Monday, April 11, 2011
Where do I even begin on this race? The race course was almost exactly what I was expecting. The weather cooperating amazingly. And after all my hemming and hawing about my confidence and my training leading up to this race, the end result was so much better than I expected that I am trying hard not to be disappointed by it - I will explain this later. I walked at four of the water stations because it was too difficult to run and drink at the same time, plus one other time - which I will also explain later.
The race course was going to be interesting, to say the least. 6.5 miles downhill to begin the race with an elevation loss of 515 feet, then 6.5 miles of mostly uphill to regain those 515 feet in elevation back to the finish line - with a plateau and short downhill between miles 11 and 12.5. I knew I needed to conserve some energy in the first half of the race to make sure I would be able to finish. With all my training issues and the crazy course, I told my wife that I was just hoping to be able to finish under 2:30 and I knew there was no way I was going to run a PR with this race. I just hoped I could run under 2:15 if I was lucky!
The weather was schizophrenic from 10 days before the race all the way through the afternoon after the race. Leading up the race, the weather forecast slowly changed from an expected high of 72 and sunny down to an expected high of 53 and rainy. The morning of the race, the probability of rain in the morning was removed. When I arrived at the race, it was 39 degrees and overcast. When I finished the race, it had warmed up to 50 and mostly sunny. An hour after I finished the race, the clouds came back and it sprinkled on me on my drive home before the temperature dropped down to 40 and became a mix of light rain and snow before the sun came out again in the afternoon and warmed back up to 55!
Anyway, back to the race. Twenty minutes before the race, I got out of my truck and into the cold wearing my shorts, Zensah fresh legs (aka leg warmers), running shirt, arm sleeves, and a zip-up running jacket over the top. I made sure I pinned my number to the leg of my shorts so I could remove my jacket during the race. I jogged in place to stay warm as I waited in line for the porta-jane.
There were approximately 600 runners and since part of the course involved some narrow walking trails, they did a wave start in groups of 100 (1-100, 101-200, etc); and since they never asked us for our expected finishing times, they assigned out our race numbers alphabetically and used our numbers to group us into waves. I was #269, so I was in the third corral (201-300). They waited only about a minute between waves, so at approximately 7:02am, I was off.
The beginning of the race was straight down a wide street and downhill for about about a half mile. It was cloudy and cold (39) and my toes were numb for most of the first two miles. Throw in the mixed up wave start and it was darn near impossible to figure out and settle into my pace. As we turned the corner after the first half mile I looked back because I knew that was the hill we were going to have to climb at the end of the race to get back to the finish line.
The race was chip timed, but I never expect to get splits tracked, so I was keeping track of my splits on my watch. As I passed the first mile marker I couldn't feel the tips of my fingers, so it took a few extra seconds to roll up my sleeves to be able to press the button on my watch. I thought it said 8:45, which was a little faster than I wanted to run, considering I never ran faster than a 9:30 mile during my first half marathon where I ended up with an average pace of 9:40/mile. I knew this was probably way too fast, especially considering what was coming up in the second half of the race, so I tried to slow down a bit. When I checked my watch at the end of the race, it turned out the split was actually 8:28, not 8:45; and that included a few extra seconds as i fumbled to hit the button with my numb fingers.
Just past the first mile marker, we left the streets and turned onto a winding downhill walking path which initially meant a few switchbacks and a little bit of crowding. My right quad felt tight and the back of my right knee was also a little painful and tight. I hoped it would go away and tried to lengthen my stride when I could to stretch it out, some.
The path quickly changed to a less meandering, curved path and I was surprised how quickly I came upon the second mile marker. When I hit my watch, I swore it said 8:00 for my second mile split. I thought that was crazy fast and knew I really needed to slow down. I also knew, tho, that if I kept this pace up I was going to set a new 5k PR! That would be absolutely nuts to set a 5k PR during a half marathon, even if it was downhill. Made me wish I could run a pure 5k downhill! At the end of the race it turned out my watch recorded this split in 8:07, not 8:00; and it was actually closer to 8:13 once I adjusted my first two splits for the extra time I spent fumbling for the button back at the first mile marker.
