Monday, March 25, 2013

THIS is spring!

More specifically, this is my first spring race of the year, the Mercer Island Half Marathon yesterday (Sunday). And the weather was pretty good. The grass behind me is green, isn't it? No snow, no rain? I'll take it.

Remember Friday, when I was whining about running in the blizzard? Well, by 10 a.m. the sun was breaking out and the remaining snow was melting. By 5 p.m. it was a sunny spring afternoon (though not too warm). Saturday was similarly cool and sunny, and Sunday, though not quite sunny most of the day, was dry and not-cold enough that I almost felt like my rather heavyweight top was going to be too warm in the half marathon. Luckily I was able to moderate my body heat by running without gloves, and sweating profusely.

This year was the second time I've run Mercer Island, and once again my opinion is confirmed, I really like this half marathon. Even though I am not crazy about driving to Mercer Island, and I was once again freaked out over the confusing directions and dodgy parking. But it's not hard to get there at all! In case I am worried again next year, here are my driving and parking tips (personalized for me).

  • It takes about 45 minutes to get there. But obviously allow at least an hour driving time.
  • Arrive before 7 a.m. to get easy, good parking. The earlier the better...even though the half marathon doesn't start until 9 a.m.
  • Take the Island Crest Way exit. Follow the signs to the park & ride. If you are early enough, you can park in the park & ride which is right on the 13-mile marker...meaning about a tenth of the mile to the start and finish, and the MI Community Center which is race headquarters.
  • Get there really early. Did I say that already?

We did leave really early (though about 15 minutes later than planned, my fault), and arrived a little after 7:00. We got into the park & ride garage, where they allowed us to park even though the directions said only the top level would be open for the race. If the second level hadn't been opened, I don't know how early we would have to arrive to get one of the few, prime spots.

The only downside of our parking was that our spot in the parking garage was pretty dark. My dad complained about that. My mother didn't care that much (she has a Kindle). So I walked my dad up the the Community Center where he spent his time reading, eating the breakfast we brought, walking around the vendor displays, and talking to people. He really enjoyed that. My mother would rather die than leave the car and go somewhere else. She stayed in the car.

I actually made one trip up to pick up my number and chip and stuff before getting my dad. Obviously the convenient parking location was really helpful. I had plenty of time to do a two-mile warm-up, then leave my jacket and gloves in the car, squeeze in a final porta-potty visit, and find a spot in the starting corral with seven minutes to spare.

I had projected my time to be somewhere between two hours (optimistically) and 2:10 (hoping I wouldn't be any slower than that). Last year my time for this one was 1:58, but I am not quite in the same place as I was last year (yet). My heavy marathon training started a month earlier in 2012, so I figure I'm about a month behind.

I think the Mercer Island Half Marathon is an easy hard course. It is definitely hard in some ways--it is quite hilly throughout. But in addition to the uphills, there are corresponding downhills, including long downhill stretches which were great for making up (a little) time.

I think that one of the casualties of spending so much time marathon training, as well as doing so many races, is that I am far less willing to put a hard effort into a half marathon. This is because when doing marathon pace training, the goal is to find a pace that is not impossible to maintain for long, long periods of time. I should be able to push myself a little harder for a half marathon, and I do, but not enough, I think. (I can still do it for 5Ks and 10Ks.) Also, with the number of half marathons I do, I have become a little numb to the adrenaline kick in a race. You know how you're supposed to be able to run faster in a race just because of the excitement of it all? I don't find that so much any more. Some...but not enough.

However, I did set out at a good pace and actually I was averaging about 9:09 pace (some a little over, some a little under) for at least the first half of the race. Of course, being right on track for a two-hour half marathon doesn't leave a lot of room for error. Or for getting tired. Or for the second half being harder. Or for the race course being a little long. Do you see where I'm going with this?

After the halfway point (6.5 miles), the course started climbing steadily (though still maintaining rolling hills). The elevation was definitely net uphill from about the 10K to 15K point. I know that's only three miles but it was a tough three miles. We did get to cruise downhill for about a mile after that but hit another long, steep hill between miles 11-12, as well as a short but killer climb from mile 13 to the finish.

I decided to engage in race strategy beginning in mile 6. I begin running the first 3/4 of each mile at my comfortably hard pace, then pushed harder for the last quarter mile. This hopefully helped keep my paces down a little, though I definitely logged some slower miles in those last few miles. I took a gel around mile 8 to hopefully give me a boost...it's always hard for me to tell if it really works. In addition to my quarter mile kicks, I also tried to push a little harder on the downhills, and not just use them to rest and cruise...though I may have done that also.

I knew I wasn't going to break two hours when I saw the 2:00 as I approached mile 13. My watch gave me another .19 mile to the finish and my final (official) time was 2:02:12. That was a 9:20 official pace and 9:14 according to my watch.

I am definitely okay with that time. I hate to play the "it could have been worse" card, but...it could have been so much worse! This was so close to two hours that I really have hope for doing two hours or under in the Whidbey Island Half Marathon in three weeks. (I'll post about why this is significant to me at a later time.) I'm not sure where I could have shaved some time off of this race, but I think that I could have tried a little harder on the downhills. 

I finished fast enough that my dad missed my finish...I guess his expectations of me have lowered a bit. Or he's just slow....

I was originally planning on running at least a mile afterwards, to make at 16+ mile day, but that didn't seem to make sense with my parents waiting to leave. It would have worked better if we'd been forced to park further away, but that would have been a pain in other ways. So my 15.2 miles will have to suffice for the day.

My back did not bother me at all during the race. Well, I did have my phone in the back pocket of my shirt and it felt a little weird to have that bouncing against my lower back (it didn't really bounce, the shirt is snug, but I felt something), but overall, no back strain. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday/Sunday and thought, "my back is healed." Let's hope it stays that way!

I had a surprisingly good recovery run this morning. Sometimes it is better to run on the morning after a long run or race, because the DOMS won't really set in until the next day (I do expect some chatter from my quads about the downhill running). My average pace for 7.77 miles this morning was 9:44, and that was with a first mile of over 11 minutes, and a second mile around 10:30. After that I was able to stay in the nines and even had one 8:59. Tomorrow I cross-train and then tackle speed work on Wednesday!

1 comment:

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