Monday, April 24, 2017

Humboldt Half Marathon

After the Lake Merced Half Marathon, I got back into serious training again for the first time post-stress fracture-pregnancy-postpartum recovery-we have a kid now!? changes.  I used to have a lot of time to schedule my running so it did not affect my sleep.  I am not a morning person.  I used to rarely wake up early to run on days it wasn't necessary.  I would often start my 23 mile long runs at 11 am.  Living in San Francisco the weather is usually agreeable any time of day and I definitely milked this luxury.

Having a child changed all of this.  At first I worked him into my running by taking him along with me.  But I knew if I wanted to chase time goals I would have to run without the stroller for key workouts.  In order to make this work I had to start doing the one thing I hate which is running early in the morning.

My last two fastest 13.1 times were run in the middle of marathon training on the plan I used to use.  That plan called for a 13.1 specific test where you ran your marathon goal pace for 13.1 miles in the middle of a 17 mile run.  Obviously my half PR was pretty old since my goal marathon pace the last two times was faster than current half marathon PR pace.  For a brief time I contemplated just following the marathon training plan and seeing what I could do in a stand-alone 13.1 when the specific test workout came up.  But I didn't have the heart to run 20+ mile runs before work.

So I instead decided to follow a half plan that sort of mimicked marathon training in mileage but the longest run was only 15 miles.  I've always felt you had to run farther than 13 as a long run if you really wanted to race a half so that gelled well with my thinking.  The plan had you running 6-7 days a week which I felt was too many since I was only getting back to speed and pace work.  So I cut out two of the easy running days and ran 5 days a week.

I haven't trained specifically for a half marathon time goal since 2009 when I went for a sub-2 hour finish.  I've changed a lot as a runner since 2009.  I have never trained this hard for a half marathon before both in terms of mileage (capped out at 55+ miles which rivals some good marathon plans I've done) and in terms of sacrifice (I often ran 12, up to 15 miles before work, twice a week).  One thing I liked about the plan was that the easy paced longer run (10-12 miles) fell on the day I kept to run with my son. I had come to love stroller running and was sad at the idea of not doing longer distances with him anymore after our stroller half.  Of course, it also felt extremely anti-climatic to have trained for a stroller half marathon and to then turn around and eventually run 12 miles with him once a week.

What might be our last double-digit stroller run together 1.5 weeks before the race.
Training went pretty well overall.  I learned how to deal with the early wake-ups.  I actually really appreciate getting a run done early in the day now.  Initially it was hard to run in the 8:30s and by the end of the cycle the low 8:00s felt like a good working pace.  I started to question whether the plan was too hard the last month or so when I had trouble hitting paces during the speed/track sessions.  Unlike track work for marathon training in the past I found I had to walk or even extend the recovery portion of the workouts.  But after the hard track workouts, I'd run 10-12 miles with the stroller the next day, take a rest day, and then always hit my extended goal pace run the following day.  So for two weeks I wrote this cycle off as a bad days at the track or I'm just not cut out for 5K pace work.

Then I had a really bad speed workout that told me loud and clear my body was tired.  In retrospect I didn't respond appropriately. I should have backed down on mileage overall immediately but instead I decided to omit the final speed workout and slightly shorten some of the final taper week runs.  Honestly even doing this, for me, is a big step. I am a slave to training plans once they are plugged into my schedule -- my biggest weakness I think as a runner.  I nailed my last workout at goal pace (2x1.9 miles @ goal half pace with a 1 minute recovery) 10 days before the race and felt that those 10 days of easier running would be enough to have fresh legs.

Originally my goal was to run in the 8:20s-8:30s for the half. But as things came together I decided something around 8:16 (my eventual goal marathon pace) was my A-goal (if I ran slightly faster than this I would beat my fastest 13.1 done during a training run previously).  B-goal was sub-1:50, C-goal was sub-1:53 (my official half PR).  I had done up to 6 miles of half marathon goal pace running in the middle of 12 mile runs and usually was about 10 seconds faster than my A-goal pace.  Those days I felt I could have run a couple more miles at that pace that day.  So I figured, 10 seconds/mile slower should buy me a few more miles, fresh legs another couple, then heart would get me to the finish.

My parents were in town for the race so my husband and I drove up to Redding, CA the day before the race.  Two storm systems were passing through the area and it was pouring rain for much of the 4+ hour car trip.  With the giant redwoods, I figured we had a little cushion to the weather forecast -- perhaps they would shield us from rain and wind -- so I tried to not get too caught up on what the weather was going to be like.  We didn't make it up in time to get our bibs the day before, but this race always has race day pick-up so that was a minor issue.

