It’s been two weeks since my last race. In my quest to run 13 13’s in ’13, I had to schedule in a way that would allow my body to recover from race to race, but also to train it for races that get closer together as the spring turns to early summer. Between May 11th and June 1, I’m gonna have 3 races. I say all of this to set up the fact that, last week while away at the Lake of the Ozarks for Easter, I thought it would be a good idea to run 10 miles on the Ozark hills on my week between the Lawrenceville Half and the Go! St. Louis Half. Having read other blogs and talking to running friends about the Go! St. Louis Half, I knew it was going to be hilly. What better place to train for hills than the hilliest place I’ve ever run, the Ozarks? Not good enough…
I arrived in St. Louis on Saturday evening around 4:30 at the Go! St. Louis expo at Chaifetz Arena. Upon arrival, we picked up our bibs first, which is new to me. We then took the bib, like a ticket, to pick up our packets at the expo. I was disappointed to find that they had run out of my shirt size. They were out of both Large and Extra Large shirts. I have two thoughts about this. First: why didn’t they stick the shirts in the participants bags? I mean, I spent quite a bit of money on this to not get a shirt that fit. Second: I guess that’s what I get for not showing up until almost closing time on the day before the race. So, I thought of my wife first, and got one in her size. What a thoughtful husband I am.
I toured the expo: (Side note: Chaifetz arena is SWEET!!)
Half of the expo
I bought myself an officially licensed Brooks running shirt ($27) and a box of Jet Blackberry “Gu”s for $25. I thought that was a pretty good deal! Then I was out the door! Here’s the view toward some pretty buildings in St. Louis:
I liked the view, but the pic doesn’t do it justice
Fast forward to race day. (My pizza, driving tour, and plywood bed at the Motel 6 are side stories.)
I arrived in downtown St. Louis at about 6 a.m., I found parking for $5 and headed toward the starting area. I failed, however, in the “take a mental note of where you park” department. The water and medium Diet Coke I had with breakfast were making their appearance, so I found the port-a-potty. The lines weren’t too long, and they moved quickly. I walked toward the starting line, did a little stretching, and found my starting corral. Don’t know how, but I made it into Corral A. Knowing how my body was feeling, I almost moved back a corral or 4.
View from my starting point, before the corral filled up
I was rather impressed with the organization of the corrals and with all of the surrounding activities of the race. It was really well run. There was music and a PA announcer who read down the list of sponsors and did all of the regular race PA stuff.
At 7:05 I was off, into the beautiful morning air. It was about 54 degrees with very slight wind. The race starts through the downtown area, past city hall and out through the Soulard area of St. Louis. Miles 1-2 and a half were incredibly easy. I found myself thinking “Hey, this isn’t as bad as they told me”, followed by “Whoa, this is all downhill, it’s about to get serious”. At mile 2 I saw the Anheuser-Busch brewery ahead, and well above my head. I knew that it was on the course, so I buckled in to do some climbing. At mile 2.5, we turned up our first hill. “Whew… here we go.” Like I said, I was mentally prepared for these hills, and the first one was tough. However, those hills kept coming, and coming, and coming…. And, the worst part was they would be long, steady climbs and would finish off with a FURIOUS STEEPNESS that sapped your will to continue. Then, there’d be a slow, steady downhill where picking up speed to make up time was impossible. I was still too tired from the climb to push down such a slight decline. Mile 3 killed me, and was one of my slowest miles, but after the first 5 miles, I was well within the range of breaking 2 hours. At this point, though, I knew beating my best of the year was out of the question. Spectator support along this portion of the course was pretty good. Especially in the Soulard area. It did look, though, as if it were a little too early for the folks. Most of them were in their pajamas! But, they were a spirited bunch! (Bloody Marys, maybe?)
Upon picking up my race packet, I found inside an official race program. It outlined the course, and pointed out a “newly named portion of the course” called Holy Hill. This is the portion of the course from mile marker 6 to mile 8. It deserved it’s name. No, it EARNED it’s name. From Holy Hill on through to the finish, this thing got REAL. I held my own on mile 7, I broke 9 minutes. But, I give full credit for that to the good sized downhill in the middle of it. Mile 8 wasn’t nearly as forgiving. The ENTIRE mile was uphill. For those that haven’t done St. Louis, it was comparable to Beale St. in Memphis. It was like Sheridan Rd. in Pekin. However, it went on for a WHOLE MILE!! 9:24. My worst mile of any race of the year. And, it was only going to get worse…
As I said, from here on out, it was very hilly. Out Forrest Park Drive was a slight incline until the turn around. Yet again, the downhill on the way back wasn’t enough to pick up speed, especially after burning up my legs on the last 3 miles of HOLY HILL. I will say this, though, the crowds from 6 to mile 10.5 were AMAZING! Next to the Chicago Marathon, they were the best crowds I’ve ever seen. Great signs (“If this hill was easy, it would be called your mom” and “You think you’re tired? My arms are killing me!”), cheer groups (churches, local organizations, and the SLU cheerleaders), and some great bands! I picked up my traditional beer handout at around mile 10.5, too. Even though it was PBR, it hit the spot!
Then we hit mile 11. I was still on track for a two hour finish. Doing my math, I only needed back to back ten minute miles, and I’d be fine. Easier said than done. Mile 11 was, again, all uphill. Steeper, longer, hotter as the day went on. I shouldn’t say “hotter”, I should say “warmer”. But, still the hottest run I’ve had of the year. My last one was 41 degrees at the warmest. This one hit 62. I pushed through. At one point, I couldn’t help myself. I said out loud to anyone who would listen… “My God, how could they make this entire course uphill?? This is getting ridiculous!” Everyone around joined in with the comments and laughing. I think we all needed the tension of those last miles broken. Miserable.
Mile 12. Uphill. Away from the crowds. Slowest mile of the day, and now, the slowest of the year. I started worrying at this point about my time. I had done well to stay calm about time, to realize that I was 10 minute miles away from breaking 2 hours again, but it was getting tight. It was during the 13th mile that I heard another guy make a comment about the hills. This time, I was too focused. Mile 13 got faster again. In fact, I think a short portion of it might have been downhill. I must have sped up! Then I saw it: the Finish Line, in all of it’s blue and green glory! Just up ONE MORE HILL!! Of course. It had to be. I put my head down, and pushed on.
Coming up on the finish line, I heard the PA guy announcing the clock! “FORTY SECONDS TO BREAK TWO!!” “IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING LEFT, NOW’S THE TIME TO GIVE IT!” “FINISH STRONG!” With 30 seconds to spare, I crossed the line. I put my head down, I refused to look up at the cameras. I didn’t have anything else to give. I wasn’t real happy with my time, but I was proud of it. This was by far the hardest I’ve had to work for a medal! My body felt healthy the whole race. I didn’t feel strong, but I didn’t feel like any injuries were coming on. Go! St. Louis Half Marathon: Success!!
Best ever post race snack:
Ted Drewes Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
And, of course, the most important part of the day:
In summary, even though it was the most challenging race I’ve ever done, I loved it! I guess I just love the challenge. The crowds, overall, move into second place overall on my list of Marathon spectators. Chicago, St. Louis, Little Rock.
On my scale of 1-10 (1 I’ll never do again, 10 has to be done annually) it comes in at an 8! It would be a 10 if it were flat!! Great race St. Louis! Can’t wait to see you again in the future!!
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