Race Report: 2016 Tobacco Road Half Marathon

(Originally posted March 18, 2016)

I guess I can finally say it, but starting with the Road to Boston 5K on March 1, 2014, I had a streak of 12 straight races with a PR. Four of those (OrthoCarolina 10K, LungStrong 15K, 2015 Charlotte 10 Miler, and Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon) were my first race at that distance, so they were guaranteed PRs. But there were still 8 legitimate PRs, and even with the cheap ones, I think I still ran well at LungStrong and the Charlotte 10 Miler. OrthoCarolina was a difficult course with horrible weather conditions, and City of Oaks was a brutal course, and my first 26.2, and I’ve reached the conclusion that nothing that anybody can say that will prepare you for the last 6 miles of your first marathon.

So, yeah, my PR streak is over.

I’ve been lucky so far. I haven’t had a major injury except when I hurt my foot in early 2014. I also never had any major issues during a race. (Foreshadowing.)

Let’s start with the expo.

They had a two day expo, Friday and Saturday, which was nice. I didn’t get to town until around noon on Saturday, and stopped by there first. It was in a hotel ballroom, and I’d call it a medium-sized expo. Bigger than City of Oaks, smaller than Thunder Road, pretty close in size to Charleston. I got my bib number e-mailed to me a few days earlier, contributing to my theory that everybody outside the Charlotte area does it that way.

I picked up my bib (I brought my own safety pins with me, but they had plenty available), a water bottle, and a t-shirt. It’s…blue, just like my t-shirts for the Road to Boston 5K, 2015 Charlotte 10 Miler, Yiassou Greek Festival 5K, and Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon.

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I looked at some of the merchandise on sale, and saw some shoes on clearance. I didn’t expect to see any Adrenaline 15s in size 10.5 wide, and I didn’t, although I was amused to see a pair of Adrenaline 14s(!) in size 7(!!) for $60. They stopped making Adrenaline 14s around October 2014, so they were close to a year and a half old. Also, there are adult men who run who wear size 7s? Anyway, nothing else really caught my eye, so I left.

Since I was staying with my sister in Raleigh, I decided I would eat dinner at her place (She’s a good cook), and move my now traditional pre-race Burger King dinner to lunch instead.

The race started at 8 AM. However, there was limited parking near the starting line. You could buy parking passes if you signed up early, but they were sold out before I even signed up for the race, so I had to take a shuttle bus. And they advised runners to get to the shuttles by 6 AM. Two hours of waiting. Ugh.

My sister cooked some delicious pasta for dinner, and I drank plenty of water with it. I managed to go to bed around 9 so I could get up at 4:50 AM, which, with the time change (stupid DST), felt like 3:50 AM. I showered, attached my bib, put some water in my water bottle, used the bathroom, and headed out. It was about a half hour drive from my sister’s house. I got to the parking lot right around 6. My shuttle left at 6:15, and I arrived at the starting area at 6:30. I had apparently hydrated very well, because once I got off the bus, I made a beeline to the port-a-potties. I got there before the lines formed, so that was good.

I sat down on a curb and ate two Chocolate Chip Clif Bars that I had brought with me, and used my water bottle to wash them down. (Later, I noticed they did have some water coolers available before the race. If I had known that, I could have left my water bottle at home.)

I bumped into two of my friends who I didn’t realize were also running the half. This gave me something to do while waiting for the race to start. We chatted for a bit, took some pictures together, then they went off to the port-a-potties and I walked closer to the starting line.

I found the 2:10 pacer, and stood just in front of her. The Mayor of Cary said a few words, someone sang the National Anthem, there was a countdown, and we were off. (It took 1:48 for me to get to the starting line.) I remembered to take a picture of the starting line, and yes, that is a large American flag hanging from a crane.

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Two notes before I start. First, even though it was only March 13, it was 63 degrees and humid at the start of the race, and with the exception of a run on Friday when it was 61 degrees, all of my training runs were in considerably cooler weather. Second, the course was an out and back, 2.5 miles of roads to a trail, 4.05 miles on the trail, then the turn around. The roads at the beginning and end had some small hills, but it was mainly uphill at the beginning and downhill at the end. The trail was pretty flat.

Miles 1-3: 9:52, 9:40, 10:11.

Not a bad start. The 2:10 pacer passed me sometime during Mile 2, which meant she was actually a little fast at that point. I tried to stay steady and not let it bother me.

The first aid station was at 2.41 miles. The aid stations were unusually spaced because there were only certain places on the trail where they could set up. I slowed down to take some Gatorade.

