Saturday, November 12, 2011

Race report: Richmond Half-Marathon, November 12, 2011

I ran the Richmond Half-Marathon today, finishing in a time of 1:29:36. I finally broke 90 minutes for the half-marathon, and scored an age group win in the process.  It was a great race, and one a long time in the making.

I originally registered for the Richmond Half last year, only to break my foot and be unable to run it.  So when I registered this year, there was a sense of “settling the score”.  I was going to run this race, and run it well. And I was feeling optimistic about that goal – my workouts have been going well.

And then my world went to hell this week.  I could write a completely different report about all the stuff that went wrong this week, but I’ll save the pixels.  Suffice to say, this was possibly one of the most stressful weeks of my life (don’t worry too much – still employed, still have home, no loved ones have died – but it has been pretty bad).  Enough things were in crisis mode that it was looking very doubtful that I’d be able to drive down to Richmond on Friday to pick up my bib.

***

Things were a bit more settled by Thursday evening – enough that I felt that I could safely go on an 18 hour trip out of town.  And then (wouldn’t you know it), I developed a headache, aches, and a general feeling of misery.  I’d been fighting a bug last week, and had it under control, but then the sleep deprivation and massive stress of the last week apparently caused a reoccurrence.

On Thursday night, I debated whether to run the race.  Checked my resting HR, and it was slightly elevated, but still close to normal.  So, OK then.  Race still on.  I’m not giving up this easy.

Fought my way through some nasty traffic, arriving in just enough time to hit expo, check into hotel, and get to dinner.  Had a nice relaxed dinner, and then headed back to the hotel.  And the headache, which had been in the background the whole day, exploded.  With the addition of chills.  No way I was sleeping

At about 10 pm, I requisitioned the hotel shuttle to ferry me to buy aspirin.  Took aspirin.  Not much good.   And still freezing cold.  At 2:00 am, I became consumed with the certainty that I had meningitis, and was going to die if I ran my half.  I googled meningitis, confirmed to my satisfaction that I did not have it, or any other thing that was going to kill me if I ran the race, took a double dose of aspirin, and returned to bed for a few more hours.  I didn’t check my resting HR.  I didn’t want to know.  I was running the race, dammit. 

(One nice side effect of this – I came to the realization that one of the nicest things about trying to run relaxed is that you can usually accomplish it even when sick – you just have to slow up a bit more.  No matter whether you’re having an on day or an off day, you can always run within yourself and have a good race that way.  And that’s liberating.)

***

At about 4:30 am, I gave up on sleeping, and shifted to playing on the internet.  Ate my breakfast, and then jogged down to the bag check to meet my friend Amy to give her some extra safety pins.  Only to be unable to find Amy and company.  I waited about 10 minutes, and then realized that I had forgotten a) my gels and b) my Garmin.  I’ve weaned myself from LOOKING at my Garmin, but I couldn’t quite handle running the race without it (and no gels wasn’t appealing either).  So I commenced my warm-up by dashing back to my hotel.

On the way there, I passed my coach.  He grinned and asked me how I felt. 

“Lousy.”  Probably not what he wanted to hear, but I couldn’t lie.

***

Got back to my room, grabbed my stuff, and headed back out, where I had just enough time to do a decent warm-up plus 2-3 slow strides.  (I didn’t want to be too warmed up – it’s just a temptation to go out too fast).  Then lined up, and the race started.

The race started with a long slight uphill, that I did my best NOT to attack.  I did grow a bit concerned when I missed the first mile marker – it simply seemed like I had been running about 10 minutes, with no mile marker.  Turned to a neighbor and asked him if we had passed it – he confirmed that we had, and that he could tell me our pace in a second.  I asked him not to, and explained that I was not really focusing on any time, just having fun.  He gave me an amused look and picked up his pace, leaving me behind (I passed him later in the race).

For the rest of the race, I just focused on enjoying the scenic tour of Richmond.  We started by running through some urban rundown areas with a fair amount of appeal (I have a bit of love for urban decay, for some reason), then through neighborhoods and a nice park.  The course had rolling hills, some of which were steep, but nothing too hard or too long.  Just enough to add interest and variety.  I was cruising, and around mile 9 or so I fell in love with running all over again.  I was probably going to run 1:35 or so, and I didn’t care.  I was getting to run on a beautiful day on a really fun course.  I was a lucky girl.

***

Eventually, we turned back towards town.  As I saw the buildings looming far in the distance, I felt that old familiar drive kick in – to start pushing hard towards that finish.  People started gasping on each side of me and breathing harder, and I wanted to join and beat them at their own game.

But I broke the habit, and backed off, again trying NOT to push and fight, but just to relax and cruise in.  And, just like always, the more I backed off, the more I flowed past the other runners on each side.

Somewhere past the 12 mile mark, my coach suddenly appeared and yelled at me to gun it so I could break 1:30.  I was a bit shocked, as I’d assumed that time was completely off the table.  For a second, I lurched back into my old ways and started sprinting.  Then I got ahold of myself.  There’s a right way to gun it, at least for me, and that’s NOT to sprint until I’m about 200m from the finish.  So, instead I focused on flowing even more forward, down the long hill towards the finish.  I didn’t focus on the finish line, but just on my own body in that instant, and gave myself permission to have fun by releasing all the stops.  And then the finish line was there, and I was shocked at how close it was.

***

Splits were:
First two miles - 14:13 (7:07 pace)
Mile 3: 6:56
Mile 4: 6:50
Mile 5: 7:05
Mile 6: 6:50
Mile 7: 6:45
Mile 8: 7:02
Mile 9: 6:54
Mile 10: 6:53
Mile 11-12: 13:22 (6:41 pace)
Mile 13: 6:10 (me “gunning it”)
Final bit: 36 seconds - 5:28 pace

1:29:36 - 6:51 pace. 

So, a very good race.  Part of me wonders how much faster I could have run, had I not been sick.  But then the other part reasons that maybe I just need to get sick more often.

***
Clothing and other notes:  It was supposedly 33 degrees, but felt warmer (maybe I’m feverish)?  I wore my team shimmel, a wide headband to protect my ears, and my comical-but-effective combination of  gloves+handwarmers+socks over hands.  I tossed the socks at about the 5 mile mark, and the handwarmers at the 8 mile mark.    I also wore a sweatshirt until two minutes before race start.  In retrospect, I think I would have been slightly more comfortable in sports-bra , but I don’t think the shimmel heated me too much.

I also carried a hand-held water bottle with me for the first 9 miles (until I’d drained it), and it worked beautifully.    I hated to buy a $20 bottle at the expo only to toss, but if I can get a 2 minute PR and an age group win for $20, I’ll do that every time.

I also took only one gel during the race, a Rocktane, at the 7 mile mark.  It was slightly challenging to open and consume a GU while a) wearing gloves, b) holding handwarmers, and c) carrying a handheld.  Made life interesting.

I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, and it was fantastic.  3 blocks from the start line, breakfast buffet on race morning starting at 6:00 am, swimming pool for post-race pool-run, had I chosen to do so.  I’ve decided it’s worth a fair amount of money to stay in a hotel that’s right at the start; being able to run back to your hotel room, rather than wait in a porta-pottie line, is priceless.

Final note:  allow 3 hours to get to Richmond.  Even if it’s mid-day on a Federal Holiday.

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