Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Area 13.1 Half Marathon 8/18/12 (Race Report)

On August 18, 2012, I ran the Area 13.1 Half Marathon with a finish time of 1:57:04.

The Area 13.1 Half Marathon, an inaugural event in Roswell, Georgia that was sponsored by Zulu Racing to raise money for South Africa benefit programs, was a new experience for me in two ways.  With its 6:30 PM start time, this half marathon would be the first evening race of my running career, and, since I had already run 10 miles with my Galloway training group roughly eight hours before the race start, it would be my first race event as the second long-distance run in one day.  I wanted the 23.1 total miles for the day as a part of my preparation for some fall season ultramarathons, so I approached this particular half marathon as a routine training run.

In all honesty, though, I registered for the Area 13.1 Half Marathon just for the T-shirt and the medal.  This extraterrestrial alien theme race, which is named after the UFO conspiracy theories associated with Roswell, New Mexico and the Area 51 military installation in Nevada, appealed to my lifelong fascination with 1950s sci-fi monster movies and reeled me in with the promise of an outrageously fun, albeit challenging, summer event.  I was lured aboard after just one glance at the event website and the race swag.

I was well-prepared for the inevitable alien invasion when I woke up on the day of the race.  I weighed 192 pounds after months of intense workouts and a Paleo Diet lifestyle.  I was still recovering from a mild Achilles tendon ache in my left leg, but my running was unaffected as long as I continued massages and icing whenever the symptoms surfaced.  I met my Galloway training group at Riverside Park in Roswell, the same location as the Area 13.1 Half Marathon, early on Saturday morning and enjoyed a fast, but seemingly effortless 10-mile routine training run.  An ill-advised decision to sprint the last small stretch to the end with some friends brought the Achilles sensations back, but a post-run recovery on my foam roller at home alleviated the problem.

Conventional running wisdom states never to try anything new on the day of a race.  I decided to ignore this wisdom for the time being when I made the decision to try out a new pair of Hoka One One running shoes, a recent brand known for its oversized, but lightweight, midsole technology.  Since the Hoka One One shoes have received almost universal acclaim with many of my ultrarunning friends because of their cushioned feel on long pavement races and rocky trail events, I had long wanted to try the shoes for myself, but had been unable to find any in my size.  When I found out early in the afternoon that a local running store had a pair in my size, I tried the Hokas by running a half-mile around the store block, and, finding the cushioning effect much to my liking, purchased them for the intent of using the Area 13.1 Half Marathon as a testing ground for longer events with the shoes.  The Hoka One One shoes have a springy low-impact effect that has been compared to running on a moon surface.  If I were going to run a science-fiction theme race, I figured that I may as well go whole hog with the theme and wear shoes that feel as though I’m running on the moon.

Sure enough, the Hoka One One shoes did give me the sensation of a low-gravity step as I started the Area 13.1 Half Marathon with some friends in the back of the pack along a flat road next to Riverside Park by the Chattahoochee River.  The race capacity of roughly two thousand runners along a relatively narrow road resulted in some of the most densely-crowded initial miles of a run that I have ever encountered, even rivaling the infamous first mile of the Peachtree Road Race 10K here in Atlanta every July.  I immediately began to pass a multitude of runners, but was still restricted to a restrained pace that was probably a blessing in disguise to minimize later fatigue.

For the first three miles, I ran on top of the yellow lines in the middle of the road to avoid the camber and slope of the pavement on either side, and soon found myself negotiating the orange pylons that the police had set up to free the left side of the road for drivers.  When I saw a runner ahead of me trip over one of the pylons to fall on the asphalt, I stopped momentarily to help him stand, and then resumed my own run with a watchful eye.  The elevation change along these first three miles was forgiving, save for a couple of gradual slopes, and, although I had resolved to run at an effortlessly comfortable pace as a training run for this event, I found myself quickly moving up in the crowd.  I wanted to catch some friends in the 2:00:00 Pace Team, but had started in the back of the crowd way behind those pacers.  I passed the 2:30:00 Pace Team early during the run, and soon found myself edging closer to the 2:15:00 Pace Team when I spotted their signs before passing them during the next couple of miles.

After an abrupt uphill stretch to the first turnaround just before the Mile 4 marker, the Area 13.1 course veered off the pavement onto a pleasant gravel dirt road neighborhood of large homes by the river.  I had elected not to utilize any Galloway run/walk intervals for this race, but my nonstop running felt pleasantly carefree so far.  The improved feel of my running as a result of my weight loss has been remarkable, and, during a few of my recent training runs, I have felt as though I were Peter Parker after being bitten by a radioactive spider in a laboratory.  Still, I reminded myself that 13.1 miles is a long way to run, and I could pay a steep price later on if I overextended myself during the first half of this race.

I had foolishly ignored a cardinal rule of inaugural races by neglecting to carry my own water bottle, because first-time race events often underestimate the hydration needs of runners on a crowded course.  My irresponsible oversight became apparent when I encountered aid stations that were already almost out of water and had to wait a few seconds while volunteers filled the remaining cups one-by-one for each participant.  The temperatures in the mid-80s for this August evening were merciful for this time of year, but the humidity was off the scale, and the lack of adequate hydration would ultimately exact a toll on some of my most talented ultrarunning friends who were present at this half marathon.

