Heading to the park on Saturday morning I had every intention of racing. I'd trained to do the same at the Montgomery Half Marathon back in early October, but the heat and humidity that day was oppressive. I threw in the towel a quarter of the way into the race and instead ran it with friends, having a great time in the process. So, with another month of training under my belt, fresh legs and ideal conditions, I knew the stars had aligned for an all-out effort. I was confident I could finish under 1:35, and hopeful I might sniff 1:32.
Having run this race and this course a number of times, I have a pretty good feel for its challenges. It's not exactly difficult, but it's not easy, either. Knowing I needed to restrain myself the first half so I could finish strong the second, I decided to aim for 7:15/mi through mile 5. I didn't execute this perfectly, but the pace felt very comfortable and I was pleased with where I settled in. A couple of seconds wasn't a big deal considering the very subtle, gradual descent.
7:09 (+30'), 7:06 (+5'), 7:08 (-14'), 7:04 (-17'), 7:05 (-48')
|On the course, surrounded by awesome.|
It was around this point I noticed I wasn't just racing against myself. I started taking inventory of the other runners around me, trying to figure out which ones might be in my age group. One guy I'd been running with most of the race started slowly pulling away from me, but he looked to be in his early 30s. No big deal. Then I passed another half marathoner that had a good 10 years on me, which gave me a small boost of confidence. Finally, I locked in on a guy wearing green that wasn't too far ahead. He looked to be around my age, and later I learned his name was Scott. I decided I'd try to hang on to him as long as possible.
We came out of the woods, turned left onto Lafayette Rd, and then right onto Glenn-Viniard. During this next, 9th mile - where we passed my favorite monument, Wilder Tower - we climbed another 35' and I began to feel the fatigue. Just a little farther until we pass Bloody Pond and then break out into the wide-open Brotherton Field, I thought.
After turning right onto Dyer Rd and cresting the last short, steep hill, I took the opportunity on the descent to compose myself and prepare for the final miles. Entering the woods again at the 11.5-mile mark Scott was still in front of me. I knew I didn't have much time left, and set to work closing the gap between us. It took about a mile to catch up with him, and once I did I sat on his right shoulder for about 15-20 seconds. I began to wonder if he was fading or if I was being played. Was he waiting for me to expend what energy I had left? Should I keep him in front of me and then try to pass him at the very end?
|Hanging on until the very end. Barely.|
Coming down the final stretch I had a brief moment of clarity where I heard the announcer call out my name. And I heard my friends cheering me on, as well. Then, I crossed the line and saw the time on the clock: 1:33:45. I had no idea how well I really did against men 40-44, but was pretty happy I held on to beat Scott at the end.
After collecting myself I had the pleasure of watching Amanda (big PR!), Duane and Hilary finish. I refueled on the Chickamauga hallmark, banana pudding, and soaked up the sunshine and festivities. While waiting for James and Kaitlin to finish the marathon, Kate and I went over to the awards tent and studied the posted results. Here's how I fared:
Gun time: 1:33:45
Chip time: 1:33:43
Overall place: 14th
Men 40-44: 1st
Overall pace: 7:10/mi
Even though I won my division I feel I should give proper credit to 41-year-old Paul Horton, who finished 3rd overall with a time of 1:23:57. He would have been the winner of our age group, except he was awarded the winner of the Masters Division instead. I also want to express my appreciation to Scott Williams, who unwittingly pushed me to compete. He was very gracious at the awards ceremony, and without him I may not have found that extra gear.
All in all it was another outstanding experience at the Chickamauga Battlefield. I fully expect to be back again next year.