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Three Random Guys Trying to PR in the Half Marathon: An Oral History


After an autumn spent doing Wednesday Night Workouts together, as well as finishing very near each other at a few XC & trail races, an idea was planted to add *one more* race after the XC season ended. Evan Williams (1:18:13 half marathon pr), Derek Reiff (1:18:46), and Joe Creighton (1:18:41) would each try to set a personal record at the Seattle Half Marathon. Calendar proximity defeated course flatness in importance as their three-way date with destiny approached.

PART I – BEFORE THE RACE

EvanEvan Williams
A couple months before the race, I had a feeling that I would be in town for Thanksgiving this year and wanted to go for a half marathon or 5k PR. In 2012, I accomplished PRs in both distances, three days apart. This year, there weren’t enough days after the Club XC Regional 10k to recover for a turkey trot AND the Seattle half. Thus, I picked one.

JoeJoe Creighton
Running XC loops in Lower Woodland Park or in horrendous mud at Lincoln Park can mask yourself from what shape you’re really in. The Seattle Half Marathon was ideal in that it was, conveniently, one week after our last XC race.

EvanEvan Williams
Joe, Derek, and I committed (to each other) to do the half on the Tuesday preceding the race, over pints after a regular Tuesday Fleet Feet jog.

JoeJoe Creighton
I was carded for the first time ever, and I was empty-handed. My bald scalp didn’t convince her. My white chin-hair didn’t convince her. But my “sweet laugh lines” saved the day for me, before I had to pull out the case-closing white back hair.

EvanEvan Williams
We all went home and then balked at the price.

JoeJoe Creighton
The Seattle Marathon was *not* ideal in that it was, inconveniently, $135 fucking dollars for 13.1 miles. Do you realize how many energy drinks I could have bought with that money?

EvanEvan Williams
On Thanksgiving night, Joe and I bit the bullet and then proceeded to enjoy whiskey while bombarding Derek with texts until he also pulled out his credit card.

Whiskey & Cointreau

JoeJoe Creighton
Whiskey and Cointreau, to be precise.

DerekDerek Reiff
I basically signed up under duress. But each of the three XC races I ran this year were run pretty closely with Joe and Evan, so I’d have hated to miss out on a potentially great contest.

EvanEvan Williams
I should have signed up earlier, when the cost was semi-reasonable.

DerekDerek Reiff
Tell me about it. I think all races should start cheap, like they currently do, and ramp up. But the days before, if there are spots left, race entry prices should start dropping, each hour. Fill those spots up.

JoeJoe Creighton
The half marathon is probably my best distance, which I’m at times a little discouraged by. Mostly because of the race distance’s name. Half-marathon. Who cares how good one is at a HALF marathon? If a 5k was simply referred to as “half 10k,” then who knows if I would have wasted six years of my life trying to PR for 3.1 miles, which I did, back in Jun–.

DerekDerek Reiff
The half is definitely my favorite distance. My first half I “trained” for was in Vancouver in 2011. The second half was miserable, but I signed up for another a year and a half later. I liked it because I was ready for it, and it doesn’t require speed if you don’t want it to.

EvanEvan Williams
Half marathons are excellent. You get almost all of the beauty of a long road race with much less than half of the recovery time from a full marathon.

DerekDerek Reiff
When we were discussing doing this race days before it happened, I was _extremely_ confident that I was in good enough shape to PR. Until Joe started talking about all the hills and the weather.

JoeJoe Creighton
Before the race, I was probably 50/50 that I would PR, because I lack conviction of any kind.

::THE RACE EXPO::

DerekDerek Reiff
There was a bathroom in the hotel in which the expo was held. Which was nice, as I needed one.

EvanEvan Williams
I loved the sweet potato chips at the expo, which were almost as good as connecting with teammate Justin Houck at the trail running calendar signing.

