Monday, October 31, 2011

I didn't see that one coming

I had a race Saturday morning. Just a small, local 5k put on by my gym to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Since the course goes through my neighborhood, and I ran the same race last year, I was definitely familiar with the route. The course features rolling hills throughout with one big hill thrown in just for fun.

My hope was a PR, so I knew I'd have to finish under 31:14. It was doable, but my time to beat was set on a super flat course and I wasn't sure how much Saturday's hilly course would affect my time. Granted, on my practice run earlier in the week I ran the 5K course in about the same time as my "time to beat," but still...I never count my chickens.

Saturday morning was brisk but sunny--perfect running weather. I found K and we settled in with the crowd. We both decided to use our iPods that day, and I really relied on mine to keep me in the zone and on pace. (Thank you Soundgarden and The Naked and Famous!) After a few short announcements, we were off!

The run itself was pretty much what I expected. I kept myself at somewhere between uncomfortable and "you're asking for trouble, young lady!" whenever I could, opened it up on the downhills, paced myself on the uphills and mostly tried to remind myself that no matter how uncomfortable it was, I only had to go a half-hour, max. Soon enough, I was hitting the halfway point, which meant just a few shorter hills left. I kept one guy in my sights during the second half of the race, trying my best to not let him get too far ahead, and we even leapfrogged a bit on some of the hills earlier on. But I was finally able to pass him for good on one of the last downhills, and I tried to put the hammer down since I knew the end was near. Unfortunately the race ends on a slight uphill, so I saved just enough gas to get me where the final 100yd flat stretch begins. As I rounded the corner onto the final stretch, I saw the official time clock: 29:20!

I was still under 30 minutes with less than 100yds to go! What the hell?? A sub-30? Oh, crap--DON'T BLOW IT. I didn't think I could waste :40 seconds in the short distance I had left to cover, but I didn't want to take any chances so I sprinted with everything my legs could give and finished.


My very first sub-30 5k, and on a super hilly course! I was--and still am--THRILLED. It also came as a total surprise since I haven't been working on short distances and haven't been doing any speedwork at all. But perhaps all the long-distance/half-marathon training I did this fall is paying off here as well? It stands to reason that if you can sustain an 11 min/mile pace for 2.5 hours, you should be able to sustain a 10 min/mile pace for 30 minutes. I don't know. Makes sense to me, I guess. Or rather, it's as good an explanation as any at this point.

Whatever the cause, it seems like the perfect way to end what has been an amazing racing year for me. Thank you for being so epic, 2011 Racing Season!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Race Report: Kansas City Half Marathon

I went into this race with two main goals:

1. Finish blister-free (If you read my first half-marathon race report, this will make more sense.)
2. Finish under 2:30

But like most racers, I also went in with a "dare to dream" goal. I wanted to finish at or under 2:25. Based on training runs, I knew a 2:25 wasn't out of the realm of possibility, but at the same time, I didn't want to hang my hopes on it since I wasn't sure how I'd react to the hilly course.

The day started as most race days do, in the wee hours of the morning. I volunteered to drive three other ladies the hour to the race site, and Rider 1 was at my house at 4:45. We picked up the last two racers, including my training buddy, K, and hit the road to KC. The drive was uneventful and we, thankfully, found parking quickly and easily (mere steps from the start/finish lines, to boot).

It was a chilly October morning, in the 40s, but we were able to stay inside the shopping area and stay warm until the race started. Our plan was to stay with the 2:25 pace group with the option to go our own way if we felt the urge. However, we stayed inside the warm building far too long because when we finally decided to go out and get settled at the start line, we couldn't even SEE the 2:25 pace group. We managed to get up as close as the 2:40 group, but that was it. Luckily, I'd grabbed a couple of 2:25 pace bracelets at the expo, so we decided we'd go on our own and follow the chrono times posted on the bracelet. (By the way, those bracelets are the BEST. I wish I had those for every run, race or not!)

Before we knew it, we were off! The course was fantastic--it wound through some of the most scenic neighborhoods in the city. Yes, there were hills, and some mighty big ones, but luckily they were all in the first half of the race, and none too different from what I find in my town. I like to think that the last training run K and I did--one that was full of hills and wind--helped prepare us for what we saw on Saturday.

K and I were pretty amazed to find that for the first 6 miles or so, we were perfectly matched with the chrono time on the pace bracelets--like, to-the-second on pace. We stuck to our aid station plan--Shotblok, water, walk--and sipped Nuun on the course as needed. Around mile 6 or 7, we took an extended aid station break to hit the potty, and around mile 9 or so we broke again so I could grab some Vaseline for a chafed spot under my arm. Between the two stops (and perhaps general fatigue), we'd slipped off pace by about 2-3 minutes. Luckily we were both focused on staying on goal so we stepped up the pace at every downhill and flat and made up as much time as we could.

Around mile 11, I started feeling the wear and tear on my legs and attitude. We were still a good 1-2 minutes off pace and were quickly running out of distance to make it up. Thankfully, we had the benefit of a major downhill, so I just tried to let loose as much as I could and make up as much time as I could and relax as much as I could. We hit the last aid station and decided to blow through it instead of stop--I was out of Shotbloks and I didn't want to "waste" the time when I was so close to the end and so close to my goal.

I'm not gonna like--mile 12 was a bitch. We were busting it as fast as we could maintain and I know MY lungs and legs were feeling it. At one point I realized I was out of breath more than usual, but I chalked it up to general fatigue. I didn't really think I was working that much harder than the previous 11 miles. With two turns left in the race, and still slightly behind our pace goal, I told K not to wait for me and to fly if she felt the urge. Bless her heart, she stayed near me til the end. Not sure if she did it out of loyalty or because she was also dog-tired. Whatever the reason, I am immensely grateful. It was near mile 12.5 that we were passed by the Marathon finisher--if that's not motivation to finish strong, I don't know what is.

We rounded the last bend and could see the finish line. At that point, it took every last bit of energy I had to keep moving. Every fiber in my legs hurt, my lungs were screaming and I was DONE. I knew we were close to our goal, but I didn't dare look at my watch and break my rhythm. I knew if I stopped or slowed, I'd never get going again. Finally, I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch:

2:25:15! Missed it by THATMUCH. SO CLOSE. But you know, I don't care. I left EVERYTHING on that road. I had a blast. I felt good most of the time, and when I didn't, it was because I was busy busting my ass. We made up nearly 3 minutes of "lost" time on our own, just by pushing ourselves a bit harder. Could we have gone a bit faster here or there? Walked a step or two less at an aid station? Taken one less break? Yeah, I suppose. But is it worth crying about? HELL NO. In 6 months I managed to shave nearly 7 minutes off my previous time and set a new PR. I went from an average half-marathon pace of 11:37 to 11:06.

And remember that miserable mile 12? The one where I thought my legs would fall off? Yeah--there's a reason for that. When K looked at our splits after the race, she realized we'd clocked a 10:10 that mile. A 10:10. In the last mile of a half marathon. I don't even run a 10:10 during short runs around the 'hood. I am amazed that we were able to pull that off at any point in the race, let alone in the final mile!

After the race, we took part in the usual post-race festivities. Got our official results, drank our free beer, scored our medal, took some photos. We headed back home sore but happy, two of us with PRs and one of us a freshly-minted half-marathoner!

I'd call that a successful day. Wouldn't you?