The second aid station was right at 3 miles. (I told you they were unusually spaced.) I slowed down before so I could take my first Gu. I wouldn’t normally take it this early, but I knew the next aid station wasn’t going to be until close to 6, and I need water to wash down the Gu.

Miles 4-6: 9:55, 10:00, 10:18.

During this stretch, I was looking at my watch, and considering my overall pace, it seemed like I was putting an awful lot of effort for this pace. I guess the heat was affecting me. I also lost sight of the 2:10 pacer, but I was still hopeful that I could rally, since I’d had negative splits at my last few races.

The next aid station was at 5.75. I took water and Gatorade, but walked as I drank them, which is why my Mile 6 time was a little slower.

Miles 7-9: 10:04, 10:00, 10:14.

At 6.55 miles, we turned around. My time was 1:05:12.5. I hung in there. It was hot, my legs were tired, but I kept going.

There was another aid station at 7.3 miles. I slowed down and took my second Gu. Again, earlier than I would have liked, but again, spacing of the aid stations.

Miles 10-11: 11:06, 11:19.

And this is where things went south. My legs were pretty worn out, so I took an unscheduled walk break. (I had planned to only walk through the aid stations.) When I started back up, that’s when my left ankle started hurting. I kept running, but my ankle was really slowing me down.

There was another aid station at 10.1. I drank water and Gatorade and wondered how I’d get through the last 3 miles.

Mile 12: 12:29.

I walked a good bit through here. It didn’t help my ankle though. After the last aid station right before the end of Mile 12, I started running again. It hurt like hell to start back up, and I decided that since the walking wasn’t helping, and going from walking to running was so painful, the path of least resistance was to just keep running.

Mile 13: 11:44.

A slight rally. I was helped a little by the fact that it was mostly downhill. I had just enough at the end for one final kick, and I somehow ran the last .13 at a pace of 8:33.

My official time was 2:17:58.4. My Garmin had me at 2:18:00, and at 13.13 miles, which is pretty good.

One thing that they have at Tobacco Road that I’ve never seen for any other race is a bell at the finish line. If you qualify for Boston (which will probably never happen for me) or get a PR, you’re supposed to ring the bell. After 12 straight PRs, this is the race that I miss a PR. The Running Gods can be very cruel sometimes.

I got my medal and some water. In spite of everything, my car key made it to the finish line, and here’s proof.

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Once I stopped running, my ankle really started hurting. I hobbled around the post-race area, ate pizza, and got some beer from Natty Greene’s. (Odd, since they’re over an hour away in Greensboro, and there are several better breweries in nearby Raleigh, but it still beats the hell out of Michelob Ultra.).

Eventually, a race volunteer saw me limping around and suggested I go to the medical tent. I went over there, and it was full of people getting IVs. Somebody checked out my ankle, and said that since I could put weight on it, it wasn’t broken, it was possibly sprained, and that the Red Cross had all the ice and ibuprofen on the course, so there wasn’t much else they could do. Oh well. I don’t blame them, because the heat related stuff is way more life-threatening than a bum ankle.

Getting on the shuttle bus to leave was really tough, though. Getting off of it was worse.

Once I got back to my sister’s house, some combination of ice, elevation, ibuprofen, and a hot shower got me to the point where I could walk without pain. Over the next few days, my legs felt pretty beat up, but my left ankle didn’t really feel any worse than anywhere else. Still, I took a few days off from running to give it some rest, as it had been giving me some trouble for a few weeks before the race. (As of March 18, 5 days after the race, I haven’t tried to run.)

Overall, I’m not as disappointed as I’d expect. I guess I’ve accepted that it’s something beyond my control. It happens. I didn’t go out and get hammered the night before the race, I didn’t blow off any training runs, and I didn’t do anything stupid.

Maybe I’m still in a good mood because I got in to the New York City marathon less than a week before the race. Also, the medal has a train on it, which is really cool.

The biggest thing for me, though, is that I’ve realized how far I’ve come as a runner. Last April, I ran the Charlotte RaceFest Half. I got what was then a PR, by 6 minutes, but I wasn’t happy with my performance. The weather was about 5 degrees cooler, and I had no injuries. Still, I felt like I should have done better.

Well, at Tobacco Road, with much worse weather conditions, and running on a bum ankle for the last three or so miles, I finished 10 seconds faster than at RaceFest. Progress.

(One thing I didn’t mention in my race report when I first wrote it is that the thought of not finishing the race never entered my mind. I was determined to cross the finish line if I had to crawl to do it. I guess I didn’t realize that until after I had published the original report. I’m either really dedicated, really stubborn, or both.)

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