Sunday, March 20, 2011

"This Wind Blows"-The 2011 Canyonlands Half Marathon Race Report

Full credit to Eric, AKA Teamcam, for the on-course declaration that sums things up in a nutshell. This was one for the books in terms of unusual weather.

I started my Canyonlands weekend with my road-less-traveled route, past the ghost town of Cisco, the historic Dewey Bridge, and on down Highway 128 along the courses for The Other Half Marathon and Canyonlands Half. "They" say it takes longer to go this way, but I must have a lead foot because it still seems to take me two hours either way, even when I'm lollygagging and pulling out the camera as I did this time.

I made stops to pay homage to the old Dewey Bridge, which holds special memories from my very first half marathon, the 2007 Other Half. I can still picture my warmup, running across the suspension bridge over the river and back. The next year, it was just a shell of its former self, destroyed by a child from my city who was camping with his family and playing with matches.

From there, I made my way down the canyon and just soaked up the positive energy Moab gives off. Out-of-state and out-of-country runner friends, the pictures just aren't a substitute for being here and traveling it on foot, but this is why you should come for a running vacation. It never looks quite the same here depending on the weather and time of year, and today it was a little hazy from the burning season. Still beautiful, though.

Packet pickup was a breeze-no pun intended-this year. There were no timing tags or chips to pick up this time, with a timing strip now attached to the back of the bibs. This "expo" really doesn't have much to it, which is nice if you just want to get in and out in a hurry. The temperature felt great, but when I met everybody for dinner, all the talk was of the weather forecast-wind, wind, and more wind. Still, we put that out of our heads for the most part, and our big group of runners and assorted family had a great time kicking back and hanging out. As I expected, they gave us the entire back of Miguel's, which was probably good since we were a lively bunch. Some of squeezed together for a shot of the merrymaking.

From left to right, we've got Richard, Kevin F, Kevin O'B, me, Ilana, and Eric. We had several other runners who were at other tables or who floated in later. Everyone in this group is a Boston veteran with several of us returning this year, so it was fun to talk training and goals with Patriots Day just a month away.

After the meal, I got to do a nice soak in the outdoor hot tub with Ilana and Kevin O'B, who was staying a building over in the same hotel. My night of sleep was the best I'd had in weeks-this seemed to bode well for the day. Kevin had traveled with his own coffeemaker and good coffee, and invited us over for some steaming hot caffeine and Irish soda bread on race morning. It was already pretty warm out when we walked over to his room, and sure enough, it was, ah....breezy out there. We tried to pretend this wasn't the case as we rode up on the buses to the start. There was no denying, though-the wind blowing up the canyon would be a factor today.

The Canyonlands Half and other assorted races have always been VERY organized and well scheduled, but part of this is getting the runners up the canyon a good 1-2 hours before the start. Hence, we had a lot of time to just wander around, make multiple port-a-potty stops, climb the rocks, talk to random folks we knew, and making acquaintances of some of the strangers.
(That's the start...waaaaay up the hill there. If you squint...that's a race banner being twisted in circles by the wind.)

That's Ilana chilling just below me, rocking her magic tiara and visor. She wound up having to carry the visor the entire race because it just would not stay on her head in the gusting winds. Yeah, it was that bad.

I had to laugh a little when I saw Tom, the guy who directed the ski race last week, right away in the crowd. We visited with him for a few minutes, and again later before the start. There's that Mojo Nixon song "Elvis is Everywhere."-might as well be Tom E. is everywhere. I see him running/racing, mountain biking, skiing, you name it.

When it was finally time to warm up shortly before the race, I think the temperature had dropped a little and the winds had really picked up. Ilana and I huddled together in line for one last port-a-john stop before doing a bit of a warm-up well behind the starting line, and hurried to make our way up to just behind the 7:00/mile pace sign. I was not feeling awesome, but didn't obsess. I've had some great races that happened after feeling *meh*, getting bad nights of sleep and other factors. Right on schedule, the starting gun went off at 10:00am. Here we go, into the wind.

