Sunday, May 18, 2014

Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon Race Report

Call me crazy - "Crazy!" - but I'm not really a fan of the half marathon distance, in spite of the fact that I've now run two of them in the last two months.  For me, it's too long to run fast, but also too short to run at a leisurely pace.  I'd much rather suffer for a very short amount of time, or all day.  Preferably all day.  Honestly, the real reason I like ultras so much is that I get to run nice and slow.  And eat a lot.  But, I digress...

So I ran a half marathon today!  I totally signed up for this thing on a whim, pushed by my ego's need to race something after last week's not-entirely-satisfying 50K.  I haven't tried to run anything fast for quite some time, and even though I was pretty sure I didn't have any "fast" in me, I wanted to see what I could do.  My goal for the day was to try and run sub-2:30, and I thought I might get it a little closer to 2:15 if I was feeling good.

I deliberately kept the day low-key, leaving my cheering fans at home and heading to the race venue by myself.  On a scale of 1-triathlon, my nerves were a very manageable "4."  The butterflies were flying, but I didn't feel like crying or throwing up, so that was good.  I got there in plenty of time to use the port-o-potties and take a selfie at the starting line.

The race venue was sort of out in the middle of nowhere, on a two-lane country road at a winery.  A lovely setting, for sure, but something of a clusterfuck for parking.  The starting time came and went and the line of cars waiting to park was still incredibly long.  It seems to me that the online race description should have included a warning about the necessity of arriving early, but oddly, nobody asked me.

Anyhoo, we were off just fifteen minutes later than we were supposed to run, which wasn't dreadful.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous - mid-fifties with a few clouds and a brisk wind.  I had lined up somewhere near the mid- to back of the pack, hoping to start at a conservative pace.  I really didn't know what my legs had in store for me, and I didn't want to blow them up in the first mile!  I had my headphones on and I just wanted to find a nice groove and stick with it for as long as I could.

The first mile was the longest mile of my entire life.  Seriously.  It was weird.  The street wasn't too crowded - there were under 500 people racing - but I was having a tough time navigating through everyone.  I resisted doing a lot of weaving, because I didn't want to waste energy and add mileage, but I also didn't want to get stuck behind somebody too slow or go out with somebody too fast.  Mostly I tried to stay right in the center of the road, both metaphorically and physically.  Nobody likes to run there because of the reflector bumps, but if you watch where you're going it's not too bad.  Probably what made the mile seem so long is that I refused to look at my Garmin.  There's nothing more soul-crushing than thinking you're flying on that first mile, only to look at your watch and see that you're barely beating the snails.

Somewhere in the second mile, the crowd started to thin out and I snuck a peek at my average pace.  Not too shabby!!  I was actively holding myself back, going out conservatively, feeling really good and strong, and yet somehow my pace was pretty much the fastest thing I've seen in 2014.  Nice!  I told myself to just hang back until Mile 5, where I would do a gut check and then hopefully pick up the pace.

So, I picked up the pace anyway.  I had a few people in front of me that I really wanted to get past.  One guy was weaving through the crowd like crazy and yet not really getting farther ahead of me and it was driving me nuts.  I threw out my fishing line and reeled him in.  Done.  Next up was Lululemon Girl.  Then Pigtails.

I got passed by a few people in the first miles:  a woman in her... 50s, maybe?  Older than me, but hard to tell by how much.  Another woman younger than me wearing a camo hat.  And a woman maybe my age or so who was wearing an Olympic distance triathlon shirt, who was clearly out of my league in the badassery department.  They were all super strong runners, so I was fine with them being ahead of me.

I felt good.  I reeled in Knee Braces and Red Shirt Guy, then K-T Tape Girl.  I walked through the aid station and drank some water/spilled some water on myself and K-T got back ahead of me.  I reeled her back in.  I was starting to gain a little bit on Triathlon Shirt and that was pretty exciting.  It took me until somewhere late in Mile 4 before I passed her.

I don't usually run with the desire to pass other people.  I mean, I'm competitive, but mostly it's against myself, my limits, or my PRs.  It just so happens that other people are running the race with me, ya know?  Well, and there's also that thing where I usually go out way too fast and fade by the halfway point, so it's mostly other people passing me.  But today, with my relatively conservative start, it was the best distraction to pick a person out of the crowd and set the mini-goal of catching up to them.  It totally kept my mind occupied and my legs turning over!

