Top of Utah Half Marathon. This was my 5th attempt at this race, and the best outcome. Until this year I had never won the race outright (I don't consider the year Logan took a wrong turn as a "win"), so it was really nice to finally get that top spot.
Got up at 4:20AM and had oatmeal with peaches, and coffee. (actually, kids woke me up at 3:30, and I didn't sleep much after that). Drove over to the busing area, picked up my packet and boarded one of the middle buses. I had a bit over an hour to kill once I got there, but made several good potty stops (including the "hidden" potty below the start at the picnic area), and a good 2-mile warmup. So it was time well-spent.
Temperatures this morning in the valley were abnormally high, about 70 degrees. Usually it is mid- to low-50s this time of year, so I was a little worried about heat. But up the canyon it was quite a bit cooler, and quite nice, plus I think the temps dropped a little by the time the race started. Still a little warmer than ideal, and in previous years, but not bad at all.
Cache Sun 'n' Snow really has the management of this race nailed down by now, and they started the race right on time. I knew coming in that my primary competition would be Jake Krong, and I didn't see anyone else at the start to make me think otherwise. But I figured Jake would give me everything I could handle and then some. I really had no idea what the outcome would be, other than that we would probably push each other a bit.
We both agreed before the race that 4:50-4:55/mile pace in the canyon sounded pretty good. (as long as I don't think about it too hard). So when the gun went off, Jake tore down the canyon and I followed the best I could. It takes me a few miles to really warm up some races, and it was one of those races today. The pace felt REALLY hard the first mile, and I was breathing heavy for only one mile in. We went through Mile 1 in 4:48, which made me feel a bit better. It felt hard because it was.
Jake backed off the pace a little and I was able to catch back up alongside him (had been trailing a few meters before that). Mile 2 was 4:57, followed by 5:03 for Mile 3. Although Blacksmith Fork is a nice downhill gradient, not all miles are equal, and splits can vary a bit, despite even effort. I assume that was the case, rather than us biting the dust already.
We were running a pretty steady pace together, no real surges or anything, although I was still having trouble getting going and was no feeling comfortable at all, so was periodically falling off Jake's shoulder (mostly on the downhills), and then catching back up on the flats or slight uphills. Mile 4 was 4:56.
Not much tailwind at all up until about Mile 5, where I could see it blowing the grass and even feel it against my back. We had it for the last mile or two in the canyon, plus the first mile of Hollow Rd. It was a decent canyon wind, although certainly not the longest-lived I've experienced, or the strongest, but for a few miles it was certainly an aid.
And it was Miles 5-8 where I finally snapped out of my funk and hit a good rhythm, started feeling really good at last. Mile 5 was 4:50, followed by 4:59 for Mile 6 (about 30:35 for 10K). During Mile 7, we exited the canyon and turned off onto Hollow Rd, which is always a fast mile, due to ideal gradient and good canyon wind. Mile 7 was 4:49.
Up through this point, Jake and I were running together. During Mile 8, in the middle of the Hollow Rd section, he dropped back from me a little bit, and eventually I couldn't hear him anymore. 4:57 for Mile 8.
At this point I started thinking ahead to the hill after Mile 10. Although not steep, it is a long, challenging hill, and I usually bite the dust on on it, and then am a wounded duck on the downhill mile after the hill. I knew I needed to relax and keep something in the tank for that part of the race. At the same time, I'm thinking how Jake is still right on my heels, and if I let up, he'll catch me. And if he catches me, I'll probably just let him go and forget about the whole thing. Ah, the psychology of racing. Point is, I needed to both relax and keep the hammer down at the same time. Easier said than done. It's not even that easy to say, since it makes no sense. But that's what I tried to do, balance the two things.
Mile 9, the last full mile on Hollow Rd, was 5:01. I was a little disappointed to be back above 5:00, but still feeling okay. During Mile 10, the course leaves Hollow Rd, and then goes down Hwy 165, which is still a mild downhill, although it does not feel like it. Hit a 5:04 for this mile. (10 Mile at 49:27). I was okay with it, since I could not hear Jake...although knew he was still in range since I could hear people cheering for him. Maybe 10-15s back?
During Mile 11, we turn into Millville, cross the Blacksmith Fork, and then start up the Millville Hill. I managed 5:11 for Mile 11, and was fairly pleased. Tried to push the pace a little bit more as the hill continued, and keep things moving. Couldn't afford a lull at this point. This hill goes on FOREVER (or seems like it), for all of Mile 12, which ended up being 5:27. I was not happy about losing this much time, but was in "finish the darn race" mode, and kept plodding onward.
The "plodding" became much more urgent, however, when I gauged from crowd cheering that Jake was a bit closer, easily in striking range if I could not come up with something good on this last mile. The last mile is mostly downhill, and I've ran it as fast as 5:00 one year, but as slow as ~5:15 other years. I figured: a sub-5 would win the race, a 5:10 would lose. I respected Jake's speed and conditioning (fairly intimidating to read his weekly volume and workouts, actually), and knew I absolutely had to put the hammer down.
And I managed to do this, thankfully; Mile 13 was 4:56, my fast closing mile for this race. Last 0.1 was 28s. I held off Jake by about 10 seconds, and surprisingly, set a my course best and personal best with 1:05:30, 8 seconds better than last year.
Looking back at my past TOU Half races (and I've had some good ones), I was a little surprised (but pleased) to see that this year I ran my fastest Mile 11, Mile 12, and Mile 13 splits out of 5 attempts. That is how I got a PR, since my first 10 miles were a fair bit slower than last year, which went out crazy fast. So this year, it was all about keeping a steady pace, more or less, and being able to come off the hill with a little bit left in the tank. I'm especially happy with this, given that my mileage has been a bit lower this summer than last summer, but on the other hand, by staying healthy I've been able to build off last summer, so in some ways the mileage doesn't matter as much. Consistent, injury-free training trumps everything, IMO.
I think if the temps had been 10 degrees cooler, we all would have run 10-15s faster. It was still a pretty good day to run, but I've had so many "perfect" days for this particular race that I'm a little spoiled. I was able to mitigate the slight heat by dousing myself with water at each aid station, which kept me cool as the sun came up overhead.
Anyway...good day. My main goal coming into this race was to beat my time from last year, and I was able to do that in conditions not quite as good as last year. My "A+" goal was to break 1:05, but that's okay. Gotta take any PR I can get. But I was hoping that breaking 1:05 would give me a reason to think that going after Hobie Call's 2:16:30 course record at TOU Marathon is not idiocy. Sounds pretty dumb to me as I write it. I think I can run 2:18:00 there, maybe even 2:17, based off of today's performance, but 2:16 is really pushing it. May try anyway, what the heck?