The 2014 Thunder Road Half Marathon

As usual, Laura and I were running behind (no pun intended) as we pulled up to our friends’, Kati and Ben’s, house, about a mile from the start of the 2014 Thunder Road Marathon. We parked, grabbed our gear bags, and started running towards the start, near Romare Beardon Park.

Once at the park, we scrambled in search of the gear check truck. Luckily, some volunteers quickly directed us to the truck and we rushed up and handed over our bags, and then dashed toward the starting corral. I had taken maybe five steps away from the truck when I heard someone off in the distance sing, “…and the home of the brave!”

We arrived at the very back of the corral and started making our way closer to the front. “Excuse me. Beg your pardon.” I inadvertently stepped squarely on some dude’s toes and he gave me a major league stink eye as I yelled back “I’m sorry!” Thank god they don’t allow guns in the race or I may not be here to write this today. Laura literally grabbed the arm of some young guy who was rushing to find the 3-hour marathon pace group and he kindly led us through the masses.

Some obese guy with his bib on his back (in the words of one Bart Yasso, “It’s a road race, not a rodeo!”) took much umbrage with our trek towards the front and tried to box Laura out from advancing. She adeptly sidestepped him so he settled for intentionally cutting me off instead. Those of you that know me know that such things have a tendency to set me off. Dude, this is not the port-a-john line. We are not taking advantage of you here – we’re just trying to get to our appropriate spot in the corral, in this case, near the 1:35/3:10 pacers. The truth be told, I’m guessing you should be waaaayyyy in the back so maybe instead of trying to stop us from going forward, you should start moving backward. He physically bumped me to stop my advancement and I may or may not have shoved him and yelled, “What’s your PR? Knock it off!” I think I showed remarkable restraint in that I didn’t make one mention of girth or throw a single punch. As I read this paragraph to Laura, she is reminding me that I may also have dropped an f-bomb or two, but I have little recollection of that.

Anyway, altercations mostly averted, seconds later, we settled in beside the 1:35/3:10 pace leaders, Charlotte Running Club board members Rob Ducsay and Bill Shires, and everyone around was nice and polite and understanding as they had all run more than one road race in their lives. Race director Tim Rhodes called out, “Less than a minute now…” made a few announcements, and just like that, we were off.

I had a very loose game plan that went something like this: Run the first mile in 7:30, the second mile in 7:15, and then play it by ear. I’d done no speed work (other than the odd race here or there) since the Santa Rosa marathon so I was using this race as a guide to what my current fitness level was before diving headfirst into the Boston marathon training cycle. I figured I was in the 1:35 ballpark, but as I had been upping the mileage of late, I secretly hoped/thought maybe I could go faster.

As always, I tried to throttle back the first mile, with Laura, and then our friend John Chambers, right by my side. John and Laura seemed to be having an easier go of things as they cheerfully chatted while I struggled to breathe.

My watch beeped 7:30 as we crossed the first mile marker and while I was pleased that I had nailed the goal time, it felt a little tougher than it should have. And thus the theme for the day was set.

The first half of the race went like this – the 1:35 pacers were out a bit fast and I tried to gradually reel them in. They apparently settled into goal 7:15 pace around mile five and, suddenly feeling confident and chipper, I passed them around 5.5. Chambers passed me on the uphills and I passed him back on the downs.

Nearing mile six, I spotted Dezi just ahead so I yelled back to John as I pointed ahead, “There’s Dezi – come on!” I passed her and said, “Damn it Dezi, you’re hurting my feelings beating me all the time!” (She had buried me in the Boston Marathon back in April.)

Somewhere around here, just like in Lungstrong, Tommy Wagoner passed me and we chatted for a sec, but I couldn’t sustain much conversation as I was busy sucking wind. I put in a pretty big surge around mile seven or so and assumed I left Tommy and John for good. Wrong on both counts.

Late in the race, mile eightish or so, as we ran through Myers Park, down Queens Road, John caught me and said something positive like, “You’re looking strong” and I replied with something like “My motto for the day is ‘Survive the up. Crank on the down.'” And John said, “Yeah, you drop me on the down and I catch you on the up. Which means you’re going to win because the race finishes downhill.” And then he immediately proceeded to drop me like a greased pig.

I struggled a bit in the last miles. Morehead, the nasty hill that virtually every road race in Charlotte traverses, felt like a cruel joke – we ran up it as in every other year, albeit earlier in the race. We turned left onto Berkley Avenue and I thought, “Ah good, we’re cutting off most of Morehead” but after we ran around the Dilworth neighborhood for a bit, the course dumped us back onto Morehead, as if we’d never left. Very Sisyphean. Very discouraging for an old guy like me that was just starting to struggle.

I could no longer see John. Again, just like in Lung Strong, Tommy passed me and I tried to go with him, but couldn’t.

With John and Tommy out of touch, I switched to survival mode. Just hang on. Just hang on. Oh how I wish I was done.

Finally, mercifully, I could see the finish line banner. A bunch of people passed me and I just watched them as I limped it in. It was not my proudest moment, but I did manage to cross the line in 1:34:thirty-something, some twenty seconds faster than a year earlier. I wondered if I was twenty-some seconds fitter than last year or if the new course was twenty-some seconds easier.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all of the Charlotteans who showed up on a cold day to cheer on the runners. That’s one of the great advantages to staying home and running Thunder Road instead of traveling to, say, Richmond – throughout this race, there are friends lining the course and cheering, even on a chilly day like this one (28 degrees at the start). Aaron Linz, Ben Hovis (and I quote, “Get it together, Strickland.”), John Compton, Adam and Audra Mayes, Joey and Anne Marie Church, and quite a few others (many of whom I stared directly in the face but could not make out who they were in my “long run loopy” state).

I crawled it in, grabbed a drink, turned around to ‘wait’ for Laura when I noticed she was already finished, right on my tail, a mere two seconds off the PR time she ran back in May on a much flatter, much easier, course at Sunset Beach.

Then it was fun time. After a quick stop to retrieve our gear bags and change into dry clothes, we shot straight over to Romare Beardon Park for post-race beers. We parked it near the beer tent and drank a few Mich Ultras, trying desperately to get my $123 race fee’s money worth. We staved off the cold hanging out with half marathon second place finisher, and fellow JITFO teammate, Chase Eckard, and fellow Triple C Beer Runner Matt Collins. Laura snapped this selfie (just before Matt joined us):

Third place female masters in the half, second place overall in the half, and some slow, old guy.

And that was it. Just another race on the road to Boston. Next up: Turkey Trot.

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