Monday, July 12, 2010

Langley Half Marathon - 7/11/10

Yesterday I finished my sixth race in six weekends, beginning in June with the Newport Marathon on June 5.* I know I am a little behind on race recaps...Newport and the Yankee Doodle Dash are in the works, awaiting completion. Actually I think I have done most of the writing** and mainly need to add photos. I seem to squeeze in the writing during down moments during the day, but my pictures are generally on the computer at home and I just don't seem to have the time or energy in the evenings to mess around with the computer. So anyhow, last night I uploaded a few pictures from the Langley Half Marathon and now I am going to write my blog post around them!

One thing that always makes my race reports extra long (besides my extreme verbosity) is my tendency to go back and cover the days leading up to the race. (Why wouldn't I? My life is fascinating!) It's all relevant, really, as it involves pre-race training and prep. I'll (try to) be brief though.

Monday, July 5, was the official holiday, and as it was a court and county holiday as well, both Rod and I had the day off. I saw no reason not to do my regular Monday run; in fact it was even better because I could do it at 8 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.! I ran two-plus times around the Jennings Park Loop and finished at Safeway to get coffee (at Starbucks) and a few groceries. I am often a little faster even on easy days in Marysville (don't know why that is), and my average pace for 9.05 miles was 9:38, with my slowest (first) mile at 10:07 and my fastest at 9:21.

Later in the day I went with Rod to see a guy about a boat. He ended up buying an unrestored 1965 Boston Whaler 13', which he is now working on daily to make it useable (soon) and nice (eventually). (Some lovely pictures of a restored model in the link.)

On Wednesday I went out before work for my first real "summer" run. After the Fourth of July chillfest our weather finally started to get warm and sunny last week. Unlike in other parts of the country, 6 a.m. in the Northwest is never going to be "hot," but it was "nice." I wore short sleeves and possibly sunglasses (I can't really remember specifics).

This was a speedwork day and I started with five pretty slow miles. Slow wasn't my choice, really; it was what my legs wanted to do. I did manage to adjust my route so that I ended up at the track with exactly five miles under my belt!

My schedule called for five 800 (half mile) repeats. I had thought it was six and I was so glad when I checked and found out it was "only" five! I had no compulsion to do extra. For 800's I like to do slightly faster than 10K pace...assuming that 10K pace is 8-minute miles or faster. I varied the duration of my recovery jog...longest was .30, shortest was .10 (between the last two intervals), and the others were about .20.

Despite my sluggish warm-up run, I hit my pace just about right-on for the 800's! For five half-miles laps my times were:

1 - 3:58 (7:54 pace)
2 - 3:53 (7:42 pace)
3 - 3:55 (7:46 pace)
4 - 3:54 (7:52 pace)
5 - 3:52 (7:42 pace)

None were blisteringly fast and none were disappointly slow. I was satisfied. Total distance for Wednesday was 8.76 miles (9:29 average pace overall).

Weatherwise, Wednesday and Thursday were expected to be (and were) our warmest days of the week, possibly hitting 90 in the late afternoons (depending on where you were). On Thursday morning I decided to go out extra early, not just to beat any early morning heat, but also to squeeze in a couple extra miles. I was doing my Friday morning longer run a day early, to allow an extra day of recovery prior to Langley.

I wasn't up quite as early as I planned on Thursday, but I was still out the door around 5:45 a.m. I wanted to allow plenty of time to complete the ten miles at a comfortable pace, and still allow for bathroom stops, lights, and a stop at Starbucks on the way home. I had all that, but it was a difficult run, and I barely managed to beat an overall 10-minute pace. And that was by busting out an 8:36 mile at the end! Which, in itself, was a miracle of sorts, as my legs were pretty much done after eight miles.

Thursday afternoon, the hottest day of our week, I cut out of work at 3:00 and headed to my parents' house to "swim" (which meant dip myself in the cold water a few times then lay on the deck and read). It was like a very mini summer vacation! After the tide went out a little I walked on the beach with my sister and her dog, then fixed hot dogs, coleslaw, and faux baked beans for dinner up at the house.

