March 20, 2022
The Rock CF Half Marathon Race Report, Grosse Ile, MI
For some, the first sign of spring is seeing a robin, for others, it’s opening day and the start of the baseball season, for runners it’s running the first race of the new year! The first race of the year also represents the end to wearing layers of clothing, no more running through snow or icy conditions, the wind can now be your friend and not your enemy. Here in southeast Michigan that means it’s time to run the Rock CF Half Marathon/5K.
For me this first race of this new year represents a unique opportunity for my competitive spirit. I recently moved into the next 5 year age group of competition and for a short while, most of my toughest competition remains in my previous age group. So until they join me in my new division, I am determined to make the most of this short lived opportunity. My plan for this year is to run many of my usual favorite races, return to several I have not ran for some time, and take on the challenges of a new race, perhaps even travel to a new race destination in 2022. The Rock CF event fits my plan perfectly.
I took advantage of a special entry fee rate they offered late last fall. It was only for that early entry that I ran the race this year. Despite my plans to train better and more often over the winter I frankly wimped out too many times and stayed indoors with my favorite foods and drinks. This is not the way to train for any event! As 2022 arrived I decided to return to two of my previous successful methods. I re-enlisted with a 30 Day Jump Start weight loss program with Triad Performance Training and returned to run indoors with speed once a week at EMU with the Ann Arbor Track Club. Each of these strategies proved to be extremely helpful. However, I was not able to get my mileage up to where it should be to run a half marathon. My long runs where not long and they remained much slower than my usual training pace. By the end of February I was barely averaging 20 miles a week and often even less than that. I did manage a 10 miler or two in March but they were a struggle to complete. So needless to say, my confidence level was not great as race day drew near. I was even hoping a late winter snow storm might come along perhaps cancelling the race!
A couple of recent Friday morning runs helped to turn my training around and build my confidence back to at least close to where it should be. The biggest boost was the Friday morning just two days ahead of the race! I ran what felt like a very easy pace but was actually at least 30 seconds per mile faster than I had been training! So instead of fearing the race I set my sites to running a bit faster than I did about a year ago at the Glass City Half Marathon. I would be happy to run approximately 9:00 minute pace at Rock CF and finish in 2 hours and 5 minutes. So a 2:05 HM time became my target. I also knew that if a few “certain” runners failed to show to race that a 2:05 HM time for my age group may land me on the podium too!
On race morning I was reasonably optimistic. I was simply planning to run relaxed, no need to run hard, just simply run for fun and see how far I could go until I hit the proverbial wall. And that’s just how I started too! The first few miles were chilly but the sun was out and we could see the skyline of Detroit beyond the view of the Detroit River ahead. I felt like I was running very slow but I looked at my watch and saw I was at 9:05 pace! This was well below my typical training pace of 9:30 to 9:45 or even slower. Yet, I felt good, felt relaxed and thought if I could just hold this pace I would certainly hit my goal of 2 hrs. 5 mins. In fact, during the early miles I was looking forward to a strong finishing kick and maybe have a chance at breaking the 2 hour mark!
Most of the race course is a welcoming flat route. There are a few undulating slopes along the way but nothing approaching what a race director might describe as “gently rolling” hills! The toughest part of the route was the wind. Grosse Ile is an island community set within the Detroit River. Most of the 13.1 mile route is along the edge of the island too, so there is little to no wind block as the winds pick up chills from the near icy temps of the Detroit River. Because of the winds, coming from the west that morning, I elected to run in tights versus regular shorts. This would prove to be a mistake late in the race.
The early miles flowed by and I still was feeling like I was running easy but my watch told be otherwise. My pace had picked up to the 8:35 to 8:45 range! This is a pace that I would typically feel very comfortable running had I logged more miles in training, but likely not sustainable given my training this winter! I continued to run this pace and see how long I could hang on.
The mile markers were very obvious but seemed to me to take forever to see the next one. This was particularly true as the route turned at the north end of the island and we ran along a mostly straight route along the westerly side of the island. I have become very familiar with the various landmarks along the island’s and riverside banks. For a number of years we have had the pleasure of being treated to many wonderful summer days on a friend’s boat. I had also had several architectural projects on the island in my career as an architect. The most notable was saving the local parish church from near structural collapse a few years ago. These landmarks helped me to segment the long route which in turn helped me to keep my unusual faster than recent pace in line.
As I approached the 8 mile marker I saw I had been averaging 8:40 pace! I also related the 8 mile mark to running “a loop” at Kensington Metro Park, my home to my long runs. I really wanted to stop and take a break, after all, I had 5 long more miles to go! But instead I broke the remaining 5 miles into 2 + 3. Another 2 miles would be to me, like running the Crim 10 Miler Race. I thought just get me to the Crim mark then I can run a 5K to the finish!
Well, I did make it to the 10 mile mark but not before making a turn to where the wind was now at my back and I was starting to get a bit too warm in the bright but still cool morning sunshine. I had wished I kept my running shorts on in lieu of changing into my tights just prior to the start of the race. But, nothing I could do about it now, just keep on keeping on as they say.
Where was Mami? Mami Kato is one of the better runners and active cheer leaders w the 5K! to cheer on our club members running the HM. Mami is one of the better runners within our 501 Running Club and she ran the 5K event. In fact she was the overall women finisher in the 5K! Mami had announced that she planned to run the route in reverse after finishing her 5K and I thought I should have seen her somewhere after mile 8 but did not. Well, soon after I wondered there she was, stationed just outside of the Grosse Ile Naval Air Hanger, taking pictures of each of us.
Detroiters appear to have a “thing” about racing in strange places. Apparently the course needed to add a little distance to running around the island and meet the 13;1 mile mark so why not take runners through an airplane hanger, run them out on the runway a bit and let them run back through the hanger again? Detroit area runners love to run a mile under the Detroit River through a tunnel as part of the Detroit Marathon, so yes, make them run through the hanger and on a runway! Well, ok, the hanger part was ok, the runway part not so much. But there was Mami snapping pictures of the 501’rs and cheering us on. I especially needed a boost at this point and she provided the boost I needed. Thanks Mami.
So onto the final 5K, I was going to “kick this in” right? Well, not so fast, literally! My average pace for the race was now at 8:45 while very happy with this pace I was not sure how much longer I could keep it up. It seemed like mile marker 11 was never going to happen. I decided that I would begin my kick at mile 11. Not to bore you any further, let me just say that I decided to begin my “kick” at mile 12 instead! So mile marker 12 eventually came along and I was nowhere near ready to begin any kind of a kick. Instead, I reminded myself I was running much better than anticipated for this race and I just needed to keep on keeping on as they say. I resisted the urge to walk primarily because I thought there may be someone behind me that was my age and I was not going to let that imaginary runner pass me at this late stage of the race!
My “kick” finally came just as we turned off the street and into a long winding chute to the finish. I passed a couple of runners, thought that dang finish line was never going to get here and saw the race clock tick off at 1 hour 55 minutes! I also knew that I probably took nearly a minute to cross the actual start line so my chip time would actually be a little faster! Done!
Finished in 1:55:09, average pace, 8:48, one of my fastest half marathon times in recent years. I also finished two minutes ahead of my nearest competition. Not too shabby for this newbie to the 70-74 age group!
Now onto improving my training as Mother Nature promises to be more accommodating in the weeks and months ahead.
Thanks for taking time to read my race report and I look forward to your comments and feedback.
Run Happy !!