Thursday, December 5, 2019

My 2019 Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon Experience

December 2, 2019. Almost a month ago I raced in the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon (IMM Half) on Saturday, November 9th. What a treat!

Although it is my 'home city' half, and was inaugurated  in 2008, I have never raced it. I did not become a serious Long Distance Runner until 2013, and that year began my love affair with the USATF Masters 15K Championship, hosted by the Tulsa Federal Credit Union Tulsa Run. I have been back every year since except 2014 when I was out of commission. It had one of the best Race Directors in the business, Heath Aucoin, at the helm, and it was a special race to run each year. But that race is the last Saturday in October and there was often just a week between that and the IMM Half. In 2015, I took a flyer on the IMM 5K that is run alongside the full and half marathons, and was lucky enough to set the 70-74 age division record at 21:35. [It still stands, but how much longer?]That, too was a great experience and convinced me that I definitely wanted to race the Half Marathon before hanging up my racing flats. It was the same race in which Rob Mullet, a former Butler Bulldog, and the reigning British 3000 Meter Steeplechase Champion, set the Overall 5K record at 14:08! Now affiliated with the Atlanta Track Club, Mullet was, at the time, my chief shoe adviser at Athletic Annex, a local race gear store, so that made it doubly fun!

I did not decide to give it a try until after this year's national 15K championship; there were two weeks between the 15k and the Half Marathon. I wanted to be sure I raced well there and came out of it in good shape, with no injuries or weariness. In fact, now 74, I still took 2nd place in my 70-74 age division in Tulsa and by Halloween I put down a 6.7 mile training run at sub-9 minute per mile pace, overall, with some sub-parts below 8 per mile, so felt pretty much recovered. Time for an email to Matt Ebersole, IMM Elite Athlete Coordinator, and principal of Personal Best Training. Could I get an elite entry bib that would give me access to the first wave in the Half Marathon? I figured that way I would not have to worry about weaving in and out around potentially slower runners in the first mile or so. I held out the possibility that I might break the record and offered the view that I was in shape to break 1:43, and smash the record by a couple of minutes or more. Ebersole was very gracious, and accommodated my request.

One of the adages of road racing is if you want to run well, you should let folks know you are running and maybe even announce a goal. I opted for full disclosure; I announced, on Strava, a few days before the race, that I would be racing in the Half Marathon and would be going for the 70-74 Age Division Record: "I did jump into the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon after all-hope that turns out to have been a good idea. If I am feeling good on Saturday, I have a good shot at a 70-74 Course record...currently 1:45+." The evening before the race I posted a similar note on Facebook to a wider audience: "CNO INDIANAPOLIS Monumental (Half) Marathon tomorrow at 8 AM-Going for 70-74 Age Group Course Record-28 degrees, 8 mph winds, ‘real feel’ 22 degrees-Brrrr! But we’ll just run it anyway, won’t we?!"

I viewed the record as a little bit soft. On the other hand, this has been a comeback year from my third successive hamstring injury over the past few years. My only other Half Marathon this year was at the Dexter-Ann Arbor HM in Michigan. They were the USATF Masters HM Championship in 2018. Being on the Ann Arbor Track Club, I have many friends who run it, and my teammate, Doug Goodhue, was winding up his many years as Race Director. So I raced again this year even though it was not the Championship. My time was 1:45:19, just 19 seconds faster than the IMM Half record. But I had been told the  course in Indianapolis was fairly flat and fast; the DXA2 course has some challenging hills, especially the uphill finish. When I checked the week ahead weather forecast, it looked favorable, low 40's and partly cloudy, if I recall correctly. I did not count on that staying exactly the same, but figured there was a good chance for favorable weather conditions. Ha-ha!

About 4 days before the race, the weather forecast changed and remained the same until the 8 am start time on race day. Rather than low 40's we would get upper 20's, and not a calm upper 20's. We would have 12 mph winds at the start, rising to 15 mph by the anticipated finish. Even worse, rather than being from the prevailing direction, NW, these winds would be from the SSW. We would have a head wind for the last 4 miles-yikes! Still, I hoped that my overall fitness would see me through.

