Every year I run Decker and swear it will be the last time. Yet every year I continue to sign up for it. That's due to a number of factors. This is a race put on by runners for runners, and it shows - the race shirt is outstanding, and after the pain of the hills is done they have breakfast tacos and sausage wraps for post-race food.
But there are certain things about Decker that are set in stone - it will be cold, it will be hilly, and it will be windy.
In other words it will be a challenge.
It also has something of a "reunion" quality about it. We get to be inside the expo center before the race, and I walk around and bump into lots of people I haven't seen in ages - people I've coached, or met through running, or those who know me and come over to chat while I rack my brain to figure out who they are or where they know me from.
I blame my notoriously bad memory for names and faces!!!
Among the people I bumped into before the race was my fellow Brit James. He didn't know it, but I was planning on using him as my rabbit. He's a much better runner than me, so I was going to try and hang onto him as long as I could.
And I would be lying if I claimed I didn't have my little brother's 1:37 half marathon time on my mind too.
So we were off, and running directly into the wind along Decker Lane for the first 4 miles of rolling hills. I hared away to a 6:45 first mile as I wanted to put some distance between James and myself (I knew he would catch me later). I settled into a consistent 7:00-7:05 minute mile pace for the long straight ups and downs along Decker Lane, and concentrated on running easy, staying consistent and trying (in vain) to find someone who might block me from the wind.
I knew there would be bigger hills coming up, especially at miles 5 and 9.
But I kept it going, averaging between 7:00 and 7:10 miles (with a nice new PR of 43:39 at 10k). James caught me around mile 7, but I pulled ahead again on an uphill and then threw in a few sub-7 miles to try and shake him off.
Didn't work. He caught me again just after mile 9, before the big hill. This one goes on for about half a mile and is a serious mental grind. I determined not to let him get away, so I dug in and stayed on his heels. We made the turn onto Decker Lake Road just after mile 10, and he was about 20 yards ahead.
But somehow I started reeling him in. First he was 15 ahead, then 10, then 5, then I was passing him.
I made sure he was ok as I passed.
But my legs were still firing, so I ground my teeth and dug in. I was not going to be passed again. As we hit mile 12, the wind picked up and we were running directly into it. My pace dropped to 7:27 (my slowest mile) as I slogged away and was glad to make the turn into the expo center. That last mile and a bit seemed to go on forever, and I was very grateful to cross the finish line in 1:32:43 (7:05 average).
If you'd told me a few weeks ago that I'd be within spitting distance of running a sub-7 half marathon at Decker, or finishing anywhere near James (let alone ahead of him) I would have called you crazy. But I'm in the middle of a golden seam of form right now, full of confidence and running well.
I'll make the most of it while it lasts, because I have had more than enough bad days out there.
Here are my mile splits:
Mile 1 - 6:45
Mile 2 - 7:02
Mile 3 - 7:01
Mile 4 - 7:04
Mile 5 - 7:07
Mile 6 - 7:10
Mile 7 - 6:57
Mile 8 - 6:54
Mile 9 - 6:55
Mile 10 - 7:08
Mile 11 - 7:13
Mile 12 - 7:27
Mile 13 - 7:16
Final 0.1 - 7:10
Makes me curious as to whether I could go sub-7 at a half marathon that didn't have all the hills this one does. I am tempted to enter 3M to find out.