Thursday's tired run, plus tired legs on the elliptical Friday morning, convinced me that Saturday should be a true rest day from exercise, to give my legs some opportunity to freshen up for the half marathon on Sunday. So on Saturday, instead of going to the Y or cooking up some alternative form of exercise, I went to Molbak's with my mom. I bought some of these fantastic colored tomato cages for my tomato plants! (Yes, I am a little behind, why do you ask?) (Picture is from a different store, borrowed from another blog.) Of course I bought the cheaper, shorter ones, so who knows what will happen when my tomato plants actually get big and tall!

So, finally, I have arrived at Sunday, the date of the Langley Half Marathon. Let me begin by saying that this was a hard race on all counts, beginning with getting to the race!

Langley is a town on Whidbey Island, and technically it is not very far away. It is less than eight miles from my house to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal, and the distance by water is just under three miles*** (about a 20-minute ferry ride), and finally Langley is about five or six miles from Clinton, where the ferry lands on Whidbey Island. Not far at all, right?

However, when you're dealing with ferry travel nothing is that simple. First of all there are schedules to follow. In order to get to an 8:30 race we had to take either the 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. ferry, and of course we planned on the 6 a.m. because what if we didn't get onto the 7:00? There would be no other ferry options, and not enough time left over to drive around the long way, through Oak Harbor at the north end of the island (accessible by road). We were leaving from Marysville rather than Everett (but that only made a few minutes difference) and had to get up at 4 a.m. to leave at 5:00 and be in the ferry line at 5:30 or so. Which we accomplished nicely. This was, I must say, the shortest ferry line I have ever been in for Whidbey Island. (The same would not be said for the return later.)

Of course once we got through all the pre-ferry stuff and the ride across the water, the trip to Langley was very quick and we were there by 6:45. For the 8:30 race. Although the race directions said to park at a school that was far away from the start, we easily found parking right by the starting area. Had we wanted to, we were early enough to park closer to the finish instead, but it was fine where we were. They had just started setting up the check-in area, so I sat in the car and ate the breakfast I had brought (sandwich thin with almond butter, superfruit spread, and a few banana slices).

Then I quickly collected my bib and chip and goody bag (as well as a pretty blue race shirt which I am happy to have paid a few extra dollars for) and put this stuff in the car. Then Rod and I walked down into Langley to pass some time and look around before things got going. This weekend was also the Choochokam Arts Festival (the half marathon is part of the festival) and later in the day the streets would be filled with stalls and vendors and visitors. Right now everything was very quiet, though; we were alone except for a few other runners wandering about. We did take the opportunity to scope out some restaurants and plan where to go for breakfast (or lunch) after the race!

As we returned to the starting area I was surprised to see Renee across the street! She owns my favorite clothing boutique in Everett and I spend a lot of time visiting there. She was doing the early start at 7:30. It was especially for people who wanted to walk or expected to take more than three hours (as the course closed at 11:30), but there were a number of people running it who just wanted or needed to get done a little earlier in the day. It would have been really hard for me to do that, as I really need to have some competition around me to maintain a respectable race pace!

I made my second potty visit, then sat in the car and read my book for a while. I planned to do my warm-up around 8:00 and then make one final potty stop. I was a little slow getting out of the car again, though, and only had time for about a .8 mile jog to warm up, then I stood in the potty line for ten minutes. It was perfect though, as I got out with several minutes to spare and gathered in the pre-starting area. This is where we would "start" from, but the start line and timing map was actually a ways down the road. The race director called this a "Tour de France-style rolling start."

The weather had cooled down a lot from the heat at the end of the week. That was really a blessing for running! It was in the sixties but overcast and a little foggy for the duration of the race. It didn't really get warm until much later in the day.

As I stood waiting I looked around the crowd and saw one of my high school Facebook friends, Annie, a little bit away from me. I had known she was going to be running. I thought she might be running with a friend and had some hopes that (under those circumstances) I could keep up with her (as she is quite a bit faster than me). She had a bright green shirt on and would be easy to keep an eye on (for a while).

