Monday, February 14, 2011

First Half 1/2 Marathon Race Report

Finally, a day I can feel not guilty about sitting on the couch and writing a race report.  I have very little motivation to get out in the rain today.  It just seems unbelievable that we had miraculous weather for the First Half 1/2 marathon, bookended by deluges.  So lucky!

After sitting on the couch, watching puddles fill up on Saturday afternoon, glimmers of hope started to peek through the sky around 5pm.  I'm sure I wasn't the only person with an eye on the weather - perhaps the power of positive thinking in about 2000 people can actually make the weather cooperate.

As the alarm went off at 6am the next morning, I always try to put it in perspective by telling myself this really isn't early, remember how early you had to wake up for Ironman....and then that makes me feel better.  I looked out to a dry sky (yes!) and managed to force down the usual rice cereal with bananas.

7am was pick up time, thanks to Sue and her wonderful car with seat heaters, and after picking up Steph we were a full car load of girls ready to run!  We met up with our fellow runners down at the Roundhouse and definitely got an appreciation for how busy this race venue was.  After running some smaller 5 and 8k's, there was a bit more going on down at the Roundhouse.  We did our warm up along the seawall and started to get sun in our eyes - that is just the sweetest thing when you've been hoping for it.

To my surprise, after picking up my race # on Friday, I got an email saying I had a seeded number - and then I worried that someone had made a mistake - I didn't apply as an elite as their standards are sub 1:20, and my previous 1/2 marathon PR was 1:31, although some of my other race times have a more accurate prediction of my 1/2 time.  So I just sort of laughed, and decided to be happy to have a seeded number (with hopes that we'd be able to start at the front of the pack), and tried not to feel like a fraud.

With warm up done and the porta-potty line up contended with, it was line up time, and yes, my little number got me up to the front and I got to take a look around at the other runners I was running with - eek!  I knew some of them by name, some of them by face, some of them were friends, but I didn't actually feel like I belonged there.  Mind you, there were 199 elite numbers from what appeared to be varying ages, so I didn't feel like I was going to get mowed over right away.

So enough pre-amble, here's the real scoop on how this great race went:

In the corral, my first race strategy thought was, "See that woman?  She is the 2010 100km World champion.  Don't ever, ever pass her".  She was also the eventual winner of the race.  I made the right choice.

The gun went off with a deafening bang-bang, and we were off!

I am a runner that relies on feel and lap splits.  I don't own a Garmin.  So when the first mile marker was off (it had to be) it was a little discouraging but I just waited for the next one and would try to do the division (math skills are very sub par when I am running, especially in the latter stages of the race so this is often not a great strategy for me).  Finally after a few miles I started to get some reasonable numbers, although they were faster than planned, I couldn't undo them, so I just continued on and kept my effort in check.  And honestly, don't tell me to get a Garmin because you guys are always checking satellites and telling me your watches are "off" :)

I always end up running part of the race with Shark Fin guy.  If you know who I mean, and you've run with him, you realize he's definitely a fan favourite.  So running the downtown loop and then out to second beach, shark fin guy and untied shoelaces guy were getting a lot of comments (argh! shoelaces - so stressful - I was worried I would have to hurdle over another faller circa Steveston Icebreaker start line....).  And then each and every runner who came up on him had to tell him his shoelaces were untied.  I'm sure he knew.  I didn't bother saying anything but it was getting really annoying so I really had to pass him and get away.  I come from the school of tuck your dangly laces back underneath your criss-crossed laces strategy, and I've never had them come undone after that.  So thanks to Jerry for that, and I encourage other people to do the same.  If you need help with tying your shoes, please read this  :)

This course is truly scenic.  It was really fun to do a loop downtown and then cruise out to Stanley Park. It's hard to see who's up ahead of you, as they wind in and out of the park's curves, you get a glimpse of a shirt colour, a running style, but sometimes it's hard to tell.  Eventually the leaders are just plain out of sight (I guess that's what happens when course records are broken), and eventually, the people are so small it's hard to tell men from women, so it's hard to tell placing.  And there is no turn around, no place where you meet other runners face to face and get to count numbers.  In a way though, I think that's also nice, it makes for a simpler strategy - just RUN.

There are, of course, people around you that you get to run with, and this year being able to start up front, there were more people at my speed and not a lot of people to pass you or for you to pass.  So I happily locked into a comfortably challenging pace with eventual AG winner Teresa, whom I've recognized from lots of previous races, as we seem to run around the same times, and we ran pretty smoothly all around the seawall.  Eventually we had another girl to run with, and I tried my best to not let her gap me too much and kept reeling her in, trading places for lead, and continually trading spots.  I think in races past I've tended to just let people go past me without a challenge, and although I know I don't want to be blowing up on a few surges, I think it helps motivate you to stick on someone and not let them get away (even if they do blow you away after coming out of that Second Beach hill - congrats to her for having strength there and using it!).  I have to say, I have often found myself in no man's land (or no woman's land) without any girls to run with - and I find it's really motivating to have a pack of women to stick with, so this was a nice change from other races where I'm too far behind or ahead to have someone to run with.

So we traded and raced and stuck together as a pack for the majority of the race, with some stringing out around Lost Lagoon.  Now it's a beautiful spot, and then sun was shining and you couldn't ask for anything more, but I was starting to feel a little breakdown in form and mental capacity at this point.  So much of racing is mental - it never fails to surprise me.  But what can you do?  You have to match up your brain to your legs, and in my case, I know my legs can be more consistent and reliable than my brain, so I did my best to just keep turnover going and try to ignore some of those thoughts that make you not believe in yourself.  Try not to waste energy by letting your current thoughts dictate leg speed, placement, letting go of the people you're running with and fooling yourself into believing you're the ONLY person that feels this way.  Not a chance.  But you have to believe in yourself.

