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It took 700 miles of driving (back and forth) to help me to reach the “half dozen” mark on my Half Marathon race count. It is definitely not because in Michigan there would not be any Half Marathons left for me to run or because I have run already all of them, but more due to our thinking of making it a more special experience for the family: the kids get to see new places in the form of mini-vacations (long weekend trips) and Daddy gets to run his race. Deal or no deal? I say: deal!

Niagara Falls from the Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls from the Skylon Tower

In the past we took up on some very serious driving for family vacations or business trips so driving 700 miles does not really scare us although we agree with you that spending a significant amount of time in a car is not the most fun thing you can do as a family.

Bib pickup: check...

Bib pickup: check…

So once we finished our walk and lunch and most importantly we thought that we absorbed enough of the natural beauty of the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side (going from Detroit to Niagara Falls is definitely shorter drive going through Canada) we entered into the United States again and drove to Rochester, NY to pick up my bib and shirt. Found the store quickly (thank you onboard navigation system) and after we took my “must have” picture with my bib, we headed to Hamlin Beach State Park to set up our tent and enjoy a quiet evening with the family.

On the way to Hamlin Beach, NY

On the way to Hamlin Beach, NY

My sixth Half Marathon was on Saturday morning: the Shoreline Multisport Festival at Hamlin Beach State Park. Yes, it sounded like a great idea to stay at the campground in the same park where the race would be on the following morning so we can save waking up the whole family very early in the morning and also offered me a more relaxed preparation on race day morning.

Ready to have a great run - here the shirt is still with its backside on the front...

Ready to have a great run – here the shirt is still with its backside on the front…

It turned out that through the night prior to the race, a huge storm was moving through the area. It not only kept the night bright (continuous lightning) it came with heavy rain and strong wind as well. The heavy rain helped to clean our car from the bugs and dust and the wind was nice enough to help to modify the race course in the last minute. It turned out the storm did not cause major changes to the race course, but forced to remove the last mile of the race course from the beach more inland: away from the beach. It was also funny, when on race day morning the announcer mentioned that due to the storm they were still not sure if the race course will be 12.5 or 14.5 miles… She was funny…

It was a pretty strong storm, forced changes to the race course...

It was a pretty strong storm, forced changes to the race course…

The Half Marathon started in two waves: first at 7:30AM, only for those who run slower than 12:30 min/mile. Our start time was at 8:00AM, so I was able to do a few things to occupy my mind: finish a protein bar, restroom break and fix my shirt after walking around for 30 minutes with the backside in the front. Doesn’t fixing such thing mean bad luck? I took my chance.

There was a pretty good crowd and I was so ready to run. I think I had a really good training through the past few weeks, I felt that I was getting my strength back step by step and I was so ready to test it out. The storm also helped us runners: cooled the air temperature down a bit. However we were still stuck with humidity and the unknown obstacles through the race course. For a second I saw a 13.1 mile long spontaneous obstacle race in front of us, climbing through giant trees that are blocking the roads. Of course this weird vision never became reality and our enthusiastic crowd was off running.

Walking to the Start Line. Notice the broken tree on the left side...

Walking to the Start Line. Notice the broken tree on the left side…

In general the race course took us through a very quiet area. Started within the State Park and ended within the State Park. In between we were running on small, local roads. (click here for the Shoreline Multisport Festival Half Marathon race course map) It was great. For some reason I like this kind of running environment. Everything seems to be so relaxed, so calm: despite of the fact that once we were running in a more open area, I felt the wind was picking up again.

There were helpful volunteers steering us to the right direction at every turn and law enforcement helped to stop the occasional traffic whenever we crossed from one side of a road to the other. For this event local roads were not closed to traffic, so we were warned to watch out: but other than a usual, healthy awareness of your surroundings, there was no extra effort required from the runners to ensure proper safety while running. Every once in a while a car was passing by, but nothing that would distract us from running. Again: a great, relaxed environment for a quiet run.

First of all after disappointing times in my last two runs (race recap of one and race recap of two), I wanted to have a confidence booster. I wanted to confirm on this race course that I am really getting stronger and I am really in a better shape than I was two months ago. My goal was to have a strong run: shooting for an 8:30 min/mile average and if the stars align for a PR under 1:50:00.

At the Start: everybody is ready to run...

At the Start: everybody is ready to run…

The first mile I started a bit slower, which I had no problem with: I was planning on getting a bit slower start to warm up gradually. I wanted the first mile somewhere around 8:45 min/mile and switch to a consistent 8:30 min/mile from the second mile onward. Then as I will feel around mile 9 or 10 either maintain that pace or increase a bit.

