October 22, 2012

My Accidental PR—A Half Marathon Soft Opening

Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt):  "It's a soft opening. To test the place before the grand opening."

Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon):  "Yeah it's kinda like a out of town preview on the town."

Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner):  "Soft opening, grand opening. When they opened the Flamingo, one day it was closed, the next day it was open. End of story. I know, I was there."

~Ocean's 13 (2007)

It was a hectic last week. A major appellate brief to file. An unexpected three day trip to Phoenix to put out some corporate fires. The usual stuff that justifies my existence and my salary.

I got back into town after midnight Friday night, errr, Saturday morning. Berkeley greeted me with a slobbery assault, but was none too excited when I pushed him off his comfy perch on my legs at 7:00 a.m. to go coach my junior high Mock Trial team for our final practice before the regional tournament. Then it was off to Iowa City for some tailgating and night football with the sig other; well, tailgating at least, considering the Hawkeyes apparently forgot they had a game against Penn State. After a late night drive home, I finally crawled into bed after midnight, utterly exhausted.

So, why was I up again at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning? Why wasn't I sleeping in late? Two good questions Berkeley was probably pondering as he once again lost the use of my legs as his pillows. The short answer—I'm an idiot. The long answer—I was registered to run the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon.

As I discussed recently following my Ali-like return to competitive road racing, I have been inspired by a bunch of poker degenerates to convert my irregular fitness routine into a quest to recapture the halcyon days of my running prime, or at least to give myself a physical challenge to pursue in an effort to deny the effects of advancing middle age. My major goal is to run a solid time in the Vegas half marathon, held this year on the auspicious date of my actual 43rd birthday. I don't have a lot of life rules, but one of them is, if you plan to run under the neon lights of Vegas, be in good enough shape you don't die—at least not in front of the Stratosphere or Circus Circus. Pro tip: Wynn and Aria are much classier places to collapse from ventricular fibrillation.

So I have been pushing an irregular training schedule since early summer, inspired by the sage advice/torture tactics of poker-running guru/fanatic Poker Peaker (a/k/a Dan England). Most of the Peaker's advice includes wisdom such as, "Run faster!" and "Kill you not, tempo runs will." Still, I have slowly regained some of my prior speed and stamina over the past few months, enough so I no longer fear embarrassing myself come Vegas—well, at least not in the half marathon. I can't make any guarantees about WPBT-related festivities.

This summer, I set an ambitious goal of breaking 1:51.26 (8:30 min/mile pace) in Vegas. Hey, it's good to have goals. I knew I would need at least one long road race under my belt prior to Vegas, just to get back in the road racing groove. So I looked at the Des Moines running calendar and focused on two races—the Capital Pursuit 10-mile race and the Des Moines Half Marathon. I figured Capital Pursuit would be a good test of my progress, sort of a "proof of concept" run. The Des Moines Half Marathon would serve as a second preparation race as well as the perfect training run six weeks out from Vegas. A soft opening if you will.

Of course, I signed up for both races before committing to the Spinx half marathon as part of the Mastodon experience. So, with the Des Moines and Greenville races on back-to-back weekends, what was the ideal solution? Well, other than getting one of the races rescheduled, which is actually much more difficult than one might expect.

Based on my fairly solid—and liquid—performance during the recent Capital Pursuit, I decided to keep my appointment with the Des Moines Marathon as a "serious" training race on my way to Vegas. The Spinxville race, on the other hand, would be a leisurely romp focused more on enjoying the company of friends than pushing my physical and mental limits in search of a personal record (PR).

PRs. Funny thing—I didn't have one for the half-marathon. I had run a lot of road races in my prime, but they were mostly 10Ks, 10-milers (Capital Pursuit), 20Ks (Dam2Dam), and one marathon. Ten years and twenty pounds ago, I ran a 20K (12.4 miles) in 1:32:13 (7:25/mile pace), which would translate into roughly a 1:37:00 half marathon. These days my older, fatter self has a Vegas goal of breaking 1:51:26 (8:30/mile pace). So, I figured if I ran 1:55:00 or better (8:45/mile pace) in the Des Moines Marathon, I would be in good position to make my goal for Vegas.

So, how did I do? Well, here are the splits via my Garmin watch and the official race timing chip lashed to my shoe:

Mile        Split
  1          7:41.1
  2          8:31.8
  3          7:36.7
  4          7:59.9
  5          7:58.6
  6          8:15.3

 6.5         54:35 (chip split)

  7          8:13.4
  8          8:17.7
  9          8:15.7
10          8:24.4
11          8:40.1
12          8:34.6
13          8:09.6
13.1       1:22.4

Final       1:47:59 (chip time) (8:14/mile pace)

All things considered, I think I will give myself a solid "B+" for the race. I broke my goal pace by over 30 seconds per mile (tough), and my pace was right on the money with my pace for the Capital Pursuit 10-miler last month (very tough). Even more satisfying were Miles 6-10, where I ran consistent splits right at my race pace rather than slowing down significantly, something I have struggled with in prior races (Coach Peaker's tempo run torture really paid off). I did tweak an ankle late in the race (around Mile 10), but after 25 years of basketball injuries, my ankles really have no ligaments left and are held together with the natural equivalent of balin' wire and duct tape. Also, my kick the last two miles was not as fast as I would have liked. But I finished the race feeling strong, like I left a little in the tank.

Suddenly, running Vegas in 1:51:00 seems rather ... pedestrian. Maybe I can shoot for breaking 1:45:00 (8:00/mile pace). Heck, it wouldn't even be my greatest run-good PR for Vegas. It's good to have goals.

"Your shorts make your butt look fast."

"Bear! Run faster!"

"Half a mile for a full beer."

~Signs at the 2012 IMT Des Moines Half Marathon


  1. Holy hell. You're the winner for the Mastdon attendees half without showing up. There was a point when I thought I hoped to give you a run for your money, but that's not even in play now. Nice work. Excited to see how you do here Saturday.

  2. Since you'll finish the half early, would you mind running the 5K for me?

    Just askin'...


  3. I have to admit to being envious. I love to run, used to be good at it. I've long ignored the quack's suggestions I might need knee surgery. As I've advanced to being closer to 50 than 30, I no longer get to ignore them. I can't run on any surface remotely as hard as pavement without my knees failing me. I'll settle for running vicariously through others, I suppose. I'll meet you at the end of the Vegas mini with a stiff drink ;)

  4. recapture the halcyon days of my running prime

    Given cliches and all... I am sure you can come up with a precise list of shadings better than rose colored.

  5. Impressed I am! See you in a few days and now I must pick a different pace car because that would be my 10K pace.

  6. @ Otis & Drizz: I plan to run Spinx in a desultory 8:45-9:00/mile pace. So you both have a solid expectation of crushing me.

    @ DrChako: I bill at $350/kilometer.

    @ KenP: My writing license only extends to "analytical". I believe Otis and Peaker both have the "creative", "lyrical", and "poetic" licenses covered.

    @ S: There are days my knees and ankles remind me I'm on the wrong side of 40. Just enjoying the ride while I can!

  7. I wouldn't shoot for any type of time goal in the LV-1/2. I ran it last year and it was way overcrowded and no one respected the staggered start corrals by pace and it wasn't policed. Had to run around / through walkers from the start. I heard they're looking to make it even bigger next year. It was a fun experience, but don't expect a good race.

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