Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The story of the Anacortes Half Marathon

Anacortes Art Dash - August 1, 2009

This was the fourth running of the Anacortes Art Dash Half Marathon, and my third time participating. Just think, I've been there almost from the start! But back when they began in 2006 I had just begun running races—one 5K and one 10K under my belt—and only had the barest glimmer of an idea that I might sometime run something as lengthy as a half marathon.

By now though, I've run plenty. I think Anacortes would be #10! My best, as in fastest, was my first one, Whidbey Island in 2007, with a time of 1:54:30. After that I spent the next two years struggling around the two hour mark, mostly just above or just below, but never beating that original PR. I did, however, achieve something I never expected in Bath this last spring, a personal worst time that was well over ten minutes slower than most all of my other times.

After Bath I was determined to turn things around. Over the winter I had inexplicably gotten slower and slower. Part of it was gaining some weight, of course, but it wasn't so much that I would have expected a total decline! And I had kept my mileage up over the winter (except for the period right around Christmas when we were literally snowed in for days), so it wasn't like I'd slacked on training or anything.

The Bath Half was on March 15 (oooh,the Ides of March!) and I got home from England about a week later, just in time for the start of spring. I don't know what happened, but just like that, I started running a little faster. Not a whole lot faster, but noticeably enough.

With the return of a little bit of speed came the return of a little self-confidence, and I went ahead and entered the Bloomsday Run 12K in Spokane on the first weekend of Spokane. That race went pretty well, a little slower than last year but faster than Bath, and not so slowly as to feel bad about it.

I knew, though, that along with training for upcoming runs (as yet unregistered for), I needed to do something about the residual Christmas cookies which were making my jeans snug, probably slowing my performance, and sometimes showing up in unfortunately posed pictures!*

So at the beginning of May, as soon as we returned from Spokane, I committed myself to 30 days completely sugar free, in order to kick the vile sugar habit/addiction, as well as the usual healthy eating and exercise.

And I threw myself into running well, pushing myself to keep my average pace on training runs under ten minutes, and incorporating faster intervals to work on speed. (Eventually I would do "formal" speedwork as well, once I came up with my half marathon training plan.)

My efforts were rewarded with an "almost-PR" 5K at the Race for the Cure, 25:45, which was the first time I'd made it under 26 minutes in that particular race. Then the real PR, 24:21 at the Berry Run in Marysville! And finally, a 10K PR at the Yankee Doodle Dash on July 4. I was feeling pretty happy, overall.

Also in June I committed myself to running the Anacortes Half Marathon on August 1 and committed myself to a written training plan. I took a Hal Higdon advanced half marathon plan and tweaked it. In addition to changing five runs a week to four, I jumped into the plan four weeks on, since the original plan was for twelve weeks but I was only two months away from the race. I felt that two months training was plenty for a half marathon, since my distance were already up there.

The training plan progressed very well. I did my speed work faithfully—even track work. I did tempo types of runs on Fridays, and I nailed every goal I gave myself. I felt strong, I felt good, I felt fast, and I felt confident.

Then, in the last week of July, the heat wave swept in. Keep in mind, we're accustomed to summer temps in the 70's and think it is amazingly warm (in a good way) when we hit the 80's for a day or two (before returning to something cooler). Well, we moved quickly through the 80's** and by Wednesday, July 29, the thermometer was pushing 90 and above.

I was still managing my early morning runs, although my hot and stuffy nights were becoming more and more difficult to endure, as the house cooled less and less overnight. I, and everyone else, was getting edgy and groggy from lack of sleep. More importantly, I was worried about the heat in the half marathon on Saturday. Originally the forecast promised cooling over the weekend, but by Thursday that promise was withdrawn.

My dreams of a half marathon PR (which I had secretly believed it was in the bag) were being jeopardized. Not only was I afraid of the heat affecting my pace, I had some serious concerns about whether running in the heat could even be dangerous.*** I was trying to convince myself that it might be better to take it easy, if it really was so hot. I hoped that Anacortes might be a little cooler, as it is further north and on the water... but who knows?

In the meantime, I drove to the running store and bought myself a fuel belt to carry water. I wasn't sure that there would be enough on the course if it was really hot. Normally I wouldn't do something so new on race day, but I thought it was better to err on the side of having water available!

The extreme heat did back off a little on Thursday and Friday, so at least I could sleep at night without suffering, and my fear of unbearable heat on Saturday subsided a bit too. Still, I planned for the worst, as best I could, by deciding to wear shorts, instead of my favorite capris (bare knees just seem to make a real difference); a sleeveless top; and bringing along the fuel belt with one of the water bottles filled with an electolyte-replacement drink.