I've done a race at this venue two times in the past.  The first time we stayed at a super horrible motel.  I had initially planned to return to it post-marathon to take a shower before the long drive home.  But it was so bad, I actually opted to not go back for the post-race shower.  With this in mind, the next time we ran up there I wanted to go with a national chain hotel.  The only one I could book was 1.5 hours south of the race and we woke up early to drive up.  This time I checked the only national chain hotel that was located closer to the race VERY early in the year and they were already 100% booked.  So I ended up finding a little independent place to stay and crossed my fingers it would work out.

Ever stay at a place with brown towels? Questionable.
Also, I washed my hair with this because no complimentary toiletries.
When we checked in we found out that the power was out at our motel due to the storm.  We had been upgraded to a cabin and no power meant no heat, no hot water, no lights.  It was a poorly insulated place.  My husband commented on how cold it was going to be that night. We left to get dinner and while we were out contemplated finding another place to stay. We did price out another motel but called our powerless place first and they said the power was back on.  So we stuck with it.  Side-note:  I have already booked a room at the national chain hotel close to the race for next year in case I decide to run again.

We were still about a 30 minute drive from the race venue so left shortly after 7 am for the 9 am start.  This worked out great as I had time to get my bib, use the portapotty, return to the car to pin on my bib and drop off things, then head back up to the start area for another quick pee.  The portapotty line the second time seemed rather long, but it moved quickly.  I do wish the race started at 8 am instead of 9 am because I think my body runs a little better earlier in the day in race situations.  I think I noted this is especially true for the marathon distance that I ran here years ago.  But I think they give everyone more time to get up there since everyone has to park and there aren't many places to stay immediately nearby.

I made sure to not be too far back in the starting pack so I could hit my pace.  I should have started a little more forward as I had a hard time the first quarter mile or so dodging people.  My pacing plan was to go out at or slightly slower than race pace for the first 8 miles (was hoping to be in the 8:16-8:25 range), then ratchet down slightly from 8-10, and put it all out there at 10-13.

Within the first few minutes of the race, I recall my first thought being:  "I do not want to do this today." The idea of pushing the pace for 13.1 miles just did not seem appealing.  But I tried to tell myself it was race day and we were here to get it done.

First half mile split: 8:16.  Dead on.
Next mile split: 8:20. Right on target

Then somewhere after 1.5 miles I got a mean side stitch. My entire left side was tight and I couldn't breath normally.  I had to slow down.  For a few seconds I couldn't believe this was happening at a goal race. I don't often get side stitches.  And then I felt relieved because it meant I had a reason to not run fast today.  I soldiered on in the high 8:00s waiting to see if it would clear.  After a couple of miles it became apparent that it wasn't going to magically go away.  I was supposed to take a gel at mile 4 so started working on that and contemplated whether I should continue to run as fast as I could with the stitch or take a walk break and see if that would clear it faster.  I know often with side stitches if you walk for a bit it goes away and I thought maybe I would actually lose less time walking for a short while versus the gimpy running I was pulling off trying to run through it.

So I walked.

When I started back up running again the stitch was not as sharp, but I could tell it was still just under the surface and I wasn't about to hit goal pace again anytime soon. I looked at my average pace and I knew immediately I didn't have the mental strength to even try to tackle bringing that back down.  Oddly enough, I had no clue what pace my B and C goals were though I had a pretty good idea those weren't in the cards for the day.  I sort of settled on, maybe we can bring this home in under 2 hours since I knew that was a 9:09 pace and continued running comfortably hard, but no where near racing hard.

As time went on the stitch eventually faded away.  My will to dig deep for any significant pace increase was totally non-existent.  I even walked through aid stations and took little walking breaks here and then.  I watched as my sub-2 slowly faded away. I definitely could have held onto that finish goal but I just didn't have any heart to try.

I decided to enjoy the gorgeous course and marveled at the giant trees.  I had reread my Humboldt Marathon race report the night before so remembered that the course appeared downhill both directions of the out and back.  I was very surprised at just how downhill it appeared. I even started to doubt my past self thinking there was no way this thing was going to look downhill when I turned around and ran in the opposite direction.

The leaders started coming back and I had fun cheering for them.  There are close to zero spectators on the course besides the aid station volunteers and I thought they'd appreciate the boost. 

I hit the turnaround and sure enough, in the opposite direction it also appeared to be going downhill.  This is the strangest thing and it sort of plays with your mind.  It obviously is not majorly downhill in either direction and it starts to feel odd in that you feel like you should be running faster because your brain says you are headed down an incline, but you get no free speed.  Also, it made it really difficult to tell what the incline really was.  I felt like I ran downhill almost the entire time on an out-and-back course.  I'm sure most of it was flat, and there were probably little undulations here and there but I couldn't tell you what was what.