In the middle of our third mile we had to climb a 50 foot ramp to leave the walking path and head back up to the road, so this effectively fixed my pace; plus the road we transitioned onto was a little flatter at that particular section. My third mile split was 8:54. This put my three mile split at 25:26. Tack on my usual 30 second last tenth of a mile 5k sprint finish and I would probably have tied my 5k PR. I first took some water just past the third mile marker and couldn't drink it while running, so I walked a few seconds until I was done.
At the fourth mile marker my pace had slowed some more down to 9:10. I was still worried that I was burning too much energy in the first half of the race, but the downhill running just felt so effortless that I didn't even feel like I was trying that hard. I decided around this point to just keep whatever pace still felt comfortable and then hopefully I could use all the extra time from the first half of the race as a buffer during the hilly second half and maybe, just maybe, I might actually get close to a PR, even on this crazy course!
Around the four and a half mile mark I decided I was getting warm and thought about pulling off my arm sleeves. However, they were on under my jacket, so once I unzipped my jacket to pull of my sleeves, I decided it wasn't too cold and I would just wear my jacket around my waist for the rest of the race - which I did. I was worried it would bother me, but after a couple miles I completely forgot about it.
The fifth mile was just a bit slower at 9:14, but then my sixth mile went by at 8:56. I knew I had a lot of time in the bank for the long uphill that was coming up just around the corner and I was still feeling fresh, but I wasn't sure just how steep or how long the uphill was really going to be.
A half mile down the street, we turned left and lo and behold here was the start of the uphill portion of the course. I checked my watch and I hit the corner and started uphill at 59:15.
The first half mile uphill wasn't too bad and my seventh mile matched my sixth mile at 8:56. I knew I needed to start slowing down to conserve my energy, so my times began to lengthen. I kept my strides short and quick. Suddenly, however, the mile markers didn't seem so close together, anymore. When I hit mile 8 I didn't look at my split time. I ignored it again at mile markers 9 and 10. I just didn't want to see how slow I was going. I stopped for water and a short walk to drink it at mile 9 and then got back to running. It seemed like it took an eternity to get to mile marker 10, but it turned out I was still running almost a flat 10 minutes per mile for both.
Mile 11 was the killer mile of the whole race. Turns out it was also the steepest part of the whole course as a category 5 climb. It was the last part of the hill that started way back at the 6.5 mile mark and every turn that seemed to promise a short stretch of flat, was really just a tease. A guy I had passed a mile earlier was now passing me back and as he passed he said "this [part of the course] looks way too familiar." I replied, "I can't tell, I have my eyes closed." I was only half kidding because when I really need to bear down and dig deep, I tend to close my eyes. I had them open for the most part up to that point, but I was really getting tired. If I thought it took forever to get from mile marker 9 to 10, marker 11 felt like it was misplaced and either it had been put out there way too far, or I had either passed it without noticing. Sadly, neither was the case. When I finally hit marker 11 I looked at my watch and saw an ugly 11:30. I wasn't out of breath, but my legs were burning. I wanted to walk, but I didn't want to give in and I knew that if I walked it would take that much longer to finish, so I pressed on.
Finally, the hill eased up shortly before 11.5 miles and was a slight downhill past the 12 mile marker. I tried to speed up some, but I was gassed and wanted to make sure I would still be able to make it up the last hill to the finish. A number of runners that I had passed on the long uphill were now passing me, even though I was picking up my own pace. Mile 12 was faster at 10:30 as I tried to lengthen my stride to stretch my legs for the last uphill climb to the finish. I stopped for my last cup of water at mile 12 to get myself steeled for the last climb.
