For the last three months I have been lucky enough to be a coach for 
Fleet Feet Sports of Santa Rosa's Half Marathon Training Program. Two 
other coaches, one an elite marathoner and local champion, the other 
an advanced competitor who regularly places in her female division 
and is a personal trainer also participated. I felt like the ugly 
duckling among the bunch as I was just this overachieving running 
junkie, who had just quit smoking cigarettes about a year ago when I 
moved here from NJ, and was slow compared to most other runners who 
run as much as I do (I run around 40-50 miles a week but consider

myself as an 8 min per mile pace guy). I thought I should be signing 
up to be in the group, not be one of the coaches. I later find out

though that it was my passion, some say obsession, for running that 
made my contribution to the group substantial and valued. Anyways, we 
had over 10 or so runners sign up to run the Avenue of the Giants 
Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in the beautiful Redwoods of Humboldt 
County California (a 3 hour drive north from Santa Rosa). For most of 
these runners, the race would be their first Half Marathon and 
longest run ever, and for some, their first race. All ability levels 
were well represented. Runners as fast as a sustainable 8 minute per 
mile pace and others as slow as a 13-minute mile pace, with several 
other pace groups somewhere in between. A great bunch of people who 
all had different goals and different reasons for undertaking this 
endeavor. Each one of these participants has their own interesting 
story behind why they are running.

We met twice a week to run in various places of different distances. 
Wednesday Nights at 5:30 we would meet at the downtown Fleet Feet 
Store and run around town for 3-5 miles usually at a very 
conversational pace as this was written in our training schedule to 
be the fun slow run of the week. Sunday's we would meet in the 
morning at either 8 or 9am to run our long runs. We always had 
beautiful courses with increasing difficulty selected for these 
workouts. These runs took place in beautiful Annadel Park, Howarth & 
Spring Lake Park, the wine country roads of Healdsburg, the beautiful 
vistas from Oakmont, and many more. Friendships were made along the 
way and we had various, I say celebrity Guest, runners join us during 
some of these long runs, mainly other co-workers or family members 
from Fleet Feet. These runs were such great fun and so gorgeous that 
sometimes it was easy to forget that we were actually training our 
bodies to deal with the stresses of running 13.1 miles. That is not 
to say that these runs were not challenging. I don't think there is a 
person in the group that will tell you the 9 miler we did in Annadel 
was "easy". However the challenge was worth it. To experience running 
on the trails with such beautiful terrain and vistas made the 
challenge worthwhile. The 11 miler we did in Healdsburg felt long but 
the views were just drop dead gorgeous.

Unfortunately, running can sometimes be synonymous with injuries. We 
had a couple casualties along the way. Both minor injuries, but 
nevertheless, significant enough to cause two runners to drop out of 
running the race. They had participated in most runs up to that point 
though and had built their endurance up significantly enough that 
they would be able to recover and with just a couple of weeks of 
training be able to plan and race another Half Marathon. There seems 
to be a half marathon going on somewhere every weekend here in 
Northern California so they won't have any problems finding one.

A few of the other runners knew that they would be unable to run the 
Avenue of the Giants from the get go, but had signed up anyways for 
the training with some having the intent of running a different Half 
Marathon. So come race weekend we had 5 runners running along with 
myself, Liz (another coach) and my friend Ted who is a co-workers 
husband. Ken, the other coach, was getting married and had a 
bachelor's party to attend that weekend. Initially, I thought I would 
just run through the course and enjoy the scenery while running 
alongside all of our participants and encouraging them to finish as I 
have the Dipsea Race coming up, another story in and of itself. 
However, before the race, Liz told me that she didn't want me running 
near her during the race as she wanted to focus and she knew that I 
would just talk her ear off during the race. I knew that she intended 
no ill will but I did decide to turn it into a challenge. I 
challenged her to a good old-fashioned footrace. Whoever finished 
with the fastest time would get exclusive bragging rights. Liz told 
me to bring it on. While we are good friends and took this as a 
friendly challenge we both wanted to win and Liz always wants to get 
her fastest time. I also knew that I had challenged a faster runner. 
Liz is about 10-15 seconds per mile faster than me. I speculated out 
loud that I would need to run a 1:39:59 to beat her old Personal 
Record for the Half Marathon and beat her. That is almost 5 minutes 
faster than my previous Personal Record. An average pace of 7:38 min 
miles over 13.1 miles. That's 22 seconds per mile faster than what I 
ran for my last PR in the Half Marathon I thought I was in somewhat 
better shape though and with some preparedness and some luck I could 
get close to that time and perhaps Liz would have a bad day or 
whatever. I also had already challenged a very fast girl at work to a 
10k race in July and could use this race to prepare for that.

