Sunday, January 17, 2010

Half Marathon on a whim

Well, that's not entirely accurate...I didn't JUST decide to go out yesterday morning and run a half marathon. I actually saw an ad for the Nookachamps Half Marathon (in Mt. Vernon) in Northwest Runner back in November. I checked out the website and thought it might be a good opportunity for a race on January, if it worked out.

But since it was on the Saturday of MLK Jr. weekend, I didn't know at all whether there might be other plans to interfere with a little half marathon that I might run just for fun. Skiing, weekend trip to Eastern Washington, or some other activity that would interfere. And I was okay with that possibility.

So I didn't pre-register, just kept the idea on the back burner. And by last Thursday there were no other plans...ski conditions were not great, and the little ski area we wanted to go to wasn't opening for another week. So, it seemed, I was free to do a half marathon on Saturday!

This would be the first race of any kind I'd done since CIM. I have been fully recovered for weeks, I know, but I am in constant trepidation of getting into a winter slump. I really have no perspective. Is a 9:45 pace long run reasonable, or is it the first step in a downward spiral of slowness? (I said, NO perspective.)

So this would be a small opportunity to test my legs again. It would also be a good tempo run of sorts, to counteract those 9:45 runs (I hoped). I didn't want or plan to try for a PR, or put out more than a reasonably strong effort. I would be happy, more than happy, with a two hour time (and realized that might not even happen).

To increase the stakes, or maybe decrease them, I didn't even take Friday off from running to rest my legs, as I would for a "serious" race. Instead I ran 10.2 miles (9:41 average pace), ate cake at work, and probably ended up underfueled anyway.

On Saturday morning I got up at the very reasonable time of 7 a.m. and was given the gift of clear skies and a hint of sun! It had been raining STEADILY all week. Decent weather made running much more appealing, even though it was quite cold (I had to scrape ice off my car for the first time in weeks).

I fueled on the northward drive with coffee from Starbucks and a cranberry scone that Luke and Mary brought me from Sisters on Friday. (It was yummy, but what I REALLY love is their oatmeal maple scone. Oh. My. God.)

I got to the starting point (Skagit Valley College) before 9:00 (the race started at 10). The visitor parking lot was full already, so nervously I parked in student parking (many others followed suit after me) and found my way to registration in the gym. I did have a small crisis when I lost my phone for a bit after leaving it on a registration table, but luckily soon spotted in the hand of a guy with a microphone (about to make an announcement).

I had originally planned to try out a new one-bottle fuel belt (with a large extra pocket), but when I had difficulty actually drinking from the bottle, I decided to just drink water on the course. (I didn't want to carry my handheld.) I'll have to work on figuring out the bottle before I try it again. I just wore my regular waist pack for my phone and car key. I also brought a Gu, although I didn't use it.

I used the bathroom without waiting in line, then jogged around for a mile to warm up my legs. After that I did stand in line for another bathroom visit, but got in and out with plenty of time to spare. While I was waiting I spotted a former prosecutor/now judge and hailed him as "Dave"--which I haven't really called him since he became a judge. (That is what he would expect though--we are still peers on the race course!) I of course have a lingering curiousity about his time. There was a rather long out and back section of the course where I should have spotted him regardless of whether he was ahead of me or behind, but I didn't. I'll have to wait and stalk--I mean check, of course--the online results.
After the potty I still had time to get in another half mile of warm-up before gathering in the starting area. There was also a 5K and 10K starting at the same time as the half.

Thanks to the usual crowd chatter, I could barely hear the announcements, but I did pick up a few helpful points. He promised that all turns would be marked with arrows, so there was no chance of getting lost. (True, also they had plenty of volunteers pointing the way.) He also said that the race started with an uphill (followed by a downhill, happily), and there was also a hill at the end (again, followed by a downhill to the finish).

Then we were off! This was a non-chip race, so I guess I lost a few seconds in the shuffle to the starting line (it also put my Garmin off by a tenth of a mile), but it was a minimal delay.

I started off pretty fast when I got out of the crowd, although the promised hill slowed me a bit. Mile 1 - 8:37. I was rewarded with the subsequent downhill and 8:20 for Mile 2.

