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.