At least I got a plan…

It took almost two miles to leave the park and when I crossed the Mile 2 marker I concluded with satisfaction that I am at my goal pace of 8:30 min/mile. I thought I will try to make up some of the seconds I lost through the first mile in the second half depending on how I feel. I wanted to see if I will hit the wall (based on past experience it would be more the Mile 10 meltdown).

I passed with great self-confidence the first aid station without stopping and kept on pushing. I felt the increasing strength of the wind as we were leaving the roads protected by woods and when we turned right onto Priem Rd, we had open fields left and right. The monotony of the open fields was broken occasionally by a lonely house or barn, but otherwise nothing stood between us runners and the wind. I slowed down a bit by Mile 3, reaching the mile marker in 8:43. Strangely nothing I could bring up as a reason: I did not feel tired, I did not feel weak and I was definitely not out of breath in any way. I just kept going.

As we were tackling a longer straight section of the race course, I recognized, it was not a good idea not to carry water. I felt thirsty. Not sure what the humidity level was (according to the Garmin Connect website it was 83%), but despite of the not so hot temperature, it definitely felt very humid. So despite not planning previously, I stopped for a quick water break at the aid station shortly before reaching the Mile 4 marker. Despite of the water break, I reached the Mile 4 marker in 8:49, so still behind my goal pace, but not worrying as I was still feeling strong. My main goal was to have a comfortable, stable run. For sure, running a PR would have been great, but since by Mile 4 I piled up already almost a minute backlog that I would have had to work through later in the race to have any chance for a PR, I decided to wait and see how the next mile will go and see if I still make any serious attempt to PR or not.

Race day and post storm weather

Race day and post storm weather

We crossed a small, but interesting bridge right after the Mile 4 marker. I probably drove through such small bridges a million times (OK, I lied, a million times is probably too much), but never run through any of them. The surface of the bridge was metal frame with no other solid or any surface material to fill the gaps, therefore if felt like thousands of mini arms were trying to grab my shoes at every step. It was nothing to blame my slower, than planned pace, but interesting (at least for me) to mention. Now I realize: I must have a boring life to pay attention for such details…

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Mile 5 marker was in the middle of a seemingly endless, straight road, which was also a constant uphill running, but nothing that would be impossible to tackle or something that would have required specifically training for. It took me 8:53 to reach the Mile 5 marker, so it took me five miles into the race to conclude that I will not PR. You can call me a quitter, but I think it was more a very realistic assessment of my chance to PR that day.

I am sure the cup of water I had at the last aid station already left my body in the form of sweating by the Mile 5 marker and I was thirsty. I thought about my water bottle that I decided not to bring and I was waiting for the next aid station to show up on the horizon. Finally finished the seemingly endless Lake Rd West Fork section of the race course and made a left turn onto Church Rd, when all of a sudden I saw a minivan parked on the left side of the road, handing out bottled water and maybe other items as well. I zoomed onto the bottled water so if they had anything else, I completely missed it. Later I was thinking that it was maybe just a spontaneous, non-official aid station as there was another not so far from this minivan. Either way: thank you for all the great volunteers and especially the ones who handed out the bottled water. I can tell you it was a great help. Mile 6 was gone in 8:49, so I could conclude that 8:50 is the new 8:30… At least for me, right here on this day…

Another left turn, this time onto probably the longest straight section of the race course. We were running North on Lake Rd East Fork with the Mile 7 marker in the middle of it. At the start of the race, I was trying to reach the Mile 7 marker in less than one hour and planned to increase my speed afterwards for a PR attempt if things were going great. I still did not have any big issues. Legs were still carrying me strong, lungs were not screaming for more air, my heart was still calmly beating under my chest and I already had a bottle of water to drink from whenever I felt like between any two aid stations. I completed Mile 7 in 8:39 and reached this marker almost 2 minutes later than I originally planned for a PR attempt. However it was still a great thing: as comfortable as I was still feeling, I had all confidence that I will have a much better run than I had at the Cleveland Half Marathon.

After making another left turn onto N Hamlin Rd, I decided to take a water break at the aid station and preserve the water in my bottle for other, more desperate times. Apparently each water break took quite a toll on my average pace for that mile and it was no different for Mile 8 either. I reached the Mile 8 marker in 8:54.

