Thursday, September 23, 2010

Delta Lake Half Marathon

I've decided to take a more formal approach to writing my recaps & reviews. Here goes my first shot at it!

Quote of the Race:
"What place is this for," says Jenny after hearing her name and quickly walking up and accepting her award at the after-race-ceremony?
"You got 1st place in your age group," I say to her.
"I got first place???" Jenny says.

Location - Delta Lake State Park, New York
Cost - $25 pre-register, $30 day of registration (Can you say "holy crap that's affordable!")
Year of Running - 4th
Sponsor - Roman Runners Club
Charity - Unknown
Number of Participants - 150
Available Races - Half Marathon
Course Condition - Asphalt paved road. Rolling hills and flat stretches.
Pace Groups - None
Expo - None (packet pickup is on race day)

Take this race for what it is; a relatively small and super affordable half marathon organized by mostly volunteers on a course around a beautiful dam lake with only partially closed roads to vehicle traffic and it's one of the most well organized races I've ran to date. There's no official timing chips, but they did an excellent job with results (the official results were only 1 second off the time kept on my wrist watch). There were aid stations every two miles and somewhere between mile 6-8 there was an unofficial aid station with unknown volunteers handing out their own water and candies, or at least it appeared that way to me. There is minimal crowd support, but the spectators that did come out sporadically along the course are a much welcomed treat for runners. The course is not entirely closed to traffic and in some sections runners must run along the shoulder of the road. However, traffic is so little that I never felt endangered (except for the last 1/2 mile, which was my own fault and we'll get to that later). State Troopers on bicycles paced back and forth along the course and firefighters helped close off some roads. I give the race director an A+

Coming from Florida this race seems out in the middle of nowhere. A rental car would be a must and the nearest major airport is about an hour away in Syracuse. Pre-race traffic was non-existent and even driving through Rome (the nearest city) at 8 a.m. was a piece of cake. The State Park (start/finish line) had plenty of parking, excellent facilities (with showers) and there was no fee for entrance.

A recyclable shopping bag by a local sponsor contained the goodies at pack pickup. Enclosed were a Delta Lake Half Marathon souvenir cup full of chocolate candies, long sleeve high quality cotton Race T-shirt (color is black), bib number, state park brochure/map and safety pins. Not bad for $25 race registration cost. Organizers conducted a free raffle drawing of dozens of prize giveaways from sponsors after the race awards ceremony.

At the finish line organizers handed out water, Gatorade, bananas & sliced oranges. At the post race finish party area about a quarter mile away there was more food including hot dogs, cookies, coffee, yogurt, apples and more water. Awards were given away to the top three finishers in each age group (10 year age groups) and the top three female and male overall finishers.

Jenny and I arrived about 45 minutes early. This race doesn't start until 9 a.m. How freaking cool is that!?! We had plenty of time to pick up our packets, use the bathrooms and scrutinize over exactly what to wear (it was about 49 degrees at start time). A random gentleman dressed in a suit and tie (probably on his way to church or coming home from a long night out) pulled up to the start line in a sports car, got out and belted out the National Anthem a capella with no microphone. He was awesome. After that and very abruptly, the race director yelled through her bull horn, "on your mark, get set, go!"

And we were off, just as simple as that. No timing chips, no corrals, no fireworks, nada. It's been a long time since I've run in a small race and it was almost comforting to have a simple start. It was only a matter or two or three seconds until I crossed the start line. Jenny and I agreed before the start that we'd go our separate ways. She's faster than me hands down and I wanted her to be free to run it, race it, tempo it or whatever she felt like plus get a longer run in at a faster pace as she's training for a full marathon less than 5 weeks away. I also wanted to try and PR this race. We were told by the race director on the phone that it's a flat course with a few small hills in the first few miles (Warning: this course is NOT flat by Florida standards). I've only participated in two other Half Marathons, both while being injured (Achilles tendon) with times not worth mentioning. In fact, I consider my Half Marathon PR to be during the Seattle Full Marathon in June when I crossed the halfway point right at 2 hours.

Today I'm feeling strong. I'm not injured. I'm well rested and there's very low humidity and favorable temperatures for me. It's time to race. I decide in the first 1/2 mile that anything under 2 hours will suffice. There's a few larger groups of runners to run around in the first 1/2 mile until we find a group at our paces. Jenny runs ahead of me and for the longest time I can see her ponytail bouncing back and forth. I think I lose all sight of her at some point after mile 6.

I'm wearing a L.L. Bean tech T-shirt, Nike running shorts, Brooks running hat and Brooks Adrenaline (with about 250 miles on them) shoes. The temperature is right at that critical envelop for me of almost being too cold, but just right. As we pass the first mile marker I look at my watch and it reads 8:10. "Crap, need to slow down," I tell myself while forgetting that some of the first mile was down hill. The field spreads out and soon there are only a handful of runners around me. We're running through residential neighborhoods. To the left there are lakefront homes - very large and very expensive looking. To the right are some equally impressive looking homes. Occasionally, someone is standing along side the road cheering for us. There's an ever-so-slightly breeze. It feels good on my skin. I'm not sweating. A few runners around me are sweating profusely. I can't help but think of how they'd probably have a heat stroke in Florida.

