2012 Thunder Road Half, aka Queen Making

A while back, I started putting together a training plan for Laura’s first marathon when she impressed upon me that she wanted to run the Thunder Road half marathon as well.  Arguably Charlotte’s premiere running event, and its only marathon, Thunder Road brings the area’s runners together and I love being uptown on race day so Laura and I worked the half into the framework of our training plan and decided to run it together.

I didn’t want either of us to race it all out, not right in the heart of our marathon training – I was afraid it’d derail our marathon goals a bit.  But I was confident that Laura was fit enough to PR (1:37:26) without a full-blown, 100% race effort.  Our training plan called for a long progression run and I felt like we could bring her in with a PR, all while still sticking to the training plan.  So I devised a progression run that if followed would bring her home in 1:37:25.  I also thought that if we crushed the last mile or 2, we might break 1:37, but with a long uphill stretch on Morehead on mile 12, I wasn’t willing to guarantee the 1:36.

Race day rolled around and we had the usual race morning helter skelter.  “Where are my gloves?  Why do we only have 3 safety pins in our packet?  Don’t forget your chip!”  etc. etc.  You know the drill.  (Aside – have I ever mentioned on the blog about my recurring dream?  The entire dream consists of me scrambling around on race morning looking for all my gear.)  Eventually, we got it together enough to head out and we drove over to the Dowd to park.

It was a chilly and windy morning.  I felt like I was about to be toppled by wind as we trotted over the bridge on our way to find warmth inside somewhere near the start.  We found our way to 2 or 3 Wells Fargo (whichever it is, I can never remember) and saw lots of runners congregating there so we shot inside to join them.  Seconds later we stumbled upon Scott (Helms) and his friend Tracie Chan.  I plopped down next to them and caught up with Scott while Laura proceeded to wait in the long, long line to get into the women’s restroom.

Scott and Tracie took off and I was on my own for a bit, really starting to worry as race time rapidly approached.  I had all those thoughts of “Oh crap, what if she’s not back in time for the start?  What do I do?  Line up and hope to find her?  What if I don’t?”  That kind of thing, but luckily all these became moot as she came back with a few minutes to spare and we shot over to check our bags.

At the bag check, we ran into Lauren Holder for the second time of the weekend (the first at Runners’ Lunch the day before).  I was excited for her, running her first marathon – New York’s loss (she was originally slated to run the New York marathon, but you know what happened there) was Charlotte’s gain.  Laura and I hastily wished her good luck and then set off for the starting line.  We rushed through about a quarter of a mile warm-up before squeezing into the starting corral.  We lined up just behind Aaron and the elite set and for a split second I felt guilty for lining up so close to the front, but then I saw quite a few rather un-elite folks all around us so I quickly felt less guilty.

Somebody sang the national anthem, Tim Rhodes made a few announcements, and we were set out of the gates and chasing a bonafide stock car.  The plan I had devised called for a nice and relaxed first mile of 7:45.  It’s hard enough for me to throttle myself back in a race, but now I had 2 people to rein in.  With a flat to downhill start and thousands of people blowing past us?  Yeah, forget about it.  Our first mile was seven twenty-something.  Oh well.

It took some creative cropping of this Vac and Dash Facebook pic to make it look like Laura and I led the race, but I think I nearly pulled it off. Look at how perfectly in stride the two of us are while going out too fast.  Very Me-Harmony (does anyone remember that SNL sketch?)

But we settled nicely into pace by the start of the second mile.  Friends Angie (Pilkington) and Francisco, former Blue Ridge Relay teammates, snuck past us, and as they did, I asked which race they were running and what their goal time was.  “Full, 3:15” Angie answered.  Or 1:37:30 half pace for those mathematically challenged readers out there.  Good, Laura and I were fine, although this 3:15 group dropped us which led me to believe they were out too fast as they followed a pacer I didn’t recognize.

For the first few miles, we more or less stuck to the script.  My progression plan called for 7:35’s for miles 2 through 5, and we remained pretty close to dead-on, a couple of seconds slower on the uphill miles, a few seconds faster on the downhills.  I felt like Laura wanted to take off, so I kept easing behind her, falling a step or two back in hopes of pulling on the reins a little.

Somewhere around mile 5, Paul Mainwaring cheered us on, and shortly thereafter, so did Tom and Lo Patania, complete with cowbells – Christopher Walken would have been proud.  They gave me a much needed boost through some tough, hilly sections.  I forgot just how hilly Thunder Road was.  This low 1:37 goal was starting to feel much more difficult than a low 1:38 had felt at Hickory back in June.  I was beginning to wonder if I’d be able to stick to the plan of speeding up later in the race, and I worried if Laura would stay with the game plan if I couldn’t.

The plan called for 7:25s for miles 6 and 7, which we did but I was starting to feel fatigued.  Did I mention we were running this coming off of a full week of training?  No taper, and my legs remembered this even if my head didn’t.  But Laura seemed fine and was following the plan well.  I, on the other hand, kept falling back, and no longer out of strategy, but out of necessity.  Who paces from behind?!?  At one point, Laura turned to me and said, “Where are you?”  and I said, “I’m back here barely hanging on.”