Used to figuring out logistics of races in unfamiliar cities, I thought it would be a breeze in my home city. But it is still worthwhile to prepare. I had identified a parking lot that was relatively cheap for downtown Indy but just outside of the downtown area where traffic restrictions would be in effect for the duration of the Marathon, which would not be over until well after my HM effort. As usual for cold days, I had purchased a 'throw away' hoodie at Goodwill the day before and decided I would run in my warmup pants. That would allow me to easily carry a few Honey Stinger Energy Chews along and skip the water/gatorade stops. I would have a knit hat, and Saucony running mittens to protect my hands. Given my Reynaud's syndrome, I have to be somewhat careful of my hands, although a 'rookie mistake' during the race negated that plan. An area of the Convention Center was open for runners to hang out in, with a large room for warming up if you wanted. Even though there were plenty of portalets outside, there was a long line at the rest rooms. The warm up area was handy for doing my extensive stretching and a few drills before heading outside for a jog and then gradually more intense outdoor run.

Before you knew it, the call went out on the PA system that it was 7:30 and time to head for the Starting area. My bib got me into the secure area in front of the starting line and I joined a few fast folks who were finishing up their warmup in various ways. Then it was time for the National Anthem and the Wheelchairs got started. After a last few stride outs, it was time to line up in corral #1, right behind the elite runners. Then they were bringing us forward and counting us down to the start; the horn sounded and we were off!The crowd cheered and I felt the rush of athletes running past on both sides. I try to go out at an honest pace, but there is no way that I can match the pace of a guy running sub-5 minute miles for a HM. The field got off okay with no incidents at all.
Start of the 2019 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and Half Marathon - I am out of sight, about 4 rows back on the right hand side of the pic. [CNO Financial IMM photo gallery]

The first 0.8 miles is a straight shot and then you hang a left. Right before that, the 7:00/mile pacer came by with his entourage and I was wondering if I should have lined up by one of the pacers...But then I would have had to figure out which pace. 7:30 pace is probably too fast, but 8:00 maybe too slow. Anyway, pretty soon my gps vibrated and I expected to look down to see something like 7:45 or least that’s what it felt like. To my dismay, it read 8:20-whoa! If I can’t hit the first mile under 8 per mile pace, how can I possibly hope to crack the record? 8 per mile brings me in at about 1:44:48. That only gives me about 50 seconds to play with over 13 miles, or less than 4 seconds per mile. And it is not common fro me to run any faster than I do in the first mile. 8:20 per mile would be a 1:49:07, well off the record! All of a sudden my idea of letting people know I was going for the age division record seemed like a big mistake. It looked like it might be a big fail. There would be nothing to do about it now except keep on going and hope things look up.

So I immersed myself in the crowd of runners. In a big race like this, one is not alone. Draw strength from the crowd... and the spectators! The 2nd Mile was 8:10 but then the third was 8:17. Nothing felt that slow but the watch does not lie! The 4th mile had a good straight stretch up through the Mass Ave Cultural District where you could stretch out a bit, Finally the gps gave me some love at 7:58. If I could run a lot more like that, I might recover yet. It was during that stretch that I decided to take an energy chew, so worked my mitts off, dug a chew out of my pocket and popped it in. Then I made a decision not to fiddle with getting my mitts back on as it might upset my running rhythm, which was good now, and it didn't feel quite so cold. Miles 5-7 came in at 7:55, 7:52, and 7:49, so I was cooking. Somewhere in Mile 7 after we crossed Fall Creek headed north, the 7:30 pacer and his followers cruised past and I thought to myself...If I see the 8:00 per mile pacer go by before I get to the finish, my goose is cooked! Mile 8 was a good bit slower at 8:06, but that stretch included the one real rise on the course. By Strava, the 13 foot elevation meant the Grade-adjusted pace was 8:01. By the next mile, I could tell my hands were cold; I needed to get the mitts back on even if it meant slowing down a bit. I popped a second chew into my mouth and wondered if I should slow down or stop to get them on.But I  knew I was close to the record pace, not well ahead of it so didn't feel I had enough cushion to stop. When I encountered a little difficulty getting them back on with my not very well functioning hands, I decided to tough it out-How much colder could they get in another 4 miles or so?!