I didn't know how it would go down but I couldn't wait to race 
against someone. I had always run to beat my previous best times or 
just enjoy the course and had never ran with the intent to actually 
beat someone. This would be an interesting twist.

Saturday morning of race day weekend, Ted and I drove 3 hours north 
of Santa Rosa to Humboldt County to the beautiful Redwoods. We camped 
in a very small town called Myers Flat, 2 blocks was the entire town. 
We just chatted all day and night and had dinner at the Pasta Feed in 
a nearby town's fire hall for the race participants. A few of the 
runners had planned to get together and hang out the night before the 
race but no one was able to get a cell phone signal in the entire 
area so those contacts were unable to be made. Probably a good thing 
though, as I would have most likely of had one two many beers. 
Anyways, I was unable to sleep that night for several reasons; one I 
hadn't camped in years so that was odd and the other was that I 
couldn't stop thinking about the race. I didn't panic though, as I 
had learned from previous race experiences that as long as you get a 
good nights sleep the night before the night before you will be fine. 
I've put up with keg parties going on outside, some of the loudest 
snoring ever heard, and some of the hugest race butterflies ever felt 
the night prior to previous races and have still been fine come race 
day morning with little or no sleep. As long as you lie down and rest 
your eyes, you’re good.

Race morning, around 6am, Ted and I packed up, got a cup of coffee 
and headed out to the race start. During the drive I asked Ted how I 
might prevent from having to go to the bathroom during the race, as I 
have never NOT had to go to the bathroom during race distances of 
half marathons and over. He amusingly pointed out that perhaps I 
shouldn’t be drinking coffee if I was so worried about that. Anyways, 
we met up with all of the other runners, except Liz and Linda were 
nowhere to be found. I wondered if anything was wrong. I even 
fantasized as a joke with myself that perhaps Liz couldn't handle the 
pressure and had bailed. Or maybe she woke up late and I would win by 
default or get a huge head start. Not the case though as two minutes 
before the start, Liz made her way through the crowds to all of us 
who had all been hanging out waiting for the starting gun to go off. 
In reality though, I would have been disappointed had Liz not shown, 
as I did want to race her fairly. We both smiled at each other 
cockily and looked each other in the eyes, sort of confirming that we 
were still going to race. Absolutely. The race was on. We should have 
probably moved up in the crowd as we were pretty far back from the 
starting line but I kind of wanted to stick with the training group 
until the gun went off. We had chip timing so it wouldn't be too big 
of a deal. We all wished each other luck and then the race had begun.