Delicious Manwich

JoeJoe Creighton
Heh, “connecting.” Seeing Justin Houck brightens any day. Aside from that, my favorite moment was probably taking a free sample of EAS whey protein powder from what looked to be a 13 year old girl. My least favorite moment was days later when I made the world’s worst Egg Cream.

World's Worst Egg Cream

::TRAINING & PREPARATION::

DerekDerek Reiff
I’ve been putting in consistent miles for a year now, so I’d say I’m in the best post-collegiate shape of my life. And team SRC cross country workouts helped considerably with getting my pace down a bit.

JoeJoe Creighton
I’d dealt with a calf injury in August that kept me out of the (very comfortable Brooks) shoes for two weeks and slowed my preparation for XC. I probably wasn’t ~100% until the last XC race on Nov 23rd. I was only topping out at about 50 miles a week but I was very consistent the past 5 weeks. Still, 50 miles a week ain’t super for half marathons, so I just focused on happy thoughts, like Evan’s ridiculous quadriceps muscles.

EvanEvan Williams
I usually have a pretty careful routine for loading up on energy before long races, but when there’s a holiday involved, the holiday wins. I ate an alarming amount on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. In order to offset food-coma grogginess, I followed up consumption with too much coffee. The one thing I kept consistent with past races was to not get stressed about pre-race plan deviations. The past is the past. Don’t let unchangeable decisions negatively affect your state of mind on race day.

DerekDerek Reiff
My friend Eric says carboloading is dumb but I don’t follow diets of any kind except for no high-fructose corn syrup so I ignored Eric. (Eric did, however, turn me on to wet wipes for the bathroom. Which is necessary if you have a nervous day like I did on Saturday.)

And don’t wet wipes just make sense? I won’t go into details, but they make sense. Right?

JoeJoe Creighton
You are a monster.

EvanEvan Williams
I never felt the need to have a detailed race plan. The three of us are so similar in ability right now that it was going to be impossible to “drop” one another early without dearly paying for it later. Thus, stick together for a while, get faster in the second half if you feel good. Simple.

DerekDerek Reiff
In this group’s recent XC past, I never pulled off a win against these guys, so I figured I’d tuck in behind Joe’s broad shoulders and Evan’s massive quads for wind resistance.

But seriously no, not that. I know that I wanted a PR and that these guys were in great shape and wanted a similar PR, so we should stick together and stay below 6:00/mile pace.

JoeJoe Creighton
I had no concerns about running/racing with Evan and Derek, aside from Evan’s threats to be blowing ass all race and inviting us to “run in his slipstream.” Visually we likely appear to Joe Public as three very different runners, but we actually couldn’t be more alike, ability-wise.

EvanEvan Williams
I went through extensive clothing research the night before, including weighing various shirt options as a joke to Joe/Derek and refreshing weather forecasts constantly. In 2012, I was way too warm in long sleeves and 36F. But, this year was drier and colder. Ultimately, I laid out my trusty pair of green judo shorts, gloves, sunglasses, and a black long sleeve Brooks-SRC shirt.

Evan Fashion

DerekDerek Reiff
I’d like to solicit Brooks to make a cold-weather racing singlet. I paired two of their jerseys up for a nice little ‘duo-core singlet’ and boy was my upper body (core) warm.
No, it wasn’t at all actually. But it did make me feel more secure out there. Like a thundershirt.

::RACE MORNING::

JoeJoe Creighton
It was really cold that morning. I wore gloves and covered my ears, but I run pretty hot so I figured I’d ditch them by mile 1.5. I never ditched any article of clothing though. And idoit liberal atheists still think global warming isn’t a hoax lmao

DerekDerek Reiff
I assume complete failure will happen each and every morning of my life, so I like to map things out in order, in 15 minute blocks. 6:00-6:45 am was “Sit and wait.”

JoeJoe Creighton
I just eat cereal and try to poop.

