Posted by: thehungryrunner | June 5, 2009

Belated Race Report, Photos and Video: My first half marathon, yay!

Indeed, it was over a month ago, but at least I’m still logging my report before the “glow” has fully worn off for me!

What:  Door County Half Marathon
When:  Saturday, May 2, 2009
Where:  Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek, Wisconsin
Pre-race meal: Chicken noodle soup

This was my first half marathon; until now, I’d been running mostly 10K distances for my races, with an occasional 10-miler sprinkled into my training runs. I was one of these who had declared “never ever” at the thought of a half marathon!  Funnier still is that by Mile 2 of this race, I could fully understand the seduction of the full marathon!

Lesson Number 1 learned from my training for this: DON’T let enthusiasm get the better of you! Back in February, after about 4-5 solid weeks of training (including 11-milers on the treadmill, ick), we had a bout of milder weather and roads that were clear enough to allow safe running. In my joy, I took every opportunity, during about a 6 day period, to get outside and run the roads instead of the treadmill.  Unfortunately, between going from long runs on a flat/resilient to hard/heavily cambered surface AND my stupidly breaking my plan – i.e. eagerly running several 11 and 12-mile runs within a very short time period (but it felt so GOOD to be OUTSIDE!)…..I did a number on my left hamstrings and calf.  Not enough to force me to stop exercising, but enough to force me to take a 1-2 week break from running, and a SLOW return thereafter.  I kept up with my cardio and strength, and as my leg began to tolerate short (1-3 mile) runs, I’d stick them onto the end of a long and intense cross-trainer workout, to at least mimic having to run when already tired.  But I’d only worked my way back to 10-mile or longer runs within about 2-3 weeks of the half.  Virtually no hill work and definitely no speed training.

As a result…this was a very different race from what I’d originally planned.  First and foremost I had to make sure I felt I could run it without further injuring myself.  Then I had to let go of any particular time goal or closely monitoring my time/pace during the race.  Whereas I’m normally all about watching my splits and using my Garmin and strategizing my every move, this one was purely about finishing without injury.  Given the high number of times I’ve needed to stop and take walk breaks during my recent runs (for my Achilles/hamstrings, not due to stamina), I honestly had no clue what to expect for my time.  So I’d made the decision that I would let my breath and body tell me what to do.  If I had to walk part of the time, so be it.  If I became dangerously winded (i.e. on hills), I would walk more than planned.  My hope was that I would simply hit every water station (I think they had about 8-9) and use those as my walk breaks.  I figured if I could run (slowly) the rest of the time, I could reasonably hope to come in at around the 2-1/2 hour mark.  Given I currently run my 5K’s at around an 8:00 pace and my 10K’s at around 8:30, It killed me to make such concessions, but knowing I have an entire racing season ahead of me, I knew that it would be stupid to let vanity override self-care for this one.

So I picked songs on my Ipod that I loved but that didn’t all have a strong cadence (so that I’d stay “in the groove” and not feel pressured to hit any particular rhythm), and adopted the mantra, “Just run!” for this one.  I didn’t bother to control what played when, just let the playlist run through at random, enjoying the “surprise” of not knowing what song would play next.

We gathered at the start (about 1,200 runners), the gun went off, and I “just pushed play” — went into auto-pilot for my run.  Rather than doing my usual dodge-and-dart my way ahead of slower runners, I let the movement of the “mass” determine my pace, thinking it would enable me to use the first couple of miles as an extension of my warm-up and a means of observing my leg’s response.

Yet, despite this unrushed rhythm I’d adopted, I heard the guy with the stopwatch at Mile 1 say, 9:30 or some such. TOTALLY shocked me as my overall level of comfort was more on the level of when I’m running an easy 11:00 pace.

Not wearing my Garmin, my next awareness of time was when I passed a digital clock they had at the 10K mark, which read 59:04. DARN, I thought, you mean to tell me I really do have a SHOT at a sub-10 pace??? I wasn’t really wanting to aim for such as I didn’t want to put myself in that mode for this race (out of concern for my Achilles), but the seed was planted. My only other time check was a glance at my (analog) watch at Mile 10, and from what I could remember, it looked like I’d covered that distance in just a little more than 90 minutes. So now the game was on: to run my final 3.1 strong and at least get a sub-10 pace, and quite possibly, even come in under 2 hours, which hadn’t even registered as a possibility for this race!

Though the “side effect” of “just running” was that I fell into my default running form, which I must admit is more “playground at recess” than “serious runner,” but at least this gave spectators a source of amusement!

The final mile was when things began to ache, but not really bad, more the way you hope to feel by then as an indicator that you’ve given enough effort and not left too much in the tank.

Well….my chip time was 2:01:38, pace 9:20.  Wow!  While I never needed to stop to walk, I did force myself to stop at the water stations at miles 4 and 8, and probably walked about 30-40 seconds each.  So…..it’s possible that accounted for the 1:38 over 2 hours.  But then again, maybe not.  Maybe, without slowing down to give myself the brief walk and to fully drink the water, I would have lost stamina and slowed down my pace?  Hard to say.  I’m not too disappointed at the “almost,” considering I wasn’t even supposed to be anywhere NEAR that finishing time!  Besides, now I have a built-in time goal for my next half, should I run one!

More than the time, however, I was just thrilled with how GOOD I felt throughout the race.  I realize this might be “first half glow,” but I felt so comfortable — challenged, but well-trained and surprisingly strong on the hills, both the uphill and especially the downhill — not an iota of fatigue in my quad.  I was actually perplexed.  I kept saying to myself, “Well ya, you feel good now, but surely the honeymoon will be over after this next mile….”  But I never really lost that sense of strong momentum, even as I still felt sufficiently challenged.

All in all, I’m VERY pleased.  My only major “regret” is that the location and weather for this half will probably forever spoil me; if I do another one it probably won’t ever quite measure up in that regard!

So Lesson Number 2: It pays to surrender to simply letting go of over-controlling and just letting your body tell you what to do!  Sometimes I wonder if I actually get in the way of myself by micro-managing every last detail before and during my races.

Now without further ado, here is a video clip and some photos of the event, courtesy of cameraman Dan. I gave up looking for him in the crowd, arriving at the conclusion that scanning the clumps of spectators vastly increased the likelihood that I’d trip and kill myself!

Video (you can’t miss me, I’m the idiot who waves around 1:12):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZI8wNeiL_Y

Some photos from the race (I’m in pink):

Stretching beforehand

Stretching beforehand

 

Mile 6, apparently I'm in a good mood

Mile 6, apparently I'm in a good mood

 

 

 

Mile 10; am I the only one that finds humor in the sign I'm passing?

Mile 10; am I the only one that finds humor in the sign I'm passing?

 

 

 

Hooray!  The way cool Peninsula-shaped finishers medal is mine!

Hooray! The way cool Peninsula-shaped finishers medal is mine!

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