Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tempo+race=PR (New Bedford half marathon)

(Results) I received a free entry to this race courtesy of the very kind race director, Dan, whom I met at the Rock 'n' Roll Providence half last summer. Since I was somewhat out of shape from being injured and running low mileage in February, I was planning to run the race as a long run. Long run, no pressure! With water stations and a medal, sounds like fun!

A few days before the race, my coach and I decided that I might as well get a good long effort in, so the plan was: first 8 miles as a tempo run, then race the last 5. I actually love this plan and I was super psyched for the race. First eight miles are easy, right? So I lined up well behind the starting line, partly because I didn't want to push past all those people and partly because I didn't want to run too fast for the first couple of miles.

The gun went off and... Nothing. Didn't even move! It took 27 seconds for me to cross the starting line, and when I did, it was at a walking speed, packed into a crowd. This was far from tempo pace. So I became that idiot who sprints past you and almost knocks you over in the first 100 meters of a race. Happily, this was my only error of the race.

I discovered that if I ran on the edge, I could pass everyone with no problem! The other benefit of running along the edge was that I was close to Krissy when she took this awesome picture of me just chillin' along during the first mile.

I went through two miles in a nice, easy... 12:50. Oops! That was faster than PR pace. Now I understood why I had caught up to or passed many of the women I usually see at road races. I relaxed for the next two uphill miles and ran around 7:00 per mile and let many people -- in particular, Caitlyn and Katrina -- run off into the distance.

You may legitimately wonder, "what is the difference between running tempo pace at the beginning of a half marathon, and racing the beginning of a half marathon?" since it is generally not a good idea to be in oxygen debt any time you have 10 miles left to run. The answer is heart rate. I was wearing a HR monitor and trying to keep it around 160 BPM. I arbitrarily made up that magic number before the half marathon, and anytime I saw 155 or 163 I would speed up or slow down accordingly. It was annoying to have women pass me and just have to let them go because I was not racing yet, but it was also liberating. "Sorry buddy, my heart rate and I are hanging out back here at 160, see ya."

The middle miles passed uneventfully. I chatted a bit with Caitlyn, and drafted during the windy sections behind a tall gentleman who, from the back, bore a resemblance to Christian Hesch.

(I am tiny near the left side of this photo)

I reached eight miles in 52:35 (6:34 pace) and then it was ON. The chains were off and I was racing! I accelerated away from my happy little group and... faced the wind by myself. Awesome. We were running near the ocean, and there was a serious headwind. No matter; I was happy to be racing. I passed men, women, men -- just rolled right by and there was nothing they could do. I would see someone 50, 100 meters ahead, and then I would catch her.

The only bad thing was that one of those people was my teammate Sasha, who was having a terrible day that ended with a wheelchair and an ambulance (but not a hospital). The dragon on the back of our singlets is unmistakeable!

From mile 12 to 13, the course goes up a big hill, and it was here that I encountered my first serious problem of the race: a woman in a running skirt was ahead of me. This was a serious problem because, at some point in the past, I decided that I would not be beaten by anyone wearing a running skirt. This resolution is somewhat arbitrary, and has been (perhaps justifiably) ridiculed in the past, but to the best of my knowledge I have so far achieved my goal -- including at this race, as I passed her and her nearby teammate on the climb. That was a close one! She was probably the fastest skirt-wearer I have raced. Fortunately (for my goal) and unfortunately (because she was awesome), I never met or raced Sally Meyerhoff, who certainly would have been faster than me.

I had passed 10 miles in 65:20, so I knew I had to run under 20-flat for the last 5k to break my PR of 1:25:20. That seemed doable. At 12 miles my time was just under 78, so I had 7 minutes for the last 1.1 miles to go under 1:25 (this is all net time, considering my ridiculous 27-second difference with gun time). And I did it! I had to summon a ferocious finishing kick to pass a Whirlaway woman in the final straight. That got me 13th place, much better than the 76th I placed in 2009.

Among my close friends in the race, I was unfortunately the only one that achieved their goal -- I didn't have an official goal, but I ran a PR of 1:24:53, so I was pleased. As for my next half marathon -- the one where I will race from the beginning, yet not go out so hard that I blow up at mile 8 -- it will almost certainly be in the fall, on "the proper side of the pond."  Happy running!