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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Fort Worth Cowtown Half Marathon

This past weekend (February 24-26), The Fort Worth Cowtown races were held.  I probably biased, but my adopted hometown nailed it is year!  Well done; well done indeed.

A few years back, I ran in the Half and recall slamming the entire race here on this blog.  It was too many races (5k, 10k, Half, Full & Ultra Marathons) with too many people going different directions.  It was a disaster and I didn’t return because of it.  They finally got it right by splitting the races up to utilize both Saturday and Sunday as well as returning for a second year to the Cultural District.  

With the 5k’s and 10k Saturday morning, I waited to hit the Expo on Saturday afternoon.  With more than half the 25,000 runners having completed their event already, I was surprised at the great turn-out.  Not too busy, but a healthy buzz inside Amon G. Carter Exhibit Hall at Will Rogers Memorial Center.  Hassle free pick-up and a nice variety of vendors.

Taking a welcome detour from my running mindset, I decided to take advantage of the locale and hit one of my favorite museums.  The Amen Carter Museum is a real treasure.  Not only because it is FREE, but it always has some wonderful exhibits.  I found myself spending way too much time in their feature exhibit (through May 13th) Romance Maker, the watercolors of Charles M. Russell.  The photography areas are always a treat for me as well.

Ok, back to the Report...Cowtown Half.

For a mere $5, participants and spectators were able to park extremely close to the start/finish by the Cattle Barns.  This allowed one to stay in the car until close to the gun in order to stay warm on this semi-chilly 41° morning. Porta potties were nearby if needed (always needed) and fairly ample..though one must always realize a race simply can’t provide one per person. 

The only danger of hanging in the car too long is getting in place at your starting corral in time for the start.  Bravo to Cowtown.  They didn’t make it so exclusive to enter and there was more than one way in and out of each corral.  They were spaced far apart and with entries on both sides of the street, spectators didn’t make it impossible to gain access.  Whether your in the car or waiting in line to use the restroom, getting to the proper corral at the last minute has been terrible at many of my previous events.  Easy access to the corrals gets people to be honest because they don’t feel stuck.  When it is jammed up, people simply don’t want to risk getting out of the corrals and moving to the right location for fear of not getting back in before the gun goes off.

The race start was smoother than ever.  Other than a poor young gal who tripped around the quarter mile mark, the first miles were clean and not too cramped.  I actually had to be careful not too go out too fast because one could run fairly freely.  I was in corral #2, probably a little aggressive for me so I started near the rear of the group.

After 4 days of skiing and a few days battling a virus leading up to the race, my goal was to finish a minute or two over two hours.  I wanted to break 2 hours, but knew that would be unlikely.  I clocked the first mile too fast due to the free flowing crowd and downhill topography.  Unfortunately, I didn’t slow down much and was going out faster than I had ever done before.  I knew this was a mistake, but kept saying to myself “what if you’ve been too conservative in the past and your PR is just waiting for you to quit being a pansy in the first half.”  I am a stickler for negative splits at every distance.  It is not unusual for me to run my second half of the HALF two or three minutes faster that the first half.

Finally, I couldn’t throttle it back enough to make a different and decided I’d clock 9:10-9:25 minute miles until “the beast.”

I love this race.  The Cowtown 10k was my first ever road race some 19 years ago.  I was in love with the City and the Event from that day forward.  In the original days, you started and ended in the Stockyards.  They talk about races like New York and Chicago being a great way to get a taste for a town.  I will say that this race gives a great flavor of Fort Worth.  Tour the Cultural District, Neighborhoods, Stockyards, Downtown, Trinity River and much more for the marathon competitors.  Now that they have the logistics and site perfected, I can’t see how anyone in the DFW area would miss this event.

“The Beast” is my term for the long uphill trek to Downtown Fort Worth headed south on Main Street.  I love pain so I love this hill.  Great memories from races past with buddies crashing and burning only later to admit they didn’t handle the beast properly.  My effort was steady, but my training was clearly inadequate to simulate the climb.  Fairly steep and it just keeps coming.

After plowing on through a flat downtown we got to some downhill portions that I decided I needed to take advantage of to break 2 hours.  A PR was out of the question given the course, but I thought I could still muster 2 hours if I could hold on the last three miles.  During my 11th mile, I started getting some pain in my left knee.  ITBS is something I haven’t experienced in many years, but this felt eerily familiar.  Just then, the strangest thing happened.  A police officer stopped the race at an intersection...everyone was totally confused until an ambulance went by in front of us.  I didn’t hear of any major issues with any of the runners, but the stop did wonders for my knee (not so much for my time).

It was time to get moving again.  This was a goofy part of the course that winds through many streets.  I clearly didn’t do a very good job of cutting the corners because we hit the Mile 11 marker and I had somehow added .2 of a mile to the race.  I had been about .03 long on my Garmin up to that point, but I was really down when my watch said 11.33 at the marker.  So much for breaking 2 hours....

You’ve been there.  Fairly spent and trying to do the math on 2.1 miles and what pace you’d need to run to hit a certain time.  As soon as you think you’ve calculated it, you remember that there is no guarantee that the next 2.1 is actually 2.1 the way you’ll run it.  It might be 2.3 or 2.0...

At this point, I quit doing math and decided I’d just let go.  A lengthy downhill stretch during mile 12 helped me drop my pace into the low 8’s.  I was passing people like I was actually fresh wondering when I was going to completely crater.  8:10 for Mile 12 and suddenly the math made sense again.  I thought that I could run a mid to high 8 minute mile and change to get long as I ran smart and the course and my Garmin were tracking a similar distance.

8:20 for Mile 13 and I was gassed.  Not wanting to look like death in sneakers, I quasi-sprinted to the finish in front of a huge crowd to finish with 1:59.14.  Boom!  I haven’t had time to go back and calculate my splits, but I’d guess that I maintained my negative split streak due to some solid closing miles.

I did log the time in my Race History chart and realized that this was my second fastest half marathon.  While still 1.5 minutes slower than my PR last October, I was thrilled with that discovery.  Great motivation to make this spring one of my best racing springs ever.

My knee is still a little tender and my quads are screaming from the downhill pounding, but I’m truly thrilled with the event.  It helps that I ran well...yet, I’m most thrilled with the way the Cowtown has transformed into the best large running event I’ve ever participated in during my 19 years of running.  I hope nobody reads this because it would be nice to keep this my “little” secret for the next few years.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace