This was my second trip down for the Steamworks Half in Durango, and I hoped to improve upon last year's run. In 2009, my race included a bus trip to the start with less than 15 minutes to spare, three port-a-potties, a frantic run uphill to barely make the start, and a two mile death march to the finish at altitude after a too-fast start. I used the beautiful 3.5 hour drive in fantastic weather to talk myself into how great the race would be with a few small changes.
I was staying with Ilana again, who is my regular race roomie around this region. With Durango being her hometown, she had just the place in mind for us to grab dinner, and I had the traditional pre-race margarita, rice, beans and enchiladas. Ilana would not be running due to injury down-time, but I knew I would see her volunteering at the finish area. We came back to her place, and after reading a bit from a book in the guest room about mountain biking misadventures, I turned in for the night with a plan to turn around my performance from the previous year.
When I got up in the morning, problem #1, the bus situation was remedied by a ride to the start from Ilana. This time, I had about half an hour to spare, so there would be no mad dash to the start. Alas, there was only one more port-a-potty compared to the year before. I didn't really need to go, though, so I decided to just walk up the road to the start area, find a patch of sun breaking through the trees, and hang out. About fifteen minutes pre-race, I did a very light warmup jog, but decided that I didn't need much more than that because I would need to show a bit of restraint in the first mile anyway. I greeted the only other person from my city to make it down for the race as she walked up the hill. This was her first race in quite awhile, and something about it sparked her interest so she was down there with her husband and two daughters. A minute or two before the start, the race director appeared, counted us down, and it was on.
My "gimme" goal was a race PR (sub-1:46:29), which I imagined would happen barring a complete catastrophe. Even though my half PR is 1:40 and change, I thought that a good stretch goal would be 1:43. I do tend to feel any climb in altitude, it was warm, and this course has a lot of roll to it with a tough uphill finish. If I was bulletproof and feeling no pain, then 1:40 would be my magical pixie dust goal. That said, my plan for the day was to be conservative to start, and even throughout rather than my shorter race "bombs away" style of running that I've used as of late.
First mile felt pretty good. There were maybe a dozen of us ladies who were not the way-out-front few that were in the next group of runners, and we seemed to string out over a short distance.
Mile 1: 7:39
There was a small group of ladies that was initially ahead of me from the start that I did move a bit past in the first mile. I don't know whether they did this independently or were fired up to pass back, but they ran back ahead of me early in the second mile. I let them go because I was sticking to my strategy of giving myself something to work with late in the game, knowing that some people were going to fade from going out too hard at the downhill start.
Mile 2: 7:36
Mile 3: 7:56
Okay, so we were rolling a little bit now, and not pitching downhill dramatically. I feel like I'm decent on uphills-not speedy, but steady and able to put out an even effort without psyching myself out too much. Then I try to take advantage of the free energy on the downhills, and just carry it as far as I can into the next hill. In the next few miles, I tended to pace pretty evenly with a handful of people. There were a few women who had moved way ahead, but for the most part there was not much passing going on here.
Mile 4: 8:05
Mile 5: 7:58
Mile 6: 8:02
I was working really hard but I felt comparatively fantastic to the year before, when I was at that place of just wanting to be shot and put out of my misery. I had been totally annoyed by my handheld water bottle at the 2009 race, so I was alternating between Powerade and water at every aid station this time, and taking ten seconds to walk and drink the whole thing. This served a dual purpose-hydration, obviously, but also bringing my heart rate down a bit. I've felt it racing before when I run in places higher than my city's altitude, and these little breaks actually made me feel much more in control of my race.
The temps were really starting to climb by now, and the unshaded sections of road were kind of uncomfortable. I just tucked the head down and got into "run the mile you're in" mode. This has always worked for me and kept me from overthinking things if I am starting to have a tough time. For the first time, I passed a runner or two who thought they'd have enough to get through on a fast start. I was tired too and experiencing a slight fade, but I was fired up and still felt like I could keep holding on. There was one woman and man who passed me in this section, but that was it through this section.
Mile 7: 8:00
Mile 8: 8:08
Mile 9: 7:57
I'd been following a steady, strong cross-country-runner-looking lady for a bit, and inched closer to her with each step. I took a minute to hang back and decide when to go for it, and moved past with no response. I was starting to feel pretty wiped out but passing people late in the race kept me moving. I started playing "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers over and over in my head. It's the song in that really cool video here featuring Joan Benoit Samuelson on her way to the first women's gold medal in the marathon.
The "If You Can Hold On, Hold On" lyric just speaks to me and is as good a running mantra as any, along with the repetitive "I've Got Soul But I'm Not A Soldier." I hate to use words like motivational and inspirational flippantly, but that video and song just do it for me.
At this point I'd passed one of those women in that early trio, and had seen another take off ahead early on. I'd been making up ground on the third lady, though, and soon found myself right behind her. She either sensed or heard someone behind her, and yanked one ear bud out of her ear. I did not want to pass until it was the right time for me, though, and held my ground, noticing that she did appear to be tired and fading.
Mile 10: 8:11
Okay, it was time, and I decided to go for it. I passed without looking back and increased my turnover, holding on to this surging pace for as long as I could. This was tough because there was no more downhill on the course.
Mile 11: 8:06
Now I know you can't really hit "the wall" in a half but I was sort of feeling that way now. Still, I trudged on and tried to surge between signs and lightposts, playing the "break it down" game where I mark off the course in small stretches, and try to get from A to B. I just did not want to get passed again by that last lady and was running as if she was right behind me, whether she was or not. I kicked as hard as I could and never turned back or to the side to look for her.
Mile 12: 8:17
Oh, wow, did I feel miserable now, but this is where familiarity was helpful. I was running uphill but starting to recognize those landmarks in the last mile. I ran sign-to-sign, corner-to-corner, and acted like I had a runner right on my tail.
Mile 13: 8:18
In this last section, I needed to cross the street that was open to traffic, and was now just behind a guy who started to cross. I followed behind him, but then he jumped back out of the way at the last section, seeing a car coming down the road. I was already out there and just kind of committed to crossing rather than darting back in front of that driver. Soon I was across and pouring it on to make that last turn, and finish, still having no idea who might be behind me. I hear Ilana shout out at me as I turned to the finish chute and could see the time clock reading 1:42:xx. I charged across the finish line at 1:43:00 on the nose by my Garmin and what would wind up being an official race time of 1:43:01, and collapsed in the shade. I did it....3:29 off the year prior's result, hit my stretch goal on the nose, and ran what I feel was a smart race on the course. This was a shot Ilana caught of me pushing to the finish with that fish-out-of-water contorted breathing face:
After a few minutes of cooling off and rehydrating, my breathing and heart rate settled down. I chatted with Ilana for a bit, and then made a beeline for the athletic club's pool area, where the free massages, food and beer were located. I was one of the first on the list for the rubdown, and in the meantime I hung out and had a black bean burger, potato salad and beer from the title sponsor of the race. As the results came in, I found out that I was 7th out of 104 finishers in the 26-39 age bracket (yes, a strange breakdown, and 1/3 of the 300 person sold-out race). I didn't count the entire list, but I was 10th female overall out of what appeared to be about 200 women in the race. Though this was nowhere near getting into the age group awards, I was pleased nonetheless with how things went down.
As for this week's running, I have been a little sore but not terribly so, and have kept up with all my planned runs for the week. I'm going to try a two week taper for Missoula, with a 10K race this Saturday locally and long run on Sunday. These could be additional entries into the Bad Ideas Club, but it keeps things fresh, fun and unpredictable for me. That's the key these days-mix it up and make sure it's never a drudgery to get out there on the roads and trails.