Sunday, March 29, 2015

Viking Half Marathon -- March 28, 2015

This past weekend’s trip to Greenwood, Miss. to run the Viking Half Marathon was the first “road trip” race I’ve run in some time, since the 2010 Ragnar Great River Relay. That and it was my first half marathon of any kind since the Indy Mini Marathon in 2007.

The trip got off to an interesting start when my flight from Chicago to Memphis was overbooked and they were offering travel vouchers to anyone who wanted to give up their seat. After listening to the price go up a couple of times, I decided to bite, given we have some other trips scheduled this year, including our trip with my mom to Italy in October.

That left me about four hours to spend in O’Hare Airport, but they passed pretty quickly. One of the nice things about the wait is that I got a chance to catch up with Jay Mooney, a great guy who was a training partner leading up to the 2013 Chicago Marathon. It was nice to catch up with him, and we made plans to get together in the future.

Once we were in the air, it was a quick trip to Memphis and we arrived at 7:30 on Friday night. That still left us about two hours to Greenwood, and by the time we got a bite to eat and made it there it was about 11 p.m.

Fortunately the race is very, very small and the starting line is just a couple of blocks from our hotel. That meant I could sleep until about seven and get some breakfast before the race started.

Darcy and I at the starting line!
When morning came the sun was out but it was quite chilly, about 37 degrees. I figured it was going to warm up a good bit so I decided to not bundle up but just put on a long-sleeved shirt under my Race Raves tee.
We met Darcy’s friend and colleague Brent Bailey in the lobby about a half-hour before the race started. 

Brent, who celebrated his 45th birthday on Saturday, works at Viking and is a pretty good runner, having finished in 11th place in the race two years ago. He was going to run with me, though, since his training hadn’t been all that solid and he just wanted to run for fun.

Brent is a good dude who kind of looks like the actor Steve Zahn and has the kind of drawl you’d expect from someone who grew up in Alabama and has lived in Greenwood for the last 18 years. 

We gathered outside of the Greenwood courthouse for the start and were underway right at 8 o’clock. As I had mentioned before, my goal was to shoot for a time of two hours, twenty minutes – or 11 minutes per mile, give or take. So I started off pretty conservatively and felt really, really good.

Within the first half-mile of the race I learned two things: 1) the course was as ridiculously flat as advertised, 2)  and 3) Brent knows pretty much everyone in town! One of those guys came up behind us and we ran with him for a few miles. I feel bad for not getting his name, but he was interesting, he was in his early 60s and was in great shape. He made it clear early on that he was a grinder like me…not fast, but he could run for a while. He also likes swimming in catfish ponds, which I found kind of fascinating. 

I think at this point Brent and I were talking about the Auburn-Alabama rivalry!
We left him behind just after mile three, and up to that point there wasn’t much scenery to look at, so it was great having Brent along. There was very little time spent in silence, as we found we had a lot in common, and the miles just kept clicking off.

By mile five we were crossing the Yazoo River and up Grand Avenue, which, I discovered, is a pretty grand avenue. That’s where we saw Darcy for the first time, and while she was cheering for us and the other runners, she also had gone into PR-chick mode and become a race volunteer, helping us get turned onto the bridge. It was pretty funny!

Grand Avenue was very beautiful, and Brent said it was on the register of historic places. It was also the setting for the 2010 movie The Help, which was filmed in and around Greenwood. The avenue was lined with huge oak trees, which were beginning to bloom along with the lilac trees, and the grass was turning green. Given I won’t see that in Bartlett for another couple of weeks it was very nice to look at.

By mile six I looked at my Runtastic app and realized that we were slowly inching our way to the 10:30 pace neighborhood. I thought about pulling back a bit but I felt really well, and since this was my first half in eight years and was kind of a fact-finding mission anyway, I thought it would be good to see how far I could go at that pace.

I couldn’t believe how good I felt! I think it was one of those things where I wasn’t thinking too much or trying too hard, I was staying comfortable and enjoying the run. 

Darcy saw us again at about 9 ½ miles, which was a great time for a bit of a pick-me-up. I’m so thankful for her support, it’s because of her that I got back into running and started doing this stuff and getting motivated again in the first place.

With it being a small race in a small town, there wasn’t a lot of fan support, but the people that did come out to cheer for us were great. All of the people managing the water stops were helpful and encouraging, and a lot of people sat in their front yards to watch us go by.

From about mile eight on I started to slowly up the pace a little, or maybe Brent did and I just wasn’t paying attention! At about 10 ½ miles he pointed to a group of people about 100 meters ahead of us and said “hey, let’s make it our goal to pass them by the end of the race”. We ended up gobbling them up in about a mile and set our sights on the next group. In the meantime, we were running 10-15 seconds per mile faster with each mile.

Just before mile 12 Brent asked if I minded if he went up ahead of me, and I said no problem. But as he disappeared into the distance, I figured I had a mile to go and turned it up again. I passed about a half-dozen people, and when I got to the base of the bridge (again…we crossed it twice), Brent was waiting for me.

“We’re almost there,” he said. “Let’s go!”

We started up again and he spotted a woman wearing a yellow shirt in front of us. “Come on, man,” he said. “Let’s pass her before we get to the finish.”

I kind of looked at him…man, I had proven everything I had wanted to myself today, I was going to come in just over 2:16 and really wanted to just cruise it home. But since Brent is a competitive guy I knew he wasn’t going to have any of that! We eventually caught her just on the other end of the bridge, I ran mile 13 in 9:20, and a quick left onto an old brick street and we could see the finish.

I was hurting a little but I gave what I had left to the finish. I mean, I came this far, might as well, right?

I crossed the line in 2:15:39 (10:21 pace), with Brent right behind me. What a great race! We picked up our bling and Darcy and I grabbed a couple of adult beverages to celebrate the day.

I couldn’t be happier with the day I had. I felt good, my breathing was much improved from a few days earlier (I was diagnosed with bronchitis on Tuesday) and I had fun meeting a new running friend. I even felt good later that night and the day after, so thankfully recovery will be quick too.

After spending the rest of the day resting, we met Brent and his family for dinner, and he said that was the most fun he’d ever had running a race, and he hoped we came back down to run next year. Of course, dude, I’m there!

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