Last year, I wrote a lengthy blog post (the first race recap that I wrote for this blog) after running this race for the first time. If you are interested in the the history of the trail or the course and elevation (it has not changed), you can find that post here.
Click here for the race website.
The race expo took place again this year on Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday afternoon before the race at the Embassy Suites Hotel. Free parking and easy in and out make it a nice place for an expo. I went on Saturday afternoon after a training run. I picked up my bib and parking pass (an additional $10 when I registered LAST April) and then moved to the shirt pick up area. While I like that the half and full marathon shirts are different and also that the men’s and women’s are of different colors, I did not like the race shirt this year as much as the one last year. Last year’s brand, A4, is one of my favorites as far as fit, texture, and colors. This year’s, of the brand Sport Tek, was good in color and fit, but I don’t care for a v-neck and I also don’t love the texture of this year’s. Rather than a smooth, almost slippery feel like last year’s, it had a slight waffle texture to it, the type that clings to dry fingers as mine tend to be at this time of year. In addition to the shirt, each runner received a pair of Feetures socks, as Feetures had become the Half Marathon sponsor this year.
At the pacers’ booth at the expo, I saw my friend Tiffany (we both run in the same training groups). Tiffany volunteers in many races locally (and even some a few hours away) as a pacer, helping groups of people meet their time goals in races. I’ve run with her a few times, sometimes successfully (the NCRC Half Marathon in Umstead) and sometimes not so successfully (Raleigh 13.1). When I asked her what group she would be pacing the next day, her answer was 2:30. That got me to thinking that that would be a good pace for me. I had a vague idea in my head of my half marathon PR, and I knew that 2:30 was slightly slower than that time. Running slightly slower, hopefully, would allow me to have a better recovery than last year. I wanted to recover well from this race so that I would be feeling strong for the Raleigh Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in two weeks (my favorite and best half every year) and also for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May. Last year, I went way too fast on the first half of Tobacco Road, and I also did a hill repeat workout two days later. I then spent about six weeks with a very sore, injured left quad. I did not want to repeat that again. Therefore, sticking with Tiffany would allow me to have a strong race but to not go out too hard for where I was in my training (training at a slower pace for a marathon). It would also allow me to let my mind go on cruise somewhat if I just focused on staying with her. I really trust her as a good, experienced pacer and felt confident tacking on to her like that. I purposely did not refresh my mind on my half marathon PR or my time at this race last year so that I would not feel tempted to better it.
Race Day Timeline
3:30 a.m. –Alarm goes off.
3:40 a.m.–Eat breakfast (1 oz. cold chicken and mashed baked sweet potato, 1 teaspoon almond butter, ½ cup coffee with coconut milk, one serving tropical orange Generation UCAN).
4:55 –In car.
5:25 –Arrive at baseball park. I come in from a different direction than most others, so I had no traffic. Stayed warm in car until 5:45 when I began the walk up the hill (through the finish line) to the start area.
6:00–Fleet Feet group photo.
6:20–Meet friends Gina and Katie.
6:50–Move into corral near Tiffany and her 2:30 pace sign; say good luck to Gina and Katie as they move up to the 1:50 and 2:00 signs.
7:00–Race begins in the semi darkness.
I was able to keep an average pace of 11:10 during the first two miles, and from the time we turned off the road and onto the trail, I was basically right behind Tiffany and the other 2:30 pacer. I was close enough that I could hear their conversation (sorry for any eavesdropping, Tiffany!), but I tried to stay far enough back to not be involved in their conversation, wanting to conserve all energy rather than expending it by talking.
I felt really good through this entire race, feeling just a little fatigue somewhere around the tenth mile. Once we returned back to hard road surface (with about two miles left to the finish), I knew that I felt strong enough to push a little harder and go faster. I moved past Tiffany (who didn’t realize that I passed her until I talked to her a few days later) and was able to go 10:54, 10:37, and 9:51 the last 2.1 miles (which are pretty hilly). I crossed the finish line in 2:26:21 and had my first ever negative split in a race of this length (maybe any race at all). At this point, I knew that it was a good, strong race and that I felt great. Also at this point (foreshadowing of what I was to learn later . . . ), I was still thinking that I had finished faster the year before.
After finishing, I ate a slice of pizza and then found Gina, Les, and Katie in the beer garden. Again this year, the finish area was so much fun. Good food and drink as well as a good band to listen to. I had two beers from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Boone, NC; I chose their Long Leaf IPA, and it tasted delicious. Les had paced the 1:50 group; it was his first time to pace a race, and he hit the mark perfectly. Both Katie and Gina had PRs; Gina went sub-two hours for the first time. Although race weather had been great, 43 degrees to start, it was chilly in the breeze afterwards, and we made our way back to our cars, huddled in mylar blankets.
When I got home, I checked my time from last year: 2:29:22. I had beat that by three minutes this year, at 2:26:21! And I realized that my 13.1 PR (RNR Raleigh ‘16) was 2:25:16, so I was less than a minute off of that time. This was leaving me with a great feeling in anticipation of RNR Raleigh two weeks from now.
How do I rate the Tobacco Road Half Marathon 2017?
Overall, I love this race. It’s a large race with a small town feel; the race directors communicate information well to participants. The Race Director himself is at the finish line, shaking hands or touching the arm of each finisher with a congratulations, which I truly appreciated when I realized that was who it was. The course is excellent. Early registration will open a few weeks from now for the 2018 race next March, and I plan to to take advantage of the early bird pricing and to be there in 2018.