of them within meters of the finish line. If I had been paying attention to the clock I would have picked it up earlier, making that final sprint and the 1:18 mark nonexistent. Oh, well. It was fun to engage that seldom seen gear.
My friend, Jeremy, and 24 other members of his extended family, including his 86-year-old grandmother, Gertrude, competed in the 5K and Mini that day. They were interviewed by an Indy Star reporter whose piece was in today's paper. Jeremy won the family race and set a PR by finishing in 1:22:37. It was a fine day for the Aydt family.
Something I found most exciting about the Mini was the fact that I encountered so many friends in the huge crowd. Before the day was finished I had met up with more than two dozen old friends that I came to know through running and multisport. Friendships always brighten a day!
The post-race party was awesome. Bands played on two stages. A few dozen tents of varying sizes were set up for businesses and organizations. I came across a Purdue tent where I logged my race information and collected a tasty real fruit popsicle. Then I found Bob Kennedy's Running Co./Bluemile tent where I had a fantastic meal that included a some veggie burgers and great tasting beer. I am usually not a big fan of beer after hard efforts, but I have to admit that I went back for seconds and thirds.
I really have come to like the half marathon distance. This was my sixth half marathon in the last seven months. It was another memorable experience that included a first-class race and continuation of many long-standing friendships. And it was a confidence building day for me as I look 6 weeks forward to the SJS50.