Then we were off...sort of. We jogged up to the real starting area and paused. I was fiddling with my Garmin when the siren sounded and barely got it started as the crowd took off and I followed along. Just moments later I saw Annie fly by me, leaping over a cone I believe, and she was gone. I saw her ahead of me in the distance for a while, till she disappeared on the winding road.

The course is described as "gently rolling hills." I am pretty sure that is meant ironically. The hills are rolling all right...but there is nothing gentle about them! The entire out and back course was a series of up and downhills, some quite steep, others less so. The course elevation profile is so dreadful distinctive that there is a stylized depiction of it on the back of the race shirts. I tried to get a printout of the elevation from my Garmin, but for some reason it came out postage stamp sized, too tiny to scan!

I decided to try for reasonably even effort, at least in the first half of the course. I knew I would be slower on the uphills, so I let myself go on the downhills, hoping to average out the paces in a reasonable fashion. Of course the uphills were still hard, and the downhills provided a bit of a rest, even taking them at accelerated pace. This worked quite well in the first five miles. I was pleased to see splits that were on track for a reasonable sub-two hour finish, if everything continued to go well. Miles 1-5 - 8:43, 8:53, 8:46, 8:58, 8:57.

The course was designed so that the turnaround was before the halfway point (because we continued on into town past the starting area to finish the race). The most hellish portion of the course came right before the turnaround point, a long, steep gravel hill, probably a half mile long. I saw Annie again as she was passing the halfway point and I was starting the gravel climb...we waved hello and she shouted back that the hill was really hard! Good to know....

Running, or trying to run, up this hill reminded me of running the hilly gravel roads at Rimrock in Eastern Washington (though it wasn't as hot out). Of course there I am not running for time and it doesn't matter how slow I take them. Trying to run up this hill with any speed was just impossible. Most people were walking at some point. Near the top, in the steepest part, I finally conceded, power walking for a short bit, still passing a woman who was walking slower and had been ahead of me thus far in the race.

As it leveled out a little I broke into a jog again and then, when I turned around, threw all I had into barreling down the gravelly hill, hoping to make up a little for the time lost on the ascent. I was aiming for the clock at the halfway point. I felt that if I could cross the half under an hour, then I would be most likely to finish under two, as I had already done the very hardest part of the race (the gravel hill). I'm not sure of the exact seconds, but the clock said 59:something as I passed!

Of course, not only did I have to retrace my steps on the way back (up the downhills and down the uphills), I was doing it on tired legs now. So two hours would only happen if I could keep up the same effort as before. I was glad to have so many sub-nine miles under my belt, because I definitely lost time in miles 6 (9:20) and 7 (9:38--includes gravel hill). I reminded myself also that now I was past the five-mile "warm-up" stage and into the "easy" five mile portion of the race!

Somewhere in here, probably around Mile 8, I ate one of my Gu's. I had brought along two, but really only had the stomach for one. I am never sure if they even make a difference...although I will say that the remainder of the race went pretty well.

Miles 8-10 went pretty smoothly (9:00, 9:01, 8:46) and my time for ten miles was just shy of 90 minutes. So I had almost 30 minutes for the final 3.1-ish miles...easy peasy, right? I wasn't able to figure out exactly how much time I had for each mile, but I knew that I could do every one over 9 minutes, even over 9:15, and still be okay. It's not that I wanted to coast in the final 5K, it was just nice to know that I had some leeway.

Except, um, mile 11? 9:43. My slowest mile of the whole race. There went a lot of my cushion! (Although I didn't even know I had been so slow until afterwards.) The only explanation I can think of is that this mile was almost entirely uphill. In fact, I remember coming down it at the beginning of the race and thinking this was going to be a bitch on the return trip! I thought I was powering up it but...not so much.

For the last 2.1 miles, though, I was determined to make a strong finish. There were two or three women that I had been running in proximity with for several miles, and one by one I pulled ahead of them. Two I left behind, but the third was right with me, especially after a male runner came back and started running with her (us) to pace her to the finish. I know it pushed me as well to hear the footsteps of two people on my heels (and it was loud!). Even though there was some uphill in this final section, I was able to draw on my fast finish training and do those two miles at true half marathon goal pace! Mile 12 - 8:36. Mile 13 -8:32.

