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Sunday, June 7, 2009

2009 Mercedes Half Marathon story

After an absolutely injury plagued 2008 I had already decided some months ago that I wouldn’t “race” the event but rather do as I had done last year. I would run the race with my sister Molly and her friend Cindy. The goal would be to pace them to the finish line of the half marathon under two hours. Molly’s husband, Mike, had already had the fate of this race settled earlier in the week, as a kidney stone brought his race plans to an unexpected end. His training was going great and just as mine had been in preparation for the 2008 race, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Before I go into the details of this year’s race, I need to give a little background of how I got to this point. In fall of 2001 Molly challenged me to something that would have a profound impact on my life. She was planning the run in the inaugural 2002 Mercedes Marathon (her second marathon) and made a dare for me to run the half marathon. There was little time to train so I went right to work. As I look back those first few runs make me chuckle. Although they were nothing more than one time around the block, it was all I could expect of myself to complete. In preparation for the 13 mile race the longest training run was probably about 8 miles and I didn’t think that I wasn’t going to survive that run, it hurt. But my goal was ahead of me so I took all my old school cotton running gear and got mentally ready for my 1st half marathon.

The atmosphere before each Mercedes race is always electric! I can recall the prerace excitement in Atlanta before those early Peachtree road races and this is no different. Throughout the field there is but one goal in mind. There is no way to describe the feeling as you wait in the starting corral with a cross-section of individuals where everyone toes the line as equals, that is, equals until the starting line is crossed.

Seven annual visits have been made to this starting line, seven races and six different courses and seven different stories. I want to tell you about number seven.

The pre-race setup was pretty much as it has been since year one. The day before the Sunday race we travel to the Frederick’s home in Homewood and enjoy the hospitality and talk about how training has been and what personal goals each of us have for the next day. This year I would be traveling alone, as Marsha and Jane were in Fairhope enjoying that cities annual Marti Gras parade.

The dawn of race day gave notice that there would be perfect weather conditions. Clear skies, a temperature of 43 degrees and light winds all “race-day perfect”.

My plan had been all along to run the race with my sister and Cindy. The goal was to once again pace the two racers to a sub two hour finish. Last year Molly and I hit the finish line under the two hour wire by a mere three seconds. Neither of us was ready or prepared for that race. Molly’s preparation for this year’s race was better in quality and she was expecting a much better performance.

The gun sounded and the race was off. As it turns out the first mile was by far our slowest of the 13 ahead of us as we weaved in and out of the slower runners in front of us. In fact the 9:00 minute /mile pace that was run in last year was put behind us very quickly. I was simply amazed as the miles clicked off. We kept ourselves entertained throughout the race by talking and joking around, which may have contributed to the quick pace of time. I have run faster races but never ones that the mile markers seemed to pass as quickly as this one did. I am so proud of both Molly and Cindy with the way they ran this race. When they put in a sub 8:00 (7:57) minute mile I was afraid to tell them how fast they were running. I was amazed and absolutely thrilled about it all. They told me that their best time in the half marathon was 1:56. I knew they were on pace to beat that. Well, as I found out later it was actually 1:52, and as it turns out, that personal record was beat on this race day. Molly had a tough eleventh mile but she recovered and finished strong! Cindy ramped it up that last mile and finished ahead of us both!

A few remembrances during the race: For those who “get it”, it was funny to yell the phrase “MORE COWBELL”, “I GOT A FEVER”, when we came up to supporters along the race route ringing a cowbell. If you wear a shirt with ‘Auburn” on it, you will get lots of support directed your way in the form of “War Eagle!” and “GO Auburn!”. And it really isn’t motivating when someone yells at you from an upper balcony, “You need to run faster because the man in the pink tutu is up ahead of you!” Well, it was funny, just not motivating!

I want to thank Marsha for putting up with the time that I spend on the road with this thing some people refer to as a crazy obsession. She has always pulled for me to “Run fast” before every race.

I also want to thank Molly for daring me to attempt that first Mercedes half marathon in 2002. That was little more than 5000 running miles ago. Without that dare I don’t think I would have rediscovered this on my own.

My goal for this race was not about me, so as I stood waiting in the starters corral for all the runners to gather, I couldn’t help but look ahead to next year’s race… 365 days away. I am already excited about it and in the back of my mind I am training for that race already.

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Prattville, Alabama, United States