Air Force Half 2017 - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Well, I ran the 2017 Air Force Half Marathon last weekend, with mixed results. This was, of course, a class act event as always. I previously ran the full marathon in 2012. This year I made a late decision to go back and run the half as practice for my other upcoming half marathons.

I love how my half marathon medal photo turned out

Pre-Game

Air Force Marathon is on a Saturday, and with no race-day packet pick-up, that means everyone needed to get to the expo no later than Friday evening. I got off work at 4:30 PM on Friday and had a rough time getting from downtown Columbus to Wright State University in Fairborn. Traffic was a mess, and then when I got off at my exit to the Nutter Center, roads were closed as the Air Force 5K was about to start. I was routed way out of my way and had to park about a mile from the expo. Walking to the expo, I was going against the stream of 5K runners. It was fun to see them, and but it was not fun walking in the gravel on the side of the road in my work shoes.

Friday evening 5K runners

Once I got to the expo I quickly picked up packets for myself and for Scot. This year the shirts were neon yellow with black sleeves: long-sleeved for the half and full marathoners and short-sleeved for 5K and 10K runners. I didn't spend much time at the expo, but I made a point of visiting the Carmel Marathon booth where Robert was working. I was already registered to run Carmel in 2018. I also saw fellow marathoner and cat-mom Jen.

With Robert and Jen at the Carmel Marathon booth

The walk back to my car was frustrating because now I was carrying stuff, and I was still not in proper walking shoes. But I got to see some of the 5K runners finishing, so that was nice. And because I was parked so far out of the way, I had little traffic getting back to the highway. When I got back home, Scot had arrived from DC and there was time for a quick pizza dinner and then sleep.

The Good

Wake-up was a 4:00 AM, in order to get to Wright Patterson Air Force Base without worrying about traffic and parking. Although my half marathon didn't start until 8:30, the full marathon started at 7:30, so Scot needed to be there earlier. We had no problems with the drive or parking. Once we got to the start area (a bit of a walk from the parking), the port-o-potty lines were moving relatively fast. So, far, a good start to the day.

Scot (and Magenta the Road Trip Flamingo) with Sid
Marathon Maniacs Columbus Ambassador (me) with the Cincinnati Ambassador (Andrew)

Each year the Air Force Marathon features different aircraft. The chosen airplane makes an appearance on the t-shirt, the medal, and does a fly-over before the marathon start. This year marked the 70 birthday of the USAF and there were two aircraft models: the F-22 Raptor and the P-51 Mustang. It was interesting to see a fast jet and a slower plane flying together. That must have taken some coordination! After the fly-over the marathoners and 10K runners started their race. I would have an hour to wait for my start.

Fly-over before the marathon

With Nilda and Eddie

I hung out in the start area, walking around and looking for people I knew who were running the half marathon. I didn't find anyone. Instead, I got a photo of myself with the AF Marathon mascot Tailwind. The Raptor and Mustang didn't make another pass for the half marathon start. Instead, we got parachutes!

My pre-race pic with Tailwind
Half marathon start corral
Parachute landing before the half marathon

After the cannon boom, we half marathoners were off. I started out between the 2:30 and 2:45 pacers since my game plan was to run a 2:40 pace for the first six miles. This was a 12:12 minute/mile pace and was practice for a half marathon I would be pacing the following weekend. I was not used to running this pace on purpose, so I needed to train my body in how it felt. I went out a little too fast, then had to make a port-o-potty stop at mile 2.5 or so, so that put me slightly behind. I would never stop at a potty if I was actually pacing a race, but I had the freedom to do it on this day. In my next few miles I started leap-frogging with the 2:45 pace group. It was necessary for me to catch them because I was running a faster overall pace. But they would occasionally pass me during my walk breaks. I was pretty close to my goal of 12:12 pace for the first 6 miles. Not perfect, but it was good practice, and my plan was to practice it again during my weekday runs before the pacing gig. So far, so good.

A lot of the course looked kind of like this

The Bad

The rest of AF half was for me to do whatever I wanted to do. At first I thought I'd speed up and end up with a negative split for this race. But it was a hot day and the heat actually slowed me down. I ended up behind the 2:45 pacers, and I was not happy about that. I had intended to zoom past them and have an awesome feeling second half. I was rested enough and my body felt up to it...if it wasn't for that heat! At the very least, I would stick with the 2:45 group, not have them leave me in the dust. But they did. I started taking extra walk breaks, especially when going uphill. I made sure to hydrate well, so I was in no danger of heat-related illness, but I just couldn't pick up the pace consistently. I was so happy that I was not pacing that race, because it could possibly have been my first pacing fail.

Selfie with this aircraft
Wright State University

I saw runners who were slower than me begin to pass me. These were people I recognized as being behind me at my port-o-potty stop, who passed me when I stopped...but I caught back up to them after the break. This meant I was noticeably faster than them in the first half of the race. But now some of those folks were passing me. Not good. Eventually, I accepted my fate. I told myself it was OK to walk as much as I needed to in order to beat the heat, as long as I ran all the downhills and didn't walk all the time. After all, this was not a goal race for me. I needed to save myself for my upcoming pacing gigs and for my three fall marathons.

