In my efforts to up mileage in preparation for my 50K, I am accepting of the likelihood that speed may suffer. That is, what speed I have. I don't want to lose speed entirely--that is why I keep doing races of various lengths to force myself to push the pace on occasion. Since my last three halfs have been just under two hours, I certainly can't assume that every one I do will be...and yesterday proved that.
The irony is that the last three half marathons (Mercer Island, Whidbey Island, Portland Rock and Roll) have been hilly courses that I think are considered hard. I seem to perform better on hills (as long as they go down as well as up). The Berry Dairy Half was very, very flat.
I picked my parents up early Saturday morning to head north for the run. The weather was not promising. It was a steady drizzle/mist and that did not let up or change until about 11a.m. The race started at 8:30, so...it rained throughout.
I was glad I had put my contacts in. The last time I ran in my glasses in a drizzle, I seriously regretted it. The mist seems to mess up my vision even worse than out and out rain.
We arrived around 7:45 and easily found a place to park about a block or two from the start. I had a rain poncho in the car so I wore that (even during warm-up) to stay dry until the start. I got my bib then sat in the car until 8:10, when I got out to squeeze in a slow mile of warm-up. I also managed two porta potty visits, the second one only a few minutes before the start (that's the way I like it!).
I have to say that as much as I like "the country" and "farmland," they are not my favorite running venue. I feel like the miles pass much faster in a town or city. Whether it's the city blocks or just the wide variety of landmarks to distract me, I seem to run faster and more effectively in an urban race.
As opposed to...long, straight, never ending country roads. That go on and on. Forever. (At least there were no farm smells on this day. Unlike some of the times I've run the Nookachamp Half in January...pungent.)
Well, I lie a little bit. The long roads only lasted for six miles or so. Then we went onto the dike and commenced running on gravel for the next six miles. And mud, in places. (Enhanced by the rain, obviously.)
I did manage to just about maintain a 2-hour pace for the first few miles. I looked at my time at the 5-mile point and if it wasn't 45:45, it was only a few seconds over. In theory, if I just maintained for the next five and then kicked it up a notch in the last 5K, I could break two. It was a reasonable plan....
In theory. However, it did not take into account the whole "running on gravel" part. Anything other than pavement or asphalt is always slowing for me. Even in some fast 10Ks that were partly on gravel, I could tell I was faster on the road.
But that's not the whole reason. Really, my legs didn't want to run faster than a 9:30 pace. Actually several of my splits in the second half were around 9:45, but even when I made an effort to push it, I "sped up" to 9:30. I didn't see another 8 until the final mile.
But when I take my frustration over pace out of the picture, running along the dike was kind of interesting and fun, and certainly it was good training for my trail running (alternative surfaces). I think if it hadn't been so dark and drizzly, I might have felt less discouraged.
We first headed off the road onto the dike somewhere past 6.5 miles. This first stint was only about two miles long...but during the second mile of that the gravel was on top of dirt which was now mud. It seemed to cling to shoes so that eventually I felt like I was running on clumps of clay. I wasn't the only one who felt that, I learned later.
The trail then veered off onto the road for a short bit--enough to stomp and scrape my shoes on the pavement--then back onto another section of gravel dike. I thought that we might turn around at nine miles and double back (leaving two miles to the finish on the road), but no. Instead the trail veered off the dike onto a riverside trail that looked like grass (cross country, anyone?) but had some sort of paving underneath the grass. That was actually better than running on just grass, obviously. Then we passed through a woodsy section where I felt very alone (wondering if I'd gone off course somehow) until we returned to the dike for a couple more miles.
Just before the 12-mile point we finally got back on the road and I vowed to make a strong finish. I finally found my half marathon gear and picked it up to a sub-nine pace for the final mile or so. I closed in on, and passed, several people who were ahead of me. The final mile was a straight shot on Fairhaven Avenue, and as I neared the end I was alone as I ran down the middle of the street. The Berry Dairy Days parade was scheduled to start at 11, so the sidewalks were already peppered with parade spectators, some of whom cheered me as I ran by!
Of course my watch hit 13.1 miles before I hit the finish, so I was anxiously looking ahead to try to see where I would be done. I turned the corner and almost ran past the short finish chute! I jumped back in and ran through, asking "Am I done?" I stopped my watch at 2:03:59. There was no chip timing, so I guess my final time will depend on where they hit the stopwatch.
I walked back to the car, where my mother was waiting but my dad was not. I headed back to the finish and found him standing on the corner across from the finish, still watching for me to come in!
Before we left, he took my picture. It doesn't really show how wet I was...and I should have had a separate shot of the muddy backs of my legs! I look quite clean here.
Then we left and headed to the Calico Cupboard in Mt. Vernon, where I changed into dry clothes and ate a big breakfast burrito. Yum.
A final note...before the race I warned my mother not to expect me under two hours, because I'd heard about the gravel trails. When I got to the car she was surprised to see me so soon. Apparently to her, "over two hours" meant more than a few minutes over. To me, every one of those almost four minutes was like a stake through my heart. (That may be a little exaggerated, but you know what I mean.) To a lay person, 2:03:59 is hardly different than two hours. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?
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