Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pt Reyes Half-Marathon, 3rd Place

I ran the Pt Reyes half-marathon today, put on by the Redwood Trails Company. The weather was perfect -- clear and cool. The course consists of 0.6 miles on the sandy beach, followed by a wide trail that we do two times out and back, and then 0.6 miles on the beach back to where we started. Picturesque views, 4 aid stations, and lots of friendly competition make for a good race. I ran this same race a year ago, barely coming in 4th place overall (of 63) with a time of 1:41:40. I was hoping to do better this year!

I left my house at 6:50am and was parked by about 8:20. It turned out that so many people arrived late, apparently misjudging how long it would take to drive about 28 miles on curvy roads plus walking a half-mile to the starting line, that the organizer started a second round of half-marathoners 14 minutes after the first round. A guy recognized me from last Saturday's race and we chit-chatted about strategies for this race. I didn't recognize anyone. Looking around, there seemed to be two guys who were likely to be very strong runners. My competition!

9am comes and off we go! I angled out towards the water where the sand is much firmer although the entire beach was firmer than average due to the rains last night. One of the two guys I thought would be a strong runner started even faster. He did not look like he should be running that fast! He had bleached hair, was listening to his portable music with an earpiece in both ears, and had a lot of upper body strength. Yet there he was, blazing ahead. I didn't want to keep up with him; I was sure he would burn out.

Also, I remembered from last year how much strength the sand sapped from my legs and how important it was not to start too fast. I still probably started too fast. I was starting to feel soreness in my feet and calves after about the first mile. Yikes! My breathing was fine, though, and I adopted what I hoped was a reasonable pace, trying to take it easy.

The first turn-around came and I was probably 20 seconds behind the leader. The other runner that I identified at the beginning was about 30 seconds behind me. He asked, "where do we turn around?" I gestured behind me and blurted "aid station"; racing and talking don't mix! I kept what I thought was an even pace and I started to catch up to J.D., the bleached-hair jock. I joked as I slowly passed him, "don't laugh if you pass me later". He laughed and said he was hurting. I believed him!

Time goes on, I'm in first place. My stomach or side or both seem unsettled. I wondered if I ate too much that morning (Cliff Bar, 250 calories, medium banana, coffee, and sports drink). I was having trouble breathing as much as I wanted. I still had plenty of strength and seemed to be consistently moving. After the second turn-around, I heard the rapid beating of footsteps and heard someone get right up behind me. I didn't have to turn around to realize it was J.D. What the hell was he doing? Did he just do a sprint about 1/3rd the way through a half-marathon? Yes, he did. I kept what I thought was a steady pace and I pulled away from him. As the course goes back on itself I saw that Adam, the young (23 years old I found out at the end) strong lean looking runner was not far behind me and J.D. I kept up the pace. Turning around again at the other end of the trail, I saw that J.D. and Adam were very close; they had gained ground on me. Not a good sign as I did not feel like I had anything in reserve. I thought 3rd place was going to be my destiny. Everyone else was so much farther behind us, that I didn't think I was in any danger of falling to 4th. I was breathing very hard and rapidly now. I was still ahead at the last turn-around, but J.D. and Adam were now very close. Around mile 11, Adam passed me with a strong pace. I just could not catch my breath and get enough oxygen. I felt like my legs had plenty of strength left if I could only get them the oxygen they needed! J.D. caught up to me, seemingly with another sprint. He passed me but then slowed down to my pace. On a short stint of downhill, I felt I had the strength to pass him again and in hindsight that was probably a mistake. I should have drafted off of him, for whatever that's worth, and got my breathing under control. But after passing him, my lungs seemed to be shutting down again and I slowly slowed down. J.D. soon passed me. We turned off the trail back on to the sandy beach. 0.6 miles to go and I could not find any energy reserves. I could not sprint. I could not breathe deep or rapidly, only slow short shallow breaths. J.D. seemed to be looking back over his shoulder every 5 seconds at me, but he was safe. It was all I could do to keep moving and coast on in, about 17 seconds behind J.D. and another 45 seconds behind Adam.

Although of course I would have liked to have won, I was actually pleased with how I did. I'd like to figure out how to avoid the breathing problems and my only regret was not getting my breathing under control earlier even if it meant slowing down earlier. My theory is that it is harder for the breathing to be restored than it is for the leg muscles to regain strength. Still, I was happy with the race and my time, especially considering 1.2 miles is on the sandy beach. My time was 1:30:18 which was good enough for 3rd place overall out of about 60 runners. I beat my previous time, from a year ago, by 11 minutes and 22 seconds.

