Runner 1 has been running for about 3 years. He has completed 3 marathons and last ran a “race” in July completing a 5 miler. Runner 1 is running his first half-marathon.
Runner 2 has been running for about a year and a half. He has completed 2 marathons and last ran a “race” two weeks ago completing a full Marathon. Runner 2 is running his second half-marathon.
The runners are exactly the same age (same birthday even) and have the same stated goal “break two hours”. Runner 1 is a few inches taller and has a PR about 2 minutes faster for the full Marathon and about 15 seconds for a 5k. So when they toe the line for the Mankato Half-Marathon who finishes first?
I am Runner 2 and although I wasn’t really racing anybody, I was racing Runner 1. My goal to “break two hours” is really to beat 1:58:59, set a personal record and if that was fast enough to beat Runner 1 that was gravy. I was purposely vague in talking with Runner 1 about my goal and knew the “break two hours” goal added a little fluff. Runner 1 is my friend Darik, we have a non-competitive/competitive relationship in everything. I know he tries to beat my times, my fantasy football team and really to win any other sport or contest that may be going on. He knows I am trying to do the same, but we still talk strategy, go to lunch weekly and root for each other to do well. To sum up, I wanted Darik to hit his goal of two hours but to finish behind me.
On race morning I stood in the slow-moving line for the port-a-poty (a sure sign of race day!) hustled over to the bag drop and then got to the start line with just a few minutes to spare before gun time. I spent probably two minutes looking for Darik but did not see him. I guessed he might be running with the 1:55:00 pace group and tried to move my way toward them. I ended up 10 yards or so behind them when the race started. I trailed the group for a while but still could not pick out Darik so I decided to run my own race, and try to set a PR.
It was a chilly and really windy morning. I had not dressed well for the wind and by mile 2 couldn’t feel my hands. I noticed a lot of the other runners were tearing up from the constant wind and was glad I had at least worn my sunglasses (look for the positives! It helps). I followed my own rules and thanked the volunteers at the first water stop and gave some kids a high-five that looked half-frozen standing on the side of the road. I ran a good pace, keeping good splits, and the run flew by. At mile seven was feeling alright. Not good enough to try to chase down the 1:55 pace group, who I could just barely see now, but good enough that I decided I would not take a walk break at the next water stop as planned. I am not one to give race advice, but I will offer this: You don’t decide at the water stop if it is time to walk, you make that determination a mile out. If given the choice I will always stop in the moment. A mile out I will asses what is going on and make an actual decision. In this case “let’s keep running legs! We got this!” was the decision.
Right after the water stop I did not walk through Darik showed up. I had misjudged where he started and thought I was behind him. So seeing him catch up to me was a little surprising. He saw me going up a sneaky long hill on the course (it isn’t that steep but you think it ends about three times before it actually does) and had caught up over the next mile and a half. He had assumed I was running with the 2:00 pace group and started closer to them, so we were at the same spot on the course but he was 20 seconds (I guessed) ahead of me.
So now what? Do I try to run ahead and beat him by more than 20 seconds? Should I hang out and accept that I am going to lose? Do I sweep the leg and hope nobody notices? I decided to walk through the next water stop and Darik slowed to let me catch up. That sealed the deal, there was no reason to try to run past him and win by over 20 seconds. First, I don’t think I could have and second that sounded like an awful time. Instead we pushed each other to the finish. We talked sparingly but really just acted as pacers for each other. When I felt I wanted to slow down I just fell half step behind and concentrated on keeping up. After the race Darik admitted he did the same. When he felt like slowing down he kept moving to make sure to keep up with me. There was no verbal communication about this during the race but neither of us wanted to back down from the pace the other was setting. It was both a miserable and great way to run the final miles of the half marathon.
With about a quarter of a mile to go I announced I was going to open it up and try to end with some speed. I was on pace to finish right around 1:55:00 and wanted to give it one last push. Darik’s wife later reported he looked like he was really straining at the end, while I did not look quite as distressed, the extra strain netted a 2 second gun time victory. My watch’s unofficial time was 1:55:01 which was well under my prior PR. Collecting my race goodies I wondered what my official time would be. I was certain Darik had beaten me but by how much? Plus we still had a Jake’s large pizza on the agenda for after the race (we both finished our large – once again Darik was visibly straining a lot more at the end).
Later that afternoon the official times came in, Runner 1 – 1:54:21 and Runner 2 1:54:57. I had started 34 seconds ahead and finished 2 seconds behind. In the process I set a new personal best by over 4 minutes and finished the race faster than I thought I could. I was both extremely happy with how my day had gone and disappointed. Long term that was probably the best outcome, I was better than I thought I could be on that particular day but not quite good enough. It gives me positive momentum into training for my next race but still leaves a moving target to set my sights on. That is what I tell myself at least, because on October 21st Runner 1, ran it better.