Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oak Barrel Half Marathon Race Report

Last year's Oak Barrel Half Marathon left me with mixed emotions. The event itself was exceptionally memorable due to the unique location, the ever-present southern hospitality, and the meticulous nature of the race organizers. My performance, however, was limited by a bout with stride shortening sciatica. With last year's race fresh on my mind, I returned with a healthier body and higher expectations.

My faithful racemate, Jeremy, and I returned to the Courtyard in Franklin that was located mere feet from a pre-race stout at Boscos Brewery. There was a time when I would not have even considered a beer the night before a long race. Now I cannot fathom a pintless pre-race nutrition plan. It is funny how good fortune can alter the perspective of a mind bridled by superstition.

Luckily, Mother Nature cooperated by supplying a pleasant sun-filled, cool, and breezy day. The sun rose midway through the hour long drive to Lynchburg and, by race time, had raised the temperature into the low 40's. The air continued to warm into the 70's, but most of the nearly 1100 runners finished well before it became uncomfortable.

Jeremy and I raced off toward Whiskey Hill at just under six minutes per mile. We were in sixth and seventh place for most of the first four miles. Two guys broke away early and three more gapped us by a dozen meters on an early hill.

During the parabolic climb up 1.4-mile long/385-foot high Whiskey Hill I moved into fourth place. It wasn't like I was flying. That fifth mile was a 7:10. In fact, I wondered if the other racers' more judicious climbing would allow them to run me down late in the race. Before the sixth mile mark, however, I recovered from the climb, moved into third place, and opened a gap on fourth.

Accept for when a mongrel dog chased me, nipping at my ankles, for about a hundred meters, I ran the rest of the race alone. The top two guys were completely out of sight on the winding roads. They literally beat me by a mile! Both of them finished in the low-1:13's and one of them had just turned forty. What amazing performances on a tough course that was likely two or more minutes slower than a flat course.

The fourth place finisher, Joshua, had returned from service in Afghanistan only two weeks earlier. He had fallen back on Whiskey Hill because his treadmill training had not prepared him for such a climb. His race may have been the most impressive of the day!

I opted to leave the gloves, hat, and sunglasses behind. The gear included Polar tri shorts, Polar singlet, and Nike Lunaracers. And, of course, I wore the Polar RCX5 with the G5. (Jeremy experienced his first race with the RCX5.)
The polarpersonaltrainer.com RCX5 data file 
I am excited to report that expert pre-race manipulations kept the sciatica from acting up and that this allowed me to finish strong with the last five miles at just under 5:50 pace. My final time of 1:19:30 was a course PR and it achieved my goal of a sub-1:20.

As I wrote last year, this is a unique and high quality event that is worthy of a "must do" list. The course is scenic, challenging, and rewarding. Expert race management and an abundance of kind hearted volunteers create an alluring and relaxing ambiance.

Jeremy and I took the opportunity to visit the Jack Daniels distillery again where we met the master distiller, rested our legs, and talked to several other runners. From there we went back into the square for some shopping. I found a unique piece of gear.

Jeremy and I left Lynchburg mid-afternoon. We then stopped in downtown Nashville where we enjoyed a meal at the Big River Brewery before spending some time walking around and taking in the music, people, and views. Our most perplexing problem of the day was determining which of the great beers to imbibe. We solved it, but then we had to extend our visit to walk of the brew.

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