It is a joy to be able to run and exercise with family and friends. When we were kids, we think of sibling rivalry. But as adults, it becomes sibling revelry as we enjoy healthy activities that enrich our lives, boost our endurance, and make us stronger. This is definitely the case with running. Last Sunday, May 7, 2017, I had the pleasure of running the Lincoln Half-Marathon with my youngest sister, Gretchen. Although we are ten years apart in age, we share a mutual love or running (and music). It was a wonderful experience for both of us. Gretchen was running the Lincoln Half for the first time and I was returning to the race after taking last year off from the Lincoln race. It was exciting to run this race again in more favorable weather than runners experienced last year.
Every marathon experience begins with the decision to enter the race. I think we both signed up in January. The race always sells out. About 13,500 runners ran it this year, up a little since the last time I’ve run it. Originally, I entered to run the full marathon. However, I clearly did not have the strong distance base I needed to run an unrestrained full-marathon (no 20 mile runs during this cycle). Sometimes it is a difficult decision whether to run the full or half (I have struggled with it right at the turn at least twice.) But this year I had the definite aim of running a zippy paced half and trying to enjoy the experience.
Before the marathon expo, I ran a shakeout 2 mile run with the Red Dirt (now Fleet Feet) folks with many who ran the marathon with us the next day. One of them was the 3:15 pacer and I did run into him during the race.
One amazing part of the marathon expo experience this year was to hear Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon race director, speak and give us wonderful words of wisdom and inspiration. I also was very pleased to meet Dave. We actually ran into him running during our shakeout run too. Dave told us he was running the half-marathon with us on Sunday so he could catch an early flight back to Boston.
As this was the 40th anniversary of the first Lincoln Marathon, that made this experience a special one. I remember running Dallas White Rock Marathon on its 20th anniversary many years ago. So there were some special 40th anniversary signs and the shirts were patterned after them.
One special part of the expo was the opportunity to write why we were running this race on a wall with markers. I thought about it a little and it was an easy decision: I wrote “to crush asthma” on the wall and signed it. There happened to be a sign saying breathe by where I signed. That was helpful.
Fortunately, I was able to pick up Gretchen’s race packet for her the day before (just had to show a signed proxy form to do this). Gretchen lives out of town so that made things a little easier for her.
The day before the half, I ate a turkey/cranberry sandwich from Cappriotti’s and that evening, Gretchen and I made penne pasta and split a spinach salad. I decided to skip the smoothie that I sometimes make the night before the race to cut back on unnecessary fiber. By splitting the spinach salad, I was also reducing the fiber a little. We also had some fresh fruit (berries). Usually I try to eat something like a sweet potato for dinner but we were out of sweet potatoes so I decided to skip it.
We gave Misty a longer walk that evening to stretch our legs and prepare for the next day. I knew I wouldn’t be running with Misty on race day: the timing just didn’t work. So as her coach, I gave Misty the day off.
On race day, we arose early about 4:00-4:30am and drank some coffee. I ate a Clif Bar caffeinated cool mint chocolate bar and drank water. We took Misty on a very short walk around the block in the dark with my Petzl headlamp so she would get a little exercise.
We’re told not to change what we eat or wear on race day and I did deviate from that advice in wearing my new Buff USA arm sleeves. It was to be a hot, sunny race and with the arm sleeves being 40+ SPF, I needed the protection from the sun. This was my first time testing the sleeves during the Lincoln Half.
For during the race nutrition, I brought Mamma Chia squeezable and a few ClifBar ShotBloks with me, all packed in my Orange Mud double hydraquiver vest. I decided against the single due to the length of the race and so I could avoid having to stop for water if at all possible.
We drove downtown and arrived early near the start about an hour early, at 6 am. I decided not to leave a drop bag for the first time I’ve run Lincoln Full/Half. I just didn’t need to. Gretchen didn’t either. This would speed up our departure after the race by a little bit. We found the restrooms in the Colisseum/athletic department building and the lines weren’t too bad early.
Wandering around after that, we found an area near the columns and took a “before” the race picture together. Then we joined the mass of runners to walk to the start. The national anthem was sung. Wheelchair racers started first and we cheered them on. Then the runners lined up in waves. We were both in the “green” wave which is like the middle-of-the-pack racers, the fourth wave if I remember correctly. We wished each other well and found our places near our pace groups.
Shortly after 7am official start time, 7:04 to be precise, our wave was ushered to the start and we began. I reminded myself right away of the course deviation this year of traveling south on 17th Street instead of 16th Street (the usual path). But 16th Street is being completely resurfaced.