Then we were running through farmland flats and miles 3-6 were pretty consistent--8:39, 8:48, 8:44, 8:52. Running on long, flat, straight roads can make you feel a little plodding, and I was happy to be staying under 9-minute miles with reasonable effort. I reminded myself, as I approached and passed the five mile mark, that after the first five miles, the next five would be "easy" (based on my previously determined formula).

I have spent a lot of time driving through farm country, and am quite familiar with the scents that waft into your car. But let me assure you, you appreciate (if that's the proper word) these fragrances MUCH more when you are running through them at 6.8 mph or so then when you are in a closed vehicle at 50 mph. I learned, for example, that the various types of manure have distinctly different smells. We passed by a farm that has, I suspect, both cows and chickens.

About halfway along we came to the town of Clear Lake. Just running through a little town was a nice change from the endless miles of roads. As we turned a corner in town, we were suddenly confronted by a short, steep hill. I didn't even mind it as I jogged up with short steps (my newly established steep hill stride). I know my pace there was slow, but it was over quickly! I more enjoyed the series of rolling hills that followed, as this is a favorite running terrain for me. Mile 7 - 8:52; Mile 8 - 8:44.

As we approached the end of mile 8 (on the flats again), we turned onto a road that was to be an out and back--one mile to the turnaround, we were informed.

Now, I would have thought that this would break up the distance nicely--"only" a mile, then "only" a mile back, then we'd be almost through ten miles!

But I must say that the "out" mile seemed interminable. And the back was not much better. Even though the road was pancake flat, these were my slowest miles yet. Mile 9 - 8:58, Mile 10 - 8:55. Even though I wasn't overly tired, I guess I was a bit tired of running.

As we were approaching the end of mile 10, a man who was running near me told me that we were approaching a big hill. I replied, flippantly, that it would be a nice change from all this flat! Actually, I kind of meant it.

Mile 11 was, in fact, pretty much all uphill--as was mile 12! Even though it wasn't horribly steep, I couldn't maintain my sub-9 pace and felt glad for the cushion of fast miles in the beginning. I was still under 90 minutes after mile 10, which meant I could almost do 10-minute miles the rest of the way and still finish in two hours. Mile 11 - 9:23, Mile 12 - 9:05.

Did I mention that I had planned to pick up the pace in the last 5K? Well, the hills put a stop to that. But in the final mile, the grade changed to downhill, and I finally managed to find my next gear and finish mile 13 in 8:36, by pacing myself from mailbox to mailbox. Then, a final burst of speed as I turned into the college grounds and toward the finish line on the track. The clock ticked past 1:56 and I crossed the line at 1:56:16 (my last .2 miles at 8:26 pace).

Unfortunately there was a bit of a cluster past the finish line and the girl BEHIND me walked in front of me and handed in her tag first. WTF??? Perhaps unfortunately, I didn't say anything. We'll see what the computer results say. If it's too bad, maybe I'll send an e-mail.

I hung around for a bit, ate some orange wedges and animal crackers, then headed out. I made a stop at the Calico Cupboard and bought a giant cinnamon roll...then stopped at my parents' on the way home to give them half. (I ate the other half with a sandwich at home.)

Then we "celebrated" my half marathon by going to dinner at Applebee's (Christmas gift card) and to see Up in the Air. The movie was my pick, the "non-violent movie of my choice" after voluntarily watching Inglourious Bastards Friday night. This movie had no scalpings, anyway (well, at least not literal ones!).

All in all, a good race, and I'm more than satisfied with my time. I'm sure I could have pushed it more, and saved a little time by carrying my own fluids (I made two water stops, one in which I actually walked for a few seconds while I drank). And of course, chip timing would shave a few seconds. But it's all good.

Before I end, let me say that I know that my little races, and my whining about weather and such, are of no moment in a world of tragic events, most recently the horrible earthquake in Haiti. I feel truly fortunate that my troubles, for the most part, are trivial and non-earth shattering. I hope we can all (as I plan to) take a little bit of that money we spend so freely on race entries and running gear, and donate to an organization that aids those so much less fortunate than we are.
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