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Rock/Creek Race Team member Owen Bradley’s quest for a 2:40:00 marathon

This report comes our way from the always-fast, always-shirtless Owen Bradley. Great time, Owen!

Mercedes Marathon, Sunday Feb 12: “To Wear or Not to Wear”

I started looking at the forecast over a week before race day. The low Saturday night was predicted at 39 degrees. I wished it was a few degrees colder, but still it was better than the 50+ degree lows we had the weekend before. By the middle of race week all that had changed; the predicted low was now to be in the upper 20s. By Wednesday, I began getting numerous questions from everybody and their brother asking if I would wear a shirt since it was going to be so cold at the start. I was surprised the odds makers in Las Vegas did not call me to put a line on if I would race in a shirt. As luck would have it, the temperature at the start kept being predicted lower. On Sunday morning with the wind-chill factor the temperature was approximately 18 degrees.

A few minutes before the start, after running strides, I gave the fans what they wanted, a shirtless runner. Being a person who likes traditions I hated to let this one die. Looking back on the sequence of events, I almost felt like Lebron James as he throws the chalk up in the air before a basketball game as I tossed my shirt in the air to a friend’s wife. See the picture below of the surprised looks at the start from fellow competitors (especially # 4793) who cannot believe I am without a shirt. Note in the picture my fingers were so cold I could not get my watch to start timing.

Now for the important stuff: the race itself. My marathon PR was 2:42:51 which was recorded on the same course in 2010 (the only road marathon I had ever run). I hoped to beat that time and maybe sneak in just under 2:40. After settling in the first few miles and holding back from going out too hard, I was surrounded by friends who were running right around 6 minute pace. This pack of 6-8 runners made for a good wind barricade and light conversation as we left the tall buildings of downtown and headed toward the UAB campus.

One of my training partners, Ron Philley, and I were planning to run together and complete the first loop in 1:19:30 and then slightly pick it up or at least maintain for the second loop. We hit the first 10k in 36:03 (5:49 pace) which was ahead of my goal race pace of 6:05. Things felt good now that I had generated some body heat. After mile 6 the course does a gradual climb until mile 8. This is really the toughest part of the course and the longest climb. The other climb comes from mile 9 to 10 and is again gradual but takes a toll on your legs. I hit the 15k mark at 54:16 (according to the timing company; 5:49 pace) still ahead of my goal. There is a short steep downhill as you hit mile 10 and head toward the flat roads of industrial district in route to 20th Street and Linn Park where the finish is located.

At the start of the second loop, my friend Ron and another runner, Orinthal Striggles, pulled a few blocks ahead of me. I was feeling the effects of 13 miles and my legs were somewhat tired. I reached 13 miles in approximately 1:18:30, which would put me slightly ahead of the planned halfway time. My next goal was to get to mile 20 where my friend Lauren was going to run 5 miles with me (see picture below). I kept Ron and Orinthal in sight. About mile 16 a runner passed me who had gotten off course and was working hard to recover his lost time. I was running by myself those 7 miles which included the worse uphill on the course.

It should be noted that the mile marker times on the course showed me about 20 seconds faster than 6 minute pace through 20 miles (1:58:40). As I crested the high point of the course on Highland Ave I noticed I had almost caught up to Ron. Within a few minutes I was passing him and offering encouragement. Mentally at mile 13 when Ron pulled away, I had conceded that he had beaten me, which I was able to keep from happening in the end. At mile 21, I got my first drink of water which helped wash down the residual vanilla bean GU that was lingering in my mouth.

The last 5 miles were a struggle. My pace was somewhat erratic; anywhere between 6:20 to 6:38 per mile. I was just trying to hang on. After I climbed the last small hill, I made it to the industrial district on 2nd Ave South (and should have taken another GU but did not). I was focused on just running one block at a time. I made the final right turn onto 20th street in 5th place, when suddenly Geno Phillips passed me like I was standing still. I could not respond and match his pace.

I just kept moving forward and focused on getting to the 32 story Wells Fargo tower on 20th street, which is the building I work in. At this point I knew I would get a new PR today, but the dream of running under 2:40 was slipping away. I pushed toward the finish and ended up 6th overall in a time of 2:40:57. I did not realize until the awards ceremony that I was the first local finisher. which earned me $250.

Overall, I am very pleased with my performance with almost a two minute PR on a relatively tough course. I think the cold weather helped my cause. I will break the 2:40 barrier at some point in the future. It should be noted I advertised for the Bell Center on my chest during the race. The Bell Center is an Early Intervention Programs that provides therapy and special education services for infants and toddlers who are at risk for developmental delay including children born prematurely, or with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and a variety of other genetic disorders through its therapeutic programs. The program has provided dramatic results for more than 1,000 children who have participated since its inception. I donated $320 to the Bell Center which was raised at the Autumn Equinox Ultra in 2011, a race I direct at Oak Mountain State Park in September every year.