Monday, March 12, 2012

Lake Sammamish Half Marathon - March 2012

well - figuring out access to the blog has been (almost) as challenging as the run was :-)

This was a race I signed up for several months ago. I intended it mostly as a "training run", on my way to my primary races for the season - the Seattle Rock & Roll Marathon (full) on June 23rd, and the Lake Stevens 70.3 on July 15th.

My training has been more sporadic that I hoped, especially in terms of running. My goal is to following the training plan in "Smart Marathon Training" - 3 runs a week - one long slow, one tempo, one track/hills, and lots of cycling/flexibility/strength work on non-running days.
But the universe often has other ideas.

So - it's a week before the event. I know I can finish, but the big question is, "how fast". I know I can't just go out and "run 13 miles" without some sort of plan. This will be only my second half, so I don't have much data to work with. Back in my "ambitious" phase (in December and January), I went to one of those running pace calculators, and plugged in "8 min miles" - which resulted in a respectable sounding 1:44. I ran the much hillier Kirkland half in 1:51 last May, so it sounded within the realm of possible. In January I did do one 8 mile run in 64 minutes (on a flat course), so I had one "data point" in support.
Since first reading about them, I've been very intrigued with Yasso 800s as a marathon training tool. So, the Saturday before, I went out and ran 11 800s at 4:00, with a 3 minute rest between each. That was pretty doable, though on the last one, when I picked up the pace a bit, it was very quickly clear that it would be a struggle to go any faster (so much for any fantasies of a kick in the final mile). Two data points more or less in support of this being an achievable pace.
I did one more training run, a reasonably slow 9 miles on Wednesday, and then my 2 days of taper. (Those of you who are experienced racers are probably rolling your eyes at my idea of a "taper".).

So Friday evening rolls around. I've gotten everything ready to go for the morning, but this slight sore throat that's been "background noise" seems to be getting worse. I add a couple cough drops to my "stuff", and hope for the best.

I wake up on Saturday morning. My throat feels fine. I grab a quick breakfast, load up the car, and head to Marymoor. I end up parked next to someone who's considering joining the team, so we chat for a bit. Around 7:40, I get on one of the buses to the start. We get to Lake Sammamish State Park with lots of time to get cold and wet before the race starts. I wander around a bit, have to restart my watch before it acquires a GPS signal, go to the Nuun booth and do a bit of pre-race hydration. I run into Kurt, who I haven't seen since the Thanksgiving run in the Redmond Watershed. We go for a little warmup ran, chat a bit, and, as we return, it's finally time to organize in the start area. I go to the 8 minute mile group, and, in a short time, we're off!

I know I'm going too fast, but I figure that things will calm down in a mile or two. My HRM is telling my that my heart rate is in the high 180s, which I know isn't physically possible, so I figure that there's no useful data there until I sweat enough to re-wet the electrodes. The first mile snakes back and forth in the park - it's amazing to see how many folks are here to run (and it's unusual to be toward the front of that group.). We hit the first mile marker - 1.1 miles according to my watch. I'm around 7:40, and try to slow down a bit. The first rest stop only has liquids, no gels. Time to be a little concerned about the fact that I'm totally dependent on what will be available. As miles 2, 3, 4 go by, my body continues to feel pretty good. I'm still running a little faster than I planned, but getting closer to my target pace. Once my HRM finally starts giving me good data, I'm at 166. That's a high heart rate, but, based on experience, it's a rate I know I can sustain for a more than an hour.
At mile 5, I'm a bit ahead of target. but only by seconds. It's time to decide whether this was a crazy idea, and I should slow down, or to see if I can sustain this pace up to mile 10. I decide to keep it up. The group of people around me are pretty stable - a few are drifting away in front, occasionally some one passes me, or I'll slowly pass someone, but we all seem to be pretty much moving along at the same pace. At the second rest stop I grab a gel, and end up with water rather than Nuun. I wish there was more liquid available, but don't seem to be suffering too much.
There are some people along the trail, cheering us on. It's always great to have that sort of encouragement. I don't talk much with the other runners - a few conversations of a couple sentences here or there. Around mile 8 I meet one of my co-workers, who's training for the Vancouver Marathon, heading in the opposite direction on the trail. Great to see someone I know! At the last rest stop I grab 2 gels, and a quick cup of Nuun. I figure I need calories for those final miles.
I finally get to 10 miles, and I'm still on pace. I realize that getting to 10 miles in 80 minutes had been the goal I'd set for myself, and that I really hadn't given any thought to those last 3 miles. I mention that to one of the runners nearby, and we share a chuckle. At this point the only thing that makes sense is to see if I can sustain the pace to the finish.
Somewhere in that 10th mile, I join up with another runner. We talk a bit. He's come all the way from Eugene for this event. He a more experienced half marathoner than I, and it sounds like he'll be significantly faster later in the season. We match our pace, through mile 10 and 11. When we get to the last mile, I make sure he knows that, if he's got a kick, that he's welcome to take off (he's quite a bit younger than I am). We both do speed up (we ran the last mile at 7:52, and, if Garmin speaks true, that last fraction of a mile at a 6:54), and cross the finish line together. Thanks for sharing those final miles with me - that helped - a lot. My time ends up being 1:44:14. Pretty much right on target, and a pretty respectable time for an "newbie old person" - only one runner my age or older was faster.
I see my wife, Heidi, in the finish chute. I put on my "medal", pose for a few pictures, and it's time for the rest of the day.

Now that I've had a couple days to recover, I see some interesting lessons from the experience.
1. I realize that I've tended to go out and do an event at essentially the same pace/level of effort as I train. It's clearly possible to go a good bit harder.
2. #1 doesn't come for free. It's definitely taking me longer to recover. (though it's hard to separate out to what degree that's also because I was "coming down with something").
3. Trusting the race organizers to actually have what they will say at the rest stops is a bit of a gamble (no disrespect to the great work the organizers did for this event - I've run into the same problem at an "Ironman" branded event as well.). It's probably a good idea to carry at least a couple gels as backup - just in case.
4. I did get a medical opinion as to whether to be concerned about how high my heart rate is when I'm running this hard. (in the absence of no other symptoms, the answer is "no").

Now if I could just figure out how to take this race to come up with a realistic pace to shoot for for a full marathon!