EvanEvan Williams
When morning came around, I laid in bed as long as possible, called my mom, my wife, and checked texts to see if Joe and Derek were already at the start (Derek was). I skipped coffee, ate three clementines, and put on old sweatpants and an ugly sweater to bike 4 mi to the Space Needle. I felt barely warmed up and then jogged about 3/4 mi with Joe until my body was a little closer to proper operating temperature. Usually, I eat more before racing for 60+ minutes, but I didn’t have time and trusted my previous feasting to have saturated my glycogen stores.

JoeJoe Creighton
I live out in the middle of nowhere so I had to get up at 5am and wanted to be on the road to lower Queen Anne by 6:30. I was also California-raised, and getting out of bed at 5am when it’s 25 degrees outside is literally the worst thing in the world.

Pre Race

DerekDerek Reiff
After we miscommunicated and jogged to and from Evan’s bike for absolutely no reason, we got ourselves back to the start line with 1.5 minutes to spare. So at 7:29 I was thinking “I can’t believe Joe is just wearing a t-shirt.” Occasionally I’m self-conscious standing next to Rockstar-cap Joe. But so far it’s a 50/50 split between this and another hat. Turns out he wore it to the race.

JoeJoe Creighton
I actually have two Rockstar hats and I’m not comfortable admitting how many minutes I spent deciding between the two.

EvanEvan Williams
After a few last moment strides, I appreciated how easy it was to get to the front of the chute (excellent start layout), and bodied up with Joe and Derek to await the gun.

JoeJoe Creighton
In my mind, the best-case scenario was all three of us running together en route to what we thought at the time was Evan’s PR (1:17:30), and then sprinting the final tenth of a mile on our own and letting the chips fall where they may. Which likely would have led to a finish order of Evan, Derek, and then myself, dry-heaving. :\

EvanEvan Williams
I kept myself distracted from the impending pain by making a series of terrible jokes. And, several “don’t try to beat that guy” pointers in the direction of a handful of really in-shape specimens who had tights or shorts sculpted to their muscles. We would soon find out what kind of internal engines they had. Lastly, I located all the orange Club Northwest jerseys and tried to size up our rival competition.

JoeJoe Creighton
I felt the typical “half marathon anxiety” on the start line. It’s gonna hurt, but I had about 30 minutes of painless running to ease me into it. I do remember around 7:27am Evan letting us know that he found out the night before his PR was actually only 1:18:13, which calmed me more, though I did wonder why he thought it was in the 1:17s to begin with. I probably farted at some point.

PART II – THE RACE

DerekDerek Reiff
The end of mile 1 was about a half mile after I noted “Isn’t this so much easier than cross country?” We were just moving right along and we’re barely at 5:55 pace!

EvanEvan Williams
I missed the first mile marker entirely. After my watch showed 7:45, I got concerned and asked Joe for the first split…5:55 I think, which was perfect.

DerekDerek Reiff
“This is going to be a perfect race,” I thought to myself.

“Why does my left shoe suddenly feel a bit less secure?”

“Don’t look down. Don’t look down.”

(Look down)

“Ah shit.”

“How fast can I tie this shoe?”

“There should be professional shoe tiers on the course at aid stations, especially when it’s only 28° outside.”

“If I take a full 30 seconds to tie my shoes with my gloves off, can I catch up with these bozos? Would they wait for me if I asked nicely?”

JoeJoe Creighton
“Oh geez look, Derek’s shoelace is untied on one of his shoes. What a noob! lol. So, wait…do we have to stop and wait for him if and when he decides to tie his shoe?”

DerekDerek Reiff
“No, no way. Joe would never wait. His whole online persona is dedicated to being shoeless. What a jerk.”

“All right. This is where my expert stubbornness comes into play. No shoe tying. Maybe I’ll even rip it off at the end. Now my pre-race routine will incorporate triple knots.”