As far as pacing tools, I wore the 1:35 pace band that I got from the expo. I believe this is the same one I wore for the Halfsy in November and that worked well. I kept an eye on pace on the Garmin to see how close I could match those splits.
To reach my goal of a 1:40 half, I needed to run 7:XX splits. I decided against trying to beat my Halfsy PR (1:38) but I was ok with chasing my Lincoln Half course PR (1:39) if I could stay under 1:40 pace.
One factor that had a lot to do with how this race went was the sun and lack of clouds. This made it really challenging when we were not in the shade/protected by trees. It got warm, really warm. I wore my Galloway visor to keep the sun out of my eyes but ended up carrying it for at least half the race so that sweat could evaporate.
At one mile, I checked and the split was 7:23, right where I wanted to be. Good deal. Very early in the race, I got a heart rate reading from the Fenix 3HR of +8, very favorable into relaxed territory. I had done a lot of visualization, meditation, and physical preparation to be ready. Relaxed readings during races give me the green light to push a little harder. So I did.
Shortly after this, one of my most distinct memories of this race: a veteran marathoner worried aloud about why we were running on 17th Street instead of 16th Street. And she asked: shouldn’t we be running on 16th Street? Why are we here? (on 17th) As I explained earlier this required some adjustment but the course had to change this year. Unfortunately, this moved as away from our normal route running along the Federal Building.
In the first few miles of this race, it’s important to establish where you want to be pace-wise as the course tightens up a bit when we climb uphill on South Street. So I made it a priority to pass some people, as many as I could, while my legs were fresh. And the 2 mile split was about the same: 7:26, still on target with 1:35 half pace.
Between mile 2 and 3, we turned left onto South Street and began a longish climb into the sun. I maneuvered to the right side to try to find some shade but there wasn’t much. I noticed several people taking walk breaks up the hill. I took a very short one and drank some water.
I knew the 3 mile split would be a little slower because of the hill and my short walk: 7:44 pace, not too far off, slow by a couple seconds. The 5k split was uptempo, about 23:49, right where I wanted it.
We greeted Sheridan Boulevard with open arms, one of the most beautiful parts of this course. Lots of shade and very tall trees. Many spectators and volunteers love this area best as it’s easy for them to see runners and there are elevated places they can stand in the shade. I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. I was also trying to run the tangents. But the shade and the tangents didn’t always align. I decided that on Sheridan Boulevard I just wanted to keep the pace up and try to run in the shade to stay cool. Usually I see people I know on Sheridan Boulevard but I didn’t recognize many people on the course this year.
Near the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, I saw a priest sprinkling runners with holy water on the road. As I had not been to Mass yet and looking for spiritual strength to get through this, I ran over to the priest and he did sprinkle me with holy water as I ran by.
There is always excitement on Sheridan Boulevard, the pedestrians are very supportive with high-fives, signs, water, refreshments, and encouragement. It helps our bodies and spirits soar.
My 4 mile split was 7:45, a second slower than the previous mile. Trying to be consistent and matching those mile paces. About at this point, I panicked that I had forgotten my asthma inhaler. I didn’t need it but was afraid I might later. This caused my heart rate to jump and I noticed I was high into zone 5 heart rate. So I dialed down the intensity and speed and sprinkled walk breaks more liberally throughout the rest of the race. I was really surprised to see my heart rate that high after having such a great reading early in the race.
Climbing the hill on Sheridan Boulevard to 48th Street, there were points where I felt like I was melting in the sun. I worried about the heart rate a little, wondering how I could drop it quickly and knowing that wasn’t going to happen running uphill. As I climbed, looking for any sign of hope, the 3:15 pacer ran by and it was the Red Dirt runner that I had run with at the shakeout run the day before. He encouraged me and asked how I was doing. I told him I was doing well and gave him a thumbs up. And the pacer made us laugh with his jokes on the way uphill. And he strategically told us we’re gonna take it easy running up this hill and then we’re going to pound it on the other side going downhill. (An excellent strategy and one I fully agreed with: one that I needed with an elevated HR).
Near the top of the hill, I drank more water, knowing there were water stops ahead but wanting to avoid them. Suddenly, I saw Dave McGillivray run by wearing his distinctive Adidas Boston Marathon blue-and-gold shirt. And I was surprised, I thought he’d be running at a faster pace. I needed a focal point and decided to try to keep Dave in sight if I couldn’t keep up with him.