The first mile is a total bombs-away mile. With the road closed, we weren't packed in totally like sardines, but there was not a ton of room for shifting around. I found myself doing a lot of squeezing past people but never stumbled. Getting to the end of the first mile, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I did not feel spectacular but wasn't suffering from the get-go. Maybe the start of a great race.

Mile 1: 7:23

The crowd had already thinned out going into mile two, but I couldn't seem to push any faster than what I'd done in the first mile. My legs felt kind of dead, and my breathing-usually my saving grace and something that stays very even-felt a bit off. I don't know if this was a random quirk for the day, had anything to do with the wind, or was a byproduct of my illness the week before. I've dealt with stress pretty well in the past and have always been able to channel it through my running, but maybe everything on my plate at the moment was finally impacting the running somewhat. Whatever it was, I found myself already focusing hard on POSE running and getting into what my friend and running partner who taught it to me refers to as "zero gear." I was concentrating on relaxed compression when I landed on one foot and lightly lifting with the other, kind of getting that "figure four" with the legs. This was a good distraction from how I was feeling, but not a good sign this early.

Mile 2: 7:24
Mile 3: 7:42

Wowza. I was just trying to stay relaxed and increase my turnover in that zero gear-not flying down the downhills and just using that zero gear uphill like I'd wanted to do. Beyond not feeling the magical pixie dust today, that wind really did blow. Hard. It just kept coming, too...never changing direction or giving us a break with a tail or side wind.

Mile 4: 7:50
Mile 5: 7:57

I knew I was losing speed but that mile five split was pretty disheartening. That was essentially my pace at the Rim Rock Marathon with the 2000 foot elevation change. Not being able to go faster than that on a slight downhill course was not where I wanted or expected to be-even in a worst case scenario. One thing I do know about myself, though-I'm about as mentally tough as they come while racing. I refocused on picking up the pace and not dwelling on the fact that any possibility of a 1:35 day was just about out the window already. I split a little faster in the next mile, but not by much, and it really took every little bit of conserving energy in that zero gear to feel like I'd have enough to get through today.

Mile 6: 7:52

Yay! A small step in the right direction. Not anywhere near where I should have been, but I was going to run the mile I was in and draw on small gains. I tried to increase turnover but it seemed like I was moving in slow-mo with that relentless, brutal wind.

Mile 7: 7:58
Mile 8: 7:55

Now I was starting to get tuckered out. Not good with the turn out of the canyon and onto the highway still awaiting us. I've never run that section quite right, and I'd gone back and forth pre-race between wanting to bank some time, and playing it conservatively with good recovery here and there. Turns out this was a non-issue at this point. I had NO juice and was spending all of my time focusing on POSE-ing and zero-gearing it through, bent on not having a complete collapse. I talked to a woman for a little bit who was also going to be running Boston, and this was a nice diversion from how I was feeling. Normally, though, I can talk a little bit and not have it kill me. Today, it was a no-go after a minute of light chit-chat.

Mile 9: 7:54

Well, if I was sucking, I was certainly sucking consistently. I was getting passed by a number of people, something I don't typically experience at this point in a half. On a great day, I'd be holding my ground and passing occasionally, and on an average day my position would be more or less unchanged. I was the proverbial red headed stepchild today. I passed the Taiko Dan drummers-a true highlight of any Moab race-and was able to pick it up a little going past them, but couldn't hang on to my pace at all. Suckage.

Mile 10: 8:17

I had now turned in a mile that was slower than my marathon pace in my last three marathons, and was turning onto what I call the "New Jersey Turnpike" portion of the Canyonlands course. It's a reference to the movie "Being John Malkovich," in which you get to have an amazing time living in John Malkovich's brain (the canyon portion of the race course), and then are spit out of his head onto the side of the New Jersey turnpike (the highway into Moab-road open, exhaust fumes, going flat to slightly uphill). I couldn't believe how lame I was today. Yeah, it was windy, but I should have been able to hang in better than this. My breathing, for lack of a better description, was just weird and unnatural feeling. My legs had the sensation of approaching glycogen depletion, something you might experience late in a marathon but certainly not in a distance as short as a half. C'mon, c'mon, I told myself....toughen up, girl. Incessant forward motion. The next split confirmed, though, that I was mucking up this race big and bad.

