Long story short, I went out too fast, but I hung on okay and ended up running the same time as last year. Last year was essentially the perfect race, so maybe it's ok that I essentially matched it on a so-so day.
Last year I had run pretty poorly at the the ten mile, so in the half marathon I just found a small group to stick behind. The pace at the start felt really easy, but the strategy paid off as I closed well. This year, I ran well at the ten mile and so I figured I was probably capable of pacing myself properly.
First mile in 5:51(-:16 compared to 6:07) last year. I didn't feel strained, but the first mile of a half can be deceiving. The second mile in 6:01(same) brought me back to reality. I was already uncomfortable, although my breathing was barely registering. In this mile I got passed by Patrick Ollinger and Brent Fields, they were the only people who would pass me the entire race.
After the 3rd mile was also the same as last year (5:59), I knew I needed to reassess my race plan. I was not feeling good, and who really know why, but the idea of running sub 1:18 was out of the question and continuing to push for that would just end in disaster. I decided I would bide my time until Piedmont Park (the 10k mark) and then just focus on competing with those around me.
I was running with Martin Bett who got all the cheers because he was wearing a Navy singlet. I was also just behind Juan Soto, who has beaten me in many many Atlanta races. I figured that if I could somehow beat Juan Soto, who had beaten me easily at the ten miler a few weeks ago, then I would salvage something.
My first thought was that I should just try to run with him so I used the downhill in the fourth mile to get on his shoulder. As soon as the course flattened out, Juan pulled away again and Martin was right back on me. Mile 4 was 5:50 (-:10), but contained a lot of downhill.
After Martin caught me again he started to push the pace so I went with it. Mile 5 in 6:01 (-:10), but Juan was still pulling away. We then started to get into the hills and I realized I needed to lift my effort a little, but Martin still hung on. Up ahead Juan was pulling farther and farther ahead and now there was another guy (Lucas Andrews) between me and him.
Mile 6 in 6:16 (same as last year) and I hit 10k in 37:13 (-:32 overall). However, last year at six miles I took off, this year I was really struggling as my legs felt really bad. I was in 27th place at the split, although one of the runners 'ahead' of me had started five minutes late so I was 26th place physically. Martin was just a couple steps ahead in 26th and Lucas was 7 seconds ahead in 25th. Juan was 16 seconds ahead running with Annie Kelly, the lead woman.
Mile 7 was the first mile that was slower than last year (5:59, +:9). It's a fast mile winding though Piedmont Park, the low point of the city. We hit the toughest hill of the course climbing out of it. 6:32 for mile 8 (+:5), and that was enough to open a gap on Martin that he never closes. I just cannot catch Lucas, but he's not getting any further ahead, neither is Juan. I did catch Annie though, at the exact same spot that I passed her last year (I think) right after the 8 mile marker.
In the 9th mile, my legs locked up. Any hope of running faster than last year, was gone, I figured. I waited for someone to catch me from behind, but no one did. Instead I passed up Tim Brooks, who beat me at the ten miler by 5 seconds and who had been 24 seconds ahead at ten k. Then a few steps later I finally passed Lucas. Mile 9 ended up being 6:11(+:7) which is ok, but it felt bad.
I could still see Juan, but I couldn't tell if he was getting closer. We both passed two more runners who were really struggling. Mile 10 was 6:19 (+:05), but it has a nasty hill.
Going through the tunnel under Dekalb, I saw Ben Leblanc jogging slowly. He had been about a minute ahead of me at 10k, but now seemed done. When he saw Juan he started running again with him (I think maybe they are training partners). Anyway, this gave me a ton of motivation. Ben had also beaten my at the ten miler and, like Juan, many other races. However now they were running together they were definitely pulling away.
Mile 11 was 6:24 (+:17). That was definitely a bad mile. I figured that sub 1:20 was impossible and was losing motivation. Ben kept looking back at me. I think they really didn't want to lose to me. Ben then takes off and I surge or, more accurately, get out of my funk. I pushed it hard to pass Juan and then Ben. Mile 12 is only 6:08 (+:4), but that's ok.
I could see one more runner ahead of me. He had about a ten second lead with a mile to go. I caught up to him with about 400 meters left and he tucks in behind. Then a few seconds later he started to kick away from me. I briefly considered letting him win, but only briefly. I kicked hard the last 200m and beat him by two seconds. I ran 6:31 for last 1.1 (+:3). After all of that I end up ten seconds slower than last year.
Beat Ben Leblanc by 15 seconds and Juan Soto by 32 seconds. All told, I passed 11 people in the second half and nobody passed me.