Around 12.5 miles, the course made a right-hand turn and lo and behold we were on the last stretch to the finish. We had to cross a bridge over the highway to get to the 13 mile marker and then to the finish. I tried to pace myself with short, quick strides up the hill. My legs were burning and I was exhausted. I always love a strong push to the finish, but I wasn't sure I had it in me with this nasty uphill climb. A few more people I had previously passed were now passing me slowly. Two guys passed my slowly with one yelling loudly at his buddy like a drill sergeant (only with nicer language) and urging him on to the finish. I told them they "were looking good" and he said thank you.
It seemed to take too long before we crossed over the highway bridge and the road bent to the right and I finally saw the 13 mile marker. It was now gut check time. I asked myself if I had any energy left, and if I had any, I told myself I was going to use it to get to the finish line as fast as I could as soon as I could see the finish line.
I looked up and caught a glimpse of what was probably the finish line. A few more steps after I passed the 13 mile marker I strained my eyes and I was certain that what I could see was the finish line and decided it was time to fly. I quickly accelerated up the hill and I actually surprised myself with just how quickly I was able to move. A girl had just passed me not more than 15 seconds before and she exclaimed, "Holy crap!" as I blew by her. I passed scores of runners that had just passed me included the guy urging his buddy on.
Then the pain hit me. There was still an intersection and another stretch of road between me and the finish line and it felt like I had no more fuel left to even run, let alone sprint to the finish. I stopped at the intersection and walked for only the fifth time during the whole race and the only time I walked that didn't involve a water stop. I took about 5 steps and threw back my head and yelled "No!!!" (or maybe something more foul) I wasn't sure if I was even going to be able to run at any speed up the last 50 yards to the finish line! I couldn't see the clock, so I had no idea what my time was, but I knew that there was a slim possibility that I was still close to my PR. If I walked, I would take forever to get to the finish line and I just wanted to finish! Plus, I would be passed and embarrassed by all the people I had just blown by. On top of that, my wife and daughter were planning to be at the finish line and I could not let them see me finish walking, or even running slowly.
I knew I couldn't let any of those thing happen. I told myself that the pain is only temporary. With just a few more moments of pain I would reach the finish line and it would be over and would all be worth it, and so I began to run again, slowly and cautiously. I wanted to get the race over and I wanted to get as good of a time as possible and I wanted to push myself to the end. After a few steps I knew that I had to sprint again and this time I had to make it all the way to the finish line. I mustered up all the energy left in my legs and the rest of my body and willed myself past a few more runners and propelled my body towards the finish line. I saw my wife and my daughter. My wife was yelling "Go, daddy, go!" with a camera in her hand and our daughter in the stroller in front of her watching me finish.
And then mercifully, I crossed the finish line! I stopped my watch and glanced at my time. 2:07:36. I wanted to scream, but my emotions were so completely jumbled and I was too exhausted. I had missed my PR by only a minute! I was so overjoyed that I had managed to run SO much faster than I had expected, yet, despite all of my expectations of a slow race and not making a PR, I was now suddenly hit by the disappointment of just missing my PR by only a minute. I was so conflicted. And tired!
I slowed to a stop and accepted my finisher's medal and then I had to stop to let the volunteers clip to the timing chip off my shoe. I wobbled and swayed and wondered if I would be able to stand, let alone stand still long enough for them to clip it off, but thankfully they were well practiced with their scissors. I gingerly and carefully made my way over to grab some water, a muffin, a banana, and some chocolate milk.
My wife and I found each other and she gave me a hug and a kiss and told me how proud of me she was. I kissed my daughter and then told my wife my time. She was so happy for me because I finished, and I had run so much better than I had expected.
In retrospect, I am completely pleased with my time, but I am still just a little disappointed that I missed my PR (2:06:35) by just over a minute. But, that was on a flat course. This was anything but a flat course and that makes me much happier with my time. I never expected to PR, and to be able to come that close when for the past month I had worried about being sick, my conditioning, not training on hills and missing 2 important training runs is really incredible and I could really not be much more pleased with my effort. I could really only be happier if only I hadn't of had to stop to walk on the final ascent on the final stretch to the finish line.