Making it out of Lost Lagoon and back to Second Beach, I did finally get dropped after going up the bike bath hill.  Yuck.  I definitely needed a minute to recompose and not let myself fly over the lactate threshold plank of death.  And that girl had gears to go!  It was impressive.  So up the hill and immediately back down to the seawall (really the first hill on the course) and then a jaunt back along the seawall and some gravel patches (which actually really felt great at this point because I felt like it was a nice respite from pounding pavement) and then up the second hill, which really seemed mean - the next bike hill path off the seawall to Pacific.

Man.  I think that was it for me.  Getting up that hill, and then having to continue onto Beach ave, this is where I started to struggle.  I had recovered from hill #1, but this one was tougher.  So, it was the end of strategy and it was put my head down time.  It was my only intention in this race to run a sub 1:25 for a time standard (and if I beat someone along the way, that was icing on the cake).  So when fast girl's teammate came through with a great pace past me, I just had to have confidence in my own pace and make my own way to the finish line.  Legs were starting to feel it, and I wasn't about to start doubting myself, so I just put my brain into a "time-out" (yes, I have time-outs while racing) and told myself my only job is to move forward and don't slow down.

Then hill #3 up underneath the Granville Bridge.  Wicked - and these are the times my brain just repeats, "Everyone has got to do this, nobody is liking this hill right now, everybody hurts"....and even if it sounds cheesy, I believe it (and speaking to people after, it does appear to be true), but taking yourself out of singular pity and turning it into the collective, seems to make things more fair.  Who hasn't gone to bonktown....honestly.

What I wished I had at this point was an ability to pick up my stride and get my legs going downhill as reward for the hill that we had just climbed but I couldn't.  It was odd not to be able to just get that nice lean and feel a bit of quickness come back, but you get what you get on race day and you have to deal with it and make the best out of your situation  The slip n' slide would have been a nice touch here.

 Like the mile markers that I had a difficult time following (especially as I'm used to and associate better with kms), you have to problem solve on your feet - literally.  And that comes with practice and I think that is one of the reasons experienced and masters athletes continue to school younger athletes.  Experience rules.  You have to reassess and adapt.  You can't be a square peg trying to fit in a round hole the entire race.  Although running is quite mechanical and mathematical, there is also quite an art to it, and there are a lot of emotions too.  Managing a race is like conducting a small orchestra - and you're still hoping someone will clap for you at the end.

I finished the race with quite a big smile on my face, not really because of my time, but because I got absolutely blown away by a gentleman who made a sprint I wouldn't think was possible at the end of a half marathon - but good for him.  He may not have liked my shirt - You just got chicked - but hey, I think you have to have a sense of humour in the sometimes over the top serious world of road racing - Shark Fin guy's got one anyway!  So I laughed, and I really was happy, and in the end, I ended up with a great time for me - 1:23:04 - which is a greater than 8 min PB for me, and almost 1 and a 1/2 min faster than I had planned.

I also ended up 6th for women, and won my age group of F25-29 (my last race as a 29 year old :) - so I was really happy.  Too bad I couldn't come in the top 5, but the girls that beat me to it ran a great race and hats off to them.  I achieved better than my goal so I have no complaints!  The race organizers really put on a remarkably well organized race (however mile markers could be improved....) and beautiful course with a great warm dry place to change and so many goodies to eat (although my stomach said noooo....which is always sad!).

Our group slowly collected themselves and everyone got to check in and see how people did - there is always a mix of happiness and disappointment, and the beauty of the group is that it lends a bigger story, a greater context, so whether you were happy or not, you can't help but be inspired by the people you run with.  We've all been through ups and downs and it's so nice when people are there for you at the end.

And I swear, the only time it seemed to sprinkle was when we were inside trying to win draw prizes (which we did not) and then it broke into sun again on the way home.  And now today it's gross again.  I just can't believe our luck.  So, it's not so hard to chill on the couch today, but I will, eventually get off my butt, get on the bike for a bit, and eventually head to the pool for a swim/run (or float on pool noodle if all else fails).  It's now marathon training season!  Yahoo!  It's very exciting to start thinking about the full distance which I am planning on for May.  Triathlons training continues on, but specific marathon training becomes a focus.  Running speedy 5 and 8 kms was a really new thing to me this year, and turns out I really like them - but I also find a lot of comfort and familiarity in running the full distance - now the job is to do that, but do it quickly - so I am excited!

So that's my novel.  Lengths of blog posts appear to be directly related to weather or injury, so I can assure you it's the weather.  I hope other people that ran the First Half 1/2 Marathon yesterday enjoyed it as much as I did.  I also hope that all the volunteers know how much we appreciate your support, even if we can't tell you that when we're racing (or we can't even look at you when we're having our little 'time-out' underneath the Granville St. Bridge).  But I do.  And I really do also appreciate the opportunity to get to start in the seeded/elite section as this really does make a difference for positioning, comfort, and pacing partners - so thanks to the women I ran with and I'm sure I'll see you again :)

Have a restful and restorative week to build back the energy to work toward your next goal and happy training everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Such a great post Gillian. The collective struggle is so true--I literally went through everything you described--even the pleasure of hitting the gravel trail and the anger at the last hill. My experience was just at a much slower pace.

    I literally said out loud when reaching the last hill "you've got to be kidding me" and some woman walking her poodle and drinking her starbucks gave me a startled look.

    I think my biggest frustration with the course was not being able to see the finish line until you'd turned the corner and only had a few strides to go. After the last hill, I knew the finish line was close and should have shifted to my last possible gear, but without being able to see the finish line, I just couldn't give any more. Without the visual cue, even my Garmin couldn't help me.