EvanEvan Williams
Into the express lanes around mile 3, Joe, Derek, and I took turns leading through the headwind and tucked behind some fellow racers for a moment. These other guys weren’t too pleased about our drafting and dropped off pace.

JoeJoe Creighton
That guy really didn’t want us to be drafting off of him. We were less than 1/4 into this race, on a 20-person wide road, and he’s cutting me off while I followed Derek into the lead of our pack.

EvanEvan Williams
The tunnel mile was warmer (nice!) and as soon as we pulled away from the others in our pack, they charged back to catch us again. We couldn’t figure out what their strategy was, but the three of us kept steady and eventually chatted and jostled our way to isolation, about 20 seconds ahead.

Our lone group shotJoeJoe Creighton
Shortly after Mile 4, in the I-90 tunnel, Evan exclaimed “this feels fast!” I tried to ignore him. I figured Evan would feel strongest in this race while Derek and I slaughtered ourselves trying to keep up with him. I didn’t want to hear him suffering so early. Shutup, Evan.

EvanEvan Williams
I had been suggesting a slightly slower pace for a while. Derek agreed, but Joe seemed full of energy and pushed on. Derek yells out, “5:35 pace, if you care!” I cared.

JoeJoe Creighton
I’m self-taught to just go off the mile markers and cross my fingers that they’re accurate. I heard “5:35 pace” but right after Derek said that, we passed the mile 5 marker in 29:40. So I maintained my effort.

DerekDerek Reiff
“Hey look, it’s lifetime members Uli and Trisha Steidl! I didn’t know they had a dog. Why don’t they bring the dog to practices? I love dogs. Not a bad place for a house either. Uli seems too happy to be outside in 28° weather.

EvanEvan Williams
Trisha and Uli Steidl gave us some hollers. I felt like a champ, having been encouraged by our SRC teammates, and VERY accomplished Seattle runners.

JoeJoe Creighton
“38:50” was what I saw on my watch when I crossed the half marker during this interminably-boring stretch of course. “Hmm, that works out to a 1:17:40 finish time, assuming I pull a rabbit out of my ass and even-split this course.” My confidence dropped from 60% to 30% upon doing this math.

EvanEvan Williams
The rolling hills started near here, which caused moments of separation between us three. Ups have been tough for me all season, but I came back on the downs in order to keep everyone together for a few more minutes. The half-way split was a little terrifying when I realized I needed to even split the tough second half in order to PR. I had a little rhythm going, but was almost completely certain that my legs didn’t have enough gas.

DerekDerek Reiff
“I wonder if Uli has any recommendations for my upcoming Germany trip. My god, it’s cold outside.”

JoeJoe Creighton
As expected on the Galer+Madison hill, I felt like ass and I was probably down to about 20% confident I could PR. And I was pulling away from Derek and Evan?! We’re all gonna fail. This sucks. 135 bucks!?!?

DerekDerek Reiff
“Oh my god. Dammit.”

EvanEvan Williams
Joe and Derek put a gap on me up the Madison hill. No choice, I had to let them go in order to save my own race. It was bittersweet, knowing that all three of us were comfortable enough to be okay with the inevitable split. We shifted into our personal mental spaces and end-game strategy.

DerekDerek Reiff
“Mother.”

EvanEvan Williams
I recovered a lot of time on the downhill, post-Madison. Not enough to catch Joe or Derek, but sufficient to keep on PR pace.

JoeJoe Creighton
Shortly after mile 9, the Interlaken hill settled down a bit and I cratered in confidence. Call it 10%. And I was leading us! And I couldn’t even hear Evan or Derek behind me! I really needed to see a cute woman around this point. Or a particularly happy dog.

Derek mid-raceDerekDerek Reiff
“I’m so tired of seeing Joe’s back get further and further away. I can’t feel my legs. Are my legs actually kicking? Let’s do some high knees.” Nope, high knees are not possible. Too afraid to kick my butt for a few strides in fear of legs snapping.