The Ugly

But at Mile 10, things got worse. My left calf decided to hate me. I had injured it during a speed work session back in June. I never got a diagnosis, but I strained or pulled something on the inside of the calf  a couple inches below the knee. At that time I took three weeks off running and rehabbed it at home, doing all the tricks I knew about compression, stretching, massage and using my ultrasound machine. I returned to running in July. I was a little slower, but had no pain or discomfort, and my form was not compromised. I ran Emerald City Half at the end of August and then did two trail races. It seemed as though I was all better. But apparently not, after re-injuring the exact same spot during Air Force. This was very discouraging.

My calf hurt running. It hurt walking. It especially hurt going uphill with a fully flexed foot. I had to just walk, but my walking pace was slow. I calculated my finish time if all I did was walk at that pace, and it was over 3 hours. I didn't want that to happen, so I occasionally ran for a few paces on a flat or downhill section of the course. But mostly, I walked. In the last mile I heard a friendly voice calling my name. It was Kate. I didn't even know she was at this race. She said she had seen me earlier in the race when she was in line at a port-o-potty. Now she had caught up to me. Kate was nice enough to walk with me for a little while so we could catch up. She was telling me about running during pregnancy, and how it had slowed her down, but she was still planning some full marathons for the fall. I was happy that she was having a good pregnancy and was able to run.

Back on base, which means the end is near!
Kate found me and we got a selfie

In the last half mile I tried to pick up my pace from slow walk to slightly faster shuffle. But my calf screamed at me and I felt a tearing feeling. Oh no! Not good at all. Now I was limping. With about a quarter mile to go, I encouraged Kate to run ahead for her finish. I would finish, but there was no way I was running another step. I walked in for my finish barely squeaking by in 2:59:11.

Approaching the finish up ahead between those planes
You just cannot beat a finish chute that is lined with aircraft

The Aftermath

I found Kate at the end of the finish chute and we hung out and chatted for a while. Then she went to the massage tent and I went for my beer. I don't love a boring domestic beer, but I wanted anything they had to drink on this hot, disappointing day. While drinking my beer I went to the Geico tent to wait in line for my free massage for wearing my Geico Military shirt. I asked massage therapist Ponsi to be careful with my injured calf, and she did a great job overall, getting me all stretched out.

Post-race with Kate and baby on board
I didn't care that it was cheap, domestic beer; it was cold and it was mine
Ponsi gave me a great post-race massage

After my massage I found some shade behind the USO trailer and sat for a bit, eating some potato chips and drinking my beer. I kept thinking about my upcoming pacing gigs. I was supposed to pace a 3:00 half the next Saturday, followed by a 2:40 half on Sunday. Now, both of those races were out of the question. I couldn't guarantee making those times, and my leg needed to rest in order to heal. I would need to send some emails backing out of those pacing gigs, and I was very unhappy about that.

I went and got another beer, thanks to Scot giving me his drink ticket before the race. I had some time to wait for him to finish the marathon. In the finish area tent I found a different Scott, a fellow Half Fanatic who had run in my pace group for Cleveland Half Marathon. He was there with another HF Anoosha, who I met for the first time.

With fellow Half Fanatics Scott and Anoosha

I walked around some more looking for other folks that I knew, but never found them. And then...I was randomly sanding right in front of some medics as they were carrying a runner to the medical tent. And I noticed that the person on the stretcher was Sid. So, I went after them to the tent to see how he was doing. Sid's other friends Dave and Dolly were with him at the time. Apparently Sid finished the race just fine, but started exhibiting heat issues 30 minutes or so afterward. They gave him fluids and tried to cool him, but he needed to be transported to the base hospital. I'm happy to say that Sid is fine...he was one of the many victims of the heat on that day.

Scot finished with Carrie; they had run Marine Corps Marathon together last year. She was a first-time marathoner then, and now she's a Marathon Maniac. After photos and things, Scot and I had to get to the car and drive back to Columbus. We had tickets to the Ohio State game that afternoon, and even though we were a little late for the game, it was a good football day and Ohio State beat Army. It was a long day though, so I was happy to get home from the game, give my calf an ultrasound treatment, and then get some much-needed sleep.

Inside Ohio Stadium "The Horseshoe"

Race Review

Aside from my own poor performance, how did I like Air Force Half Marathon? Well, I had run the full marathon in 2012, so I had a basis for comparison. This race was very much like the 2012 version. It's a very well-managed event, as are all the military races I've done. It's fun, it's festive, there's always a great medal and shirt. The crowd support is somewhat lacking because most of the course is on the base, but where there are spectators, they are awesome. The half marathon course doesn't go out into the town of Fairborn as the marathon does, so I missed that bit. The section in Fairborn had the best spectator showing when I ran in 2012. But all race logistics were good: plenty of port-o-potties, aid stations spaced frequently and staffed by energetic volunteers, one gel station on the half marathon course, and a little, but not a lot, of on-course entertainment. The post-race food was about average, with water,  juice and Gatorade to drink, fruit and Panera bagels to eat. Each beer ticket got you a PBR or a Miller Lite. For additional fare, Chick-fil-a had food and drink for sale.

Now that I'm in Columbus and this is a semi-local race, I'll be back. I just hope I don't have bad luck with injuries. Not only did I injure my calf at Mile 10 this year, but I also pulled my IT Band toward the end of the marathon in 2012. So, my injury stats for Air Force races is 2 for 2. I'd like to see the race count rise but the injury count remain at 2.

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