Two years. I went two years almost to the date without running a race. I don't think I had done that since I was 15. There were a lot of issues that went into the two year drought. I broke a toe, I broke an elbow, I had a really nasty scar tissue issue and then there's the fact that I've devoted the last three years working with the Fort Myers Track Club.
So I was determined to run a race or two this spring, especially in light of last years missed chance to run the Riga Half Marathon. That's Riga, Latvia all the way in Eastern Europe. I missed the race last year because of a health scare. In fact I missed the whole freaking trip to Europe because my doctor said I didn't need to spend any of it in an emergency room over there.
Training the last couple of years has been nothing but a slow, easy slog. I have done nothing in the way that would qualify as speed work. I haven't done anything resembling a tempo run. I did manage to get my long run up to 12 miles but that's not saying much. I didn't even know if I could run 13.1 miles in under 10 minute pace. Heck, I didn't even know if I could beat my wife.
The trip to Riga was highlighted by a two day stay in Stockholm. What a beautiful city and it will certainly merit a return visit especially for a Diamond League track meet. We got to Riga on May 18th with the half scheduled for Sunday the 21st. I had run a 5K in Riga nine years earlier so I was familiar with parts of the course and I felt pretty sure the weather would be good and that the bridge crossings wouldn't kill me.
The race itself started with about four thousand competitors along with another thousand running the marathon. I placed myself somewhere just behind what I thought was the four hour marathon pace group. The first mile and a half were a hot mess. The streets were too narrow to handle that many runners and it was a full time job to stay on my feet and off the pavement. A lot of runners thought nothing of pushing their way past you just to run something akin to 9 minute pace.
I got to the first 5K and over the first bridge crossing in something just over 30 minutes. The course was finally starting to clear out and I thought I might just survive the next 10 miles if I run smart. It was back over the gentle climb of the bridge and into old town Riga where folk dancers lined the course just after 10K. They had them situated up on tables for about 200 meters while you headed into the heart of downtown where a huge chorus of singers greeted you at a turn around that headed you back to old town. The singers were a real highlight of the race.
Old town featured a tough 600 meter stretch of cobblestones which can make for some challenging footing. I had caught sight of the Czarina while heading back into old town and she was about two minutes behind me. I had promised her that I would beat her by three minutes. I wasn't feeling too sure about that at 12 kilometers as I climbed the second bridge while enjoying the picture perfect weather.
Shortly after 9 miles I saw the Czarina again as we looped along a river toward the final bridge which would come with about 3000 meters left in the race. I wasn't trying to race and it wasn't until 9 miles that I actually looked at my watch and saw that I was running 9:30 pace. The final bridge was the worst of the bunch but the climb was nothing like crossing the Caloosahatchee River on the Edison Bridge so I knew I was home free. I managed to catch what I thought was the four hour marathon pace group but it turned out to be the 4:15 group so I could scratch off the idea of breaking two hours.
I picked up my finishers medal and turned around to wait for the Czarina. I figured she would hit the finish line in a couple of minutes. What I didn't know is she had taken a nasty spill at around 10 miles and was suffering to make it to the finish, which she did in 2:10, at almost exactly the same moment the winner of the full marathon finished.
She was bloodied but happy and so was I. I had run just under 9:30 pace and my slowest half marathon ever by about 10 minutes. When I checked my splits I had consistently run between 9:20 and 9:30 pace. I was tired but not very sore. I had raced in a pair of Saucony Freedoms and they served my feet well. I raced in light trainers for my last half marathon four years before and my feet felt like crap at the finish.
I like the sensation of running in a race. I don't necessarily care about training hard to run faster times. At this point at age 62 I don't see much difference in running a 5K in under 25 minutes or in 27 minutes. What matters is I can't go two years without running a race. I need to work at running three or four races a year.