EvanEvan Williams
I increased my pain tolerance in order to maintain pace, but wasn’t sure it was sustainable. Things were looking dire. To beat 1:18:13, I needed to be at least 30 seconds ahead for the last 0.1 mi. I only had 20 to spare at this point. I had previously caught a guy named Phil, wearing a 7 Hills shirt, but he went into finish-mode and clocked some impressive late-race miles. I decided to refer to him as 7 Phills. He was not catchable, but I had to find some motivation. The thought of Derek and Joe ahead of me, reaching their PRs left me fearing the chance of being the odd-man-out. I could see myself regretting a missed opportunity and resolved right then to redline my aerobic capacity to the finish.

Joe, mid-raceJoeJoe Creighton
Coming out of Interlaken, slightly past mile 10, I knew I had moved well up that relatively hilly section, but I was still wary from prior races of the ~2 mile stretch before the downhills come around mile 12. Then I reminded myself that if anything, I would have a slight tailwind for that stretch, and I would say my confidence rose to about 80%. By the time I made the turn onto Republican (mile 12) and saw all that downhill in front of me, I was up to about 95%.

DerekDerek Reiff
Mile 11.5/12 brought my soon-to-be-last attempt at catching Joe. Little bit of road ice here. Got into my recent habit of doing raspberries in the air to relieve race-stress. (It helps, try it. A bit weird when passing, though.)

But since I was upping my pace to try and catch Joe, I started doing it every breath. Spittle started flying. Started thinking “Is this the mindset those crazy people are in when they cross the finish line with spit all over their faces? I’d better stop.” /wipes mouth off.

I think it helped, though.

EvanEvan Williams
Red lining is paying off! 40 seconds to spare for the final 0.1 and some downhill ahead. Finally felt like I might complete the PR trifecta. My hamstrings had moved from painful to numb. A Club Northwest guy was closing on me fast, but I was flat out already and he told me to hang tough as he passed…a rival, but a gentleman.

DerekDerek Reiff
The final mile-ish is almost entirely downhill. Super hard on the legs at this point. Joe’s really putting me away now.

EvanEvan Williams
The final mile was the toughest mile. There are a few surprisingly hard rises in the last full mile that just about caused me to DNF. It felt like some external being was marching my feet up and down to hold as close to pace as possible. I was fading, but my watch showed 46 seconds in the bank for 0.1 mi.

DerekDerek Reiff
“Is it possible that I could get top 10 at this race? I have no idea how many people are ahead of me, but it can’t be too many now…

“You’re 11 and 12!” says the guy as we enter the stadium. “Shit. Way to go, Joe!”

JoeJoe Creighton
I entered the stadium knowing I wasn’t only going to PR, I was gonna come in under 1:17. For a brief moment I tried to think of a clever way to draw attention to myself as I crossed the finish line in victory. Raising your arms doesn’t really make sense unless you outright won…I can’t do a back flip. At least I don’t think I can. Eh, I’ll settle for a subtle fist pump in my head. I turned around and immediately saw Derek coming in right behind me. We squeezed in a quick photo but I admit I kept glancing at the clock, not knowing if Evan would make it and not feeling particularly confident.

DerekDerek Reiff
One last guy. Passed right before I hit the stadium. Sprinted the grass in. Announcer said “These guys got up very early this morning to be here. Great athletes.”

JoeJoe Creighton
It felt like we dropped Evan really quickly on the Madison hill around mile 8, which is a brutal point in the course to lose contact. I was merely hopeful, doubting he was gonna make it, as I saw the clock tick towards 1:18. If anyone could somehow rally though, I knew he had the stones.

Evan's Finish & AdmirerEvanEvan Williams
Made it! Ten seconds to spare and badly needing to descend from the world of suffering experienced in the final 5k. I got a little emotional as Derek and Joe went nuts…they weren’t sure where I was and knew the PR would be really close.