Liz took the right side and I took the left and we navigated through 
the slower runners in front of us. I could hear Liz on the right 
yelling "On your right!"  I would yell back in retaliation and also 
to navigate through the crowds "On your left!" This requires some 
technical running as well, as running through crowds requires you to 
shorten your stride and be more precise with your foot placement. You 
also need to be considerate while you pass and not jeopardize someone 
else's race and months of training by accidentally tripping them. We 
both continued to shout back and forth for the next quarter mile or 
so before we were able to break through the crowd. At the half-mile 
point I looked down at my heart rate monitor watch and it said I was 
running at 92% at a 6:45 pace. I later learned that my watch pace and 
distance was off significantly but the heart rate wasn't lying. This 
is way to high of a heart rate to have at the beginning of a half 
marathon. My pre race strategy was to run at 75% max heart rate at 
the beginning while slowly building up to 80% by the end of mile 2 
and then slowly take it from 80% to 90% by the end of the race and 
then just let it all hang out at the finish. I didn't want to panic 
but knew that I couldn't run this pace for the whole race. I decided 
to tough it out though and see if Liz slowed first. She didn't and at 
mile 2 I looked back at my watch and it said I was running at 90%. I 
decided that I needed to slowly scale it back if I wanted to finish 
strong. I would try to keep Liz in my sights as I dropped back until 
my heart rate was approximately 85% of max (about 155). For the next 
three miles or so, I struggled mentally as I knew Liz was getting 
further and further away from me and I was cursing myself for not 
running faster during my training runs. Somewhere around mile 5 I 
lost sight of Liz all together.

The course is an out and back and at mile 6.55 the course turns 
around. As I approached the turn around I see that Liz is about 
250-300 yards in front.  We high fived each other as we crossed 
paths. Still within reach but she was showing no signs of slowing and 
I desperately needed a second or third wind. I picked up the pace a 
bit but this was a hillier section of the course and in actuality I 
had slowed down. I felt the race and a fast time slipping away. I 
finally started seeing runners from our training group approach the 
turn around, as I was midway through mile 7 or so. Go Tammy, Go 
Kathy, Go Linda, Go Dawn, Go Mandy! Dawn and Mandy shouted to me that 
Liz was not far in front of me. I felt an incredible surge of 
adrenaline. My second perhaps third wind had kicked in. I shouted in 
confidence "Liz. You are going down!" She heard me (I found out 
later). I picked up the pace considerably, by as much as 30 -45 
seconds per mile faster. My heart rate rose to about 90% but it no 
longer seemed to matter. I was determined to close the gap between 
Liz and myself. I felt myself running faster and more efficiently 
than I ever have. I started to pass lots of other runners. At mile 10 
I looked at the mile marker and realized even with the Gun time I had 
run the fastest 10 miles of my life. All of a sudden, beating Liz no 
longer seemed to matter. I just wanted to not bonk and finish at the 
pace I was running which would assure me a new Personal Record for 
the Half Marathon.

At mile 13 I prepared for the final kick. I just put the gas pedal to 
the floor and let it all hang out. I was going to break the hour and 
40-minute mark. I was elated. In my own little universe, this would 
put me in a different realm of runners. I almost screwed it up though 
as I mistakenly identified the chip time reader pad thingy for the 
announcer, as the finish line. As I threw my hands in the air and 
prepared to stop my watch a member of the crowd screamed "No it is 
just a bit further!" I screamed an expletive and continued on. I 
probably lost just a second if that. I crossed the finish line at 
1:39:58 beating my old PR by close to 5 minutes (previous PR was 
1:44:16) and beating the time I thought I needed to beat Liz by 1 
second. Liz however finished 47 seconds in front of me and placed 
first overall in the Masters Female Division (she is 40). She raced 
her PR as well. While I had lost the race I was very happy. I had 
pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving and I 
was also very happy for Liz. We hugged and congratulated each other 
on a great race as Liz then pointed out that my right nipple was 
bleeding. Great, I thought out loud ... a battle wound that won't 
keep me from running. I told Liz that I gave it all I had as I almost 
threw up on the person removing the chip timer from my shoe. We were 
both very very happy. Before you know it Ted joined us. He was just a 
minute or so behind me. Pretty incredible feat considering the guy 
runs just 3 times a week for exercise only. He is just a natural 
though and has kept himself in great shape for many years. We then 
watched and cheered as the rest of the runners from our training 
group began crossing the finish line. Everyone was very happy with 
his or her accomplishment. We all gathered for lunch, beer and 
stories at a local cafe before we all made the long trek home.