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Another late race report, but better later, than never, right? I could list here so many great excuses that are always available to explain why I have not done it, so instead: I will try to keep a positive attitude here and for now.

I stood between the 8:00 and the 9:00 markers as runners were lining up for the start of the inaugural Rivertown Races Half Marathon in Grand Rapids, MI. I looked around and thought: “What a great crowd for an inaugural race!”. Somehow my first three Half Marathons were all in well established events with years and years of history and with thousands or more accurately tens of thousands of participants. Yet months ago, while working on my annual running calendar, somehow through a Google search I run into the website of this race and at that time the date seemed to be perfect, to run a new PR here in Grand Rapids, MI.

Here is an interesting fact from the race: according to the race results, the Half Marathon had complete equality: 145 female and 145 male runners. Isn’t it cool? Not counting participants from the 5k event, 290 runners for an inaugural race should be a really great start. And it has been a very well prepared race. Especially considering the circumstances that a week prior to the race, the race course had to be changed 100% due to the Grand River flooding Millenium Park, where originally the run would have been.

Since January I have been training very intensively for a strong year. Among my personal goals was setting a new PR right at the start of my running season: here in Grand Rapids, MI. My strength training was going well, my new training plan was relatively well executed, I have run easily below my PR during training runs, so everything seemed to align pretty well. We had a family vacation planned through spring break: visiting family in Europe. If you have never been visiting Hungary before, maybe you should try it for a change. Our two weeks there was very intensive. Also every day felt like we had two weddings worth of meal mixed with Christmas. Every single day, for two weeks. So after we returned, my diet has been completely scrapped, extra pounds showed their idea about a different looking waistline. My weekly mileage has been lower, which I definitely expected, but still managed several runs so before we left I looked at these two weeks as a bit of a rest from the intensive training plan: allowing my legs to refresh a bit. Then upon our return serious challenges started piling up in the office, which ended up 7 days a week working long hours and by the time the race day has come, I looked back and could remember when was the last time I had a day off or slept more than 4 hours in a day. My daily runs or strength training were all replaces by STRESS in my training log, however somehow I managed to keep my Saturday morning long runs intact, although that was clearly less than enough training. Keeping it positive: let me just say that I prepared for my first race of 2013 with a month long tapering… We wanted to make it a long family weekend: drive with the family to Grand Rapids, MI on Friday, visit the expo Friday afternoon to pick up my packet, run the race on Saturday morning, then spend the rest of the weekend in Holland, MI. Changed the plans slightly: managed to work until late night on Friday, left early Saturday morning (without the family), drove a test vehicle to Grand Rapids, MI, testing (working) through the 2 hours long drive, which I ended up doing on the way back as well.

Before you all start feeling sorry for me, let’s just agree on the fact, that I was not in my best shape ever and not rested at all prior to this race.

Yet, as I pulled into the parking lot as the sun was rising on that Saturday morning, I could not feel anything else, but excitement. I wanted to run so much. Helpful volunteers stopped me as I made my turn towards the parking lot and asked if I was a runner. I proudly said yes. They showed me where to park and as I was slowly parking the car, I kept repeating to myself: “Yes, I am a runner”. I could not help to smile and smile… There were not too many other cars and I expected that I would be probably one of the first ones this early in the morning, but that is part of my general game plan: arrive early and rather rest in the car, then stress on getting there in the last minute.

I definitely got there early...

I definitely got there early…

Heading to packet pickup

Heading to packet pickup

As I walked towards the building to pick up my race packet a very friendly, but busy looking gentleman was asking if he can help and we exchanged a few words. As he showed me which way I had to go to pick up my bib, I thought again what a nice and helpful volunteer I have run into. The huge smiles from the next group of volunteers at the race packet pickup were like a fresh cup of coffee. So true that a smile cost nothing, yet can be so priceless. On that early morning it was so true.

Early bird catches the race packet...

