Sunday, June 19, 2016

Race report: Gary Bjorklund Half-Marathon, June 18, 2016

I ran the Gary Bjorklund Half-Marathon (more often known as Grandma's Half-marathon) yesterday, finishing in a time of 1:32:10. It's pretty far from the time I had hoped to run, but I'm still pretty proud of the race - the weather simply wasn't my ally this weekend.

 For most of the week prior to the forecast, the weather predictions had been conflicting. Some forecasts were dire, but Weather Underground looked decent - temps starting in the low 50s, and rising to around 60 by the end. Not optimal, but not horrible. Weather Underground has never lied to me before (foreshadowing....), so I went with them. I wasn’t too worried when I left DC on Thursday.

 Last year, when I traveled to Grandma's, I flew directly into Duluth, connecting through Chicago. That trip was somewhat stressful, due to a missed connection in Chicago. So this year I played it safe and fly directly into Minneapolis, and then drive up to Duluth. I dislike long drives, but I also dislike having to make connections, as well as regional airlines.

 Of course, flying to Minneapolis didn't absolve me of headaches entirely. I hit the Avis counter at exactly the wrong time, and it took well over an hour to actually rent a car. Add that to the 2 hour flight and the 2.5 hour drive, and I was very grateful that I had chosen to travel two days before the race – I was tired when I arrived in my dorm room. (I note this because I sometimes get tempted to save money and vacation days by traveling the day before a race. Nope.)

 The drive itself to Duluth was…a drive. If it had been 90 minutes or less, I would have classified it scenic. But the extra hour on the road transformed “scenic” to “tedious.”

Kinda like this.
In light of the long drive, I had splurged on Sirius radio. The radio interface was fairly difficult to understand, and for the first half of the drive, it looked like my choices were limited to “80s on 8,” “Classic Vinyl,” gospel, and country. In desperation I starting hitting buttons all over the place, eventually fumbling my way to “BPM.” Once I locked on that station, the trip was much more fun.


 Saturday was pretty chill - I hit the expo quickly, marveling at all the people that would experiment with different dietary products and pain relief products the day before their race. The forecast was looking worse by the hour, but still not horrible. And I was running it regardless, so all I could do was hydrate up and rest.

 Even with the forecasts, I was still optimistic when I woke at 3:45 am on race morning. When I last checked my computer before heading out the door, it was 60 degrees, but I reasoned that it’d likely be slightly cooler right by the lake. Plus I’m from DC, and I’ve trained in worse than what was forecast. And I seem to be handling humidity a lot better than I used to, with the recent change in asthma med regime.

 I boarded a bus that left at 4:50 am for the half-marathon start – unfortunately the bus didn’t get there until 5:25, cutting into my meticulously calculated bag check/pee/poop/warm-up routine. Fortunately, my legs felt ridiculously good when I warmed up. Like little rockets. I usually do three miles to warm-up, but I felt good to go with two, so I just called it there and entered my corral. A plethora of portapotties also saved time.

 The weather had been slightly warm and humid as I warmed up, but still felt OK. However, the temperature started to rise dramatically in the last 10 minutes as we stood in the corral. By the time the race kicked off it felt to me like it was about 65 degrees, with matching dewpoint. And my gut told me it would get worse. It reminded me of the start of some of our recent workouts, with my coach cautioning us that the heat and humidity would catch up to us quickly (I could almost hear him). Not what I had hoped for.

 But…I’m from DC, and I know how to race in this weather. There’s three core principles. A) SLOW DOWN. B) DO NOT GET DEHYDRATED. C) GO OUT SLOW. I always pace by perceived effort, rather than a clock, but I suspected that even if I started in my normal, conservative gear, it’d catch up to me. Better to start out REALLY slow – I could always run a very hard negative split on the second half if I had miscalculated.

 So the gun went off, and I jogged, pretending like the first mile was the first (very slow) mile of a marathon. I wanted to keep the first mile effortless. I felt a bit silly, but stuck to my guns. After that, I started to pick it up slightly, but still kept it close to marathon feel. Normally my plan is to pace the first three miles as a “prelude” and then start working. But I had decided that I’d keep it very controlled for the first half, and then re-evaluate. 

By mile 5 or so, I knew I had made the right choice. The air was thick, and the periodic headwind wasn’t as refreshing as I had hoped. Occasionally, we’d get a breeze of cooler and drier air from the lake – I treasured those. But they were not as frequent as I would have liked.

 In the first few miles, I had drained the water bottle that normally lasts me 10 miles. I took a few seconds just before mile marker 6 to refill it to the top. I’ve got the routine nailed down: unscrew cap and stick in my sports bra as I approach the station; stop, grab water cup, pinch it, and pour into water bottle (repeat a second time as needed); and then extract cap from sportsbra and screw back on as I jog off. It only takes about 5 seconds to do this, when executed efficiently. Looking at my split for mile 6, I don’t think I lost much time at all. Certainly less than I gained.


 By that time, some people were already starting to fall apart. I weaved through them, and started picking up the effort slightly. I felt like I was still running slowly, based on my gait, but it was definitely half-marathon effort. I was starting to really feel the heat, and I still had the second half of the race to go, so I stayed careful, nursing my water bottle and slurping a gel.

 Then we came out of the woods and things got real hot – low to mid 70s, according to the weather reports I checked later. The sun was blazing, and runners to each side of me started wilting. I felt lousy also, but managed to selfishly pull some strength from those I passed. The next few miles were a blur – much more like a full marathon than a half.

