Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mayor's Marathon

Last weekend I ran the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage, AK. It was a good race, and I got the added bonus of having my family (who live in Anchorage) there to cheer me on. I really wanted to break 4:30, but finished in 4:32. That’s still a PR by 25 minutes, so I’m pretty happy with it.

Leading up to the race, the forecast called for temps in the 50s with a possibility of rain. As it turned out, it was in the high 40s at the start and about 55 when I finished. It drizzled a little bit in the first half but never really rained, for which I was grateful. I wore one of my running skirts with capris, a tank top, and at the start a wool shirt, which I handed off to my support crew around mile 9. I carried two fuel belt bottles (one in each skirt pocket) of Nuun and a SPI belt of mini Luna bars. It seemed to be about the right amount of stuff to carry, especially since I got to exchange an empty bottle for a full one about half way through.

This was the easiest start (in terms of positioning, jostling, etc.) that I’ve ever seen. It was a nice wide start area, and with only about 1300 runners, apparently easy to be lined up in the right place. By the time we got to the multi-use trail (it was paved) about a half mile in, everyone seemed to have found their groove and was comfortably cruising. The people I was near at that point stayed near me for most of the race. One of my goals was to not go out to fast and instead really work on having an easy, relaxed first mile. I think I did quite well there, with my first mile split being just over 10 minutes.

The first 4 miles were on pavement and felt flat, although they may have been gradually up hill. The multi-use trail runs along a highway; there wasn’t much traffic, but occasionally a driver would honk and wave. It was nice to think of them cheering on the crazy runners. There was a water stop at mile 2 that I walked through but didn’t take anything at (I walked through all of them and drank water at every subsequent station). There was another one at mile 4, as well as a Team in Training cheering point; one of the coaches was dressed as a moose, which cracked me up.

From mile 4 to about mile 15 (I think, my memory’s a little fuzzy) we were running on gravel road or on dirt trails. The gravel road was actually the more challenging surface, since the gravel had a lot of big (fist-sized) rounded rocks. From mile 4 to mile 6, I chatted with a woman who was running the first leg of the relay, which I think helped me stay relaxed and keep a comfortable pace. After she finished her relay leg, I found someone else to chat with: a man who was wearing a 50 marathons in 50 states shirt (there were a lot of people with those shirts, actually). He was about half-way though the 50 states. The first mentally challenging bit of the race was from about mile 7.5 to mile 9. Starting at around mile 7.5, I could see the turn just before mile 9, but it never seemed to get closer. It was a long, straight stretch of gravel road with forest on either side, so the scenery wasn’t providing much sense of movement, either.

At mile 9, my family was there waiting and cheering. I tossed my wool shirt at them (I’d taken it off around mile 4) and kept going. There was a water station just after mile 9, followed by more gravel road, and eventually dirt trail. Starting around mile 5 or 6, there were a lot of rolling hills, with more uphill than down. The rolling hills/gentle climbing continued on the dirt trail, which was actually a welcome relief from the gravel road. I saw my family again around mile 13, but I have no recollection now of whether the course at that point was on gravel or paved road. At any rate, I’d had a strong first half, with a split of 2:06.

The highest point of the course was around mile 15, after which it was mostly long, gradual downhill. From mile 15 or little earlier to the end was also all on pavement. Around mile 15, I was starting to feel a little tired, as evidenced by my inability to subtract 15 from 26 and get 11 (I got 9 and was really excited for the 30 seconds it took me to realize my error). At mile 17, I exchanged an empty bottle for a full one (I’d been drinking Nuun every 30ish minutes, in addition to the water from the aid stations), smiled at my family and kept going. The next two miles were tough - we were running on the sidewalk along a major road that we were to cross by a footbridge at around mile 19, but as soon as we made the turn onto the sidewalk, I could see the footbridge, and it just refused to get any closer. At that point, my legs were starting to feel like they’d taken a beating, and I was kind of ready to be done.

But a couple of slow miles later I got across the bridge. The course then sort wandered through the University of Alaska, Anchorage campus, where I got to see my family somewhere between mile 19 and 20. I smiled for them (my dad was wielding the camera all day), but once I was safely past camera range, I made an ”I’m tired” face (tongue out, slightly cross eyed) at my mom, who laughed. The laughter was a nice mental boost.

From about mile 20 to 25.5, the course was on multi-use trails along a creek. Very little from those miles is distinct in my memory. Around mile 20, someone was telling us we had only 4 more miles to go, and I hated him a little bit for lying to us. The trails were pretty, and a few times, I discovered I was running alone, with no one in sight. It made me really glad I’d done so much of my training alone. From miles 20 to 23, I really struggled mentally; my pace slowed to 11:something miles and I just wanted to not be running. I saw my family one last time on the course around mile 23, though, and either seeing them or knowing how close to the finish I was made a big difference, since the next few miles were 9:something miles.

With about 2 miles left, I caught up to the 50 states guy I’d been chatting with earlier and who I’d figured was at that point way ahead of me, since I hadn’t seen him for at least 10 miles. We ran together for a few minutes and discussed our favorite post race foods before he said he couldn’t hang with me any more and dropped back. At that point, passing someone I’d written off as impossibly far ahead was a nice mental boost. At about the same time, I started to have some lower abdominal discomfort, but moving my SPI belt (nearly empty at that point) from high hips to high bust made a huge difference. I’m sure I looked like a dork, but it was so much better than feeling awful.