The final tenth of a mile (which was actually .18), was blessedly downhill and somewhere I found some fast twitch muscles as I hurtled toward the finish line. Despite my best efforts, the woman I had been playing tag with did pull ahead of me in the final stretch, but still, I was thrilled to find out that my pace for the final .18 mile was 6:36!

My clock time as I crossed the finish line was 1:58 and some seconds. My Garmin said 1:58:10 when I stopped it. The chip time, when I looked at the post-race printouts, was something like 1:56:57, but I don't believe that is correct. (I heard that there was a problem of some sort with the chip times.) I can't believe that there was more than a minute delay before I crossed the mat at the start...if the chip time were 1:57:57, that would be more likely! I'm waiting to see what the results are when they are posted.

Here I am in the final stretch, photo by Rod. The shirt is from Lucy's clearance sale, by the way. Love how it matches the hat that I've had for years!

Speaking of gear, I am wearing a Spi-belt, and I don't think I love them as much as everyone else seems to. It drives me a little crazy the way it bounces around. I did learn to tolerate it during the run, but I am more comfortable with the waist packs and fuel belts that fit like a cummerbund around my waist. I had my BlackBerry, ipod, and two gels in it. I know that the BlackBerry was what made it bounce, but that's why I wear something, to carry stuff with me! After finishing I talked to a few of the women I had been running "with," and then Rod and I went to have breakfast at the Braeburn Restaurant. It is really more of a cafe than a restaurant, in my opinion, as it only serves breakfast and lunch, but oh, what a breakfast it is! Check out the menu.... I had the Huckleberry Pancakes with huckleberry honey butter and bacon. Yum!

After eating we strolled through the Art Festival stalls and looked in the windows of some shops. I had a tight rein on my spending impulses. I know if I had bought one thing, all the demons would have been unleashed! There were some really cute, and nice, things though. I almost regret passing them by...not to mention all the shops we didn't go in! Oh well. Less is more.

We returned to the race finish area just as they were finishing with the awards and door prizes. When I looked myself up on the finish lists I saw that I was fourth in my age group--not good enough for an award, but still kind of cool. Annie was third, and did get an award, although in reflection we may have been in different age groups, if they did 5-year divisions (as she is 45 and I am still 44).

As we drove back toward the ferry we were horrified to discover that the estimated wait to get on a ferry was 90 minutes. Rod decided (as the driver) that it would be preferable to drive back up the island and get on the freeway. We would probably save a little bit of travel time overall, if not too much, and at least we would be moving instead of sitting in a parked line of cars. Scenic tour of Whidbey Island! Unfortunately, this is why I don't go over to Langley, cute as it is, more often.

We got back to Marysville around 2:30 and I went to take a shower and change while Rod did a little work on the boat. The cloudy morning had turned into quite a pleasant, sunny afternoon. (In fact, at my parents' house later it seemed quite hot out!) Around 4:00 we left to go to my sister's birthday dinner at my parents'. Salmon with oyster stuffing and cupcakes for dessert! Yummy!

Because the next day (today) was an early work day, we left before 8:30 but still, by the time I got home, put stuff away, etc., I didn't get to bed until almost 11. That was a long day...and I am still tired today. I wasn't even up to running at 6:00 this morning; I went to the Y instead. (So tomorrow will be a running day.) I have been tired all day and oh, are my quads sore!

I must say that Langley was probably one of the hardest half marathon courses I have run. Robie Creek in Boise was harder (nine miles up a mountain and four miles down), and there have been many where I have been slower (due to my performance rather than the course). But even Whidbey, the three times I have done its ever-changing course, has not had the same relentless constant hills. So I feel quite pleased with myself finishing under two hours!

*June 12 Berry Run 5K; June 18 Run with the Cops "5K"; June 26 Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon; July 4 Yankee Doodle Dash 10K.

**Actually, maybe not. YDD is almost done, but apparently I haven't even started the race portion of Newport....

***I measured the water distance with Mapmyrun. The other distances I estimated based on past personal experience.

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