I emerged from the basement today to run the BHM26.2 half marathon, my first race in over 7 months. I probably would not have run this race since I have been working so hard at avoiding catching Covid-19, but I had already paid way back in January when the run was scheduled for March. The organizers promised to keep runners as safe as they could with a socially distanced staggered start plus a mask requirement which made me feel a little better about participating. Besides that, I had won my age group the first 2 years that this race was run and I felt obligated to defend my title.
We arrived at the warm up area before the 6:45AM time that was designated for my wave (1:53-2:00) in order to be in the corral at 6:50 for a 6:55 start. I was a bit confused therefore by the instructions being announced by race officials who were instructing people with a projected pace under 9 minutes to report to the “staging area”. None of that seemed to square with the instructions we had been emailed a couple of days before so we asked an official when I should line up and he said “you need to get over there now”.
The corral had spots for the runners to stand on that probably stretched 100 yards away from the start line. I found an unoccupied circle to stand in further back than I would like and to my surprise noticed several inconsiderate runners in my vicinity who were ignoring the mask requirement. Come on man you can wear a f***g mask for 10 minutes.
After we had corralled “all runners projected to run under a 10 minute pace” we were off. It was just 6:45AM, the time I was instructed to arrive. The staggered start ended up being everyone under 10 minute pace followed by everyone over. At least we were socially distanced, even the mask less socially inept.
I’ve kept up my running during my “safer at home” summer but I was concerned about my race readiness since it has been so long since I’ve actually raced and I’m coming off 2 of my slowest months ever in August and September. My strategy for my most recent races has been “just feel good when you’re done” and I have tended to take it a little easy. But with my goal of defending my title I was reluctant to leave room for regret; I decided I needed to push myself a little harder today.
I went out under 8 minutes for the first mile, discarding my mask fairly early on as I was sucking wind pretty heavily. Miles 2 and 3 were more reasonable at 8:22 and I was feeling pretty good. Still I reminded myself that “you’re not bonking until you are” and I pumped the brakes a bit running miles 4-7 in the 8:40 to 8:50 range.
Mile 8 is when I usually take assessment of my race as I can usually tell at that point if I am going to fade and struggle or finish strong. I was still feeling really good and picked up the pace – running miles 8-11 in the 8:20’s and :30’s. Miles 12 and 13 were a bit uphill but I still pushed myself to stay under 9:00. I crossed the finish line at 1:50:27, a full 6 minutes faster than the first 2 years when I was the winner of the old man group. I was feeling good about my chances.
There was no big ceremony or such after the race to keep people from congregating and we left right away. I spent time trying to get the results for my age group to display on the phone but the best I could do was to scroll through all the winners, looking intently for those 60 and older. I found my name and my time and then worked my way back to the top. It was looking good until I saw a 60 year old who ran the race 17 minutes faster than I did. 17 minutes!!!! I don’t think I’ve ever been 17 minutes behind the winner of my age group. Well, nothing I could’ve done about that. I would have had to run 12 minutes faster than my half marathon PR to retain my title. Ok so I didn’t win which was a little disappointing, but I was very satisfied with my effort.
My history with BHM26.2 has been a strange one. In the inaugural running in 2018 I had one of my worst racing experiences of my life. It was raining, I was exhausted, and my “music” was a recording of a terrible conference call that lasted most of the race. I bonked and walked part of mile 11. When the race was over I high tailed it out of there with my wife and went to get breakfast. It was there that I checked and discovered that I had somehow finished first. In 2019 I lost the old man group by a couple of minutes to a 20 year old woman who had acquired the bib from another old man. I discovered the switch while examining the photos and a week or so after the race they awarded me the win. So twice I left the race disappointed even though both times it turned out I won.
Despite the name BHM26.2 there was no marathon for the rescheduled race this year and many of those who had originally signed up for the marathon ended up running the half. When I got to my computer to see the final results I discovered that the old guy who beat me by 17 minutes turns out to be a pretty serious marathon runner which explains why he was so fast. So fast in fact that he handily won the “Grand Master” category, taking him out of our old man category. That means that despite my initial disappointment I actually came in first once again even though I feel that the win carries an asterisk. Yes a guy in my age group ran faster than me, but to be fair if they had the marathon he probably wouldn’t have even been in the half marathon, right? Officially I am the winner of the age group so I’ll take it. I just hope my next title defense doesn’t require social distancing or wearing a mask!