Now I am taking a couple weeks off before I train for a 10k in June and then the race that I am *really* excited for in August. The E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon, 1/2, 10K, & 51K! I plan to run the half marathon and it will be the *opposite* of this race. 700 foot elevation gain to *start* the race, then all downhill to the finish. I can't wait!
My official half marathon time: 2:07:36.1
My splits according to my watch:
Mile 1 - 8:20 downhill
Mile 2 - 8:13 downhill
Mile 3 - 8:54 downhill
Mile 4 - 9:10 downhill
Mile 5 - 9:14 downhill
Mile 6 - 8:56 downhill
Mile 7 - 8:56 downhill/uphill
Mile 8 - 9:41 uphill
Mile 9 - 10:06 uphill
Mile 10 - 10:00 uphill
Mile 11 - 11:25 uphill
Mile 12 - 10:31 downhill
Mile 13 - 11:06 downhill/uphill
Mile 13.1 - 2:57 uphill
The course profile
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Monday, April 04, 2011
So, this past week the weather warmed up considerably which has made me quite anxious about the possible weather on race day this coming Saturday.
Two weeks ago it was cold enough for me to wear gloves in the mornings when I ran before dawn with lows in the 40's highs in the mid 60's. This past week it was in the upper 80's and low 90's and the 10-day forecast had been calling for more temps in the 70's and 80's this week. I don't mind running a race in the 60s, maybe the low-mid 70's, but I certainly would prefer not to race in the 80's or especially 90's.
However, as the days have passed, the 10-day forecast has seen some big changes.
First, there was the possibility of rain on Friday, with Saturday being partially cloudy and a high of 72. That would mean 60's for most of the race with it warming up to 70 by the race's end. That's what I have been planning for and I was okay with that.
A couple days ago, the forecast changed to show still partly cloudy, but with highs around 67 on race day. That sounded nicer.
Now, the forecast is calling for highs around 60 with a decent chance of rain for both Friday AND Saturday. The LOW forecast temp is 45! That's nearly the same temperature (42) we had in December for my first half. Now, instead of wearing just a t-shirt and shorts, I may actually need to consider wearing some type of sleeves. This is craziness! What's next, snow?
Cloudy with start time temps in the 50's would be perfect, but I'll take anything close, at this point. Hurrah for the cold!
Unfortunately, cold and rain would mean my wife and 10-month old daughter would not be able to watch my race. So, it's a mixed bag. We will wait and see what the weather will be, but it's at least shaping up to be pretty decent racing weather.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Tomorrow is only a 6-miler as I rest up for my race next Saturday. If I asked 18 year-old me if I would ever say that, he would reply that I was crazy (tho, he might be right, but I digress). On Friday I was telling someone that on Sunday I was ONLY going to be running six miles, and I thought to myself, "Did I just say 'ONLY six miles!'?" I remember nine months ago, looking at my training schedule for my first half marathon and being horrified that halfway through my training I would regularly be running 4-5 miles twice every week plus six miles or more for my long runs every Sunday. And now, here I am training for my second half and I'm telling someone that I will be ONLY running SIX miles!
As of this morning, I am nearly over my cold. The weather forecast for race day is looking more and more promising. I am looking forward to my short runs this week which also give me a few minutes of extra sleep every day. Hopefully my beautiful wife and child will also be over their colds by then as well so they can come out and watch - and also so my wife will stop hacking up a lung as she falls asleep at night (but, that was me last week, so I can't really complain).
Regardless, two rest days have allowed my confidence to grow once more and hopefully I will have some good runs this week to keep it growing in the right direction. I am starting to get excited for the race, again. My current point of anxiety simply is what route I can take to drive to the race and where I can park. Simple enough, eh? I can think of a lot worse things that I could possibly be worried about, but I will try not to think about them. Don't think about white polar bears... Don't think about white polar bears....
