May 20, 2012

Race Report: Marine Corps Historic Half

As Saturday was Armed Forces Day, what better way to celebrate than to spend the weekend with Marines?

Race morning came quickly, especially with a 7:00am starting gun (or musket). So I was up at 4:45 and out of the hotel by 5:30, arriving at the starting area by 5:50ish. Things were already pretty hectic, so a lot of runners must've known parking filled up quickly. I snuck into a parking spot in the back of a Walmart lot filling with runners, and I quickly made my way 0.4 miles to the start. There was a flyover by some old planes from a local flying club...quietest flyover ever, and certainly not as loud as the Ospreys soaring overhead at the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon. A few minutes after the wheelchair division, two racers only, the rest of the estimated 8,000 runners were off on the streets of Fredericksburg.

The Expo

I headed down to the race expo on Saturday morning, avoiding lines and grabbing my bib and tech shirt with no problems. The expo was fine, a decent mix of national and local booths; although one unique feature was the race partnered with a Virginia vineyard to have two commemorative wines, a Star Spangled White blend and a Patriot Blue Pinot Gris. I sampled both and they were decent, albeit overpriced; being a runner, I'd probably be a sucker and buy one if the half marathon logo was on the label. But there really wasn't a connection to the race, so I declined purchase. The oddest freebies came from two race organizations; first, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge half marathon was giving away finisher medals from the prior year (which would really upset me if I ran it and earned the medal), which I also declined. And second was several entire pallets of former Marine Corps Marathon long-sleeve shirts from 2006-2008; kinda sad to know that in a few years some random folks will be wearing the 2011 MCM mock turtleneck that I received in last year's packet. I did snag two 2007 MCM shirts to use as long-sleeve throwaway shirts at cold races.

I spent the rest of the day at my hotel, watching soccer and the Preakness. My hotel was three highway exits away from the starting line, and it was sitting between a Waffle House and a Hooters, so you know I was in a classy part of town. Ultimately, I may have ventured too far from the starting line to get Marriott points...but the Fairfield did have a fridge and microwave, which let me bring my own food and stick with what my stomach is familiar with prior to the race.

The Course and Race Day

Pre-race flyover.
The course started at the Fredericksburg Convention Center, site of the race expo, and quickly passed under a large American flag suspended from a fire department's ladder trucks. Almost from the outset, the course started to drop under our feet, with a consistent elevation loss of 300 feet over the first nine miles. As I clicked off the first few miles, I had some discomfort in my left knee and my shins, for some reason running with heavy legs early in the race. I either forgot about it or started to loosen up by the time I crossed the 5k timing mat in 21:21 (6:52/mi). I was hoping to cut a little time on my PR, but halfway through, I was a bit under where I expected to be. I wasn't intentionally banking time, but the consistent downhill course was letting my feet go.

Just after mile 4 I passed a sign that said "Jell-O shots ahead" and thought surely it was too early to be serious. But it was serious, as around the next turn there was a table set up outside a house with vodka Jell-O shots and straight tequila shots -- it was a bit early, both in the race and in the day (7:30a), for me to stop for a beverage, but I have no doubt others partook.

Miles 5-8 wound their way through historic Fredericksburg, and I hit the 10k timing mat in 42:35 (6:51/mi).  There was minimal entertainment and minimal crowds, but plenty of turns to keep runners engaged and seeking the tangents. At one point, a house for sale had a sign that read "if you lived here, you could be soaking your feet right now," and that sounded like a pleasant idea. Between the long elevation loss putting a hurting on my legs and consciously trying to get back towards my goal pace, I cruised through 15k timing mat a little slower at a 6:57 pace, but still with some time to spare.

Past mile 9, I started to get amped up about Hospital Hill, which I thought was going to hit around mile 10 from looking at the elevation chart. I let myself pull back just slightly and took it a little slower at the final water stop, making sure I was ready for the climb. As I passed through the 10-mile marker at about a 7:00 pace, I was starting to see the road ahead climbing. Coming around a corner onto Jefferson Davis Highway, I saw the Mary Washington College pedestrian crossing and knew the Mary Washington Hospital's hill was upon me. The race put several motivational mats along the hill, willing us up the incline, and it was indeed a brutal hit, rising about 260 feet for the better part of a mile, with a less steep but nonetheless sustained uphill all the way until mile 12.

I'll be honest, there were some mentally tough points after mile 10.5, and I felt my time slipping along with my legs. I never want to see splits increasing over a race, and even though I felt like my level of effort was consistent through the race, the early nine miles of downhill battered my legs. So while uphill was a nice change in muscles, the early pace and pounding definitely caught up with me a bit; my 20k pace was up to 7:12, so I know I was closer to an 8:00 pace in miles 10-12. I managed to ratchet it back down in the final stretch and finish in a respectable 1:33:51 (7:10/mi), a PR by about a minute with a massive hill at the end...I'm pleased with that.

The Results

5k :           21:21  |  6:52/mi
10k :         42:35  |  6:51/mi
15k :      1:04:38  |  6:57/mi
20k :      1:29:17  |  7:12/mi
Final:   1:33:51  |  7:10/mile 

The results in my personal record book were goodl I set a PR on a pretty challenging course and on a fairly warm and humid day. I still feel I have some time to shave off on a flat 13.1-mile course, but won't get the opportunity this spring. My final half marathon of the early 2012 season is a trail race with a lot of elevation change and single-track trails, and there's no way I'm getting near seven-minute miles on that one.

The Swag

All runners received a technical shirt, a commemorative course poster for the five-year anniversary, and a race program. The finisher's medal was large and nicely devoid of sponsors, lending to a very classy ribbon and a simple medal design. One side was all silver with "13.1," similar to an oval car sticker design, with the "1" being an outline of the Gen. Hugh Mercer Monument. The other side featured a simple red, blue, and silver design of the Historic Half text logo.

The Verdict

I enjoyed the town and the support of all the Marines. The race expo was simple, quick to get through, and the parking was pretty easy although you had to wake up pretty early. I was surprised in the smaller-than-expected crowds along the course, and course itself wasn't much to mention other than the brief scenic stretch along the river. It'd be nice to not have to get a hotel room the night prior, but the one-hour drive down to Fred-town is a bit much to make at 4:00a on race day. Ultimately, even though the course, the crowd, and the race aren't quite as memorable as the Marine Corps Marathon in DC, I'm sure I'll be back because it's well run, close enough, and I always put a priority on supporting military events.

The Frederickburg Town Crier
had to be overheating.