PART III – POST RACE

Pumped

JoeJoe Creighton
I’m at a loss on how the race could have gone better. I suppose all of us finishing together (me perhaps a second ahead of both of them and with someone handing me a cheeseburger immediately upon finishing, that would have been pretty sweet.) But outside of that scenario…

DerekDerek Reiff
Why didn’t the race director postpone a week? It’s supposed to be 50+ next Sunday!

EvanEvan Williams
With a little more care in preparation, I would have liked to be a bit slimmer and better on hill repeats. But, those are both minor critiques. XC season is a great training plan for nearly ANY distance!

DerekDerek Reiff
I was really expecting to see something hot in the recovery area afterward. Did I miss it?

EvanEvan Williams
I’m sure the post-race spread was tremendous, but I was hurting too much to consume anything more than a bottle of chocolate milk. I remember the days of eating everything in sight post-race. I think I am now better at pushing myself further during the race, such that all my systems need some freak-out time before I can think about digesting solid food.

JoeJoe Creighton
As I now expect from running this race a few times and pacing a few times, the post-race spread was fairly dismal. I did do the full marathoners a solid and (politely) requested the Darigold chocolate milk ladies set aside enough bottles for the 26.2ers, so if any full marathoners want to reach out and thank me, I can be reached at jayaresea69420@skaforever.biz.

EvanEvan Williams
After finishing something like this, I: find family/friends, drink water, walk around, try to jog a little, and then make a plan that gets me to a horizontal resting state as fast as possible.

Mimosa Hydrating

JoeJoe Creighton
We enjoyed a post-race breakfast at Roxy’s Diner near Derek’s house since he was low on bus money and needed a ride home. My notes state we split about six mimosas and Evan made some joke about diuretics that I don’t remember.

DerekDerek Reiff
I added about 3 pounds after the race, from 11AM to my last 1/2 pizza at 11PM. No joke there.

JoeJoe Creighton
When I got home, I announced my accomplishment to my lovely girlfriend, who then asked me if I got any milk from the grocery store on the way home.

EvanEvan Williams
Succeeding at the Seattle Half has given me confidence that I’m doing something right with training. In some sense, that also means my other job and hobby responsibilities haven’t distracted too much from running. Thus, I can now say that I’ve improved my life across the board in a very busy 2014. That’s pretty cool.

DerekDerek Reiff
These legs aren’t going to massage themselves. Man, I’m going to take it easy for a good month.

EvanEvan Williams
Next up is a month long break of more casual running, with hopefully higher mileage. Then, I’ll race 10 mi at the Bridle Trails Winter Running Festival in January and start thinking about a spring marathon. The Escarpment Trail 30k in NY state is on my summer calendar already. It will be a vacation race to see my running friends from the east coast. Oh! I almost forgot, the Mercer Island Half on March 22nd. I’ve wanted to do it for years, as it’s the perfect warm up distance from my house.

JoeJoe Creighton
Evan is bandying about the idea of doing something at Bridle Trails in mid-January, and as I said earlier, I have no conviction so I’ll probably do whatever he tells me I’m doing that day. Maybe run the 10 mile, maybe form a mediocre relay team, we’ll see.

DerekDerek Reiff
Can I ask again, why does this race cost so much? Can’t top 20 get a partial refund? Frequent racers club?

JoeJoe Creighton
It’s gonna be a bleak Christmas for a few important people in my life.

EvanEvan Williams
My last thought on this experience is that it is extraordinarily refreshing to place in the top percentages of a community race after being a back-of-the-pack regular for the club XC season. When all-out efforts and PRs put you 10 places from last, you know your competition is a formidable subset of Seattle’s running population. 17th place at the Seattle half feels really nice.

pr

Written by

Joe writes long-winded blog entries about running and/or television shows from the 80s. When not writing bios in the 3rd person, he can be found running around Cap Hill & W. Seattle, or pretending to be an employee at Fleet Feet Seattle.

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