And then it was Saturday morning. The race started at 9 a.m., and Anacortes is at least an hour's drive away, and I wanted to get there plenty early to get checked in and warm up... so we planned to leave at 6 a.m. This also allowed for a stop at Starbucks, where I got a short latte and an oatmeal for breakfast on the road.

As we were driving north on the freeway, I was pretty overwhelmed by nerves. This is typical for me in races. I am always extremely nervous beforehand, regretting my decision to sign up, wondering how I ever thought I could run fast at all, completely doubting my abilities and, in fact, my sanity!

Check-in was fast and easy, with only a small snafu that I didn't realize was a snafu until much later. When they handed out the race shirts they claimed that they were mislabeled, that a small was really a medium and vice versa. So I got one marked small, being told that it was really medium. When I put it on a day or two later I was sure that it really was a small after all. It wasn't that it didn't fit; it just fit too well! I am accustomed to a medium fitting really loosely, with the short sleeves dropping almost to my elbows. This one fit just comfortably, and the sleeves actually were short; thus I am sure that it is a smaller size than I expected. I have eventually become accustomed to it, now having worn it several times to the Y. I'm still sticking with medium for future races, though!

It didn't seem nearly as hot as I'd feared, although it was already pleasant and I knew it was going to get warmer, so I tentatively decided not to use the fuel belt and just rely on the course water stations. About half an hour before start time I set out to do a warm-up jog; I figured that about 1½ miles would be enough to get my usual 10-minute starter mile out of my system but not use up too much juice that I would need for the race.

During this short run, though, I felt so parched that I became nervous about getting too thirsty in the race, and decided I needed the fuel belt as a security measure. I strapped in on and felt relieved, though as it turned out I would not use it until afer the race was over!

The group that gathered at the starting line was not huge, about 80 runners in the half marathon, and quite a few more for the 5K and 10K runs. Everyone would start together and follow the same course, with the 5K-ers and 10K-ers turning around along the way, as us half-marathoners soldiered on.

This was a low tech race, no timing chips (although there was a clock at the end****). I felt okay about inserting myself in the front section of the crowd, although not right on the start line, of course. And speaking of low tech? The race was started by the organizer saying "Ready, set, go." Really.

I started my Garmin on the "go," because I didn't want a discrepancy between my watch and the official time. I'm sure I crossed the start line within a couple seconds of the official start, anyway. I was able to take off at a comfortable pace, and didn't feel held back by the people around me (as I have in some bigger races).
We started out following Q Street, parallel to Commercial (the main street through Anacortes), until we got to the beginning of the Tommy Thompson trail, a paved walking/running/biking path (closed to non-race traffic this morning).

At about the 5K point we started across the trestle, which crosses over Fidalgo Bay and takes us to March Point. This view is from the March Point side, looking back at Anacortes.

After crossing the trestle we ran around the circumference of March Point, then back across the trestle to Anacortes.
About halfway through Mile 4, we came to this hill (below), the only real hill in the entire course, but it was a doozy! I know it doesn't look bad in the picture, but trust me, the camera flattens it out. The first (less steep) half of the hill brought my pace for that mile down to 9:15. The second part was steeper and still slower, in fact I slowed to almost a 12-minute pace in that section, but happily I made it up in the downhill on the other side! I did manage to keep to some kind of a run all the way up the hill (very short, choppy steps at the top!), although almost everyone I saw, even ahead of me, was walking.
Ah, the lovely downhill. I was able to pick up my speed enough to manage an 8:45 average pace for Mile 5 (which included the steeper top of the hill and the downhill). As I crested the hill another woman running nearby me asked if I had run this race before, and I told her I had. Then she asked if we had to come back the same way. I assured her that the rest of the race was a loop around the point, and there were no more hills!
March Point is home to a couple of big oil refineries. So on one side (the right hand, in the direction we were going) we gazed at scenic views of Anacortes and Fidalgo Bay, while to our left we saw these massive structures.
Fidalgo Bay.
Our route followed the edge of the bay....
As did the refinery buildings.
Looking back toward Anacortes.
The shoreline was scattered with boaters, beachcombers, and shrimpers (people fishing for shrimp).
The road was also well posted with signs stating "Restricted access, no camping allowed." (You probably can't quite see it in this picture). However, the roadside is also lined with campers and motor homes. This one even has an awning and a flag—clearly they intend to stay awhile!
My pictures here, taken after the race, are of course sans runners. The race course was not, although as we went along people tended to spread out and there were no real packs of runners. I did pass a couple of people (guys!) around the 10K point, but mostly everyone was maintaining their own pace and their relative positions by that point.

