Those of you who have been following my running tales for a while may remember the shiny penny I found about this time last year. Well, I wasn't planning to go looking for another shiny penny this year, until the night before the race when I was presented with a unique opportunity. I had been contemplating running the Lincoln Presidential Half-Marathon as just a training run, but I didn't know if I was up to waking up at 4am to make the drive down to Springfield for it. That's a very early morning and a very long drive for a training run. A training run I would have to pay $50 for, no less. (Don't get me wrong, this race is worth every penny - pun intended!)
But I found out a friend of mine, Jess, who had already registered for the race, was not going to be able to run it due to Achilles tendinitis. She offered me her race entry. I was uncertain at first. I've never run under an assumed identity before. And Jess is a much faster runner than I am - I would surely tarnish her speedy reputation. But she insisted that I run in her place. And so I decided to go for it. In order to not make her look bad, I opted not to wear the timing chip, so there would be no official record of "her" finish time. This was a good tactic for me, as well, because knowing there would be no official time made it a lot easier for me to run this race at an easy pace and not worry about trying to set a new PR.
So I pulled myself out of bed very, very, very early on Saturday morning and made the drive down to Springfield, mostly in the dark. It was a beautiful morning with clear skies. I could see a billion stars in the sky, until the eastern sky began to glow faintly orange. There were hardly any other cars on the interstate, making the drive very easy, and before I knew it, I was in downtown Springfield.
Finding parking for this race is a piece of cake - there is far more FREE parking than there are people running the race. I parked a block away from the Start/Finish and headed to the registration building to pick up my.... er, I mean, Jess'... packet. While I was in there, I ran in to fellow FASTies Tim, Brian and Brett. It was nice to see some familiar faces.
I pinned on my bib, threw the timing chip in my car and headed to the start area to mingle about and see if I could catch sight of Abe. Sure enough...
By the time the race got started, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was clear blue. It was going to be a beautiful morning for a race. I set out at an easy pace, not really caring what my pace actually was, but just trying to run comfortably. A lot of people passed me in the first three miles. I didn't care.
Just like last year, there weren't a ton of spectators out on the course. But the ones who were there were very enthusiastic. The volunteers were wonderful as well. There were volunteers and/or police officers positioned at nearly every turn and road crossing, making sure the runners ran the right way and the traffic stayed out of our way. They did a wonderful job, and I sincerely thank them for being out there. There were six aid stations, all serving up water and Accelerade. One of the aid stations was also giving out Accelgels.
The first few miles of the race wind through downtown Springfield, past Lincoln's home site and the state capitol building. This building is quite a sight to behold... so much so, in fact, that I stopped to take a picture.
After the downtown miles, the course heads west into some very beautiful park-like neighborhoods and the beautiful (but hilly) Washington Park. It was in Washington Park where I encountered the most enthusiastic aid station. All of the volunteers were cheering loudly for us, but one guy in particular could be heard above all, yelling "YEEEEEAH RUNNERS! WAY TO GO RUNNERS!!!!" I couldn't help myself. I yelled back "YEEEEEAH WATER STOP! AWESOME JOB WATER STOP!!!!" while dancing past the aid station and high-fiving all the volunteers.
From Washington Park, the course, which is much hillier from that point on, headed north through the neighborhoods, all the way up to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Lincoln's tomb is located. Then it winds through Lincoln Park before turning back south and heading toward the finish line. The second half of the course is very hilly, and anyone not expecting this will be unpleasantly surprised by it. So a word of advice to anyone who may run this race in the future: Save your energy for the hills. You will need it.
Since I had run this race last year, I already knew about the hills, and had no trouble tackling them (it also helped that I was running at an easy pace to begin with). I was having a fantastic time regardless of the hills. I chatted with other runners, high-fived spectators, and hammed it up for the race photographers.
I picked up the pace in the last mile of the race, as I would normally do in a long training run. As I rounded one of the final turns of the race, I saw the super-enthusiastic guy from the Washington Park aid station again. He was yelling "YOU'RE ALMOST THERE! THERE'S A CAMERA WHEN YOU TURN THE CORNER, SO SMILE BIG!!!!" I couldn't help myself. I smiled big and high-fived the guy. I flew down the final stretch of road, feeling very light and strong. Off to the side of the road were Brian, Brett and Tim, cheering loudly for me. They had finished hours before, being the super-speedy runners that they are. Okay, maybe not hours but it had been a while.
As I approached the finish line, I could just make out the clock, and noticed it was at 2:13:something. I really hadn't been paying much attention to my time or pace, so I was very surprised to see that I was basically running my existing half-marathon PR time (2:13:20). I stopped my Garmin after I crossed the finish, and it showed 2:13:34. Coming within 15 seconds of my PR without even really trying (and with all those hills!) was something I was definitely not expecting.
A very nice volunteer placed my super-awesome shiny penny medal around my neck, and I made my way toward the food tent because I was starving. On my way there, I ran into Brian, Brett and Tim again. Turns out, Brian had set a new half-marathon PR. Very cool - congrats Brian! We stood in a long line to get a Team FAST picture taken with Abe and Mary Todd (which should be available early next week), and then I headed home.
All in all, it was a blast, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to run this great race for free (thanks again, Jess!). Not only was it free, but I actually made money. I mean, I came home a whole penny richer! Now if only I could find a race dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, and start coming home with $100 bills instead.
Peace. Love. Train.