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
It's amazing how high confidence get be built when things are going great, and then how low it can fall when things are not, even when one only *thinks* things are not going great.
Take, for instance, training for my first half marathon. I felt great. My runs went well. I continued to improve my times. By the time the race rolled around I was brimming with confidence and had an awesome race.
Compare that to my current training for my second half. I started my training a little later than I probably should have which was nothing I worried about since I felt I had a couple extra weeks. Then I missed two long runs and had a stomach bug for a week, and am now going on my second week with a cold. I expected my training times to continue to improve from those during my first training, but for the most part they have been about the same and while I've been sick they've been slower. Now, even though I want to be confident about my race which is now just over a week away, I continue to be wracked by anxiety about feeling sick and slow and weak.
In truth, I really am at about the same point I was for my first half. Sure, my legs are a little more sore, and I am battling a cold, but I should be over this cold by then and I just finished my longest runs and started my taper so it's not surprising I'm feeling a little tired and by the end of next week I should be feeling much better.
But, it's hard to tell my brain that.
It's similar to the differences I feel between running in front of someone and running behind someone. I could be in the same shape and run the same speed. If I am running in front of someone who is running the same pace as me, I feel fast, I feel pushed, I feel in control, I feel like I could accelerate away and lose them at any time. Move that same runner 10 feet forward so they are now running in front of me and suddenly I feel slow, I feel tired, I feel pulled, I feel like I'm barely clinging to their heels, I feel like they could accelerate away from me at any moment. Move them back behind me and I am suddenly in control again. It's all a mind game.
No matter how many times I tell myself I will be fine and I will do great, it's just not sinking in. I'm anxious about the weather and my health and my training. I am no longer excited about my race. I am anxious to get it over with, and I hate this feeling.
The one thing that helps me? I've been here before. Twenty years ago I spent four years underachieving and I am just now finally proving to myself that I can achieve what I want when I just have confidence in myself and the ability to push myself when it hurts. It's still not easy, though. Will it ever be?
Pain is temporary. Legends are forever.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Today I ran 12 miles which is my last long distance run before my half marathon that's now less than two weeks away. I was a little nervous because I've missed two of my last 3 long distance runs. Two weeks ago I ran 10.6 miles and two weeks before that I ran 8.4 miles. I wasn't sure if my body was completely ready for 12 miles, but I needed to get it done because 13.1 is coming up on April 9th whether I'm ready or not. After running today's 12 miles, I'm still not sure if I am ready or not.
This was only a training run and especially with all my uncertainty over my conditioning (even tho I ran my first half back in December), and having been suffering for the last 5 days from either allergies or a cold, my plan was to run slow and ignore how long it took. During the week I run my 3, 4, and 5 mile runs usually around 9 minute mile pace (except for intervals and recovery runs). I drank a bunch of water, ate a granola bar and then left the house at 7:45 am and told my wife I would be back by 10:30 am (to include time for my cool down). I really figured it was going to be a slow run.
I'd run the route before, so I knew what to expect. The first two miles were all a slight downhill (except for a freeway overpass), so I tried to make sure I started out extra slow. As I finished that section, I started a slow slight uphill that would last until mile 6. Almost instantly my body seemed to lack energy as if I was out-of-shape. But, I've gotten in all of my mid-week workouts and they are all between 3 and 5 miles, so at the 2.5 mile mark, I wasn't sure what was going on.
I stopped at a red light at the end of mile 3 and collected myself before moving on when the light changed. As I passed the 4 and 5 mile marks I continued to grown concerned. There were no real sharp pains or anything like that, just that same general tiredness and out-of-shape lack of energy. I'd been on this route many times for many different workouts, but never felt this bad, before. Since it was just a training run, my goal was just to finish, so I allowed myself to slow down as needed.