By mile 10, I had drained my water bottle again. I debated refilling it, and maybe I should have. OTOH, I didn’t think I’d be able to run again if I stopped. From then on, it was one foot in front of the other, and just trying to hold it together through the carnage.

 Miles 11 and 12 take you through downtown Duluth, which felt like a furnace. Then we turned for the last mile, to weave our way through the waterfront towards the finish. I was barely hanging on, just focusing on the rhythm of my legs and breathing. The fact that I was passing people was the main thing that kept me going. I didn’t think about miles or how long I had left – I just mentally checked off one person after another.

 Even in that last mile, people were falling apart. And when they slowed to a shuffle or a walk, they were in enough trouble that they lacked the wherewithal to pull over to the side. People in front of me kept stopping to walk; but I was using all my strength just to keep going – I barely had the energy to dodge them. It was exactly like finishing your race by running through the walkers from the end of a previous race. The only difference was, all of these walkers were in the same race I was.

 And then finally I came around the last turn, and saw the finish line. Or…I saw balloons that I thought were the finish line – they have three arches of balloons and THEN the finish line. Personally, I think that’s really mean.  I gave it everything I had left, and did something mimicking a kick, though there wasn't much there. And then I was done. Like a meal left in the oven an hour too long.

 Right after I finished, as I was grabbing my finisher’s t-shirt, my legs cramped up horribly. Calves, shins, and feet on both side clenched and released in a cruel and painful pattern. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I started yipping and yelping (note that I'm not so embarrassed that I'm not blogging about it).  I felt like a big baby, but I couldn't help it. I eased myself to bag check, where my checked bag had a banana and a pack of margarita shot blocks. I sat down and ate those while draining a bottle of water, and a few minutes later I was able to walk again. I was REALLY REALLY grateful those held off until I finished. 


 Splits were:
 Mile 1: 7:17
Mile 2: 7:07
Mile 3: 7:07
Mile 4: 7:06
Mile 5: 7:12
Mile 6: 6:55
Mile 7: 7:08
Mile 8: 7:03
Mile 9: 6:57
Mile 10: 7:00
Mile 11: 6:57
Mile 12: 6:53
Mile 13 plus last .1 - 7:29 for 1.11 miles - 6:45 pace

So 7:07 pace for the first 7 miles, and then 6:55 pace for the last 6.11. I managed to pull off a negative split, though not the hard negative split I had hoped for. I'm pretty sure that, had I gone out any faster, the second half of this race would have looked very very different.

 The passing stats from this race also tell the story: Again, I'm really glad I started as carefully as I did. It ended up being a very well executed race. Just 20+ seconds per mile slower than I had hoped to run on a cool day....


Once I was able to walk again, I made my way back to my dorm room. A quick shower and a quick Facebook post (not necessarily in that order) and then I drove back down to the finish line to cheer on my friends running the full marathon.  Distressingly, though the humidity had dropped some, the temps continued to rise, and there was no cloud cover.

 It was a long hot morning of worrying and tracking, but finally we were all safely in. None of us had the races that we had hoped for when we registered, but I honestly think all of us can be proud of how we ran and the decisions we made yesterday.


Other notes:

  •  The race results were a bit screwed up yesterday (see above, where the number of competitors increased over the course of the race). I got differing reports on where I finished in my age group. Currently I'm 6th, according to the results, but I suspect that a few of those finishing above me were actually men. The finish photos will confirm one way or the other.   Either way, I'm pretty happy about the finishing placement - though the times were pretty slow this year, this is historically a very competitive half marathon.
  • I stayed at the University of Minnesota dorms again. It's a much better deal that the local hotels. However, it is a spartan living space (it's a dorm, after all), with thin walls, a shared bathroom, and window shades that don't block the late setting sun. A few notes, to myself as well as others, on what to pack or ship to oneself when staying in the dorms: 
  • Jonathan, myself,
    and "Grandma"
    • Extension cord 
    • Sleeping face mask 
    • Ear plugs 
    • Small portable fan 
    • Sandals and bathrobe (for shower) 
    • Blanket (to cover window) 
    • Plasticware and bowl 
  • Once again, I also shipped myself a "care package" of my throwaway clothing (which wasn't needed), gels, handheld water bottle, snack bars, and some other stuff a few days before. At $19 each way, it's cheaper than checking a bag, and more likely that your stuff will arrive at your destination. And it's wonderful to be able to travel to a race with just a backpack carrying your essentials (race shoes and clothes, plus technology and meds). 
  • Got to catch up with my former coworker Jonathan post-race (he ran the marathon).  It's been over 10 years since we last saw each other, and neither of us were runners then.  It was really cool to see him again.
  • Took one gel halfway through the race (root beer). Took a maple bacon before, plus a shot blok with a small bit of caffeine. I was pretty careful with the caffeinated stuff - I'm prone to overheating, and I find that caffeine can make that worse.
  • Took Dulera in the morning, and then a puff of the rescue inhaler right before the race to be safe, given the forecast.   Breathing wasn't spectacular, but no major asthma issues.
  • Allergies really flared at points in this race - I guess there were patches of trees that didn't agree with me.  My eyes watered like crazy, but I don't think it affected my race.

1 comment:

  1. Great report. I love your observation about the expo and people willing to try new things the day before a race. I couldn't agree more! I, too, am a wunderground fan and I find that or NOAA to be the most accurate. Sorry the temps turned out to be more hot and humid. Anyway, you were so strategic about this one, and it really paid off. I'll bet you were passing a ton of people during that second half.