I pass up the first aid station, but decide to take some water at the mile 4 aid station. I manage to get a mouthful on the run without stopping and discard the mostly full cup near a volunteer with a trash bag (there were no trash cans). Some time after this a group of runners pass me. I begin to ask myself if I'm slowing down. I still feel strong so I keep going at what I feel is a sustainable pace. I begin to ask myself when I'll crash. The last Half Marathon I did, while injured (because I'm stupid), I crashed at mile 8 and actually got passed by a speed walker all because I started out too fast. Today I'm going faster than that "too fast" start last December. This echos back and forth in my mind. It's like some psychological warfare playing games with my subconscious. When will I crash? Will I crash? Maybe if I had some music I'd be distracted. It'd be nice to blast some Papa Roach or Rise Against right about now. . .

At the 10k mark and aid station I'm right around 50 minutes if I remember correctly. This might have been a 10k PR for me, but only mile 6 was marked, not mile 6.2. I decide that I'm a little slower than my 10k PR and that's a good thing because I don't want to crash in a few miles. I see the aid station approaching about a football field away. I reach into my gel pocket and pull one of three GUs out. It will be the only one I feel the need to take during this race despite my going for greatness in bringing three of them. It's "chocolate outrage" with caffeine. Yummy. This time I managed to gobble all of it down in two swallows and just in time to grab a cup of water from a kid that can't be but 7-or-8-years old. He's holding it as high as he can reach and looking up at me with that expression I know all too well; "wow that guy is tall!"
As I take it from him I say, "thanks big guy!"
Then I start to try and drink the water while running. I'm forced to stop and take three or four walking steps in order to ensure I get a LOT of water to mix with the Gu. Just before I resume running I look back at the kid and see him turning to his parents and smiling ear to ear. The giant guy called him a "big guy!"

The next several miles are uneventful. Everyone has kind of found their pace. There are three guys in front of me and one woman. I don't look behind me nor do I care. I'm pretending I'm the predator in this race, not the pray. I never see the mile 8 marker and for a while I start debating with myself of if I'm still in mile 8 or in mile 9... or perhaps I'm approaching mile 10? Soon I see mile 9 and as I pass it I realize I'm still feeling strong and I haven't crashed! I check my watch and then start doing the mental calculations in my head to keep myself occupied. It's a strange thing to try to do time/distance problems in your head while your exerting yourself near Vo2 max. I conclude that at my current pace I will most definitely break 2 hours. In fact, I might be on pace to finish in the low 1:50s. Then I remember the super long downhill stretch that we drove on our way to the race and how basically the last mile is all downhill. Another runner back at mile 3 mentioned the long downhill stretch near the end. If I calculate a long downhill mile into my pace I might be able to finish under 1:50:00. Having a Half Marathon time with the second number starting with 4 sounds a hell of a lot better than 5.

As I consider this I start to feel slightly fatigued. I decide I need to pick up my pace and I need a mantra. If there was ever a time for a mantra it's now! I'm feeling stronger than I've ever felt in a distance race. Without any major catastrophe I will surely PR, but after re-accessing my situation I want more. What would I be happy with no matter what at the finish line? I decide on "finishing strong." No matter what I want to go with negative splits these last few miles and finish strong. Finish Strong.... FINISH STRONG! I yell it in my mind at myself every few seconds as I push myself harder. At mile 10 see a volunteer holding a cup of red liquid. "What is it," I ask as I quickly approach and make eye contact with him. "Gatorade," he replies. "Awesome," I yell as I take it and slam as much in my mouth as I can without gagging. I hear all the volunteers in the background laugh a little behind me. I must look like a maniac. I feel like a maniac! Finish strong bitches!

"Only a 5k left to run," I tell myself. Who's pray? Finish Strong! Those are the only three things floating around in my mind now as we approach mile 11. The same three guys and a woman are still in front of me. They are spread out for about 50 yards with the closest to me being 20 yards away. I pass the first guy on the outside (he was hugging the shoulder) and keep pushing it. Finish strong! Next is the woman. She's wearing long pants, long sleeve shirt and a sleeveless vest over the shirt. God, she must be burning up! She has a gray ponytail and is listening to her iPod. I lay chase for some while and it seems I can't make much progress. I can't believe there's a gray haired woman kicking my arse! She seems to always pull away on any uphill stretch of the course. Finally, there's a long straight flat section and I manage to pass her. What an amazing athlete. I hope she places in her age group!