When we hit the water stops, I would grab water and take some to Laura.  She seemed intent on ignoring hydration, but I insisted she drink, so I would speed up to her, hand her some water, then fall back.  But this too got more and more difficult.  Again, we more or less stuck to the pace plan, again albeit a few seconds slower for up and a few seconds faster for down (which any good road race pacer knows is the nature of pacing).  But the deeper into the race we got, the more difficult this felt for me.

By mile 10, when we hit the long, mostly flat section down Queens Road, I was hanging on by a thread and about to fall off the back.  This was the part of the race where we were supposed to start laying down 7:10’s and I didn’t know if I was up to the task.  When we started on Queens, I was even with Laura.  By the time we were turning onto Morehead, I was a good 50 or 60 meters back.

Just starting down Queens. My smile belies the pain I am beginning to feel. At least we dropped the girl who photo-bombed our otherwise nice pic.

Seconds later, Laura pulls ahead…

…a few minutes later and I’m completely out of the frame as Laura’s running fast enough to be a complete blur.

But even with me out of the picture (literally, see above), Laura gamely stuck to the plan, hovering around the prescribed 7:10s for the last 4 miles while I desperately tried not to fall completely off the back.  By the time we neared the last tough climb, up the dreaded Morehead, Laura must have pressed ahead by some 70 meters.

I run alone, beginning that nasty climb up Morehead.

Joey and Anne Marie (and apparently Ben and Kati, who posted the above pic on Facebook) stood at the corner of Queens and Morehead.  Anne Marie yelled something like “You better hurry up, Allen!  You’re about to get chicked by your girlfriend!”  Thanks for pointing this out to me, Anne Marie – I had no idea.

I had fallen off pace significantly, and I was afraid that Laura had too, a little, although obviously less than I had.  A little while back I had told her that she could safely run 7:20s the rest of the way in and still beat her PR.  But I tried to do the math again and I was afraid that I had been mistaken.  I wanted to catch her to tell her this.  So I began the arduous process of reeling her in on Morehead.  I kept a close eye on my heart rate to make sure I didn’t crash and burn in the process.

After cresting the hill, and shortly after turning right onto Dilworth while the marathoners continued straight (on Berkeley, I believe), I caught up to her.  I wasn’t sure about my calculations anymore but I knew it was pretty close, so I just said, “We’ve got to go” and I picked up the pace, hoping Laura would follow suit.  She did, passing me (I was starting to suspect that she wanted to do more than just PR, like maybe this dropping me business was no accident).

We hovered around 7-flat pace for mile 13, turned left onto MLK Blvd., and then made that stupid left into the parking lot (there has to be a better way to find the extra tenth of a mile than by going through a parking lot where you have to will your fatigued legs to hurdle a speed bump).  With less than a quarter to go, I sped past Laura, hoping she would follow.  With a fast last mile under our belts, I was confident we had her PR – now I was trying to get her a sub-1:37.

We exited the parking lot and sped toward the finish.  Some guy came up on my right to pass me, so, of course, I sprinted for all I was worth, very nearly falling down in the process.  Leonard would be proud.  This guy and I crossed the line close enough together so that I had no idea which one of us crossed first.  Laura was right on our heels.  I thought we may have finished in under 1:37, especially with chip time, but officially Laura and I finished in 115th and 116th overall, in 1:37:02 and 1:37:05 respectively.  Laura’s time was good enough to take second overall female masters.

The hard work business was over and the time to have fun began.  We retrieved our checked bag at about the same time as Michael Vance but somehow he received his bag first, despite having arrived to the truck after us – I think they were giving preferential treatment to anyone clad in a tutu:

Apparently wearing garb like this will get you your bag first at bag check. Maybe the bag check volunteers assume you have clothes that don’t contain a tutu and they want to expedite the process to get you out of that thing.

One of the great things about the local marathon is that I get to be privy to so many individuals’ incredible stories.  Like Lauren’s – Jay flew into town last minute to surprise her.  I think I was more shocked to see him than Lauren was.  She knew he’d find a way to make it for her first marathon:

Jay and Lauren somewhere around mile 10, the moment he surprised her (photo courtesy Lori Ackerman).

Or my buddy Scott’s, who was set to run the Marine Corps Marathon a few weeks ago but his mom passed away mere hours before the race.  So he ran Thunder Road instead, and now a bit undertrained, gutted it out, and still managed to perform a series of physical tests as part of an Appalachian State university study:

Scott demonstrates the highest vertical leap by a Georgia grad since Dominique Wilkins back in the early 80s, and after just having run a marathon! Laura and I mercilessly photo bomb in the background while Tom looks on. This is a top contender for best pic of the day, courtesy Lo Patania.

Second place master Laura Gray enjoys beer with her coach as he selflessly lugs her winnings around.

We had so much fun, cheering and later chatting with so many folks as we tried to find creative ways to exceed our 2 free beer limit.  Later, we hit the Wild Wing Cafe uptown with Scott, the Patanias, and our new friends the Chans (Roland and Tracie) where Scott tried to avoid cramping by giving grief to every Florida fan in the joint.  “Excuse me.  Can you tell me who won the Florida/Georgia game?”  That kind of thing.  It was a great day.  I hope to have days just like this at every Thunder Road marathon for years to come.


One Response to “2012 Thunder Road Half, aka Queen Making”

  1. Eddie Says:

    Great blog. I’m a new member to the Anniston Runners club and saw it there. Best of luck with trying to get your BQ. Just got mine in October. Have fun in getting it.

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