Anytime I travel halfway across the country for a race, it’s a big one for me. This weekend I decided to skip Charlotte’s Corporate Cup Half Marathon (which I hated to miss, by the way) to run the Little Rock Half Marathon instead. It’s a race that normally wouldn’t have been on my radar at all, but this year it was added as the 7th race of the 9-race schedule of the Running Journal Grand Prix (you may remember the 10th race in the RJ Grand Prix — the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon — was canceled recently because of snow). Doing well in The Running Journal Grand Prix has become one of my main goals for the year. Only the top 8 finishers in each age group in a race get points, so it’s very possible to come home empty-handed after traveling to some faraway races.
For the last couple months I’ve been working on heart rate monitoring in my training and also in my races. According to the formula that holds true for about 80% of the population (205 minus one-half your age) my Maximum Heart Rate is 176. In my race last week my Garmin gave me a heart rate reading of 181 in the last tenth of a mile in a 5k, and in the last tenth of a mile of this half marathon it measured 178. I thought the 181 might be a false reading, but with a 178 in this race it looks like I may need to adjust my numbers up a little, maybe to 184 as my “official” MHR to keep things even. For now though, 176 has been fine as a number to work with, and I know that for me, once my heart rate reaches 170 I start to hit a point that I can’t maintain for long before I become unglued.
The Little Rock Marathon Medal is the world’s largest — 7 inches tall by 5 inches wide — 1.67 pounds!
Since I began heart rate training I’ve stopped looking at my pace in races and just concentrated on my heart rate. This was my first half marathon using my heart rate to pace myself so I wasn’t sure how it would work out or how fast or slow I should go. I had read that for a half marathon I should pace myself by limiting my heart rate to 75% of max. From my training runs I knew that would be a disaster because even though I might feel great throughout the race, I couldn’t run fast enough to place in the race. Even 80-85% wouldn’t be enough. I decided that since I’ve had some success in my recent 5k and 10k races getting to about 95% of the 176 MHR (167 beats per minute) I’d shoot for that, then if I crashed and burned along the way at least I would know whether it worked or not.
The race began with a bang — literally. A couple minutes before the gun went off the announcer said there wouldn’t be a countdown but he hinted that it would be a spectacular start. At exactly 8 o’clock the sound was deafening and confetti cannons began spewing their contents from a tall building just beyond the starting line. I later found out that the confetti continued to pour down onto the runners until all of the thousands had passed by.
I was fortunate to have registered for the race early and from some of my past race results qualified to start in Corral B and also had my name printed on the race bib because of the early registration. It was the first race I had run with a corral start so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very straightforward though, with the E corral at the very start containing only the elite runners and handicapped runners (wheelchairs, etc.). Corral A was surprisingly small as well, with maybe 100 runners, then Corral B followed with maybe 200 runners, so it wasn’t crowded at all. Behind us in C, D, and the open corral I could see that there were thousands of runners packed in tightly. I also knew that at the front of the C corral there were a lot of fast runners who didn’t register early enough to get in one of the front corrals or didn’t take the time to send in their proof to qualify for the front corrals, so I was hoping I didn’t stumble at the start and get trampled by the masses.
As the race began, I monitored my heart rate, building it up to 166 beats per minute over the first half mile or so then holding it at that level, deciding to stay there as long as possible. About a mile into the race I looked up ahead and saw Bobby Aswell, who had started in Corral C but had already passed me. He was maybe 50 feet ahead of me but I kicked it up a notch so I could catch up and say hi before he left me in the dust. Bobby is one of most amazing runners you’ll find anywhere, having run thousands of races, and for him this was marathon #147! At the age of 47 he finished 1st in his age group and 21st overall in full marathon time of 3:03.
Richard and Bobby in pack on bridge crossing Arkansas River
Bobby pulled up ahead of me a little but in a crowded area on the long bridge that crossed the Arkansas River I passed him, which reminded me of the only other time I had passed him in one of our many previous races together. I had passed him along with two other well-known Charlotte “Bobs” — Bob Heck and Bob Nelson — at the Midnight Flight 10k last fall, knowing they’d all return the favor before the end of the race, which they did.
