Borgess Kalamazoo Half-Marathon

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The Borgess Kalamazoo Half-Marathon was held on May 3rd, 2015 in, predictably, Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Here is my race report.

Pre-race:

Before the race, the organizers did a good job of sending, through email, useful information to participants.  Since I drove in from the Chicago area, daily updates about traffic and construction were especially helpful. Unfortunately, the instructions were more cute than clear and we ended up adding 30 minutes to our ride.

The race expo was scheduled from 11 AM to 6 PM.  We arrived around 5:15 and about 3/4 of the small expo’s vendors had already packed up and left.

Race Morning:

I stayed at the main hotel for the race, the Radisson.  The hotel had a generous supply of grab bags of food and fluids for participants.  They also provided a bus service to the race start.

This billboard, photographed in the early hours of the morning, greeted runners as we were close to the finish of the race:

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The race starting area was well laid-out.  Of paramount importance, there were very ample port-a-potties.

The Race:

The photo below was taken about 10 minutes before the start, which was on-time.  Most runners looked pretty relaxed.

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I really liked the course, but it was more difficult than expected.  One of the aspects of the course I appreciated immediately was the wide road down which we ran for the first few miles. This reduced the temptation to weave in and out of other runners to maintain a goal pace.

This photograph was taken by Jessica, my wife, at mile 3.5 or so.  Why is that idiot smiling?

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Most of the course was on roads and the course was downhill to flat over most of the first half of the race.  Later in the race, there were a bunch of difficult hills.  Yes, I am from the Chicago area and any hill looks large to me, but there were two or three hills that led a large number of people around me to walk, not run.  The most challenging part of the course was over the last three miles when it wound up and down hills, some quite steep, on a paved path through a beautiful wooded area.  The final half mile was back on the original wide street and it was amenable to a nice sprint to the finish.

Volunteer support was excellent.  Water/aid stations were well staffed and the volunteers were energetic.  There were eight of these stations along the route.  I think that this would have been adequate for someone who was not carrying fluids, but I was carrying my own water and only took two or three cups of water from volunteers.

The route was well-marked without any crazy turns.  However, mile markers, until the last 3-4 miles, were few and far-between.  Maybe I just didn’t notice them, but I doubt it.

The Finish:

The announcer did a good job of naming people as they finished.  The volunteer who approached me after I finished could tell that I was not feeling well.  He was appropriately helpful and gave me a bottle of Gatorade.

The Race, however, did not have a food area immediately beyond the finishing chute.  This was a surprise to me.  Instead, I had to walk to the other end of the “tent city” area and wait ten minutes in a line for food.  About 70% of people in line were not participants in the race.  There was also an $8 charge for this food.  The food, itself, was excellent and was anchored by fabulous dry-rub barbecue boneless chicken.  But, with the price of registration, quick food, like bananas, bagels, pretzels, oranges, and cookies should be automatic and easily accessible.

*Jenn Davis, who also participated in the Half-Marathon, contacted me to inform me that there was a table of food immediately after the finish line.  I must have missed it.  Thanks, Jenn!

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My Performance:

This is the least important part of this article.  My intention, really, with this article, is to provide a helpful review for future participants and I only include my performance for people who are interested.

I have an excellent coach in Jennifer Harrison.  My goal race this year is Ironman Muskoka in August.  This half-marathon was really just intended as a test of my progress and practice for my triathlon season.  However, I really wanted to perform well.  I am not an especially talented runner.  My fastest half-marathon was a couple years ago and was about 1:44.  My training with Jennifer has been excellent so I was hoping to break this PR.  She gave me some long runs over the past six weeks and even tapered me into this week.  She also reviewed the race plan with me, including nutrition, warm-up, and pacing.  I was ready.

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My plan was to run between an 8:00 and 8:15 pace for the first 10K, then dig deep and push as best as I could.  I did a lot of things well, many of which I learned in the course of writing this blog:

  • My wife allowed me to turn on bright lights immediately after I awakened in the morning since this has been shown to enhance exercise performance.
  • I made every effort to run a straight line throughout the race, since it is easy to add a LOT of distance by weaving between other runners or otherwise not running the most efficient distance.
  • I ignored the many people who surged past me at the beginning.  This runs counter to my nature!

Well, I finished the first 10K at an 8:10 pace, according to my Garmin.  Unfortunately, I was having some GI distress starting at about the 4.5-5 mile point.  This is an issue for me at many races and is just miserable.

At 10K, I tried to surge to about a 7:50 pace, hoping to hold this for most of the remaining race. Sadly, I was only able to hold this pace for about a half a mile before my belly was just agonizing.  So, I slowed down.  I followed my nutrition plan for the most part and tried to accelerate a few more times, but it just wasn’t there.  The hills at the end extinguished any hope for a big push over the final 5K.

I finished in 1:52:04 for an 8:32 per mile pace.  This placed me 35th out of 117 in my age group, 45-49.

In summary, the Borgess Half-Marathon is a nice race that I would do again.  With a few small changes, it could be an even better experience. With luck and a new set of legs, I could run it faster.

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