The Fort 4 Fitness race at Fort Wayne, Indiana was the second half marathon this year. The goal set for this race was to run an eight minute pace for an overall finishing time of 1:45:00. The morning started with a race-day trip down to Fort Wayne at 5:30 AM with our friend Steve Glick from the Two Rivers Running Club. The car ride through the countryside was peaceful with wonderful stories about life and running.
We picked up our race packets at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum the home baseball field for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Ashley and I started our warm-up thirty minutes before the start of the half marathon. We lapped the city buildings near the starting line a couple of times at a steady pace to warm-up the body and legs.
I lined up with the 8 minute pacing group near the front of the starting line with the elite athletes. I typically would not lineup near the starting line for this distance but I wanted to stick with the 8 minute pacing group. I was in a peaceful mindset waiting for the race to start. I visualized some of my best workouts assigned by coach Jake Gillette and started to repeat my mantra “let the legs fly” over and over again under my breath. I went into my competitive mindset and the distractions around me started to fade away. The race was started by three very loud booms from civil war cannons situated near the starting line. I clicked the Garmin watch on to start the time and started on the 13.1 mile racing journey.
The two gentleman pacing the 8:00 min group were Bill Landgraf and Tom Gilbert from the 3RCC Fort Wayne Running Club. They were new to pacing a half marathon for this pace but they did a fantastic job. The first mile we ran a 7:49 minute pace and I was mentally in the zone of keeping up with them. I took a quick water break around 1.5 miles and was handed a water bottle from a young child at the end of the water station. The second mile mile went by quickly at a 7:45 minute pace through a small town intersection with a couple of fans cheering on the runners. Every runner participating in the Fort 4 Fitness half marathon had the crowd support of the Fort Wayne community. The third mile was a 7:48 minute pace and the pacers started to chatter about my Michigan State hat. I laughed off the remarks about my Spartans and replied that I bleed Green and White. The fourth mile was completed at a 7:54 minutes pace and we started to enter the Donald Ross golf course. The terrain for miles 1-4 were downhill and flat with slight elevation changes that was nothing new to my training regime with Coach Jake.
The miles at this point felt easy and the pacer group was getting lively in conversation. I had another water break at mile 4.5 together with the pacer group and we took off again to mile 5 which we completed at a 7:59 min pace. We eased back in the speed and started to focus on running the 8 minute goal pace. Mile 6 was completed around a 7:51 min pace and I was handed the pacer signage which I carried for half a mile. We started to enter a second golf course called the Foster Park and Foster Golf Course. This area was peaceful and serene with runners all around us. Mile 7 and 8 were completed at a 7:51 and 8:03 minute paces.
At this point of the race, I went to my Flotilla 8 miler racing moment in July. I remember running hard at Flotilla and having to walk around mile 7. Todd Hoffer (he got lost in the Flotilla race) came behind me with encouragement to finish the race strong. Fast forward to this half marathon and my running spirits were high with no feelings of having to walk or take a breather. I knew at this very moment my fitness level has improved greatly and 1:45:00 half marathon goal was going to get crushed. The legs started to fly and we completed mile 9 around a 7:53 minute pace. The pacing group started to thin and the 9 miles started to take its toll on some of the runners’ mentality. The terrain through the golf course was flat until mile 10 with an abrupt hill that drained my leg strength. The pacing group started to pick up the pace and we finished mile 10 around a 7:47 minute pace. I hung on the shoulders of the pacing group and was pushing up the hill hard with the crowd cheering us on. The last three miles of the race, the course started to go through small neighborhood communities that were pumping music and holding signs of inspiration and cheerful thoughts. It was an incredible racing moment to see the Fort Wayne community coming alive for all the runners.
Mile 11 was completed at an 8:02 pace and the pacers started to leave me behind. I was not defeated at this moment but the legs started to become heavy (tired) with the last hill and all the subtle elevation changes. At this point of the race I started to incorporate some of my training workouts that Jake made us do such as the 30 second surges on and off until we completed the mile. I started to imagine the track workouts of being behind Laura Gillette and Mark Furkis in the 800 meter distance and pushing hard toward the finish.
I wanted to deter the emotions of fear and doubt so I started to focus on my mantra of “let the legs fly” and at this very moment towards the end of mile 11 the song “Eye of the Tiger” was blasting on the speakers. Mile 12 started off at a water break and I regrouped my breathing with a slow trot to sip my water. I glanced at my watch and knew the finish line was going to be close to get under the 1:45:00 mark. This racing atmosphere started to intensify and I wanted so badly to walk just a little bit up some of the tiny hills. The crowd noise was getting louder and I kept on pushing through with the heavy legs and finished the mile at an 8:28 pace.
The 13th mile was the finale and I went fast with these 30 second surges on and off until I saw the baseball stadium. I imagined being the reliever pitcher in a baseball playoff game and entering from the bullpen with my name being called from the announcer’s box.
I started to really push hard on the warning tracks and used the crowds atmosphere as my fuel and motivation. I heard my name being announced through the speakers “Derek Jager from Elkhart” as I crossed the finish line at 1:44:54 at a 7:57 min pace. I saw the half marathon clock ticking close to the 1:45:00 and I knew that I had a huge PR from my last half marathon recorded at 1:57:00, a 12 minute difference.
I am beyond impressed with my accomplishment and thankful for the Two Rivers Running Club members who helped Ashley and I in workouts and especially a huge thank you to Coach Jake Gillette. A phenomenal coach and a wonderful friend to the Jager family. This race inspired me to think about running a marathon of 26.2 miles next year and becoming a pacer for a half marathon in the near future. I would love to have a group of runners pushing hard in a race and helping them out along the way just like Bill and Tom did for me. Thank you also to Bill and Tom for pacing me to victory and providing all the athletes around them a wonderful experience.
This was a great race and I highly recommend it to anyone near the Fort Wayne area. The next and final race for us is the Monumental Half Marathon in Indianapolis on November 5th. I will have one more race for fun somewhere before or after this race.