Working my way through the neighborhoods just south of 38th Street, I knew that when I hit the left turn onto Pennsylvania St., within the first block or two, I would cross the 9 mile mark. Only 4 miles to go...and a bit of downhill from 9 to 10 and then a minor rise to get up over Fall Creek between 10 and 11. My hands were starting to feel like 'meat hooks' but my arm motion was okay and my stride seemed alright. The headwind blew strongly at times, forcing me to lean into it, but other times was not so bad. With each mile marker I got closer to the finish and closer to the possibility that maybe, after all, I could break 1:45. The 8:00 minute per mile pacer was still unseen; I had hope! The 12th mile brought me under I-65 and past the downtown public library to the edge of the American Legion Mall. Strava tells me the 12th mile was 7:56, the fastest mile since mile 7. It also tells me that it took me 8:21 to finish, indicating an 8:21 mile. But from mile 12 to mile 13 was about 1.1 miles and if so, then the pace for the last 1.1 miles was more like 7:42. I don't know if it was that fast but I doubt it was 8:21 pace either. I rounded the right turn onto New York and then a left turn onto Capitol and then finally a right turn onto Washington St. and the finish line was in sight and the clock said what as I was approaching...1:43 and then 1:44 and then I was over the final pad before it clicked on to 1:45. I had made it! Not a great run but a record-breaking one at least. I pushed through the finishing area, thanked them for my finisher medal, picked up bananas and granola bars and water and headed for the huge recovery tent, with room for hundreds. I spotted a table that had an older couple and one other person but three vacant spots. The 5K finishes well before the Half Marathon and I expected these were 5K finishers.The tent was warm, but my hands were frozen. I dumped the food on the table and blew into my hands. Imagine my surprise when I saw a hand warmer come rolling along the table toward me...and then another. The couple had rolled them over, saying--"...hand warmers --get one in each hand. We know what that feels like!" Life-savers! I could feel my hands coming back to me...After a while, I managed to eat the banana...and then headed over to the gear check area to pick up my added layers of clothing...and back into the recovery tent to scramble into them. Time to head out. When I got back to my car and was inside with the car started and the heat turned on, I got my i-phone out and checked the IMM website for my time. I thought sure I had the record but wanted validation...and there it was...gun time 1:44:34/net time 1:44:25, a minute and 13 seconds under the record. Nabbing the 70-74 age Division course record at the ripe age of 74 sure feels good! Later when I looked at my race report on strava, I saw that the gps had difficulty over the first 2.8 miles or so. It doesn't even show up on the map. I conclude that the tall buildings in downtown Indy made it hard to get a good reading. Most likely the 8+ minute miles at the start were actually faster...and that could explain why the total mileage reading was off also.

Less than a week later, the record board looked like this:

I feel so lucky to have my name on the same list with so many great Masters Runners. Mike Cole has been a top Runner in the Indy area who joined the masters ranks in 2016; he also took 2nd place this past March in the USATF Masters 8K National Championship. Dave Bussard, from Northern Indiana, has for years been one of the top runners for the Playmakers Elite/New Balance team out of Lansing Michigan, leading them to victory or if not, fighting the good fight. He has also done battle for individual prizes at numerous National Championships. Gary Romesser is a legend in Indianapolis and is also in the USATF Masters Hall of Fame. Like me, he set his record in the last year of the age group. It was probably a race when he was not at his best, but ran it anyway, and found that his 'second best' was good enough to set the record. Bob Deak out of St. Louis, is my most recent acquaintance. he burst onto the Masters scene this year starting with the 5K National Championship in Atlanta, where he finished just off the podium in 4th, but followed that with a 2nd place at the Masters Road Mile Championship, and 3rd at the 15K Masters Championship. Three men, Jasen Ritter 1:13:17 for 45-49, Deak 1:26:44 for 65-69, and me, set age division records this year, and two women, Crystal Harris 1:16:55 for 40-44, and Julie Mercado 1:22:01 for 45-49.

It's a treat, even if only for a short time; records are made to be broken. It's funny, the conditions were not the best but a lot of people ran awfully well! The race announced that more runners qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon at Indy than qualified at New York City this year. Ten male marathoners and 22 women marathoners ran under the qualifying standards of 2:19 and 2:45 respectively. Another seven qualified out of the Half Marathon. A terrific year all around! In addition there were 5 Age Division records broken, three on the Men's side and 2 on the Women's. Lot's to cheer about this year!

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