Tobacco Road Half Marathon Race Report
By John Blausey, FFT Athelte
I recently finished the Tobacco Half Marathon and apparently I did pretty well. With a time of 1:28:55 I was the 30th guy to cross the finish and have a big beer mug that says 2nd place age group. If I sound surprised, I kind of am. It isn’t that I didn’t work really hard. Rather I remember how a friend described my 8min/mi running just three years ago, “John, you sound like Darth Vader in a pair of running shoes”.
I realized I needed some guidance. I asked for coach Alex to work with me almost a year ago because I was on the verge of injuring myself. My legs were hurting. What I was doing is what my stubborn nature told me to do. I ran long, I ran often and I thought that this combination would help me run faster. So I ran and ran and ran some more. I was running 8 minute miles on average and if I was lucky could throw in a 7 minute mile here and there. My ability to run well or consistently was sporadic to non-existent. More importantly, my friends began making comments – regarding my appearance – I did not look healthy.
Like many triathletes I want to qualify for Kona. You have to be a little stubborn to do an Ironman, let alone make it to Kona. However, my stubbornness has been my enemy and without Alex as my coach I would not be any closer to my goal. In fact, I can honestly say, that I’d probably be further from the goal and injured.
My stubbornness required that I learn how to trust Alex and in turn he had to teach me how to properly train. He has had his work cut out for him.
I wanted to start this season with a half-marathon and I wanted to PR it. (My previous two half marathons were done in 2:15:00 and 1:55:00.) Coach recommended that I find a race in early spring so we could focus on my running during the off-season, which we did. A lot of my friends were planning on running the Tobacco half or full marathon, so this was a great race choice – plenty of encouragement to go around.
On race day, the most awkward moment was getting through to the front of the start chute. I hadn’t realized I could walk around the barriers to the front of the pack. Coach had said to make sure I started in the front. Better to be up front then spend the first miles passing people. There were already a lot of people in the chute. They had pace runners with yellow balloons and big signs stating the pace they were going to hold. I kept asking people to excuse me as I inched through to the front. It was a new experience – and I felt a little awkward – slowly passing the various pace runners – trying diligently to get to the front of a start. Finally I got up to the front and stood in front of the last pace runner – the one who was going to pace those wanting to run a 1:30:00. My goal was a 1:30:00 or faster – so I made sure I stood in front, where I thought, “wow, no more pacers”. There I met up with Ian who has been a great running partner this winter and kindly informed me I got to the front the hard way.
Before the race started I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I would break 1:30:00. There was no doubt in my mind and I was pleasantly surprised by my confidence. I had put in my time – trained accordingly and was going to rock this race.
I went out fast, 6:20 pace – just enjoying the speed of the first mile or two. There were a few hills but I was over them before I could care. Nothing was going to stop me. Coach said to stay between a 6:50 and 7:00 pace – find a pack and get into a good rhythm. At mile 3 we ran onto the Tobacco Trail and it felt like home. I knew the feel of the trail from several weekend training runs. I got behind a group and just ran. Soon after I realized that we were running faster than anticipated. I chose to stick with the small group of 5 and maintain the faster 6:40 pace rather than slowing down and risking running alone. When I got tired I ran faster. I fell a little behind the group on at least one occasion and chose to sprint back up to the group. At mile 6 I accidently dropped my gel. I didn’t secure it well enough, but as the refillable flask hit the ground – I kept running. Fortunately I had a spare gel in my back pocket. By the time we reached mile 8 there were only three of us.
I thought miles 7-10 were going to be the most difficult stretch and they almost were. At approximately mile 8 you turn around and you have everyone that is behind you now running at you. This poses a possible problem when the trail is narrow and only part of it is paved. The on-coming traffic of runners were running primarily 4 across, forcing us on the return to be pushed far left and into loose gravel. I wanted to run on the pavement. Fortunately, one of the guys in my little group opted to be the bulldozer. He did an awesome job! He kept everyone coming at us from plowing us over and allowed us to both run those miles on pavement. I just looked to make sure people were heeding his warnings and that I wouldn’t trip him or over him, which embarrassingly I almost did. He forgave me. Between observing his bulldozing skills and watching the mob of people running towards us these miles just melted away.
The final three miles were the most difficult. The consistent terrain changed to rolling hills in a neighborhood heading back to the park. At this point I was the only one left in the group. I was running alone. I kept looking at my pace because I felt like I was crawling to the finish but I was now holding a 6:50. I tried to pick up the pace to no avail, which made me happy – I did not want to cross the finish with anything left. The best moment was when I looked at my watch and knew it would all be over in 10 minutes or less. All I had to do was hold my pace or go faster and it would be over soon. I thought of all the training I had done – I knew exactly what 10 minutes of pain would feel like and was ready. I even had the thought that the “thought of quitting” had not once crossed my mind and that I was almost done and still had no inclination of quitting. In the last mile I found a little boost and was able to pick up the pace a little – just to be sure the tank was empty.
It was a great race. I was tired. I was happy. It took me an hour and a half to eat a piece of pizza.
Working with FFT and Coach Alex has been very educational. Nothing we do is without purpose. He knows my goals, what races I want to do and he advises and plans accordingly. The trust relationship that has developed allows me the luxury of knowing that my daily workouts are going to be beneficial and objective. Something I could not do on my own. I also benefit with each workout knowing that Alex will be looking at what I did.
We spent a lot of focus on running in the off-season. The focus did not translate into running long and running often. It was running when I was told and running with the proper effort at the proper time. Knowing when to let my stubbornness out and when I need to put in the hard effort has become extremely important to me. My stubbornness was working against me and Alex did not try to remove my stubborn streak; rather he knows how to apply it at the right time, so that I can become faster and stronger.