There were water stations every couple of miles, and I took water at all except, I think, the first one. I never did have to use my fuel belt, though I didn't regret bringing it for security. I slowed but didn't stop as I grabbed my water cups, and I tried to smile and be friendly to the volunteers. In fact, at the water station after the big hill I laughed, as somebody shouted some encouraging words. That was a big mistake, as it turns out. My spontaneous laugh at the same time as I was going to take a swig of water resulted in my sucking a big snort of water up my nose. But no matter—I just snorted it right back out again!

So, no more laughing at water stations. At the next one or two, though, I made a point of picking up my pace and semi-sprinting into the water area. Not only did this help make up for the inevitable slowing while I drank, I think it impressed the volunteers!

Although I was almost isolated on the road a lot of the time, somewhere around Mile 8 I spotted a few people ahead of me that seemed to be within my sights, though still rather far ahead. Most distant was a male runner (and I never did catch up with him). But a little bit closer was a pair of women—I thought of them as girls, as they looked younger than me, and we're all girls anyway, right?—and I made it my objective to narrow the gap between us.

I did so quite readily, closing the space so that by the time we were crossing the trestle I was right behind them, if not quite on their heels. I was running in the 8:45 to 8:50 range at that time, so possibly they had been going a little faster and slowed to around 9-minute pace for a while when I caught up to them.

Once we crossed back over the trestle we had about 5K remaining and that's when one of the girls ahead of me, probably with her friend's encouragement, picked up her pace and sprinted off ahead of us at a speed I, and apparently her friend, could not match.

I stayed on the other girl's shoulder for the next couple of miles. Both of us managed to speed up a little, because Mile 12 was back to 8:37. I didn't try to pass my new running companion. I'm not sure if I contemplated doing it at the end, but right now I was just appreciating her role as my pacer. I wasn't going to pass unless she slowed unexpectedly.

Which she didn't. Both of us pushed even harder in the final mile, turning into the closing stretch on Commercial. Here we are coming toward the finish in Anacortes at the end of Commercial. You can just barely see me in the picture; I am pretty much blocked by the guy. The girl in the yellow shorts is my companion/competitor!

Pushing hard in the final block...
And crossing the finish line! At that point, obviously, I was not going to elbow Yellow Shorts aside, but I stuck on her heels as we crossed. I appear to be stopping my Garmin just short of the actual finish, which may explain why my Garmin time was one second less than my official time! Our final mile was just under 8:30.
Which was, officially, 1:53:32.
Finally drinking some of the water in my fuel belt, and thrilled with my one-minute PR. One small admission—Garmin showed my final distance as just 13 miles, not 13.1. I have thought about it, and I think I have the explanation. I don't know what method was used to measure the course, but I expect that it was done from the position of the right (and "right") lane of the road. But since a big portion of the race was a circle, if you ran on the left hand shoulder, as I often did, you were running the inner circle and thus cutting the distance a very little bit. A perfect example of running the tangents effectively!
Here I am in front of one of the paintings that decorate many of the building walls in Anacortes.*****
We didn't hang out at the finish for too long. Instead we walked (slowly) up the street to Calico Cupboard for a delicious cinnamon roll and lunch. It's been so long now that I can't even remember what I ate—some kind of sandwich. But I do remember the cinnamon roll!

If we had stuck around long enough, I would have learned what I found out when I later double checked my time on the event website—that I finished first in my age group! The only time ever in a half marathon.

But I'm not too distressed about missing the awards. There wasn't anybody there I knew, and the age group awards were just announcements, not even ribbons. (You'd think they could have sprung for some ribbons, wouldn't you?)

That, in fact, is probably my only complaint about this race. Not only are there no ribbons for age group finishers, there is no finisher's medal either, just a finisher's ribbon. Which I didn't even get—I forgot about it and there was no one around forcing them on us (as you often find with the medals in other halfs). I think it would create a much better tone for the race if there were finisher's medals. I don't really care about the lack of chip timing—the overall group is so relatively small that you don't really lose much in the start. I don't feel like I did, anyway. Although if the race got bigger, I might feel differently.

My overall finish was 10th of 43 women, and 33rd out of 80 participants overall.

And so endeth the story of the Anacortes Half Marathon. Just in time for the Fairhaven 15K.

*I can't believe I had the nerve to post that picture! Really, I didn't look that bad, it was just very unfortunately posed.

**Just like my high school and college years....

***I had actually run in much, much hotter weather in Eastern Washington, but there I made no effort to push myself to run fast. Even running slowly, it was very hard!

****Really, I have done races that didn't have a visible clock, just a person with a stopwatch or some kind of gadget they use in track meets.

*****A better view than the one in Spokane!

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Great job on your race!! I would love to run in a small race like that, except no bling blows.

Congrats on the AG award! That is awesome!