As I left the gravel terrain and returned to pavement on the way to the halfway point, though, I was still having fun with my running pace and I continued to pass runners until I finally spotted the signs for the 2:00:00 Pace Team ahead.  My initial plan was to catch up with this Pace Team and remain with them for the rest of the run as a solid training exercise to end my day.  I looked forward finally to catching these pacers and then edging into a slightly slower pace to stay with them.   Cheering crowds were gathered at the start area that doubled as the halfway point of the race, and I waved to a couple of friends as I arrived at the halfway aid station.  The water supplies were still dwindling, but I grabbed one cup and then accepted my first running gel from one of the volunteers.   I did not have enough water to wash down the gel entirely, so I simply kept running while enjoying the taste of the blackberry-flavored mix in my mouth.

The seventh mile of Area 13.1 took runners to a perfectly-flat riverside road straightaway that was deceptively torturous due to the long line of sight to landmarks in the distance that seemed never to come closer.  Long straightaways in races are a weakness of mine, because I fall into a frustrated “Are we there yet?” frame of mind when I see buildings, traffic lights, or other such landmarks a mile ahead.  The ordeal was lessened this time by fun conversation, because I soon caught up with the 2:00:00 Pace Team and greeted a friend, Dan, who was holding one of the pace signs.  Dan and I talked for a few minutes before I surprised myself by comfortably running ahead of the Pace Team on my own.  I was still energized by Dan’s voice behind me as he encouraged all the runners in his pace group and cheered everyone along. 

The toughest section of the course revealed itself at the Mile 9 marker shortly after I turned onto a road with two notable hills and overheard several other runners complaining that they had assumed the course was perfectly flat.  I smiled to myself, concealed my own increasing fatigue, and soldiered on, waving at a handful of faster friends who were returning from the Mile 10 turnaround.  The hills were not an issue for me, but I was starting to struggle with the humid weather.  The Mile 10 aid station had similar water shortage issues, as gallant volunteers quickly filled cups one-by-one.  I repeated the unfamiliar routine of downing my single cup of water and then eating a gel, this time with a chocolate frosting taste that remained on my tongue for the remainder of the event.

The Hokas still felt good on my feet, but I was increasingly cognizant of the fact that my stride was different in these shoes as I obeyed a first instinct to land on my heels instead of striking mid-foot as I have always done with my standard running shoes.  I did not feel any Achilles pain at the time, though, so I continued to pass runners on my way back to the final straightaway after Mile 11.  I waved to friends who were running behind me in the opposite direction on their way to the turnaround that I had just passed as I enjoyed the view of dusk settling on the Chattahoochee River to my right.

I turned onto the home stretch and repeated the two miles of the mentally-taxing straightaway road where landmarks seemed to remain forever out of reach in the distance.  I was finally feeling the burn from two long runs in the same day, but I resolved to continue my nonstop run without walk breaks until the end.  The sight of “UFO lights” along the path as volunteers waved green flashlights up and down the trees on the other side of the road brought a smile to my face, but my arrival at the Mile 12 marker brought an even bigger smile to my face.

The longest mile is always the final mile in such a race, but the road straightaway made this particular section into one of my greatest battles with exhaustion that I had experienced to date.  I caught up with a small crowd of runners, struggled to stay with them as I overheard their conversations, and then somehow outdistanced them.  I finally reached the bridge underpass on the way back to Riverside Park and passed one runner who cheered me on and told me that he was going to ride my coattail to the finish.  I ran over a long wooden boardwalk, crossed a wooden creek bridge, and shot into overdrive when I saw the crowds beside the finish line chute.

I finished the Area 13.1 Half Marathon in 1:57:04 and placed 255 out of 1755 runners.  I had maintained an average pace of 8:56 per mile for the distance and finished 24 of 134 in my age group.

Minutes after I collected my medal and race T-shirt, I felt a noticeable drop in energy as delayed exhaustion finally caught me.  I grabbed an apple from a food table and took a few greedy bites for some quick sugar relief, then talked briefly with a handful of friends.  When rain began to fall, I decided to skip additional post-race celebration and walk to my truck, where I ate a second apple and sat comfortably until some of my strength returned.

I ran nine miles the following morning and performed a back-to-back comparison of the Hoka shoes with my standard running shoes.  My ailing Achilles tendon seemed to worsen during the first couple of miles with the Hokas, but the relief was almost instantaneous when I replaced them with my standard shoes, and I continued my run pain-free.  The next day, I returned the Hokas to the running store and took home a new pair of my standard Brooks Adrenaline shoes.  Nobody said that running is not an adventure in experimentation.  I had looked forward to trying the Hoka One One shoes for a long time, and, if I had never tried them, I would have never known for sure.

My finish time at the Area 13.1 Half Marathon was just over a minute slower than my personal record at the distance from a few years ago.  Considering that this half marathon was my second long run in a single day, and that I fought brutal August humidity, I am quite happy with the final result.  After all, this was just another training run for my fall season.  Thanks to Zulu Racing for a fun experience outrunning the alien invasion, and congratulations to my friends at the race who made me smile every step of the way.

See you on the trails.



  1. Jason,
    You are such a fun writer to read. And as a person watching you run ahead of the group, I can tell you that whatever you are doing, just keep on doing it. You always bring a smile to my face. Congratulations! In the words of my 12 yr. old son, "You are a beast!"

  2. Are you running the north face 50 miler in pine mountain on october 13. Would love to get your perspective. Sweetwater 50K runner.