Finally, we reached 48th Street and I began flying down the hill (I’m a downhill runner). I know my pacing went sub-7 for quite a while here, maybe down to 6:20 for a while. This is a great point in the race because you have plenty of space to maneuver in the wide street before the trail portion coming up near 10k (pictured above in the header). I know I passed a lot of people going down the hill. I kept up my walk breaks: :15 here, :30 there. I don’t think I had any longer than a 1:00 break. I think I took a full minute when I first saw I was (unintentionally) running in zone 5. So the coach in me was restraining the competitive athlete in me trying to get the heart rate leveled out. My 5 mile split was 7:52 (the hill was rough with the sun plus heart rate issues).
Going down the hill, I remember passing Dave McGillivray again. I think he was stopping for water. I had previously decided that I needed a shot of the 10k mark as my scenic shot of the day for the half (part of the Daily Run Pic challenge by Daily Run Pic on IG and Twitter). And there is a chip mat at the 10k point so be sure to touch the mat. I did panic at one point that I wasn’t wearing a chip (the chips have gotten so thin on the bibs) but I realized that I had a paper-thin chip attached to the bib. And I found my inhaler after eating one of the ShotBlok sleeves. I drank a full Mamma Chia, I knew I was getting a little dehydrated.
I continued my acceleration down the hill but stopped a little to drink some water. The 6 mile split was back on track: 7:23 pace. I knew that I could not run the 1:35 pace the rest of the race, I was going to have to just run my best pace for how I was feeling. So I pretty much ignored the pace band the rest of the race. Just checked it occasionally.
We reached the beautiful scenic 10k split area and I saw 47:48. Good but not great. But I was happy to realize that I still had some gas in the tank and hopefully enough to survive the sunny part of the race on the Boosalis Trail. The Boosalis Trail runs parallel to Nebraska Highway (Highway 2). This was a very fun part of the race, lots of kids wanting high fives and funny signs. Two people ina dinosaur suit with funny signs.
My heart rate was still high so I tried to walk more frequently. By 7 miles, the pace slipped to 7:58, still under 8 but not by much. This was a tough part of the race for me, just feeling dehydrated and thirsty. Drank a lot of water. Finally drained the first OrangeMud water bottle entirely on this stretch. The 8 mile split was even slower 8:07. I remember Dave McGillivray passing me a few times on this portion. And I struggled to keep him in sight.
We turned north onto 20th Street and the hill that most runners fear was in sight. But I had run it before a few weeks prior so I was confident. I remember passing Dave back again going up this hill. He was adjusting his pace and walk breaks were adjusting mine. Mile 9 was almost my slowest mile of the race: 8:19, at least half-a-minute slower than I wanted. But there was a hill, some humidity, heart rate still high and starting to tire a little.
The next mile was downhill and I was able to make up some time. There is always an awesome aid station with great music and volunteers at mile 10. And there were live musicians and people playing recorded inspiring music throughout the course. My mile 10 split was faster: 7:41. Some strength and energy seemed to be returning. And we were enjoying the shade on this part of the race, the last shady part before reaching 10th Street.
Somewhere on 10th Street, there was a runner complaining of dehydration behind me and I thought about stopping to help. But I overheard another runner telling him: just 2 more miles, I’m running with you and we’re going to finish this together. Satisfied that he was okay, I decided to let them run the buddy system to the finish.
On 10th Street, we stretched it out to mile 11. My slowest: 8:31. I was trying not to melt in the sun but wasn’t protected from it very well on the cloudless day. At mile 11, I made the tactical decision to let Dave McGillivray go, I couldn’t keep him in sight anymore. We ran fartlek without realizing it for 6 miles or so but he was charging for the finish and I was trying to save a little energy for the end.
Here I shortened my stride, took some walk breaks, focused on staying hydrated as much as possible. I drank water out of the other water bottle I had.
By mile 12, I had cut the mile pace to 8:25 (a little faster) and could see Memorial Stadium, where we finish. I wondered how Gretchen was doing. I knew she couldn’t bee too far behind me. I began watching for the 1:45 pacers but didn’t see them pass me. I knew that a 1:40 finish wasn’t realistic anymore so I was simply trying to stay under 1:45.
We finally reached the northern edge of the course and headed east. I reached the pivotal split between the full and the half and wisely opted for the half. After all, I couldn’t let my sister wait 2 more hours for me. We had an agreement. I snapped a picture of the full/half split sign, not realizing that it picked up my reflection due to my bright orange BibRave apparel.
