Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Other Half Race Report
Or, alternately titled..Forget More Cowbell...It's All About the Drums!
Background: So, this was my very first half marathon two years ago. It was the culmination of an unlikely spur-of-the-moment decision I'd made after exactly one 5K to join a group of runners training for this race while fundraising for Girls on the Run. I had a terrific time on the beautiful course two years prior, going from "just finish" as my goal to eventually arriving at a sub-2:00 stretch goal, which I squeaked in on in 2007 with a 1:58:XX finish time. I was extremely bummed last year that I had to miss the race, but it was just too close to my fall marathon, where I was trying to BQ. I was SO happy this time around that I had four weeks between this race and my fall marathon. There's something special about this race that I just can't put into words.
Pre-Race: I started out the week before the race getting really sick. I was ticked and frustrated, and wondered if my race was going down the drain before I had a chance to run it. I was also a little unsure about how I'd do with my superstretch goal of 1:39, stretch of 1:42 and gimme to set a new PR (sub 1:46, basically). I have been doing a freewheeling plan all summer and fall of my own, not necessarily focusing on certain types of runs and speed work, but focusing on what I felt were weaker points for me as they related to my fall races. I spent time on trails to improve trail form for Imogene and work on hills.
I also worked on stuff that would come up in this race and would be helpful to practice. Kind of my "signature run" for the late summer and early fall was one in which I'd start at my house, run downhill to our river trail at about marathon pace or faster, spend some time down there, and then run the almost two miles back uphill to my house, trying to hold pace all the way back. It seemed like a good run to do considering that The Other Half doesn't start getting rolly and hilly until seven miles into the race. Here's what the race profile looks like:
That said, I wasn't feeling exceptionally confident and was wondering if I'd been wrong to just follow a "whatever I feel like doing" plan.
Race weekend: I showed up in Moab late on Saturday and met up with Ilana and Suzanne, and two of Suzanne's colleagues who were all staying with me Saturday night. After everyone had picked up their stuff and brought stuff into the hotel room, Ilana tailed me up to the parking lot near the finish to leave my car, and then we came back for dinner with all the ladies at Miguel's in downtown Moab. I always do Mexican for pre-race dinners, and Ilana and I got our pre-race margaritas too.
We learned that our hotel was being a stickler for no late checkouts, so after dinner we carefully laid out or stuff and kind of set things up so we'd be ready to check out at 6 a.m.
Race Day: We got up to what seemed like perfect weather for a race, scored some coffee, had some nibbles of food, and checked out of the hotel before heading to catch the bus. I had a slightly tight stomach but it wasn't sick so I wasn't too worried. None of us had much sleep beyond a few hours to start off the night-after that it was kind of the "kid on Christmas morning" deal where we all seemed to be laying there with our eyes closed.
We took the long bus ride to the start, and then alternately spent time in front of the fire pits and waiting in line for the port-a-potties. Just before the race start time, the sun started climbing over the red cliffs...just enough to make it cool and not frigid pre-race. After we ditched our warm-ups and sent them with the sweats truck, Ilana and I lined up kind of at the dividing point between the 7 and 8-minute mile signs. This was a gun timed only race-no chips-but we were pretty near the starting line so this seemed like a good spot. A few of the women who play the drums on the course were in the back of the truck at the start, drumming with anticipation of the starting gun. Right on schedule at 8:30, the gun fired, and we were off.
It seems that for these middle- to longer-distance events, I've had no happy mediums with how I've felt-it's either feeling good and not struggling, or just feeling yucky from the get-go. Today, I felt great as we started, and Ilana and I were even chatting intermittently. I knew pretty early that I shouldn't hold myself back unnecessarily, and that I ought to just take that "free energy" in the first half of the race.
Mile 1: 7:47
I continued to feel good through the next few miles. My breathing was under control (and, I noticed, more in control than some of the other women just a bit ahead of me) and I was relaxed.
Mile 2: 7:40
I kind of fumbled and dropped a Gatorade pass from the course volunteer-she gasped and thought she'd dropped it on me and I said "no, MY bad...I dropped it" and she'd already grabbed another one for me. Did I mention that these course volunteers are awesome?
Mile 3: 7:36
Going into mile 4...HELLO sun in the face! I was thankful for my hat and glasses and just kind of looked down at the asphalt. It was BRIGHT out there.
Mile 4: 7:28
Around here, it marked the beginning the first time I've done any real "testing" in a longer race. There were several women ahead of me, and their body language and breathing seemed off to me. I decided to push and creep up a bit to see how they were doing, and test the waters without necessarily planning to go well ahead of my pace just to get by them now. There were a few that I caught up to, and they in turn pushed harder. I had a feeling that if I just stayed consistent, some of them seemed like they were going to lose the early momentum on the hills, so I didn't kill myself trying to pass them at this point.
Mile 5: 7:40
Mile 6: 7:38
I got to the almost-halfway point feeling like I might be in that sweet spot on pace where I wouldn't blow up and have a huge positive split for the last few miles. I've done that in each of the last three halves I've run...and REALLY badly in June. It was ugly. The only time I didn't do this was at my very first half-this same race, two years ago. In that case, I was too conservative for the first seven miles and negative splitted in a fashion that showed I should have been out faster.
Okay, we're now building up to the large hill that comes around mile 8. It slows me down a bit but not much. I was right on my instinct that I could pass some folks moving into the second half.
Mile 7: 7:51
As we climb the big hill, nobody passed me, but I passed a few runners-both men and women. My heart rate got a little wacky feeling through here and my legs were a bit fatigued.