Early bird catches the race packet…

Since I had everything for the race and still time to spare, I went back to the car and tried to take a relaxing nap. It worked until the runners started to arrive and at that point it was just more interesting to watch the fellow runners as they were walking by. Then at 7:30AM I got out of the car and walked to the Start/Finish area. I warmed up a bit, stretching, GU shot, my banana and water, managed a port-a-potty visit and calmly stood there as we had the 26.2 seconds long silence remembering for that terrible thing that happened in Boston. We listened to the National Anthem and a few words from the race director. The race director turned out to be that helpful gentleman who I talked to as I walked to pick up my race packet. Small world. Than the crowd started to line up behind the Start line and I stood between the 8:00 and the 9:00 markers as runners were lining up for the start of the inaugural Rivertown Races Half Marathon in Grand Rapids, MI. I looked around and thought: “What a great crowd for an inaugural race!”…

At the start

At the start

Finally right on time, we started to run. I wanted to keep the first half of the race easy, then speed up a bit. I was not sure what to expect from the revised race course. I checked online and it did not look very tough. So as we were cruising through the first two miles, I felt great. Running felt great. Just being there, part of it felt great. I knew we were going to run through rural areas. 6.55 miles out and the same route back. So it also gave us the benefit to get to know what the second half of the race will look like. Despite I felt great during the first two miles, I thought I started again too fast. Which has been confirmed by runners around me, when I heard we were running close to 8 min/mile pace. I know right there that I have to slow down. I was definitely not prepared to keep that pace through 13.1 miles. But keeping positive, I wanted to slow down a bit a keep a constant pace. As we were making a few easy turns, it was clear that the terrain will have hills. The road was going down and up again, down and up again. I knew unless I get my pace under control immediately these hills that at this point I think I tackled relatively easily will be challenging on the way back. I wanted to avoid getting exhausted after climbing up a few of them. I remembered how exhausted I felt after climbing up the Ambassador Bridge and then up from the tunnel at the Detroit International Half Marathon. Just keep it easy Laszlo. Just have an easy run.

My Mile 4 was turned out to take much longer to finish than expected. I stopped at the water station to grab a quick drink and wanted to quickly adjust the belt with the heart rate monitor that I felt was slipping down from my chest. And as I touched it, the belt just popped open. It took quite a bit of time to put it back again under my shirt, so I lost tens of seconds here. Also decided that whatever happens with the heart rate monitor belt through the rest of the race, I will not touch it again.

Lap times - first half of the Half

Lap times – first half of the Half

As I slowed down a bit, the fellow runners I previously tried to keep pace left me behind. No problem, I thought, I just keep my own pace for now and I was planning to speed up a bit on the way back. Around mile 5 I thought the weather was getting much warmer than I expected. Someone else must have reached the conclusion as well as I just passed a jersey thrown to the side of the road. I decided that I will take a short stop to grab water at each of the water stations for two reasons: first, to keep my otherwise tired body hydrated as much as possible and second to get a bit of a rest at the same time. I did not feel very tired, but I still had a long way to go until the Finish line. So I did not want to get exhausted by mile 10. This would be the same mistake repeated again.

Also somewhere around these miles was when it seemed that I had a new running mate for this race. Usually I am the quiet loner who just runs through the race. Ended up exchanging a few words with one of the fellow runners, who we happened to run a very similar pace through the rest of the race. Sometimes me getting ahead a bit, sometimes her leaving me behind, sometimes, just running at the same pace together. As I was still running with the Sports Tracker, which I just simply cannot read during running (I will save this for another post), I kept bothering my newly found running mate asking about our pace. And she was always very helpful sharing the latest information. We seemed to be running at a constant 8:40 min/mile pace, which felt comfortable at that point. It felt so comfortable, that I was expecting to switch to a higher gear for the second half of the race. When at mile 6 I learnt, that we are around 51 minutes, all of a sudden I thought we are very close to run a sub 1:50 Half Marathon, which was originally my goal for this race. After the 6.55 miles turning point another confidence booster was seeing how many fellow runners are still behind me. I was definitely not the last one in line and actually still felt pretty good.