The three of us introduced ourselves and congratulated each other on a good race. J.D. was a triathlete who runs in Iron Man triathlons where the running portion alone is a full marathon (26.2 miles). Adam had recently graduated from U.C. Davis and had been in some kind of organized running club (he was wearing their club shirt) although I'm not sure it was officially associated with the school. Anyway, they were both accomplished runners, and nice guys, too. J.D.'s mother also ran the half-marathon. Inspiring! Adam's parents were there, too, and jogged a few miles along the course.

Was a good day. Thanks, Jennifer, for watching Claire.

UPDATE: The results are in. Although I was told that there were 60 people who paid to enter the half-marathon, only 40 actually showed up (on time, anyway) and finished. I was 3rd place with a time of 1:30:18 and a pace of 6:53 per mile.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Huddart Park Half-Marathon - 3rd Place

The deer were grazing, the sun was shining, and the trails were soft and welcoming. What an excellent race in Huddart Park, well organized as usual by the Redwood Trails Company.

The route along the trails of this pretty park in the city of Woodside effectively formed one large hill. We trudged uphill for just over 4 miles at the beginning, climbing almost exactly 1500 ft, but then we were rewarded with mostly level ground and a nice long downhill towards the finish line.

About 60 of us in the half-marathon race lined up at 9am and off we went! I was in a front pack of 5 people pretty quickly. The guy setting the pace was probably going too fast for his own good and he started gradually slowing down and we passed him when we could on the single-track trail. The amazing runner, Kevin, from the Pumpkin Run 10K was in front of me, quickly eating up the steep uphill switchbacks. He was soon out of sight and I was in 4th place at around mile 3 with the guy behind me slowly falling back until the first aid station. As a reward for quickly climbing 1500 ft, and out of a disdain for littering, I completely stopped at the unmanned aid station for a liesurely 5 or 6 second break, gulping down a whole cup of sports drink. I suddenly felt great again, taking off on the now mostly level trail. But then a strange thing happened, my left foot started to fall asleep! How can a foot fall asleep while running? I figured it must have been a combination of the shoe laces being slightly too tight while continuously climbing that steep hill. I wiggled my toes to keep it awake and I thought about stopping to fix the problem but then after a short segment on the asphalt road, the foot woke up completely and didn't cause any more problems. Weird! So now I was feeling strong and fast and cruising along easily. But then I started getting cramps in my chest around the sternum, presumably from so much heavy breathing. I tried to vary my breathing which helped a bit. Then I started getting a cramp in my right side which surprised me since I never got cramps in my side any more, either during training or races. Sigh. The course had turned back on itself by now and it was a nice distraction facing the oncoming runners. Everybody congratulated each other "good job" and gave each other encouragement. Finally I was getting into some real downhill and I opened up my stride, covering the ground quickly. I started feeling good again and my side ache disappeared. Somewhere around mile 8 I caught sight of Kevin again and I was surprised. Here's the guy who ran 5 minutes 58 seconds a mile in that 10K, beating me soundly! Yet I was quickly catching him on the downhill. After a 20 seconds or so of riding his heels there was a good opportunity to pass him after a short bridge and he stepped to the side and congratulated me. I quickly resumed the fast downhill pace but I was getting plenty fatigued, unable to quite catch my breath, on the flat sections and brief uphills. I made a mistake of looking at my watch one time and it read 1:12:00. One hour, 12 minutes into the run, I was feeling tired, and I had probably 35 to 40 minutes remaining. Disheartening. At mile 12, I would have been quite happy to stop! But I kept on going, slowing down a bit, I'm sure. Finally I got to the wide open sunny area where we had started and I tried to put in a good finish but I was in no shape to sprint. I was worried that Kevin would have caught up to me and could sprint past me to the end. I heard some familiar cheers and was happy to see that Jennifer and Claire had made it, in addition to my friend Tamara from Santa Cruz being there (she ran the 5 mile race today). I did a little wave (Jennifer said she didn't notice and thought I hadn't seen them!) but I was in no condition to really smile or do anything else except run the last couple tenths of a mile to the finish. (See photo above.) Whew!

Was a good tough run and I was happy with how I did. My time was about 1:36:17 with a pace of 7 minutes 21 seconds a mile on average which I feel good about considering the size of that initial climb and the inherent limitations of trail running. Thank you, Jennifer, for watching Claire so I could do this!

UPDATE: The results are in. I was 3rd place of 63 runners. My official time was 1:36:17.