We turned right towards the stadium watching the brave souls continuing to run the full ahead of us. I saw the 26 mile mark and took a pic of that. We reached mile 13 and I checked my pace: 8:06.
Here something really funny happened. We could see and hear Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer song playing on a jumbo video screen. That was a great choice for the end of a half-marathon. And I laughed. I decided to try to capture it on Snapchat. But when I did, waving at the screen, it turned interactive and the camera was showing us runners. So here I am, a silly man in all-orange, waving at myself on a mirror screen while listening to Sledgehammer at full blast. It was fun, funny, and entertaining. Humorous even. Did I mention this all happened on World Laughter Day? Yes, there really is one. See the Snapchat filter for it below;)
We reached the strangely narrow finish and we proceeded single-file down the chute towards the 50-yard line: the finish! I could see it! Finally! And I watched the clock closely: this ain’t gonna be a 1:45, I told myself. I accelerated as much as possible and broke the tape (not literally) at 1:44:34, 7:59 splits officially (Garmin says 7:53 pace with me running further). (15k split was 1:13). And I always have a strong finish (unless I cramp up) and this was no exception: 7:25 pace. Somehow I overran the course a little (Garmin said 13.26) by trying to stay in the shade.That’s okay. It was important to stay cool in these conditions. Self-preservation.
After finishing, I received my medal and Lincoln Marathon key chain. After I finished, a gentleman from MyLaps asked to interview me and I agreed. He explained that his company took photos and video of the final stretch of my finish and wanted to make sure that I knew that so I could see them (within the Lincoln Marathon app). Maybe I got their attention by waving at the video screen I don’t know. We wrapped up the short recorded interview and I waited for my sister. I didn’t have to wait long. She finished in 1:53. She finished about 10 minutes behind me. 10 years apart in age and 10:00 apart in this race. Coincidence? (Actually there are no coincidences, that is my belief/opinion.)
After chatting a little, we took some pictures on the FieldTurf of Memorial Stadium and wandered to the post-race snacks and drinks. The lines were very crowded here. Either we all showed up at the same time for refreshments or it just wasn’t organized very well to spread the lines out instead of us all being congested in one line. There were plentiful bagels, water, fruit, chocolate milk, caffeinated drinks that don’t drink anymore (aka pop) and unfortunately no coffee. Just kidding. Really we wanted the frozen Italian ice to cool off more than anything besides water. But alas, the Italian ice was outside the stadium.
We did notice some people getting special medical attention after the race (most likely dehydration/cramps). Probably dehydration more than anything. We finally maneuvered to exit the stadium, walking by a long line of American flags that ran all the way from goal line to goal line. With the wind waving the flags, it was as if the flags were waving goodbye to us and saying “good job! way to go!”.
After exiting the stadium, we immediately turned to the Italian ice. Rats! Small cups (smaller than I had at the expo). But there were many kids so I guess that made sense. I think I had the tropical fruit flavor and Gretchen tried one too.
We slowly walked back to the car and I began reflecting on a good-but-not-great race. We can’t set PRs in every race, I reminded myself. (I created that notion last October-November with a streak of 3 consecutive PRs knowing it wouldn’t happen that consistently every time but wishing that it could.)
Could I have changed anything to make this race better? Maybe I should have taken more walk breaks early. I did start them early though and knew I would need many of them to stay in the relaxed zone (and because I didn’t sleep well the night before).
But all in all, it was a wonderful experience, both for Gretchen and for me. Keeping the pace under 8:00/mile under those conditions with a high heart-rate was an accomplishment. And no, it wasn’t a course PR but it was the second-fastest on this course, about 5:00 behind my fastest. Strava tells me there were 2nd places on at least 3 stretches of the race. I finished 647th out of 9120 runners, 482nd out of 3832 men, and 31st out of 382 men in my age group (M45).
Looking forward to running a full marathon again soon. It just didn’t work out for this race.
Sometimes during races, we have to adjust our expectations/goals/targets a little bit and this was one of those races for me. It just didn’t seem like pushing with zone 5 heart rate so early in a race was a smart thing to continue. My heart rate did level off a little. I just felt fatigued for much of this race and don’t know why. I trained well, I tapered well, I ran well. And that’s good enough for this race. I decided to enjoy it and run my own pace without trying to stick with an unrealistic pace of 1:35.
Happy healthy trails to all of you, wishing you well in your races and training! Now I’m running on, filled with sibling revelry of the fun experience of this half. Enjoy the photos and run a little or a lot when you can! Run strong and prosper!