Bobby ran in back of me for a while and the next time I saw him was about the 3-mile mark of the race. As he passed me going around a corner he yelled at me, “Richard, you’re going too fast — you’re running a 6:42 pace.” He explained to me after the race that he thought I should try to even out my pace, so instead of starting out that quickly I should maybe try to run a 6:55 or 7:00 pace evenly throughout the 13 miles. He’s probably right, of course, but for me at the moment my system seems to be working pretty well. Once I reach running nirvana I’ll run an even pace or negative splits, but until then I’ll just rev it up until the wheels fall off, which has actually been working pretty well for me.
Bobby Aswell at Finish Line
I could see Bobby up ahead until a little over 5 miles into the race, then he finally drifted on up ahead and out of sight with the faster runners. There was a timing mat when I reached the 10k mark in the race and I was a little surprised to see that my 10k split time was 42:49, which is a pace of 6:54 and nearly as fast as my 10k PR of 42:31. I still felt pretty good as far as my heart and breathing were concerned, but there are other factors involved in running as well, such as the musculature of your legs and feet. No doubt my legs were getting tired, but that’s to be expected when you run 13 miles so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Shoes are another factor, and as this was my 9th half marathon I’ve experimented with what shoes would work best for me. Remembering how heavy my feet have felt in a few previous half marathons, I decided to go with my lightweight Asics Hyper Speed 3 racing flats which I had only worn previously in short races (5k and 10k). They actually felt good during the race but shortly after the race my toes were aching. When I got back to the hotel and took them off my right middle toe was bleeding and my left 2nd toe had a huge blister on it (my first blister since I’ve been running). I probably should have gone with something a little heavier, and if I recover enough to run my next scheduled half marathon in two weeks I’ll wear some different shoes.
Richard at HM Finish Line — 1:33:09
Somewhat surprisingly, I was able to sustain a heart rate of between 166 and 170 bpm throughout the race and felt better than I have in any of my eight previous half marathons. If you’ve kept up with my previous races you’ll remember that in the past I relied heavily on Jeff Galloway’s run-walk-run philosophy, taking walk breaks often in races. Last fall when I ran four half marathons in 28 days I took a total of 57 walk breaks in those four races and still had respectable times ranging from about 1:37 to 1:42. I may go back to the Galloway method again in the future, but for now the walk breaks are a thing of the past. Throughout this entire race I don’t even remember considering taking a walk break.
I finished the race in 1:33:09, a new Personal Record for me and in the top 2% of all runners, 51st overall out of exactly 2,900 finishers. The crowd support was amazing. Throughout the race I heard my name called hundreds of times — “Good work, Richard!” or “Richard, you’re doing great!” I tried to give a small wave of acknowledgment anytime I’d hear my name. The finish, though, was the most amazing part. For probably the last half mile I was nearly alone, with the nearest runner ahead of me maybe 50 yards and the nearest one behind me probably another 50 yards. The last tenth of a mile was a long, winding chute with hundreds of people lining both sides and as I ran along as the only runner nearing the finish line, the crowd cheered like I was the overall winner. What a great feeling, even if people were just being polite to an old man. I’ll take it.
A few minutes later Jerry Sofley, who is also from Gastonia and is competing in the Running Journal Grand Prix and flew with us to Little Rock, crossed the finish line. Jerry finished 2nd in the 60-64 age group in the half, I finished 2nd in the 55-59 age group in the half, and Bobby Aswell was 1st in the 45-49 age group of the marathon. A pretty good day for the Carolina runners!
Jerry Sofley – Front of pack in red shorts
There was a different T-shirt design for each of the three races — full marathon, half marathon, and the 5k. All of the shirts were great, with no advertising on the back (always a plus).
The finisher medals are unbelievable. For the full marathon, the medal is 7 inches tall and 5 inches wide, weighing 1.67 pounds! The half marathon medal is a little less spectacular, being only 4 inches by 4 inches, still by far the largest medal I’ve ever received for finishing a race.
Oddly, there was no awards ceremony at all except for the overall top 3 male and female winners. The literature stated that age group awards would be mailed to winners after the results became final.