The day before the race, it was a quiet Saturday afternoon and I was looking at my prior races and last years Nittany Valley race. I like to pour over performance charts and numbers to give myself an idea what my time will probably be for an upcoming race.  Last year I came in at 1h 49m 38s with an overall pace of 8m 22s. I wanted to figure out what my anticipated pace. First I went to The Running Times website and they have a nice calculator that calculates your anticipated race pace and finish times using your most recent race result. I took the results from the Hollidaysburg Fall Races 10k back in early October. There, I did the 10k in 45m 44s. with an average pace of 7m 31s.  Then I factored in these variables:

  1. This year’s race looks like it will be 20 degrees warmer than last year – in the lower 40’s, with sunshine and little wind, which is great running weather.
  2. I am a better runner this year and except for the ten day period when I had bronchitis, I had two and a half great months of training. When I compare my Fall training this year as compared to 2010, I increased my average distance by 50% and dropped my pace by 1.9% as compared to a decreased net distance of 5.3% and a slower pace of 3.2% during the same period last year.
  3. Last year I beat my projected run pace by 5 seconds and finished ahead by 1 minute and  20 seconds.
  4. I ran VERY fast at the October Races in Hollidaysburg. I pretty much put a brick on the gas pedal and let it do. I really didn’t want to max out for the whole distance at this race like I did in Hollidaysburg.

With these factors in mind, I estimated a finish at 1 hour 42 minutes and 44 seconds with an average pace of 7m 50s.

I posted on Facebook that I was pouring over performance charts and race results when Adam at Fox Trot Runners wisely mentioned that I “still need to run it”, so I stopped looking at my iPad and went on a short run to stretch out. Later that night I had surprise birthday party to attend for a friend and I probably didn’t eat as many carbs nor had as much sleep as I wanted.

I had trained very hard all Fall for this race, running 6 days a week and at times more that 50 miles in a week, so I really wanted to give my all.

Morning of the Race:

I woke up at around 7am and it was a cold 25 degrees but it is supposed to warm up to about 38F at race time. 40 degrees is my “running short threshold” but since it will only get warmer as the race went on, I decided to wear shorts, compression calf sleeves, and my Breath Thermal long-sleeve shirt. I had a quick breakfast at Sheetz and met the rest of the crew at the Pinecroft Park and Ride just before 8:30. Several members of the Altoona Yahoo Running Forums gathered all together for the race including Matt Lindsey, Tim Sheehan, Ben Tudek, Ethan Imhoff, Adam McGinnis and others. I rode up with Matt, Tim, and Ben while Ethan rode up with Adam.

We get up there with the help of Matt’s impromptu parking skills who parked almost directly in front of the Ag Arena. We get our packets and chips. Somehow, I lose my chip between the arena and the car. I am guessing it fell out of my pocket which I discovered had a hole in it. I felt very rushed getting ready for the race. Looking for the lost chip probably wasted 20 minutes or more and I was not able to warm up as much as I would like. I did manage to take a short loop down the hill to grove a trees where some kid was taking a crap in the woods. “I hope it is a clean break”, I yelled at him.

Everyone started to gather at the starting area. 860 registered for this years race  – a new record. Ethan and I walked through the crowd to about 15 yards from the start line. Both Ethan and I were there to race with the others just going out for a fun run. Tim and Ben Tudek were using the run/walk was strategy. The starting siren, which startled me again this year, goes off and we were off.

The Race:

The first two and half miles are two loops around the roads behind the Ag Arena. With 800 runners all running down a mix of dirt, stone and paved roads, it can be quite crowded. The crowd spread out quickly and I had plenty of room to manuveur. For me the first three miles are always tough as I try get my blood pumping into my legs and my breathing in check. This year I felt a lot better compared to last year when I was suffering. A year ago I was averaging about a 8m 15s in this section and this year I was at 7m 40s.

The next section was Fox Hollow Road to Toftrees. I have been feeling really good at this point. When you run at a distance over 10 miles, you are always asking yourself questions like “Am I running too fast and will I run at of gas at the end?” “Am I running fast enough?” Even though I was running better than my target pace, I wondered if it was enough to overcome the slower paces near the airport.  The first test approached: After doing under Rt 322, Fox Hollow gently rises and falls toward Toftrees and then makes a steep climb and a sharp right turn and then finally flattens at Kradel Lane. As a trail runner and running on the hilly roads above Hollidaysburg, it has made me a stronger hill climber as I passed about eight to ten runners on this section.