Next up was Camo Hat, but she was running so strong I wasn't sure if I could reel her in.  I gave myself the goal of catching her by Mile 6, but it was closer to Mile 7 before I got her.  In fact, by the time I caught her, I was already up to Bra Straps Girl (who was going to be my next fish).  Nice, a two-fer!!

It was starting to get pretty windy by this point, and so far on this big rectangle race course we'd enjoyed a not-too-terrible crosswind and a really awesome tail wind, but it was time to turn it around and head back.  Into the wind.  Boo!  Thankfully, we did a couple of zig-zags so we battled the headwind, then got the relief of the crosswind again.

I picked off Ironman, Ninja Guy and Very Yellow Guy, but I wasn't going to get any faster than this.  I was at max speed and starting to really look forward to the aid stations so I could take my little walking breaks.  It was getting pretty warm, even with the wind, and at one of the aid stations they were handing out wet sponges to cool off.  My average pace was still coming down - in fact, I'd chosen a new time goal by this point - but I had caught up to the people who were really running this pace.  There were no more fish to reel in and I started to struggle a little.  I wanted to catch Very Yellow Guy Number Two, but he stayed firmly in front of me.  I passed a few people who were walking, but that's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel.  Not very sporting.

I turned my music up even louder and kept moving forward.  I thought about how much happier I'd be with myself at the end of the race if I didn't walk.  I hate crapping out and I knew my legs could take this abuse for a little longer.  I told myself I could slow down a little, but I couldn't quite do the running math to figure out if I'd make my new time goal if I slowed down too much.  I had come this far, I didn't want to miss it now.

The miles were still clicking by, even though they were getting tough.  I don't think I've ever been so happy to see an aid station at Mile 12.  I walked a bit and drank a bit, but it was a short-lived joy, because at the mile marker, we turned west again, straight into that headwind for the final mile!  At the aid station, I saw Older Than Me Lady and I briefly entertained the idea of trying to pass her, but man, she took off!

We could see the finish line for that entire last mile, which was awesome and terrible at the same time.  Fighting the wind was really hard, and I swear that arch didn't seem like it was getting closer!  I kept checking my Garmin.  I was about 99% certain that I was going to make my time goal, but only if I could actually get to the finish!

I took out my headphones and enjoyed the crowd at the finish line.  I fought back some happy tears.  I was here!  I did it!  I just ran my second fastest half marathon ever!!

Official finish time 1:58:46, 116/474 overall, 5/15 AG

The medal was good-sized, the post-race food was yummy and the on course photographers were printing out free photos to take home (I didn't stay long enough to get mine, but they'll be online in a day or two.  I love free race photos!!)  Apparently there was a commemorative wine glass for finishers, too, but I didn't see them.  Sad face!  Overall, I thought it was a really well put-together small race.  I'm super happy with my spur of the moment decision to run it!

While I was eating my post-race veggie wrap, Camo Hat came up to me and we started chatting.  I told her she was an awesome rabbit and that I'd spent several miles chasing her.  She laughed and told me she'd been doing the same to me and to others.  It helped her get through the race, her first half marathon!  As I was heading out to my car, I saw Older Than Me Lady driving away (she beat me to the car, too!) and she rolled down her window and told me great race.  She knew I was chasing her and I complimented her on her amazing finish.  Other runners are so awesome!  I never saw Triathlon Shirt again, I hope she had a good day.

How do you feel about the half marathon distance, love it or hate it??

Do you like to pass the miles by chasing rabbits/reeling in fish, or just finding your groove and zoning out??


coach dion said...

I'm to unfit to race a half, and I can't line up and just run a half, any other distance, but not a half... I have a record to keep I love the half marathon and have run 197 of them!!!

chasing people, I play that game in the marathon, because so many people just go out to fast.

well done, and it's good to see that you can just head out there and run sub 2!!!

ajh said...

Nice job. I like the half marathon although 10 miles is perfect IMO. But there aren't many around me.