Sandman Extreme Half Marathon, Wytheville, VA, January 14, 2017 ... (Time: 1:54:14)
OK, first some numbers. This was my 26th race, my fifth half marathon, and my second time competing in this specific event. This race has the word "extreme" in the name because it is a race up a mountain, and back down again, and then back up a steady gain into the town of Wytheville. All in all it's about 1,700 feet of gain over the course of 13.1 miles. That felt like a hell of a lot of climbing last year. It felt like a hell of a lot of climbing this year, too.
But, at the risk of coming off cocky, it also felt a lot easier this year. There were a number of differences between this year's Sandman Extreme and last year's. For one thing, last year's event was my first half marathon ever. I just didn't know the distance very well last year. This year I've completed a full marathon and a 25K mountain trail race, and I've run more than 13.1 miles more times than I can remember. I know what a half feels like in my bones. It ain't that bad.
Another difference is that this year I never had to slow to a walk even once over the course of the race. Last year I was slowing to a walk over and over again over the course of the first five miles, up Sand Mountain. I was able to stay steady and consistent this year, and I ran the whole thing. I didn't "blaze" the race (blaze being a relative term), but I did stay consistent, and managed an average 8:40 mile. I'm absolutely OK with that, given all of the climbing.
I finished ninth overall. I was the sixth male finisher, and I was first in my 40-49 year old male group. And I was more than three minutes faster than last year's time. That counts for something.
Lucky was gonna run this race with me, but over the course of the last month she aggravated an old knee injury and acquired a new injury to the back of one of her perfect, gorgeous ankles. (It's as much of a shame aesthetically as it is athletically.) So it didn't make sense for her to run today. Instead, she volunteered to be my one-woman mobile support team. She met me along the route with fresh supplies of water, ibuprofen, there may have been a banana in there as well. Because of her assistance I never had to stop at any of the relief stations. I was able to keep relentlessly moving forward, up the mountain, down it again, and back into town. Lucky also gave me another of her patented, magical leg-rubs last night. I don't know what she does, all I know is, since she came into my life, I'm a better runner than ever.
She says that it's because I'm actually getting better on my own. I say it's because the enthusiastic support of a good woman can move mountains. Either way, we seem to make a pretty good team. I have absolutely no idea what I'd do without her.