Friday, August 23, 2013

News and Sentinel Half and Inside The Park Home Run Race Reports

Instead of having two separate race reports, I'll include both the News and Sentinel Half Marathon in Parkersburg, West Virginia from Saturday and the Inside The Park Home Run Race at Cleveland's Progressive Field from Sunday.

As soon as planning started to commence for getting Waverly to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia to begin school and that her Mom would be driving her up (so that they could visit her family in Tennessee), it was an opportunity for me to prepare a week's vacation that turned out to include many things.

First and foremost, it was to be available for Waverly's transition at Liberty.  Mom provided Waverly with a lot of assistance with things that Moms are just stronger at and I was there to provide support, if needed.

Secondly, I would visit my grandparents in central Pennsylvania.  This was even before the Canada vacation three weeks ago allowed us a chance to slip in and see them.

Then, it was a combination of a couple of things.  I knew that a very good friend of mine, Cassie Mondragon, who is from Parkersburg, West Virginia, was going to be running the News and Sentinel Half Marathon as well as many of her family members.

I've run the race three times, from 2005-2007.  (I'll benchmark times later.)

I also had the chance to string together the opportunity to see six minor league ballparks in six states in seven (7) days.  I could have added a seventh, but Waverly wouldn't have been happy with me - at all.  This trip was really all about her!

Then, while planning on where and what I was going to do between Saturday's race and Sunday afternoon's flight out of Pittsburgh, I spied this brand-new event that included a finish on the field inside of Progressive Field in Cleveland.  "Awesome" was the only thought that I had.  The fact that it was just $20 - made it even better.

I really didn't have an idea of how the News and Sentinel Half Marathon was going to go.  I hadn't paid too close to the weather forecast and the three previous times I had run the race it was hot, humid and hilly.  And, of course, the hilly didn't change.

Before the vacation to Canada, I was getting in my fair share of workouts, but the trip derailed me a little even though Waverly and I covered a lot of ground on foot.  I logged 25 miles the following week and even less this past week.

I took plenty of gear to run all week, but I had absolutely nothing going into Saturday.  Plus the week had been intensive on Mountain Dew, Mallo cups (can only get these in Cracker Barrels in the south - think Reese's cups with marshmallow; they're made in Altoona) and ballpark food.

I left Lynchburg at about 7 a.m., took Mom to Charlottesville, Virginia for her to fly home and then I headed west to Charleston, West Virginia where I took in a West Virginia Power baseball game.  They are the Pittsburgh Pirates' affiliate in the South Atlantic League.

I was scheduled to stay Friday night in Marietta, Ohio, which would allow for me to run the race in Parkersburg and then shower after the race on the way to my activities in Akron on Saturday night.

However, once I arrived in Charleston, I was whipped.  I also noticed that there was a Fairfield Inn just blocks from the ballpark.

I reached out to Cassie to see if I could shower at her parents after the race and I cancelled my reservation in Marietta and booked a stay there.  I checked in and got parts of three hours of sleep before the game.  Very much needed.

My pre-race fuel came in the form of two hot dogs, a pretzel and a soft drink that evening, but I grabbed something on the drive that my stomach could handle.

After parking, stashing my keys in a flower bed (I hate carrying things on the run other than a water bottle) and picking up my packet, I set out to finish Cassie and her family.  (I also don't carry my phone during a race.)  I spent about 30 minutes meandering around the start and when I couldn't spot her, I figured that I would see her on the course.

And sure enough, within the first half mile, I noticed her gait from behind and kindly announced my presence.  We traded information on what our race plans were and they were pretty much the same:  take it easy and see what happens.

Best decision that I've made in a long while and the biggest surprise is that I ran pretty much the entire half marathon - much different than the start-and-stop fest four weeks earlier.

I think it had a little bit to do without oppressive heat and/or humidity, but a lot of it had to do that we were running a pace that we could easily carry on a conversation the bulk of the way.

Longtime readers of this blog (and its predecessor) will know that we had a group called the Houston Running Bloggers - about two dozen of us that had blogs like this one.

I met Cassie on a Thursday evening eight (8) years ago at the HYLA's Tie One On For Charity 5K in downtown Houston.  Three months later, as the Houston Striders - a club we both belonged to - learned that they would host the next year's RRCA National Convention, I decided to travel - with Waverly - and run the News and Sentinel Half.

Cassie didn't run that year, but Waverly stayed with her the entire time (as a 10-year-old).

We ran it together the next year, I believe, and then Cassie had a really good race the following year in 2007 when I ran it.

We caught up on many a subject and Cassie ran into former classmates that she had in high school while she ran.  It really turned out to be a pretty nice race and run for both of us.

If I had been completely time-focused, I would have been disappointed with the 2:27:07 effort, but it was all good - for a multitude of reasons.  Especially since some of my friendships from the Houston Running Bloggers (and the Houston Striders) are ones that are the best and that I've maintained - positively - the longest.

