This year marked the fifth anniversary of the Brooksie Way Half Marathon and 5K, and it was the second year in which I’ve participated in the Brooksie Way. I set my half marathon PR in this race last year, back when I was in decent racing shape and improving my times in nearly every race I ran. This year has been a different story in terms of my running progression, with no PRs mostly due to injuries and a lack of quality training, although I did accomplish a big goal of mine by running my first marathon in May (so I guess I do have one PR this year, by default). The Brooksie Way is a local race that has grown a lot during its five years, and I was very excited to run it again this year. I’m very familiar with the course, its scenery, and its final six miles of rolling hills. While the hills kind of suck during the race, I really do like the course.
I haven’t been running many miles because of a lingering hip flexor/glute/hamstring injury (though it’s mostly just my hamstring hurting these days), so I was well under the fitness level this year that I was at for last year’s Brooksie Way. I figured I’d be fine making it through the race; I just knew it wasn’t going to be an all-out PR effort. The only running I did in the seven days immediately preceding the race was a four-mile shakeout run the day before the race. Based on that run, I knew I should be OK running the race and I set a target pace of between 8:00-8:15/mile. That was in the same range my wife was planning to run, so we decided to run together.
I couldn’t make it to the expo this year, but I was told it was pretty similar to last year. It’s held in a three-court gym in Oakland University’s Recreation Center, and it’s pretty easily accesible with a lot of space and exhibitors. It can also be a wallet drainer, with plenty of general running gear and Brooksie Way gear available (and not all of it at bargain prices). My wife had no problem getting our packets, and she decided to not shop at the expo this year…we did get a bunch of stuff at last year’s expo though. I really like the Brooksie Way race shirts. Last year they gave us a long-sleeve red Brooks technical shirt, and this year they gave us a similar shirt, except in a bright green that’s perfect for low-visibility running.
Since we ran this race last year and don’t live too far from the course, we didn’t have any problem deciding when to leave and where to park. We parked about an hour before the race, and had no problem parking, though traffic was definitely starting to pick up by the time we arrived. We used a secondary parking lot, so we were able to avoid most of the race-related traffic although we wouldn’t have been able to avoid it at all if we had arrived more than 15 or 20 minutes later. We hung out in the car, used the wonderful Porta-Potties, and waited to meet Jennifer after her pre-race run. She was running 21 that day as part of marathon training, with the half marathon just being part of that training run…very impressive!
We jogged over to the start area from the parking lot (maybe a 5-minute jog), and it was very smooth navigating through the start area and checking our gear. It was a little chilly early in the morning, but the conditions for the race were great. I’m willing to put up with being cold before the race if it means I won’t get too hot during the race! Before long, it was time to find a place in the start corral and get ready to run. We saw Jeff and Josh in the start corral – they were both planning to run in the same general pace range as us, and it was great that we got to see them before the race started because it can be so difficult to find people after race. Luckily the race started on time this year; last year it was delayed a couple of times to accommodate late arrivals.
As expected for decent-sized races like this, the first half mile or so was very congested, and runner traffic remained fairly thick through the first mile or two. We did our share of dodging slower runners and trying to find running lanes that had a little bit of space, and that went pretty well considering the size of the race. Crowd support was very good, and spectators lined most of the first few miles. We started out conservatively and settled into a steady pace after the first mile – I actually ran the same pace for miles 2-4 without trying to be that consistent or even realizing it until after the race. If I could only run that steadily during workouts (though at a much faster pace), haha! We ran a little faster than our overall goal pace over the first five miles, taking advantage of the net downhill on the first part of the course. It was great seeing a dailymile friend, Rebecca, along the course on the third mile. Unfortunately, she couldn’t run it this year, and it was awesome of her to come out with her kids and cheer for the runners.
We slowed down a little bit after the fourth mile and stayed at a comfortable pace. The course is very scenic, especially the stretches along local trails, the first of which we hit a little bit before the four-mile mark. After a little more than a mile on the trail, we worked our way through downtown Rochester and into the Rochester Municipal Park. We hit the 10K mark in the park, and then turned onto the Paint Creek Trail where we passed the halfway mark. We were only on the Paint Creek Trail for less than a mile, but it was a scenic mile and the clam before the storm on this course. Right after passing the 7-mile mark, we left the trail and turned onto Tienken Road, which marked the beginning of the hilly portion of the course…unfortunately, the hilly portion lasts for most of the rest of the course.