After I passed mile 6, I checked my watch and was surprised to see that I had been running for almost exactly an hour which meant I was averaging 10 minute miles. I was quite surprised and figured something had to be wrong. Between miles 6 and 7 I was happier than usual to know that I was halfway finished, but still felt no better and allowed myself to slow the pace, some. My shoulder - which I hurt back in November and am just now getting physical therapy for - was tightening up and had started to pop every time my arm swung back and forth. It didn't cause any sharp pains, but still was not at all pleasant.
Halfway past mile 7 I checked my watch again and found I was still right on a 10 minute mile pace. I began to question whether I had my route measured out correctly, or if I had my mile posts messed up in my head. I stopped and walked for a minute to check my map on my phone - and to stretch out my shoulder a bit - then started up again.
Around 8.5 miles, either my stomach started to cramp or my abs started to tighten up. I couldn't quite tell, exactly, but I began to consider turning at the next street and making this run only 11 miles or staying the course, but walking the last mile as a cool down. I was that unsure about whether I could finish. I started taking deeper breaths to make the tightening in my mid-section go away (with mild success). After mile 9 I deliberately stopped at another red light to catch my breath and let my muscles relax and stretch out my shoulder, again.
Close to mile 10, two women came from the other direction and turned began to run the same direction, but on the other side of the street. They ran ever so slightly faster than me, as if they knew I was laboring and were trying to rub it in as they ran and chatted. They were obviously feeling much better than I was. I was just trying to make it home, at this point. I was determined to keep running, even though my legs were now screaming, regardless of how much slower I had to run - and it sure felt like I was running pretty slow, even though the two women weren't really pulling that far ahead of me.
Finally, I turned the second to last corner and had just over a mile left. At this point I knew that I was going to run the rest of the way unless my legs completely collapsed out from under me (which seemed to be a distinct possibility). I never pushed myself to run faster, only to keep running. I plodded down the street concentrating on each step I was taking until I turned the last corner and headed down the last eighth of a mile. I picked up the pace for the last 20 or so meters, but not by that much.
When I hit the end of my run I hit my watch and then looked down fully expecting to see 2:15, 2:20 or even 2:30. Instead, to my surprise, my watch read 2:01:45. 2 hours and 2 minutes?! For the last 3.5 miles I had felt like I was barely moving and was on my last legs and I would be lucky to even make it home without walking the last mile or two, and yet my watch is telling me I still was running a 10 minute mile pace? I checked the map of my run when I got home and everything was correct. My stop watch matched with the times I left and the time I returned home and the course measurements were correct. I had run 12.06 miles in 2 hours and 2 minutes. When I ran this route in November, 2 weeks before the Las Vegas half marathon, I ran it in 2 hours 5 minutes, but I felt a whole lot better than this.
I was expecting today's run to be slow and comfortable; I wasn't going to push myself at all and was going to accept whatever time I ran. I knew I was going to be tired, but not until I was close to the end of the run. Now, I am surprised both at how fast I ran it, but also at how bad I felt; and I'm not sure what this means for my conditioning. I thought I was running slow, but was really running faster than I thought, so that could mean I am in better shape than I thought. However, I felt tired and sore and lacking energy which makes me think that I am not in as good of condition as I was hoping to be because of those two recently missed long runs. Or maybe it was because I haven't been getting enough sleep, lately, and/or because I didn't sleep that well last night since I went to bed late and was woken up twice by our daughter and then had to be up early to run? Did I not eat enough this morning before my run?
I am not sure what to think, but I know that it is certain that I will be running a half marathon in just under two weeks. It will be different from my training. It will have hills. It will most likely be warmer weather. How will my body react? For now, I have to plan. I have to be prepared. I have to get more sleep, and make sure I am rested for the race, in case that was the cause of today's issues. I have to plan my taper for the next two weeks. How far should I run? How will my body react to yet another weekend without a long run? I was confident and prepared until these last two weeks. Now, my mind is in disarray. I need to get myself prepared again. It's too late to back out now, and I refuse to quit. It's time to get mental... or crazy. At least I know how to do crazy.
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