Mile 9 brought something I have never expected. Let me apologize right here to anyone who I might have scared and let me try to assure anyone that with my act I did not mean any harm or did not try to make fun of anyone. It was completely driven by my subconscious; it was 100% spontaneous and was 100% not like me. When last year (2012) I was running the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon, when we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Canada, on the Canadian side as we left the bridge, we had to make a sharp right turn, where people were standing, cheering on for the runners. I wanted to shout to them “Good morning Canadian people”, but never did that. Somehow during many runs, I kept remembering for that moment. If you ever had a feeling that something you wanted to do, but never did  somehow got stuck inside of you and you knew that sooner or later it is going to come out… Well in my case it happened here at Hamlin, NY, when we made another left turn from N Hamlin Rd. 300 miles away and 9 months later. It happened as I saw this group of people cheering for the runners; I just put my hands up in the air and greeted them with a very loud “Good morning”. I always envisioned it to be a friendly shout-out, but the more I think about it, the surer I am that it probably sounded like a tired and thirsty grizzly bear that just finished his first English class and trying to repeat the first phrase he was learning. Sorry, but somehow it felt so good. I run the next few hundred feet with some kind of euphoric high. I distracted myself to the extent that I almost missed to take my next gel prior, which I always plan to take before I reach an aid station, so I can wash it down with water. Fortunately I was able to complete everything planned: gel-check; water break-check.

Mile 9 was completed with a 9:07 min/mile pace. I knew I have to increase my speed if I want to finish with a decent time and since I still did not feel tired, I wanted to make sure I would not just cruise through the race with a lazy tempo.

Mile 10 came by in 9:05. Not sure why, but somehow I could not speed up a tiny bit compared to my Mile 9 pace, which came as kind of a shameful recognition, so I definitely had to do something. I remembered that in Cleveland earlier this year I was struggling really badly just to keep running with a 9 min/mile pace. Here: no struggling, but no explanation either. I decided I will blame it on humidity and the strong wind, but in reality I did not have a good answer. I definitely felt that I had already 10 miles in my legs, but I have not yet hit the wall that I usually hit around Mile 10.

I forced myself to increase my tempo as we were getting closer to the State Park. Turning back onto Moscow Rd, we already had trees at least on one side of the road and just started to run with a stronger pace. Normally when I hit the wall, it seems that the distance between the Mile 10 and Mile 11 markers is infinite. I never had to go through such a meltdown and actually despite of my not so strong pace I reached the Mile 11 marker seemingly quickly: it just all of a sudden appeared out of nowhere. If something, this was a real confidence booster. It confirmed that I am still in good shape for a strong finish. I reached the Mile 11 marker in 8:52.

I started the mental countdown of the remaining distance. It is only 2.1 miles. Less than one of my shorter training loops I run already so many times. Just keep pushing. I knew soon we will be at the State Park entrance, so that was another mini milestone I was looking for. I skipped the last aid station and thought that I had less than 15 minutes of running. That is like a simple warm up or just a cool down after a longer run. I run through Mile 12 with an 8:38 min/mile pace.

My not so perfect splits

My not so perfect splits

We were running on the modified route within the State Park. Instead of finishing the race with the last mile on the beach, due to the storm damage, we were forced to run on the State Park road. This still allowed us to see the beach from a distance. From here on the last 1.1 mile was the usual: I was going to run as hard as I can until I cross the Finish line. Which I did. I wanted make sure that I was not going to leave anything out on the race course. When I crossed the finish line, I still felt great. Mile 13 had an 8:49 min/mile pace and the last 0.1 mile I somehow pushed a 7:56 min/mile pace.

Crossing the Finish Line

Crossing the Finish Line

When I crossed the Finish Line the girls were already there along with our nephew who was visiting us from Hungary. My wife confirmed my feeling: she said I did not look anything similar to the poor condition I showed when I crossed the Finish Line in my previous race. Here I also felt much stronger at the end of this run. I probably could have run a minute better relatively easily, but for now I was happy with my time. My Garmin was showing 1:55:09, however my official chip time was 1:55:21.

With my fans...

With my fans…

Due to storm coming again we decided to head back to Michigan right after the race. Another proof of how much stronger I became through the past weeks: previously after a Half Marathon run I was exhausted the whole day. This time, I carried on with spending the rest of the day travelling and me driving.

In general this was a great event. The difference between my Garmin time and my chip time, I think comes from the fact, that I have not seen a timing mat at the start line and I started my Garmin when I passed the Start Flag and stopped it when I crossed the Finish Line. Nevertheless besides this minor thing, I think the event was well organized. Especially how the last minute race course changes were managed due to the storm. Hats off to the race organizers (Yellow Jacket Racing) and definitely many thanks for all the volunteers who helped through the race course and everyone who cheered for us runners.

Great turnout for this event: 432 runners for the Half Marathon (238 Female and 194 Male runners). I finished 136th overall and 88th from the Male runners.

In conclusion: if I know I can run a particular pace, I will try harder next time to run at that pace. I also feel the positive impact of the increased weekly miles in the form of being able to run with a decent pace for a long period of time. And last but not least I definitely do not mind to take on the long trip for this race.

Keep on running!

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