Mile 11: 8:23

What the...? I was mad and trying to fuel off of that but just kept slowing down. Oh, I don't have many of these races, but when I do, it's never halfway. I felt like I was running through quicksand. It was all zero gear all the time by now but it didn't matter much anymore. People were dotting the side of the road now, and I would frequently hear the biggest lie you'll ever hear in a race..."Almost There!"

Mile 12: 8:38

Okay, so this stuff would not stand. I was waaaaaay off my half marathon PR, and a good three minutes off of my race PR from the year before. I had nothing left in me but sucked up a little something from somewhere, and started breaking the course down into tiny increments. The long uphill finish chute was too much to think about right now, so I wasn't going to think about it. It was just a matter of getting to the next street light...the next side street...the next kid waiting for a high five. I made that final turn for home-AKA, the longest finish chute in the world. At least it seemed that way today. Did I mention that it's uphill five city blocks? I drew out anything I could, still getting passed.

Mile 13: 8:23

And there it was...the last timing mat and finish line. I could see my former neighbor and regular finish line announcer Jeff up on the tower by the finish, and heard him announce me on the mic as I was approaching the end of the race. C'mon, finish strong, if you don't do anything else right today.

Last .18 miles on the Garmin, 1:23, or a pace of 7:48. Final Garmin time, 1:45:00, chip time, 1:44:47. This put me at 15th out of 386 in my age group, and 77 out of 2021 among women. While I'm aware of where that put me relative to most other runners, I'd be lying if I say it was not disappointing to fall so short of my expectations. I can run better than that, and have run better than that in recent times. For whatever reason-maybe a combination of factors-it was just not my day out there, and I ran a bad race. No excuses. I was shaking my head and honestly pissed at myself coming out of the finish chute-not how I'd planned this race or finish to turn out.

If I had my little moment of pity partying, at least I can say I got over it fast. Joining some of my fellow runners in Swanny City Park, I found out that Ilana and Kevin O had placed in their age groups, and Eric had actually run a PR on this craptastic weather day. Richard had sort of a *meh* day out there, but was taking it with the "whadaya gonna do" mindset that I already found myself adopting. I also heard from Kevin that my friend Marty (host of "running in the New Year" with the running club, and another Runners World alcohol study participant) had claimed the men's Masters title, and finished sixth overall. It was cool to hear that someone local had represented so well in Moab-always puts me in a good mood when folks I know have great days, even when it wasn't the case for me. It was nice out, and it felt good to just flop on the grass and be glad to have gotten through the run.

Everyone was talking about that wind, and it did seem that many people ran several minutes slower than they typically would on this course. Still-I think I'm going to put in a special effort to really kill this race next year regardless of conditions. I was a good eight minutes off my magical pixie dust run at The Other Half last fall, and three minutes off my time here last year. On the upside...for a bad day, at 15th in my age group, I suppose I must've done something kind of right, and managed the conditions and my lack of mojo as best I could. I still love running here, and everyone who was lucky enough to get a lottery slot or guaranteed entry is pretty excited to be here too. Ranna (the race director), her crew, and volunteers do a great job with this race, and it makes it special no matter what.

With that, I've now got a mere four weeks to go until Boston. It's time to take a lesson from Canyonlands, and make the most of my time between now and then. My plan is two good hard weeks of training consistently, then two week taper. I've done three-week marathon tapers before, but with recovery from the ultra followed by illness, I want to just focus on consistent running for a bit. I do have the 24 Hours of Moab next weekend, and I think that will be a great training exercise disguised as fun. I look forward to seeing the rest of my Dirty Girls teammates-including long-lost Nick (okay, he's not really lost), our male Dirty Girl who moved off to do his park ranger thing in the Tetons.