We reach the mile 12 aid station and all I can think about is the final downhill stretch. Still two guys in front of me, both looking like their in my age division of 30-39 years old. I'm good at downhill. I actually like downhill. Runners always complain about how hard downhill can be and how it'll trash your legs without warning. I have no idea why I'm good at downhill, but I LIKE IT! I take a cup of water and throw it all over the back of my neck and shoulders. It's cold and it feels good and there's no point drinking anything at this point in the race. 1.1 miles to go!

We turn a corner past the "dam" and the aid station and there's a hill that looks like Mt. Everest. I'm sorry for the language, but I belt out the biggest "what the F*ck!" as I look up at this beast before me. Nobody said anything about one of the biggest hills of the race being in the last mile. This is a huge blow to my plan of finishing under 1:50:00. I check my watch, do the math and realize I'm going to have to run something like a 7 minute mile to break 1:50:00 and apparently it's going to be partly UPHILL!

I shorten my stride, lean forward, look down (not to the top of the hill) and swing my arms more violently in an attempt to defeat this monster. There are still two guys within 40 yards of me. They are the only two runners in sight. About halfway up the hill I hear someone huffing and puffing behind me. It's a small short guy and he passes me with an amazing stride. He's new. I haven't seen him the entire race and he's definitely running a sub-7 minute pace uphill! I attempt to pace just behind him and soon realize there's no freaking way! He passes the two guys in front of me and I change my focus on keeping pace with them until we get to the top of the hill. Finish strong!

As we reach the top of the hill I feel myself running harder and keeping my breathing pattern the same. At the top I pass the first guy. Now I can see the long stretch of downhill road leading up to the finish line. Time to finish strong! I don't look at my watch. I just start running faster and faster. I let gravity pull me downhill. I imagine all the increased distance of my stride during that instant in each step where my entire body is airborne and free of the pavement. The machine of a guy that passed me on that hill is rounding the corner and I can barely see him passing the 13 mile marker. He is soon gone. Only that last guy in front of me. He's wearing a white shirt with thin orange stripes on the sides. He's only a few feet away and hugging the shoulder. This part of the road is not closed to oncoming traffic and occasionally there's an oncoming vehicle. Just as I decide to make my move and run on the outside (the only real estate available) and into the road I see a large truck quickly approaching us. I'm shoulder to shoulder with him and I'm in the traffic lane. Rather than drop back behind him I gamble and decide that the truck will probably swerve away from us. Not the smartest decision of the day! The truck passes the point where most drivers would begin a swerve. Crap. No time to get out of the way now! At the last second the truck veers away from us only slightly. The side mirror misses me by an arm's length. I feel the wake turbulence hit my body and with that a huge rush of adrenaline shoots down my spine. I smile, deeply inhale a breath of air and tell myself to "use it."

The adrenaline helps and soon I find myself at a full on sprint. The guy in the white and orange shirt is somewhere behind me.... pray.... I pass the 13 mile marker and can see the finish line. It looks SO FAR away. I can't believe that I'm physically able to sprint at this point! It's really not my style to sprint to a finish line so this is new for me. I can see Jenny standing in the crowd waving and jumping up and down. She's stoked about my time. Then I can hear her yelling my name. Finish Strong, finish strong, finish strong, FINISH STRONG!

As I cross the finish line I nearly collapse. During the last few steps I felt as though my legs were about to buckle. I stared at the clock the entire way through and watched as 49 disappeared and as the seconds behind the 50 ticked away. Whatever, it doesn't matter, I finished strong. Stronger than I've ever finished any race. Jenny is literally jumping up and down. The race director (I forgot her name) comes up and introduces herself as she remembered a telephone conversation with Jenny and thanks us for running her race while visiting "all the way from Florida." I tell her how impressed I am with her race and overall everything. It was a truly awesome moment. Later we find out Jenny (who finished nearly 9 minutes ahead of me and that wasn't even close to her PR time) got 1st place in her age division and was 4th overall out of all females. She's amazing!

My official stats:
40th out of 150 total finishers
7th in my age division
Official time: 1:50:21
Watch time: 1:50:20
Average pace: 8:25

Overall it was a great experience. I finished strong indeed and remained injury free. I can truly say that I left it all out there and now feel freshly energized about running. I'm registered for another Half Marathon next month in Florida with an all flat course and can't wait to see how I do without the hills, although temperature/humidity could still be an issue.

Delta Lake Half Marathon = A+ across the board!

After the race with Delta Lake in the background.


  1. great pic!

    nothing better than injury free :)

  2. CONGRATS to you both!! Sounds like a great race, and I love that pic of you two at the end. Nice shirt. ;)

  3. Congratulations!!! I really love the format of the race report - I'll have to remember that...if I ever get to race again!! Ha.

  4. Awesome race and report! Congrats on a PR, and congrats to Jenny as well!

  5. Congratulation, you are doing good, nice run there. I love the post so cool, it detailed every moment of the run. Nice!!!