The Top Of Utah Half Marathon

            I have spent the last few months talking with coaches, agents, shoe companies, and race directors, I have had to type out my running credentials so many times I should probably have a word document saved on my computer to save me time. In the repetition of my credentials I have realized that they truly do not reflect the work I have done, or the fitness I have had at certain points of my competitive running career. They are especially soft in the longer races. In fact, I wasn’t even able to procure a compensated elite entry to the Deseret News 10k due to my lack of any impressive time in any distance over 3,000 meters. Given I remedied that a bit at the Deseret News 10k, there are still some serious holes in my resume in the distance events. For example, I received an e-mail today that said, “I just looked over your running resume. You have never been in a competitive 5k? How did that happen!?”

            I feel a slight need to defend myself, and my college, distance coach. First of all, I was pure middle distance guy in High School, I carried a 1:55.1 800 pr, and a 4:19 1600, my 3200 dropped off to 9:40 (I even ran 50 flat for the 400.) It took quite awhile in the collegiate system to develop into a halfway decent distance runner. I came to school in the fall of 2008 and I couldn’t run a good race over a mile with any consistency to speak of until 2012 (Why put a kid in a 5k when he will run anywhere from 8:30 or 9:30 in the 3k depending on the day, especially if he can run a 4:12 mile at altitude forwards, backwards, sideways, or on his hands.)

            Lack of long race experience considered, one might imagine how nervous I was for Saturday’s Top of Utah Half Marathon . . . not nervous at all. I had nothing to lose; this isn’t even a competitive distance for me. I was going for a long run anyway, I like to keep my long runs at a high tempo anyway, might as well have some company and some aid stations along the way. Not to mention the prize money.

            I kicked around the idea of the TOU Half originally as a workout, and determined it was sort of a nothing-to-lose venture. However, as the race approached, and the level of competition came into focus I decided I would race . . . hard. Why? I have had a few discussions with some former and current professionals lately and they gave me the advice to figure out what my ultimate goal is in running, and figure out how running will fit into my life with those closest to me. With all that in mind I have been thinking about my long time goal of making an Olympic team in the steeplechase. There is almost literally no money in the steeplechase. In fact, there is, sadly, almost no money in professional Track and Field. Athletes can earn some money by heading overseas in the summer, but in order to make anything noteworthy, I would have to be gone for three months out of the year, racing three times a week. That doesn’t sound realistic with a family and a job.  This is the reality of professional Track and Field for all, save the top 3 or 4 men and women in each event.

            The more common route for professional distance runners is to turn to road racing. There is more money, more varied distances; race directors are willing to assist you with travel. The only downfall to the roads is that there is only one route to the Olympics, and that route is 26.2 miles long. The point to all this is that the TOU Half Marathon was an assessment of sorts for me. I was using the race to assess my potential in longer form road racing.  

            That being said, I was shocked at the amount of very good runners who decided to run the Top of Utah Half this year considering it is one of the lower-paying half marathons in the state (I think it should be noted that the TOU Half race directors recognized the quality of their field and substantially increased the prize purse, that is a very classy thing for them to do.)

            It was a fun experience toeing the starting line with so many quality runners. It was also a fun experience to toe the starting line and be looking downhill. I think the quality of the field made the other elites rather hesitant though. I had planned on being conservative early in the race, because I would rather go out conservatively and be coming on late in the race than go out too hard and blow up. It seemed everyone had the same idea early on. We ran through the first half-mile pretty slowly. I am not sure how slow; I also wasn’t sure how easy the beginning of a half marathon is supposed to feel. However, a few minutes of that was enough for Jake Krong, a sub 2:20 marathoner. He made a decisive move about 1k into the race. With him went Bryant Jensen, another 2:20 marathoner and former teammate of mine at Weber State. Bryant has won three of the larger Utah Marathons this summer including the Salt Lake Marathon. He also took 48th at the USA Half Marathon Championships, I considered him to be the favorite to win this race.

            Knowing Bryant was no pretender I still decided against going with the early leaders. As I said I had resolved to stay relaxed in the early miles of the race. Shortly after Jake and Bryant made their break, Riley Cook, a prolific road racer in Utah, and Jacob Howell, fresh off a win at the Hobble Creek Half Marathon, formed a chase pack. I also contented not to go with them, as it was still too early in the race for me. However, I did keep about a 10-15 second rope on them, so that I could change gears and catch them fairly quickly if need be.