Mile 8: 8:15
I decided I needed a fifteen-second physical and mental reset, and when I grabbed some Gatorade at the 8-mile aid station, I walked briskly, allowing that heart rate to calm down a bit and to drink everything in that cup. It was really all I needed, and I felt like I had nipped bad stuff in the bud. I was back in the zone again.
The rolling hills kept coming, and I got into a rhythm on them, trying to build up momentum uphill and keep it going downhill with no braking. The Imogene race, and general trail running I've been doing really helped here because I wasn't afraid of getting so out of control that I'd trip and fall. I kept intermittently passing runners through the hills.
Mile 9: 7:43
Okay-now I was getting excited to know there were only a few miles left, and I wasn't feeling like I'd wasted all my energy before I really needed it. We still had more hills coming, and I was tiring and slowing some in spots but I would shake out my arms and try to consciously do things to stay loose.
Mile 10: 8:05
Now I can start to hear the distant drums of the women who sit at the top of the last hill. It's a beautiful sound and just keeps me going, and turns attention away from any aches and fatigue trying to set in at this point.
Mile 11: 7:39
Here we go....up that last hill. I know it's the last one, yet my mind thinks the same way it did two years ago and kind of gets tricked into thinking there's one more after. I approach the drumming ladies, wave, smile and clap for them. They are awesome, and one of my many favorite things about this race.
Mile 12: 7:46
Okay. For a first in a half marathon, I felt like I had it in me to absolutely cut loose in that final 1.1. Just a short way back, there had been a woman wearing a shirt with a message on the back that just clicked big-time. It said REST LATER and even though I probably could have just kept up status quo, and told myself that I was working as hard as I could, I thought "YES!" and knew that there was no other choice but killing it until I crossed the finish line.
I turned my legs over as fast as I possibly could, getting as much push off the ground as I could muster, and kind of mentally pretended I was racing a 5K. I continued passing people as turned into Sorrel River Ranch for THE longest finish chute I've ever seen at a race. I passed three women and a few men within the stretch of about two tenths of a mile, fully expecting a response as I continued to accelerate, but was surprised that there was no response.
Mile 13: 6:59
Okay, this is it! I could see the time clock, still ticking in the 1:40:XX range. If I'd known better when I first saw the time clock I would've realized that there was no way I was going to make it before it switched over to 1:41:xx, but thank goodness my running math is terrible. It gave me even more incentive to throttle through to the finish.
Last .16 as measured by Garmin: :59, or a 6:14 pace, and I slapped my Garmin off at exactly the same time the official results had me: 1:41:06. A new PR in the half marathon by more than five minutes. I kind of flopped and staggered out of the chute, and had someone ask if I was okay. I assured them that I was okay, and just needed to find a spot to stand and collect myself for a few minutes, which I did as I brough my breathing back down from the deep breathless gasps I was making as I crossed the finish (MAN, I do NOT want to see the photos they took at the finish line. I KNOW they are going to be ugly!)
I did not reach my my super-stretch goal, but honestly, I set each of my goals pretty aggressively so I was thrilled. I never hit 60 miles per week like I wanted to this training cycle, but I think consistently getting around 50 miles per week with work specific to my weak points and specific to the courses I'd be racing did more good than I thought. I'm thinking that with continued tackling of my weak spots, AND increasing mileage of the winter, I might be looking at a possibility of hitting that NYC marathon guaranteed entry qualifying standard at a spring half marathon.
My final placements were 74/1517 overall, 8/181 age group, 20/1027 women. (There are some slight corrections and changes here from when I first viewed the results in total numbers, but my position's stayed the same.)
This was also almost an 18 minute race PR from my time two years ago, but let's put huge asterisks on that. It was my first half marathon, I'd been averaging 15-25 miles per week then, and had topped out at about 30 miles training then.
I feel really good about this. I don't know if I can knock off a huge chunk of time again in the spring, but it certainly motivates me to be just outside of those regional ladies.
Ilana and Suzanne had great races too, with Ilana finishing third out of her age group, but due to overalls and Masters winners coming out, she won her division, and got a very swanky KoKoPelli trophy. As I continued to bump into and chat with other running acquaintances, it seemed that everyone had a good time out there, with race goals met by many. This is not a huge surprise-we had perfect weather conditions, and the race crew in Moab is just second-to-none, so there were no course problems to contend with.
Where does this leave me? Well, for one, more comfortable with the idea of just running and spending time on my feet and not needing to be a stickler to a cookie cutter training plan. I've been doing things that I think will benefit me, strengthen my weaker points, and help sharpen my racing skills. I know that more mileage would be beneficial to me, so I'm going to make some choices this winter with scheduling that'll make it easier to get in more miles. My "5k's as speed work" plan really wasn't as bad an idea as I thought, and I'm going to keep entering them, but I'm also going to get back into regular speed work sessions during the week. Will I do them exactly as Pete Pfitzinger dictates? Not sure. I may compare the 18/55 and 18/70 plans, and hit a happy medium between the two. The downhill/river trail/uphill route paid clear dividends this weekend, so I'm going to keep working that route.
I also learned that if you get sick-an extreme taper is okay. I was itching to run most of the week, and I know Ilana was too as she'd been sick and trying to rest up too. Both of us resisted the urge to run more than we should when we were sick, and trusted that we'd done enough leading up to race day. I am so glad I didn't throw in extra miles here and there just for the sake of keeping up mileage that week. I might not have been healthy and recovered the way I was for race day.
So, that's everything! Two days after the fact, I am feeling pretty good-surprisingly good. So, we'll resume a normal running week, and then get right back into a taper for my fall marathon.