We maintained a pretty even pace the entire way, evidenced by the splits below:

Mile 1 -- 10:16.90
Mile 2 -- 11:11.58
Mile 3 -- 11:19.16
Mile 4 -- 11:17.30
Mile 5 -- 10:41.10
Mile 6 -- 11:21.72
Mile 7 -- 10:55.34
Mile 8 -- 11:03.86
Mile 9 -- 11:01.51
Mile 10 -- 11:03.13
Mile 11 -- 11:19.16
Mile 12 -- 11:29.06
Last 1.1 -- 14:07.33

Mile 11 we both faltered a little and Mile 12 includes the 12th Street hill, which is semi-steep, but it is short -- and you get it all back fairly quick.

We probably lost a minute and a half in the last 1.1 mile, but there were two perfectly good reasons:  1.) I cramped pretty bad in my right hamstring, which was surprising since I hit all but one water station and 2.) Cassie ran over and gave her son, Gabe, a kiss, who lit up with a big smile when he saw his Mom running.  Great stuff!

Looking back at my splits, I'm thinking:  "These are perfectly good marathon splits right now."

So to run 2:27:07 on nothing from the week leading into the race, it gives me hope to work towards a late October marathon perhaps.  (I have another half scheduled in Mansfield, Texas on Saturday, September 14.)

The current ledger for Parkersburg, West Virginia looks like this:

2:41:53 - 8/20/05 - News and Sentinel Half Marathon (Hot and Hilly), Parkersburg, WV - 18
2:32:29 - 8/19/06 - News and Sentinel Half Marathon (Hot and Hilly), Parkersburg, WV - 29
2:24:05 - 8/18/07 - News and Sentinel Half Marathon, Parkersburg, WV - 40
2:27:07 - 8/17/13 - News and Sentinel Half Marathon, Parkersburg, WV - 92

So when I put together the type of trip that I did for this past week, I begin to look and see what can I "fill in" before I have to fly home.  Typically, the first thing that comes the mind is the opportunity to run some place different.

And when you can throw another ballpark in the mix, all the better.

I found - for a great price of $20 - the Inside The Park Home Run Race that started outside of Progressive Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians, and finished inside on the field.  It was put on the Hermes Racing group, a very reputable race production company in the greater Cleveland area.  And, for the most part, they didn't disappoint.

It was pretty easy to find the ballpark in the downtown area (plenty of signage) after driving north from Akron, where I spent the night.  Closest place to park was $3.50 - right next to a permanent "life" parking spot:  the Erie Street Cemetery.

Packet pickup was pretty painless.  A bib (B-tag in play), pins and nice T-shirt and I had plenty of time to walk around and inside the ballpark to capture a bunch of pictures for the stadium.

Runners had the choices of doing four different distances.  I chose the "Home Run" distance which included two loops of the ballpark on the streets and sidewalks interspersed with a pair of runs up the right-field ramps, around the upper deck and down the left-field ramps.

We lined up on Eagle Ave., which is beyond - and on the outside of - the left-center field wall and in between it and a parking garage.  The only thing that the event production company needed was my area of expertise:  an announcer for people to understand where and when they needed to be.  (There was a gentleman walking up and down between two queues of runners with a small, electrified megaphone, but better could have happened too.)

Temperatures were perfect:  upper 60's.  I was a little sore from the day before, but once I started to run and found a place where I could maintain my pace consistently I locked in on a target to follow.

And follow to the best of my ability I could.

We went from the streets for the first three-tenths of a mile to the sidewalks around the ballpark and surprisingly, they weren't that punishing on the legs.  When we got to the right-field corner, we entered the ball park and started up the ramps.

There were 10 of them and they were long and not that steep.  Fairly easy to run all of them.  Once we reached the top, we ran the upper deck semi-circle from right to left field and down the ramps in that corner of the ball park.

When I came around a corner, I would swing to the outside about halfway down the ramp, look over my left shoulder to see if there was somebody coming straight down the ramp and then aim for the U-turn and then repeat all the way down.

The acquired target and her friend were in close vicinty and the end result for the other lap around the ballpark, up and down the ramps and around the top was to stay close as we all helped each other.

Before the race, when I saw the timing mat set up in front of the third-base dugout, it led me to believe that once we entered the field - even though I had a map but didn't look at it - we would make a hard right to finish.

Ha!  When we hit the warning track, it was to the left and to run all the way around the field.  Cool running, but I sped up a little too soon before leaving the bowels of Progressive Field.

I outsprinted the two females, beating them to the finish line by three seconds.

My chip time was 36:27, which would have made it 9:07 per mile for a 4-miler.  I've got to think that the course was a little short.  I just can't believe that I made up that kind of time going down the ramps.

Regardless, it was a fun event.  Lots better than the Ramp Romp 5K at Kyle Field, where the ramps are much steeper.  (Hard headed Aggies!)

Great, fun weekend of racing!

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