Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pillar Point Half-Marathon -- 1st place!

It was a cool clear morning today for the Pillar Point Half Marathon (13.1 miles) charity race along the coast, from Pillar Point Harbor down to Half Moon Bay and back. Today was the third time the event has been held and I've attended all three, so it's a nice gauge of my progress.

My parents have been visiting us for the weekend and drove me to the start of the race this morning. Thank you, Mom and Dad. Although this race was important to me, I did not want to interrupt my training for the California International Marathon in Sacramento in December, so I switched around some runs and added one additional rest day, but otherwise kept up with my mileage this past week including running 21 miles on Tuesday. My total mileage for the week was 57.

I got my bib, warmed up, met my running friends, Julie and Tamara, and chatted with my parents. Jennifer and Claire showed up shortly before the race started -- thank you, Jennifer!

As we were standing around, I looked at my potential competition and I saw some strong-looking runners, but I didn't see the local phenomenon and chiropractor, Dan Rhodes, who ran in the previous two years. So, I tried not to get my hopes up, but at least I wasn't guaranteed to be shut out of the top 3 males.

After some race instructions, the countdown began and then we were off! This was the first year the organizers offered a 10km race as well as a half-marathon. They also had a 5km race, I think. So, when we started, a couple of people took off really fast but I wasn't sure which race they were running. I quickly settled in 3rd place, trying not to run too fast at the beginning.

There was a young girl who was in front of me and I was guessing that she was running the 10km race because not very many teenagers do well in the half-marathon or longer distances. And in front of her was a strong-looking guy. I thought it was likely that he was running the half-marathon. As we neared the 3 mile mark, the girl started slowing down and I passed her and said "good job". I was still about 20 seconds behind the guy and then when the 10km turn-off came, he turned off! Oh oh! So, I've been in first place from the beginning in my race. That's not the kind of pressure that I like.

I was starting to feel a bit sore in my feet and achilles tendon on my right foot, I think. I felt that maybe this was a carryover from a hard run I had done on Thursday (almost 13 miles, kind of fast). But overall, I felt great and just wanted to keep a steady conservative pace to make sure I had enough energy to finish strong. Due to the bends in the trail I sometimes got a glance at who was behind me and there were two guys within about 30 seconds of me. They weren't getting closer or falling back.

At the turn-around point on the trail, at around the 5 mile mark, I saw my competition again and they were still relatively close and this was stressing me! I decided to risk a little acceleration and I started speeding up slightly as we were returning. I like this part of the course because it feels good to see those who are ahead or behind you and you can congratulate or encourage each other. In the prior two years, there was always someone in front of me, but this time I was the recipient of more encouragement and congratulations which felt good and helped me stay strong.

I guess I had warmed up by now because my feet were no longer sore. We turned off the trail to do a big loop in a residential area and I was completely alone as far as I could tell. I didn't look back. After rejoining the trail, I was past the half-way mark and still feeling good, so I sped up a little bit more. Finally, I could see Pillar Point Harbor in the distance and I was very familiar with the trail and the terrain and my confidence increased. I tried to imagine that my competition was close behind me and that I couldn't get cocky and had to stay focused. At this time, my watch was reporting my pace to be between 6:18 and 6:24 for the most part. I tried to keep my breathing and my heart rate under control to make sure I could last until the end.

At one 90-degree turn, on to a bridge, I glanced back and didn't see anyone behind me. Soon, a couple of bystanders and 10km runners/walkers congratulated me along the way and it felt more and more certain that I would win. I couldn't believe it! I estimated that I had 20 minutes left. I had been running hard for just over an hour and was getting fatigued and breathing hard, but still running strong. With a half-mile left, I heard some cheers coming from the finish area and knew I was going to be able to finish and almost certainly win. I increased my pace some more, letting the burning lactic acid build up in my legs and seemingly not breathing any harder -- I was tapped out in the lung department. I rounded the final corner, heading downhill towards the finish line and really let go, my heart rate shooting up, and sprinted as much as I could towards the finish. Unbelievable. 1 hour, 25 minutes, 37 seconds. Average pace: 6 minutes 32 seconds per mile.

This was more than 4 minutes faster than last year and was about 1 and a half minutes faster than my personal record at this distance. I was very happy with my performance! Proof that I'm not "over the hill" yet! And the fact that I won was an extra joy although it was just dumb luck that no one faster happened to show up today. Last year, my time would've brought me in second. Two years ago, my time would've had me finishing 5th. So, you never know how these small races are going to turn out.

It was great seeing Claire and Jennifer and my parents at the finish line. My name was announced as the first place male winner and I received a bottle of red wine and a $50 gift certificate. The plastic bag (that they gave me) broke as I was holding it and the wine bottle broke, but the organizers apparently had an extra bottle and were very gracious to give it to me. Tamara and Julie and I had a nice brunch afterwards.

Random running diary stuff:
  • Had a vanilla Power Bar, banana, and some coffee at about 6:40am. The race started at 8am.
  • Weighed a lot -- 167.5. That's the highest running weight I've had. I don't know what's going on there, but it's approximately 5 pounds heavier than I was in March for the Los Angeles Marathon.
  • Someone recognized me on Montara Beach that afternoon, "Were you the 1st place runner in the half-marathon this morning?" she asked. :)
Results have been posted here. My official time is 1:25:37 and 47 runners finished the half-marathon (19 men and 28 women; I'm surprised there were so many more women).