I tried to pay attention to all the things I like to know about a race if I'm going to push for a time goal for my future reference.  After the first few miles the course opened up a lot and there were even times on the return trip I was running all by myself.  Aid stations were advertised at 2.5 miles apart so not plentiful, but enough.  They had water and Gatorade and the volunteers were great at calling out what they were holding.  The road winds gently like a snake so you have to be careful about running tangents.  With all the room it would be possible to cross over the middle line of the road to run the best tangents if you wanted.  I am curious if they measure the course on the right side of the road in both directions or if they measure on the tangent considering both sides of the road fair game.

The trees provide a lot of shelter from sun, wind and rain.  There are a few exposed portions here and there and I could feel the wind more in those areas.  There are only two significant inclines on the course.  The first is a little bridge right after the start/before the finish.  It is just a tiny little bridge and not a big deal and if the course wasn't otherwise flat I wouldn't even mention it.  The second is also in the beginning/end of the race at mile 1 and 12.  This one is also not very long or high.  Overall it is a very fast half course.

As for the weather, it did rain the entire time but it was mainly a drizzle or the giant trees dampened a lot of the rain fall.  I did notice at mile 10 or so that my socks were absolutely soaked and there was a little spot on one toe I would have been worried about if it had been a longer race.  About 1 mile from the finish a steadier rain started which continued until I was almost back to the car.

I fretted about my husband at the finish and wish I had a way to let him know I was way off my expected arrival time but that I was doing okay.  I figured I would finish right around my Santa Rosa Half time from last year.  I thought that was ironic since I had barely done much training for that one and had trained my heart out for this one.  But I reminded myself that time was on a good day last year and today was a bad day.  A woman was running behind me and I heard her tell her running mate, "We're not running sub 8:00s.  It's gone.  Time to enjoy it."  I assumed they had thought maybe they could squeak out a sub-2, too, but had just seen that goal dissipate.  She said, "Time to enjoy it," in a very positive way, and I thought, "Yes!  That's what I think, too.  That is what today is about now."

Suddenly the trees opened up and you could see the little bridge in the distance.  I heard my husband cheering as I rounded the corner to finish in a little over 2 hours.  He came up to me and I could tell he wasn't sure if I was going to be a horrible sad mess over my finish time.  I gave him a "it is what it is" look and said something like, "Today wasn't the day."

I got my medal which is much improved over the full medal years ago.  We took a quick portapotty break in case we couldn't get back in to our hotel cabin before starting the drive back home.

Not a sticker on a cheap medal like they did in the past.

They  have gender specific shirts and a good size range.  The brand they used this year ran a little large. It seemed it would be very easy to exchange shirt sizes at shirt pick-up.

I really am not sure what happened this race.  The side stitch really got things going on a downward spiral but if I'm being honest I am not sure I had it in me to push hard the whole way even if that hadn't happened.  I had no heart to give at all in this race which is really unusual for me.  I usually don't give up like that in the middle of goal races.  After the race when I was talking with my husband he commented that I had seemed really flat before the race.  He said I wasn't as excited as I normally am before goal races.  I didn't feel this myself that morning, but he's pretty perceptive to my moods so it does say something.

It's hard to comment on your body when your heart couldn't get it to try very hard, but I also felt as if I didn't have the pace in my legs.  Even after my stitch went away, I'd try to pick things up and just didn't get much response.  Again, I'm not sure if that was mind issue vs. a legs issue.  Maybe it was a little bit of both.  I had some red flags in my training that I wasn't recovering enough between hard efforts.  I thought I had given myself enough time in the taper to address this issue and who knows if it was part of the problem.

I keep reminding myself that I truly accomplished everything I wanted out of this training cycle.  I know I can make changes to my schedule and life to accommodate serious training. I know I can run high mileage with high quality and not feel injured.  I can run low 8:00s/high 7:00s for extended periods of time again.  All WONDERFUL things I am so proud about. As the training cycle went on I was hoping to PR and I am disappointed it panned out the way it did.  I tinkered with the idea of running another half in the next month since I know I have the training done.  As of now, I'm going to let this half goal-time go and move on to marathon training as planned.  It's a bit of a ding in my confidence but I'll take what I've learned and apply it moving forward.

Training cycle win.  My 10K PR is very soft and out-dated, but this 10K in the middle of a 12 miler is over a minute per mile faster than my standing 10K PR.

One thing I did this training cycle which I have never done in the past was to incorporate strength training into my routine.  I still have a lot of room for improvement in this area, but I tried at least twice a week to do some strength work and core work.  My husband got a video of me running to the finish.  I've always had a strange tilt in my shoulders and I sort of throw my left shoulder higher and forward when I run.  It isn't perfect but that quirk is noticeably improved and I'm really tickled about that change. Hopefully it can motivate me to keep it up and to commit to some sort of schedule when it comes to the strength and core work.