Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pillar Point Half Marathon -- 1:21:05 PR

The weather was perfect and cool for the 6th annual Pillar Point Half Marathon and I've run it every year and every year I've gotten a bit faster. This time, I wasn't sure I could improve on my time of 1:24:26 from last year which is a pace of 6 minutes 27 seconds a mile. I had done very little speed work and just not very many miles since my 50 mile race on Oct. 10. My 10K race on Oct. 18 was good for me, but was still quite a ways off from earlier years.

When I parked my car that morning, I happened to park next to David Lara who beat me last year by about 20 feet. He had since improved dramatically, so if he had a good race, I wasn't going to be a contender for winning today's race. That's fine, one less thing to worry about! Another fast guy in our club, Thomas Setser, also showed up, who is a champion college runner in cross country and track.

Many other friends from my running club also showed up which was great to see.

My plan was to try to improve on my time and to take a risk and to carefully monitor my heart rate. I wore my Garmin 305 GPS watch with a heart rate monitor. Soon, we were off!

I started off a little quick but then soon settled down into a good rhythm, trying to keep in mind that I had a long ways to go. I kept tabs on my heart rate and overall pace. Thomas took the lead immediately and David passed me very soon after the start. I remained in 3rd place for the remainder of the race.

The 2nd aid station, near the 10K turn-around point was coming up and I wanted to get some water, but the guy wasn't ready. He started filling a cup for me, but there was no way I was going to stop and wait! "I'll grab water next time!" I blurted out as I raced by. I did get water at the next aid station and then once more later on -- so two full cups was plenty for this distance and the cool weather.

We got on to the dirt trails and the course was very well marked with chalk and yellow flags. Good job organizers -- this was the best marked dirt portion of the race yet. This part is out-and-back and I saw Thomas in the lead still followed very closely behind by David. When I turned around, I was somewhat surprised to see my friend and club member Franz Dill somewhat close to me, like maybe just a few hundred feet. "Wow, he's running fast today; I didn't know he had this much speed in him!" Shortly behind him was the first place female and also a club member, Robin Martin. My watch was showing 6:19 average pace since the start of the race. Not bad, I thought! I was feeling the hard effort, but still had lots of gas in the tank. This was around mile 5.

Soon we got on to the residential loop. The volunteer at the turn said "turn left at Railroad St. something something Myrtle?". I knew the route and turned left on to the street, leaving the paved trail. But then, maybe my mind was fogged by the effort or my eyes were blurry from sweat or something, but I saw the that the two lane road went down to one lane and it looked like a driveway of sorts. There were no course markings since leaving the paved trail. What to do? I felt like I needed to turn right even though there was no chalk on the ground. I was on Myrtle St. "Oh good, that's what she said to turn on, right?" Then I got to an intersection, again with no course markings. I kept on going straight. "Hmm... they could really use some course markings out here." Then I got a bad feeling that I had turned too early. Suddenly I saw Thomas and David dart across the street about a block ahead. Crap. I had turned too early. The actual course was on a parallel road.

When I got to the next cross street (3rd St.), I made a left turn, running backwards on the course and away from Thomas and David. I got to Central Ave., which was the street I should have been on instead of Myrtle and then did a quick turn-around. I hoped I hadn't cut any distance. I would be so disappointed to have such a good race and hard effort (and $35 or so) spoiled by a mistake like this.

Here's a map of the area showing the correct route and my route.
And my Garmin GPS data is here, but it looks like you need to be a member of Running Ahead. (It's a useful site and free; you can track your workouts there.)

Now I was filled with uncertainty. I would hate to overtake either Thomas or David by potentially having taken a short cut. I just didn't know if Central Ave. was parallel to Myrtle! At the next aid station I stopped completely, drank my 2nd cup of water and told the volunteer that I thought she said to turn on Myrtle. She said, "No, I said turn left on Railroad". "OK, thanks." And I was off again. It was a quick stop, but still 5 seconds (10 seconds?) felt like a long time.

My watch showed my overall average pace as being 6:19 again. I monitored my heart rate and tried pushing the pace more. Soon, the average was 6:18. I was getting close to the finish and I pushed harder. I was starting to struggle and couldn't get enough oxygen. I sprinted towards the finish line. "Holy crap -- 1:21:something!! That can't be right." I stopped my watch. 1:21:05 -- a huge personal record. My watch showed just 12.85 miles. Dang. I must have cut distance. Jennifer and Claire met me at the finish line. I was very grateful to see them. Claire told me she came in 3rd place in the 1 mile kids' run. Good job, Claire!

I told one of the race officials about my course deviation but she was busy and didn't seem to care. Then I saw a map and fortunately, Central Ave. and Myrtle were parallel. Whew. Later, I double-checked with my GPS watch data and Google Maps and all was well. The course was just over 13.1 miles and my alternate route was only 14' shorter which is mostly mitigated by having to come to a complete stop and turning around.

Long story short -- I'm amazed that I was able to maintain an average pace of 6 minutes 11 seconds a mile for 13.1 miles. I would not have guessed that this was possible.