I felt like my wife might have started to get a little tired as we got closer to the Tienken hill, but that hill seemed much easier for me this year than it did last year. Because I had done very little hill training (or intense training at all) leading up to this year’s race, I attribute the hill not seeming as bad for me to the fact that I wasn’t racing this year. A tough hill seems a lot more tolerable when you’re running up it more slowly and when you’ve been running more slowly in general for the previous seven miles. I’m sure I would’ve been cursing the hill again if I had been running all out for seven miles before hitting it!
After cresting that hill, we had a few miles of roller coaster-like hills. Nothing too steep up or down, but enough to really wear on one’s legs regardless of pace. My wife was a little bit behind me on this stretch of the course, but she never got more than maybe 20-30 seconds behind. She had some doubts about her ability to get a PR in this race, but she was well ahead of PR pace through the halfway mark and had a bit of a cushion heading into the difficult part of the course. That cushion got smaller throughout the hilly miles, but her PR was still in reach as we got to the last 5K. It started to feel like crunch time as we got to the 11-mile mark, part of a two-mile stretch down Adams Road. While the rolling hills on that stretch are smaller than the hills over the preceding four miles, they seem bigger on beaten up legs.
My hamstring had been bugging me throughout the race, with a dull pain that was constant but more of an annoyance than a hindrance. By the 10- or 11-mile mark, my calves started to hurt, and I was just hoping they wouldn’t cramp. I’ll blame that on only having a few runs of more than 10 miles from June to September, and on this probably being my longest run in the Brooks PureFlow, which have a lower (4 mm) heel-toe drop than the shoes in which I had done my long runs over the last couple of years. The crowd support continued to be good on the second half of the course, when we really needed the extra boosts. The race organizers also provided entertainment at several points along the course, which I always enjoy. Even though we only get to hear a few seconds of each band, musician, or DJ, it does make a difference…at least it does for me! All of the entertainers were good and much appreciated, and I was especially glad to see Stephen Clark playing again this year.
My calves held up, luckily, and I was able to speed up a little bit over each of the last few miles. The only problem I had toward the end of the race, other than hoping my calves weren’t about to be shredded, was that my stomach acted up with just over a mile to go (and, of course, right after I passed the last set of Porta-Potties). I was just in “get me to the finish” mode at that point, so I didn’t care about having a good kick to the finish line. I tried to have a strong finish, but sprinting up the slight hill to the finish line wasn’t in the cards for me. Unfortunately, in my haste to finish due to my stomach, I had to put a little ground between my wife and me. I was hoping she had enough energy left to push through to a PR, and I was thrilled when I heard her name announced as I was crossing the finish line (there was a timing mat on the approach to the finish that I believe activated the timing chips so the announcer could see the names of approaching runners and call them out several seconds before they finished). I knew that if she was that close to me, she had a new PR with time to spare!
Because my stomach was bugging me, I didn’t get any food at the finish line. I can’t remember what they had available…I don’t think it was the worst post-race snack selection, but I don’t think it was the most spectacular, either. I got my finisher medal, then I grabbed a water and a sports drink because I’m always thirsty after races. This year’s Brooksie Way finisher medal is very cool, in the shape of a “5” for the race’s fifth anniversary and with some colored leaves designed to look like stained glass. After a few minutes, I found my wife and we found Jeff and Josh, who both ran very successful races. We then wandered around the race festival for a little while and met up again with Jennifer at the team tent, where we got some snacks. We left a little while after that, tired and glad to have another race in the books.
Chip time: 1:45:28 (gun time: 1:45:56)
Garmin time: 1:45:29 (13.07 miles)
Pace (per Garmin): 8:06/mile
Age group: 53/215
Slowest mile (per Garmin): 8:28 (mile 8)
Fastest mile (per Garmin): 7:33 (mile 13)