The Air Force Marathon Half today was fantastic! The weather was perfect, the water stops were fun, the B52 flyovers were exciting and the finish line was well organized!
The half marathon started at 8:30 this year, about one hour and 15 min after the full marathon. The temp was about 58 degrees and it was a tough decision for me to leave my jacket behind — Deb convinced me. Deb and I both wanted to use the Port-a-johns before the start, and were starting to get a little nervous about the lines. Then it turned out there were tons of units fairly close to the start and the lines went quickly.
The starting line was a little confusing. We thought we were in the right place, but it seemed as if there were a lot of people who were not in the race milling around with racers. We also thought we were near the 3-hour half marathon sign. Because there were so many people milling around we just could not be sure. Also, last year I went too far back and Barbara and I had a very hard time getting around slower walkers who were up near the front.
I love the fact that they have the same starting line events for the full and the half. However, we could not hear any announcements and barely heard the end of the National Anthem. It is always so moving hearing the National Anthem with a group of military athletes, and I felt a little let down that we missed it. Parasails were dropped from a plane: one carrying the American Flag and the other a POW/MIA flag. A B52 did several flyovers! Very cool! Then we heard what sounded like a cannon fire and we were off!
Deb and I had lined up too close to the front as tons of medium fast runners zoomed past us. Luckily we got to the edge so we were easier to get around. Runners were still passing us past the first mile marker! In the meantime, we were trying to get around lots walkers who were slower than us.
Our game plan was to do the first mile in about 14:30 to warm up, then to use my heart rate monitor to determine our pace. My long-distance race rate works best at about 140. It’s pushing, but not so hard that I cannot maintain it for a long distance.
The first water stop was before mile 1. We had that one large hill early in the course, and the rest of the race was mostly flat with slight inclines and declines.
We did mile 1 in 14:04. Oops! Maybe all of the walking we did before the race trying to find a Port-a-john warmed us up sufficiently.
This course is surprisingly pretty considering that a lot of it is on a military base. At one point we were heading down a totally shaded lane with just wetlands and open fields beyond the trees lining the road. It was beautiful!
Unfortunately, on this narrow road is where the elite marathoners, wheelchair athletes and half marathoners converge for a short distance. It was about mile 19 for them and I think mile 5 for us. It is amazing to me how many people can’t hear someone come up behind them yelling at them to move. The first runner and wheelchair had bike escorts, but the second wheelchair athlete did not.
Around mile 5 the water stop played oldies rock and roll and featured Fat Elvis — on oxygen. Elvis had a microphone and encouraged all of the participants. I remembered him from last year and he really lifts the spirits of participants.
Deb and I passed one military person (Army?) running the half with a 90-lb pack! I know it was 90 lbs because I asked him. He was amazing and very cute! Lots of people thanked him for his service as they passed. There were others carrying lighter packs, so this guy really stood out.
Many of the course “volunteers” were military. So friendly and a credit to our country!
Other water stops went above and beyond. One had a Nerds theme! Everyone had on thick black-framed glasses and really dressed the part with pocket protectors, rolled up pants, beanie caps… So fun! Deb said she felt right at home with these people.
It was around mile 8 that we had to make a pit stop. I was worried about maintaining our pace, but it added only 1 min. to our time. Not bad! This is where Pat and Nancy caught up with and passed us. They were at the very back of the starting line which is why we didn’t find them before the race. This was the only mile we had near 15 min.
The full marathoners joined us again around our mile 11. It was nice having so many athletes around us!
We kept Pat and Nancy in our sights and finally at mile 12 I decided to try to catch them — and I did! I have never caught them in a race before! (In their defense, Pat was fighting a minor injury and was not at her usual pace.) I walked with them for just a couple of minutes when Nancy said we should really push it and try to break 3 hours. Oh boy! I was already pushing it! We walked off without Pat, and Nancy kept saying “Push Cindi” but I already was! She finally broke ahead of me. At this point my heart rate was at 160 and I tried not to let it drop till the finish. I just did not have anything left to push harder.
At the very end I think they had the mile markers switched. We hit the 13-mile mark before we hit the 26-mile mark — no way I did that last mile in under 10 minutes.
One thing I hate about this race is the last half mile. You can see the finish line, you can hear the crowds, but you still have to make those last three turns to get to there. It can mess with your mind if you aren’t ready for it. But the finish line is the absolute best in the world! As you turn that final corner, you walk through the lined up antique fighter planes. It is so cool! People several deep line the fence and cheer for everyone! It kept me pushing and trying very hard to look like a racewalker. (Yes, Larry, I was pushing my arms.)
I finished in 3:03:17! A new personal record! (Last year I PRd at this race too with 3:05:37.) I know I have a sub-three minute half in my future!
So, Nancy finished first in 3:01. Though I crossed the finish line ahead of Pat, I got to the start line before her and our finish times were close. Her time was 3:03:16. Deb was right behind with 3:04:58. Though it was a slow finish for Pat and Nancy, Deb and I both PRd!
The finish is so well organized! I went through a little corral to get my medal. Many high-ranking officers hand out the medals! (I know nothing about military ranks, so I can’t tell you how high ranking they were.) Then I was ushered to the silver blanket area (not needed), was handed a great sweat towel, then it was off to the food tent!
There are lines for food and only race finishers can enter. (What a concept?) There were bananas, bottles of water, bottles of Gatorade, bags of pretzels, Myoplex (didn’t take any) and La Rosa’s pizza. It looked as if there were Chick-Fil-A sandwiches earlier, but there weren’t any left. We stayed in the fenced-in finish area to eat our pizza and it was great! I ate the pizza a little too fast and it ended up upsetting my stomach, but boy did it taste good!
Overall, this is a very well-run, almost flat, fun event. It is run with military precision and I always feel proud to be an American when I’m done. I have PRd here two years in a row. I will definitely be back!
What else makes me happy? The race shirts! The long-sleeved cotton shirts of previous years were great (I still wear mine.) but the technical shirts in women’s sizes are even better! They fit! I love the fact that a race like this makes the effort to have women’s sizes. Thanks Molly!
Mile 1 – 14:04
Mile 2 – 13:54
Mile 3 – 14:24 (I missed the mile marker.)
Mile 4 – 13:25 (This was a little short due to missing previous mile marker.)
Mile 5 – 13:40
Mile 6 – 13:55
Mile 7 – 14:03
Mile 8 – 15:04 (1-min pit stop.)
Mile 9 – 14:05
Mile 10 – 13:57
Mile 11 – 14:05
Mile 12 – 13:41 (Caught up with Pat and Nancy.)
Last 1.1 – 14:52 (107)