Aaron performed better than expected in Winchester VA’s annual half marathon despite a back injury suffered two days prior to the race.
Race Background and Training
Winchester, VA puts on a variety of races throughout the year, but one of my favorites is the Battlefield Half Marathon. First of all it is held during one of the most beautiful times of the year in early November when the leaves are usually at their peak autumn colors. Second, the course runs through the back country side roads of Winchester where the traffic is scarce and the scenery is wonderful.
I ran this race last year for the first time ever and set a shocking PR that came out of no where (1:38:07). Having set my marathon PR only 3 weeks ago at the Mount Desert Island Marathon, I did not expect to come close to my PR and planned on running the race by feel. I definitely wanted to come in below 2 hours however.
Then two days before the race I did something stupid. As I have gradually been incorporating supplemental weight lifting back into my training, I attempted a lift that had injured my back in the past. Why I was doing this two days prior to the race I have no idea…chalk it up to inflated ego and stupidity! Regardless as luck would have it, I tweaked my back in the same spot and felt a familiar sharp pain. I immediately halted my workout and began to have visions if I would even be able to run the half marathon.
That day and the next I focused solely on every recovery strategy I could think of for my back…ice, salt bath, foam rolling, stretching, complete rest, and a few prayers. I would just have to be patient and see how it felt Saturday morning.
Race Day Morning
Having picked up my packet and race bib the evening before (a quick shout out to the Frederick County Parks and Recreation department for the awesome race swag they dish out each year), I did not have that to worry about that the day of the race. I got out of bed and felt surprisingly good. My back still felt slightly tender, but in no way was it going to prevent me from running, which was a sigh of relief. I told myself the goal of this race is to run, have fun, and be careful not to aggravate the healing injury.
I had my traditional race day breakfast (whole wheat bagel, almond butter, banana, and coffee) and headed out to the race location getting there with 45 minutes to go. The parking and logistics of this marathon are incredibly smooth with close to 400 runners attending. Being held near a historic battlefield, there is plenty of parking with room to spare.
The temperature that morning for the race was perfect…low to mid 40s…but the wind was starting to blow with some pretty strong gusts. This was not a concern of mine since it seems to be ALWAYS windy up on the mountain by my home during the fall and winter. Running in the wind is pretty much the norm.
I said hello to a couple of local runners I know from other races, wished them well, and listened to the National Anthem prior to the start. The race began the same as late year…with the firing of a replica cannon (which is awesome).
As I adjusted into a comfortable pace during the first mile and made a promise to myself that I would not look at my watch the entire race. I wanted to be sure I ran this race completely by feel and listened to my body, knowing that if I looked at my watch and saw a “slower” pace, I might try to speed up.
Through the first 2 miles the course does a loop through a local community before heading back through the battlefield and then out onto the roadways. I made note of a particular local runner (Mike) in the far distance who is in my age group and usually right around the same pace as I am (from previous races we have both run). He was wearing a bright green neon jacket, and I made a mental note to see if I might be able to catch him by the end of the race.
The middle part of the race is the most difficult, with some steady hills up gradual sloping inclines. Not to mention the wind was gusting pretty good around this time adding to the difficulty. Each time a gust of wind would blow, I could hear other runners close by either groan with displeasure or curse Mother Nature under their breath. I tried not to slow down on the hills too much as they were nothing compared to the Mount Desert Island Marathon or the incredibly-difficult-kill-you-with-hills Morgantown Marathon.
With roughly 3 miles to go in the race, I realized I had gained some ground on Mike. He was still a good ways away from me, but I was going to give it a shot to see if I could catch him. Increasing my pace, but still conscious and aware of my current healing injury, I closed the gap on him. By the last mile he was not that far in front of me. However I knew that if I was going to have a shot at passing him I was going to have to sprint, and I did not want to take the chance of really hurting myself further delaying my recovery.
He rounded the corner and crossed the finish line 12 seconds ahead of me. I came in with a time of 1:45:20.
Post Race Reflections and Lessons Learned
While my time was much slower than last year’s PR, I was honestly surprised at the result, finishing 4th in my age group. Running this race by feel I had performed better than I expected, and ended the race with some gas left in the tank. I was happy to finish well below the 2 hour mark, and most importantly, felt great with no feeling of pain aside from the typical sore leg muscles.
Also let this be a lesson to myself and a warning to others. If you want to make an adjustment to your training than what you have been doing, DON’T DO IT A FEW DAYS BEFORE A RACE. My back injury could have caused me to miss this wonderful experience. Thankfully my idiocy didn’t hurt me that much.
I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Mike on his awesome finish, which placed him 3rd in our age group, and netted him a very nice award. Congratulations, Mike!
Official Race Results
Overall: 45 of 311
Male 35 – 39: 4 of 25
All Male: 33 of 142