Past the Airport: Next comes the slow climb starting from Bernel Road, pastthe airport, and toward Rock Road. For me, and perhaps I am the only one, this is one of the most challenging parts of the course and where I feel the most stress. It is a gradual grade and something about running in a straight line puts stress on my body. Perhaps it is an imbalance. Then, my left leg started to bother me as the camber of the road was enough to put my legs off kilter. I tried to compensate by moving back and forth to compensate for the camber and clawing with my right leg to give my left power leg a rest. At

Corner of Airport Road and Rock Run Road

this point I thought I was running about a 7:55. However, it turned out I was actually running around a 8:03 in this section. I discovered only after the race that I set my Runkeeperapp to alert me of my current pace and overall pace instead of my pace for the last mile and my overall pace. If I had it set right, I think I would’ve this ran a few seconds faster. On the bright side, I did run this section nearly 35 seconds faster than last year partly due to my training and partly because it wasn’t 20 degrees with a 35 mile per hour wind blowing across the fields.

Rock Run Downhill: A lot of runners hate this section because it is so steep that it really burns your quad muscles. Yes, it does but I look at it is a trade-off since you can pick up speed and relax your breathing and heart rate for a time. Here I was at a 7:45 average pace and achieved a peak of 6m:45s.

Rock Run Road along Spring Creek to Houserville: Last year when I ran this race, this section was my best section. This year was no exception. I felt physically strong and at my peak here. The course winds along Spring Creek as it heads upstream to the village of Houserville. Here, you can get into a good rhythm EXCEPT for the two short yet steep hills that saps your pace. Again, I trained for this and was prepared with out too much grief and again passing a few runners.

Houserville to Orchard Ave: We go up through the village in Houserville and make a right onto Puddingtown Road. I would have stopped for the beer stop at the corner but decided to continue on. Next it is a flat section as you pass Spring Creek Park and Milford Park. Last year I had some problems with pain in my left thigh but this year I had no problem at all. Since it is a flat section and I feel great, I am tempted to “go for it.”  But I know the biggest challenge is still up ahead. So I backed off, swallowed my last gel, conserved my energy and waited for the challenge up ahead. (7:51 pace)

The Spiral of Death: Someday on the Nittany Valley Running Club forums came up with the name in the past year and the name stuck. By the numbers, it isn’t a hard climb. 215 feet in 1.5 miles. But what makes it tough is that it is in three sections. The first section is up Orchard Road to Park Ave. Here the road starts a gradual climb until it gets steeper and steeper as you get closer to Park Ave. Then at Park Ave. is another similar climb – starting gradually then it gets steeper as you get closer to Fox Hollow Road. Last is another very short climb as you go up Porter Road and then make the final turn into the Centre Region Convention and Visitors Center parking lot. Take all of this into account knowing it is at the last 1.5 miles of a 13.1 mile half marathon. If there is any place I can say that I “crushed it” it was here! The steeper it got, the more I pushed! I pulled out an average 7m 39s mile in this section with the last portion at the top of Porter Road and around the corner to the finish line at almost a full sprint at 6 minute and 45 second mile.

TIME: 1 hour, 43 minutes, 13 seconds. 7:53 overall pace. 171 of 732 runners. 16th in my age group. (M 35-39)

After The Finish:

I am mostly positive about my finish. I am very happy to have improved my time from last year by more than 5 minutes and achieved a new personal record. I am slightly disappointed that I missed my goal by thirty seconds and an overall pace of 3 seconds. If I only had my Runkeeper set correctly, giving e overall pace for each mile, I might have beat my goal. But then again, it would have been difficult since I race the best I could. 3 seconds may not sound much but it is.

What I discovered is that this year the race was much more competitive. Even though I finished 5 minutes slower last year, I came in 12th in my age group. This year I was 16th. If I ran this years race pace last year, I would have been ranked eighth. Conversely, if I race this race at last years pace, I would have barely made the top twenty.

Ethan Imhoff had a spectacular run, finishing 2nd in his age group with 1:27:30 and Adam McGinnis must have really been flying after hanging out with Matt Lindsey for the first part of the race to finish just behind me at 1:44:20. Matt took it easy after a very long season and enjoyed himself with a relaxed 1:52:21.

After the race, we all gathered for brews at Otto’s. It was a great end to a great day.

The Altoona Running Yahoo Group after the Nittany Valley Half-Marathon