In the next few weeks, I also want to trim off that five pounds to hit racing weight. I do think that while it was hardly the full story of my day, it was certainly part of everything going right at The Other Half last fall. I'll have a much better shot of going sub-3:29 in Boston if I am at my best weight for racing. I'm also going to avoid any activities that don't really lend themselves to that goal. I may do a local race as a tune-up, but nothing wild and crazy. First and foremost, though-I'm not going to let a bad race get to me. If anything, I'm glad that the bad race was here, and not Boston. Okay-so I hate having bad races, period. But-it could always be worse, and sucking my way through a marathon is definitely worse than sucking for 13.1.

Like last fall with Imogene Pass, I'm going to use this race as a springboard to better subsequent races. We all race poorly from time to time. I could take the "I suck" approach, but I'm going to go with "I can only go up from here" instead. Beyond that, no weekend in Moab with friends, family and margaritas is ever bad. I'll take that kind of "bad" weekend any time.


Girl In Motion said...

Karah, that sounds like a TOUGH race. Seriously, the wind was nobody's friend. Like I mentioned on FB, chalk it up to a sucky day and move on. Boston is your baby and you're set for a great one this year.

DenverRunner said...

Nice rr. We drove past the dewey bridge today. I had no idea of the history. Very interesting !!! It was great to spend time with you and your family. See you next month !

Blue Earth said...

Absolutely loved reading this while having coffee this morning though several wind gusts just came through my kitchen. Thank you for posting your beautifully written and arranged RR Karah (loved the NJ Turnpike analogy--hey, I'm from Jersey!!). You are a true inspiration and I wish you the very best in Boston!

Kevin O'B

sllygrl said...

While I don't want to say 'I'm so happy to hear you had a bad time' I was so sad about my own performance that I thought perhaps I should try another sport - badminton or something so perhaps I'll rethink that thought and figure it was just a bad condition race. I'm sorry it didn't go well for you - I did see you and Ilana from afar, but was huddled against a rock and trying to get out of my own head and couldn't get up...You have a lot of mental strength - can I borrow some?

Anonymous said...

Good job under awful conditions, girl! And I think you did an excellent job here of summing it up, and super photos as well.

AKA Darkwave, AKA Anarcha, AKA Cris. said...

Reading between the lines, I think the wind took more out of you than you recognize.

The race is what it is, and you gutted it out and proved to yourself you could do so.

I have a feeling that you're going to be very hungry for Boston, and that's a good thing.

Elizabeth said...

I agree with the other posters. That wind sounds just brutal and extremely tough. I'm glad you had a fun weekend with friends. Looks beautiful there!

Michael said...

Karah, I know you have no idea who I am, but saw this blog post thanks to Facebook and the Moab link. You could not have described this misery any better. This was my third year running this race and the wind made it the worst! And yes, this is saying something since the first year I hit the wall at the top of the hill around 9.5 miles.

I trained pretty well for this race and had a goal of 1:35 or darn close so that I could qualify for a team running the Red Rock Relay in Southern Utah later this year. The goal was very lofty, probably even a pipe dream since my PR was a 1:43+. But darn it, I had someone that I could probably pace with that was a consistent 1:35 guy.

The wind just blew and blew and blew some more. I kept thinking, was we drop down from the start line, the wind will stop. Wrong!

I will admit, I did get a PR for myself. Still a 1:43, but the seconds were less! (44 in my age group, 286 overall) Not bad since Moab is not really a downhill course. What might have been if the wind wasn't blowing, one only knows.

I felt beyond exhausted when I got done and no question, the wind was a total mind game on top of running through pain. But I guess that is why we all keep running, because regardless of what any non-runner says, it is a great feeling to be running and worth every second of pain and frustration.

Good luck at Boston! My dream and every other runner's dream. I also know my limitations, so maybe when I am in the 50+ age group.

Thank you again for sharing your story!

Klea said...


I too had a tough time with the wind in Moab this year. I was 2 minutes and 15 seconds slower than last year. I also want to keep this even in mind during the winter months and strive to do better in 2012. I was grateful that it was only wind and not the torrential rain that hit the LA marathon the very next day (our wind traveled to their territory). I too will be running Boston. Let's hope for a picture perfect day!