            It didn’t take long for the chase pack to catch the early leaders. The four had formed a lead pack by about mile 2, with me about 15 seconds back. At this point I realized that I was going to have to make a pit stop. I held off for a few minutes, but I was only delaying the inevitable. I pulled off, and by the time I was back in the race, the lead pack that I had in view was long gone, and I was back in eighth place.

            I worked my way back up to 5th over the next few miles, and I had the leaders back in view. At the bottom of Blacksmith Fork Canyon Riley and Jake had broken away and Jacob and Bryant were battling for third (Bryant appeared to be winning the battle.) I locked in on the next guy in front of me and just focused on making him bigger. I used a technique I read about once and I would highly recommend it. I imagined that there was a rope attached to the guy in front of me, and that I was steadily pulling on the rope. “Tug on the rope,” I thought, I hit 8 miles and he was only about six or seven seconds in front of me. I kept tugging and caught him shortly after the 8-mile mark. “OK,” I thought, “new rope.” Now there was a rope attached to Bryant that I was tugging on rather rapidly, I closed his 30 second lead to about 8 seconds by the ninth mile. We made the turn off of Hollow Road, and there was my wife cheering for me. I would like to say, that it really helped to have her encouragement, and I really appreciate her coming to watch me race, but that put to rest the sneak attack I had going on Bryant. The last 8 seconds took the next mile to close and I pulled even with him at about mile 10.

            “What’s up?” he said. “Had to go to the bathroom about 3 miles in,” I said. This was a strange experience; I have never been able to talk during a race before. “Yea,” he said, “I went out too fast with Jake, the last couple miles have sucked. They’re finally starting to come back now.” As cool as being able to talk mid-race was, we were 10 miles into a half marathon, about a minute back from the leaders, and I was still feeling pretty fresh. The conversation stopped there, and I wasn’t sure what to do, Bryant had clearly quickened his tempo to stay with me when I caught him. I didn’t know if I was ready to shift yet, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel 10 miles in. I tested Bryant a few times, I picked it up slightly and he matched. I settled back in, then a few minutes later I picked it up again and he matched again. I thought it apparent that he was going to battle me all the way in. At this point I contented to tuck in behind him for a bit. After a few minutes I thought, “If we’re going to have a battle, we might as well work together to catch the leaders and battle with them too.” I took over to keep the pace honest, I figured we could switch leads and try and reel Jake in, at least (Riley had put a small gap on Jake.) However, when I took the lead back over, Bryant dropped off. I didn’t feel that I had picked up the pace much, but maybe I did, either way, I was on my own again.

            At the 11-mile mark I was a short distance in front of Bryant and quite a ways behind Jake. I attached my mental rope to him and started pulling, but I needed to be pulling rapidly at this point. I continued to close, but by the time we reached the top of Millville hill and closed in on the 12-mile mark I realized that Riley was out of range, and Jake was running strong. There might be a possibility I could have caught him, now that I think back on it, but it seemed unlikely enough at the time that I didn’t try to drop a 4:20 last mile to do it. I think part of it may be because when money is on the line, it makes you a little more hesitant to make a move you are unsure if you can finish, for all I knew Bryant was back there waiting for me to make a mistake and blow up, so he could catch and pass me when I was defenseless. To my knowledge the prize money still only went three deep, if Bryant caught me, my 13-mile effort was for not (financially anyway.)

            I glimpsed the clock at the 13-mile mark and it was somewhere around 1:05:45, too high for me to kick to a sub-1:06. So I kept my pace through the finish line for a 1:06:10. In all the race felt pretty easy (as easy as a 13 mile tempo run can feel, anyway.)

            Furthermore I accomplished my goal. Based on the training I have been doing lately (which is not half marathon training,) the pit stop I had to make, and how I felt at the end, I think that my potential, at least at the half marathon distance, is just as good as my potential in the steeplechase. While I haven’t decided if I will begin to go exclusively into long form road racing, and eventually pursue the marathon, I think this definitely helped my decision. As for right now I still have a road mile in Minnesota, and U.S. Road 5k Championships on the short-term schedule. However, my time did qualify me for $200 travel assistance to the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in January. The U.S. Half Champs is one of the most financially beneficial road races there is, and it is in Houston, which is a very fast course. I think I will try and run fast there. That will be another indicator of whether professional career should get longer or shorter.

 

Check out some pictures of me in my shiny new Runners North Jersey. I haven’t purchased any, but Zazoosh takes pretty good event photographs. http://www.zazoosh.com/events/searchPhotos/816?bib=2476