Monday, December 12, 2011

2011 VA Runner Blue & Gray Half Marathon

Must be Christmas time because everyone is getting PRs today. Including me.

After reviewing last year's notes and the route again, I had a decent idea of what to expect for today's race. Going into the race I also had the expectation of just going along at my own pace and not really racing. Turns out I can't do that. I can't run in a race without racing and without giving it my all. I thought I could make this a training run but it turns out I can't. Oh well, I tried.

Anyway, I didn't have a goal for this race other than to assess my time as I neared the end and push for a PR if I was close. Beyond that, it was just a question of how cold I'd be and how much I could tinker with my fluids and fuel. After an early alarm this morning, I hopped in the shower and got dressed. I headed down the road and downed a small coffee. I made a pit stop at Wal Mart, then another one at another one, then drove the course. Once I got a bead on the water tables, I decided to run with just one water bottle, something I rarely do since I drink like a horse when I run.

Once at the start, I had to park down by the 13 mile marker and hoof it to the start/finish area. I got my chip, chatted with some local runners I knew, then headed back to my car to warm up. I had dressed in shorts with calf sleeves but had pants on over top just in case. I ditched the pants but kept my extra top layer on, grabbed both bottles, grabbed my fuel, and headed back to the start. Talked to my dad (aka my personal photographer) for a bit, then meandered around a bit trying to stay warm.

With zero nerves going into the race, I lined up, stripped off a top layer and started. I ditched one of my bottles and my extra layer at my car and did my best to stay warm. The first mile made my fingers hurt. Hurt enough to make me want to look for extra layers of clothes that people may toss on the ground. Nobody really tossed any layers so I had to deal with the pain. Mile 2 was downhill and like the Lumberjack that I am, I tore off down the hill like a jack rabbit. Down the small hill on Cowan and the bigger Hospital Hill left me tired with sore feet. But I pushed through to the canal trail.

On the other end of the canal trail we head through some snaky turns before heading over to the gravel road around the ball fields at the college. I was doing okay, taking on fuel every 2 or 3 miles or so, avoiding the ice as much as I could, and drinking when I thought about it. My right hamstring would cramp up a bit but would get better after I pushed fluids for a mile or so. At the gravel loop, I peeled off to take a leak behind some sheds until I saw that the road turned enough that people in front of me could see me. Not much to see but I'm not that brave. So I went a little further until I saw a tree that worked well enough to hide behind. Slipping on the frosty grass, I got back into the race but felt off my rhythm. But I continued to push through and refilled my bottle as needed.

As I cruised through the same real estate I had already run through, I felt okay. I'd walk every mile or two for no more than a minute. I knew from previous races that a 1 mile run followed by a 1 minute walk would get me through a marathon so I used the same routine loosely today with similar success.

As I clicked off the 10th mile, I fly down a short hill and back to the canal trail doing math in my head. It took me a good mile to finally figure out that not only was a PR an option, it was easily within reach. The only question was Hospital Hill. I've run it several times before but I didn't know how much energy I would have left in the tank. So I ramped up my fuel intake before the hill hoping to power through. I walked up the steps to the bottom of the hill and ran the first little portion before crawling to a walk. I did a mental reboot of sorts and started running again. I had turned my music on around mile 8 and had found a solid groove. Shortly after doing this, I began passing people. Nothing major, but it was easier to reel people in. Back at the hill, I found this groove again and started running. And ran to the top. Passing people the whole way. I've walked that hill many times and know what it feels like. It hurts. It sucks. But it's just a hill and you'll eventually get over it.

Once to the top I walked a bit to refill my bottle and take a short break. From there, it was running to the end. Even up the more evil hill on Cowan. Hospital Hill is a mile long. But it just knocks you down. The hill on Cowan kicks you in the nuts while you're still down. But I powered through the hill continually checking my watch to see where I was on pace. I amazed myself with my time on Hospital Hill but knew I still had to finish. Past the store fronts, ditching my water bottle at my car as I ran by, then a full on sprint to the finish.

A new PR was born. Unofficially about 10 minutes. Maybe 11. I'm certainly happy with my time and I enjoyed my finish. I felt good, finished strong, and was happy.

But I wasn't done.

You see, there's a local running legend that was also running today's half. Her name is Buffy but her real name is Elizabeth. The same name as my own daughter. In fact, they're both 7 years old. That's right, a 7 year old girl ran the half marathon today. So after I finished, I stopped at my car for a drink, then headed back out onto the course to find her. She wasn't far behind me and I picked her up about a half mile or so from the finish. I ran with her to the final turn before letter her cross by herself to enjoy the moment. She had fun and enjoyed it. Her parents didn't push her into it. She was tired but not in any danger health-wise. I congratulated her and her dad after the finish.

But I still wasn't done.

I went back out on the course. I cheered people on as they passed me and headed toward the finish. Many were in their own zone but many said thanks and smiled. It was great. As I got a little over a mile from the finish, I refilled my bottle at the final water station and caught the last runner. She was walking and obviously in pain. I stayed with her to the finish. We walked. We talked. We were quiet. I never introduced myself, never pushed DailyMile or anything else on her. Never told her to train more or to give up. I tried to keep positive, encouraging, and helpful. I carried some Gatorade for her for a bit and just kept her company to the end. As she neared the finish, I stopped to let her go the last little bit by herself. She said something like "thanks for getting me this far." My response was something like "I didn't get you this far, you did it yourself. Enjoy the finish. It's yours."

So with that, I hope I gave her and Buffy a bit of an early Christmas present with my presence. Not that I'm a big deal but I've been there before. I've been last and I know how much it sucks. I hope I took just a little bit of that suckiness away for her. And I hope I distracted Buffy enough to enjoy the race just a bit more.

Temps were about 25F to start and warmed to about 40F by the time I finished. Maybe 45F by the time I finished walking in with the last runner. Winds were light but noticeable in some areas. The sun was out but you never really felt it. Ice was present in some areas, especially the water stops.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was a small can of Starbucks Double Espresso and a little GU Brew. I took one e-Gel before the start of the race. During the race I didn't start taking gels until mile 3. I had two small flasks with about 2 or 3 servings in each. I took a small swig of gel again at mile 5 I think, then again around 7 or 8. Around mile 9 I started going every mile with a small swig. My single bottle had Nathan Catalyst in it and I refilled it with more water and more Catalyst around mile 6. After that I refilled my bottle as needed, which was around mile 8 and 11 I think. Recovery after my race was chocolate flavored Zico followed by more water. Lunch after that was a sandwich and cinnamon roll and iced tea.

Aches and Pains:
My ankles hurt the first few miles from pounding my fat ass down the hills. After that, they felt okay except for the occasional cramp in my right hamstring. That appeared to be easily cleared up with more fluids. But right now my calves are stiff and sore.

Codename - Anything is possible
If my big butt can do a 50k and if a 7 year old girl can do 13.1 miles, then you can do anything you put your mind to, just like Doc Brown said.

Start - 0:23 to cross the start line
Mile 1 - 9:43 (downhill)
Mile 2 - 9:53 (downhill)
Mile 3 - 10:48
Mile 4 - 10:55
Mile 5 - 11:02
Mile 6 - 10:59
Mile 7 - 11:45 (includes bathroom break)
Mile 8 - 10:14
Mile 9 - 10:47
Mile 10 - 10:31
Mile 11 - 10:14
Mile 12 - 11:18 (Hospital Hill)
Mile 13 - 10:09
Finish - 2:19:03 (a new PR by nearly 12 minutes)

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