Then at Mile 9 and 10, I really switched gears. It just happened to be a lower instead of a higher one…

Lap times - second half of the Half...

Lap times – second half of the Half…

The all too familiar exhausted feeling around Mile 10. As soon as it hit me, I knew there will be no miracle PR, no miracle super fast finish as a couple of hills were still ahead of us, waiting for us to climb up. The next few miles were really struggle. I felt really pathetic as two ladies passed me chitchatting with each other the while time while I was there struggling. Definitely not the second half I envisioned, yet I still run into the same problem again that I have run into in the previous two races. Still managed to keep running between water stations, not switching to walking even when going uphill. After finishing Mile 10, which turned out to be my weakest mile of the race, I was able to increase my speed and somehow the “only a 5k left” thought if not propelled me towards the Finish line, but definitely seemed to help to get back some of my lost speed. The weather otherwise was already beautiful. Sunshine, not too hot. The scenery typical rural, but I still enjoyed it. Maybe after the busy days and weeks it was great to run in such a relaxed environment. Even with my Mile 10 struggle this was still a race I was definitely happy to be part of.

You should avoid having your Heart Rate in the red zone this much. Not good...

You should avoid having your Heart Rate in the red zone this much. Not good…

Not sure why or how, it might be just a perception thing, but it seemed, that these last few miles were going faster than on previous races. Previously these last few miles seemed like eternities. Here they seemed to go by quickly. Despite in fact here I was running slower, than on previous races. Hmmm, this weird mind of mine. Especially mine… At the end as usual, I tried to run as hard as I could to finish the race strong. I heard the announcer from the distance and I started to search for the school to have the Finish line area in my sight. I just kept on pushing and finally crossed the Finish line. I received my medal and wanted to grab a water quickly, but I asked someone first to take a quick picture of me with my newest medal. I knew I needed water, food and whatever I can get ASAP as I did not feel very good. I must have looked worse than usual as I saw some people looking at me a strangely. “This guy is exhausted…” is what I was reading from their facial expression. Even if this is not what they thought that is exactly how I felt. So I went to grab banana, a water, a yogurt and a bagel and sat down. That is when I run into the lady (Amy) I happened to run a very similar pace with. She was definitely in good spirits, while I was sitting on the sidewalk, trying to eat, drink and stretch at the same time. Not sure why or how, but after a few miles into the race, I felt numbness in both of my feet. It felt that blood stopped circulating in both of my feet, despite this was not a new pair of running shoes, that I have been using. They had already about 250 miles in them already, so there should not have been any surprises. But as I was sitting there talking to Amy, at random moments I started to have cramps in muscles I never even knew I had. It has been a very strange feeling. I also took off my shoes and that helped a bit, but it still took quite a bit of time, drink and food to feel better.

My post race lifeline: drink and food...

My post race lifeline: drink and food…

But it also felt great to sit there, enjoying the sunshine and some really nice conversation with a few fellow runners. It reminded me why running is such a great thing. First you finish your run and you get this overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Then you can have a great conversation with a complete stranger you have never met before while enjoying some drinks and some food.

My official chip time was 1:56:12 (click here for the Sports Tracker details). Which is a new personal record for me!!! (this is the positive way to present it) This is my new PW. PW = Personal Worst…  (official race results here) Given my pre-conditions this time is not bad at all. And there will be another race for me to run shortly, where I will try to be better prepared and better rested.

Unofficial Sports Tracker summary

Unofficial Sports Tracker summary

In conclusion: this race has been a very positive experience. The race organization has been excellent. The communication from the organizers about the changes in the race course, etc. has been great. The volunteers were truly fantastic. And a great turnout for this inaugural race. Also the first race, where you are not trying to get ripped off to see your photo (here is a link to the race photos). And from a personal point of view another 13.1 miles well spent to learn the limits of my mind and my body.

Keep running!