My last mile was really slow (12:something) because there was a giant hill in it. We had to get out of the creek valley up to the finish line. If this hill wasn’t the worst I’ve encountered running, it had to be close. It was a quarter to half a mile long (much longer than the steep hills I regularly run) and steeper than Capitol Hill (the only long hill I regularly run). I walked up it. But from there to the end, it was nice flat terrain. The course wandered a little bit through a high school parking lot before dumping us on the track for the finish. It was a little hard because I could see the finish several minutes before I got there and I couldn’t tell how far I had to run to get there.

After I finished, I got my medal and found the family. We all got bread from one of the local bakeries (hardy, dense bread that was awesome with butter on it), and they very graciously waited so I could get a massage. The massage was rather uncomfortable, but I think it did some good because I was hardly sore at all the next day. That evening I had trouble going down stairs, but by the next morning, I was feeling pretty good. For the rest of the week, I just enjoyed not having responsibilities. I did a fair bit of walking with my mom, but didn’t do any more running. It was really nice to not have to do anything. But now it’s back to work and responsibilities and schedules… I had a great race and great vacation, though!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

North Face Endurance Challenge: Half Marathon

I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon on June 6, 2010.
It was an 8am start time, so I met up with some of the triathlon club women to carpool out at 6am. We got to the parking area a little before 7, got on the bus over to the starting area, and then had 45 minutes to twiddle our thumbs. It was (by my standards, anyway) a fairly small race, with the number of entrants capped at 500, so the porta-potty line never got very long. It also meant the start was uncrowded, which was nice.

The start was in a big, open, grassy area, and over the first 200 yards or so narrowed from 20 feet down 10 feet or so wide. There was remarkably little jostling for position - the least of any race I’ve run in, anyway. The first 3/4 of a mile or so (after the grassy start) was on the cart path through a golf course. Then there was about a mile of wide dirt/gravel pathway with the first aid station positioned at the start of the single track. I was wearing one of my Commitment skirts with water bottles (filled with Nuun) stuffed in the pockets, so I didn’t stop at the aid station. One of the best moments of the race was when we were on the dirt path; a group of three men was running behind me and chatting. One of them declared that he was going to get a running kilt because my skirt had convinced him of the merits of skirts for running.

The first half mile or so of single track was through some tallish (about hip high) grass with a road on one side and a stream on the other. No more than a hundred yards into the single track, I tripped and skinned my right knee. The guy behind me helped me up, but I was more embarrassed than hurt. Shortly after that, the trail parted from the road, and we were into the forest along the Potomac. It was really pretty terrain and heavily shaded, which made the heat and humidity much more bearable. Somebody behind me commented that it was like there was no humidity at all, which made me conclude she’s never visited a desert, since it was definitely a bit muggy.

Somewhere around 3.5 or 4 miles in was a giant hill. The rest of the course was fairly flat with some gentle, rolling climbs and descents, but this hill looked like a cliff on the elevation profile. I used walking up the hill as an opportunity to eat a mini Luna bar and drink some Nuun. Going down the hill was fun, in a terrifying sort of way, made more terrifying by the fact that many of the other runners were clearly much less comfortable on the trail than I was - at that point, I was more worried about the person in front of me suddenly stopping than I was about tripping.

Shortly after the giant hill were the first primitive stream crossing and the second aid station. The first primitive stream crossing was a log (all the previous crossings had been bridges) that made some of the people in front of me rather nervous and cautious. At that point, I didn’t know that I was going to end up wet and muddy no matter what I did, so waited my turn for the log instead of fording the stream and scrambling up the far bank. At the second water station, I stopped long enough to down some water and then kept going. Not long after that, I saw the leaders returning. The trail was mostly wide enough that passing runners going the opposite way really wasn’t a problem. There were a few spots where it got really narrow with really tall grass/weeds on both sides, but those were the only tricky bits for passing.

In the last leg to the turn around point, there were two more stream crossings. The first was a knee deep stream that had to be forded. It was also a point where I passed several people who were trying to figure out some drier way to cross. The hardest part was scrambling up the bank which was already a mud slick. The trail between that stream and the next one was like brown marshmallow fluff - slippery and sole-sucking. The third crossing had two options - fording or taking a flying leap slightly downstream of the ford. I opted for the flying leap, using one tree (the trunk was about 4” in diameter) to help swing myself across, and another tree about the same size to keep myself on the far side. From there, it was a short trot to the turn around point.

Going back across the streams was a little trickier. I took the same Tarzan approach to the first one (I really don’t know why more people weren’t trying it, since it completely avoided the mud-slicked banks of the ford). Unlike the couple of women in front of me, I managed to stay on my feet as I slid down the extra-slippery, very muddy bank to the second crossing. I thought I was going to manage to be relatively mud-free, but I slipped scrambling up the far bank and ended up caked in mud from the knees down and spattered in it from the knees up. Back at the aid station, I drank some more water and kept going. Between the water station and the giant hill, very little happened - it was getting warmer, my feet were heavy (soaked shoes will do that), and I could feel the start of a hot spot on my right foot, but I kept using the person in front me (when I could see one) as my target until I passed them.

The giant hill was both better and worse the second time around. Walking up it, my legs clearly let me know they were working hard and would really enjoy a slower pace or maybe a stop. I ignored them and flew down the hill (no concern about running anyone over that time). Between the hill and the last/first aid station, I ate another mini Luna bar, drank some Nuun, and took a few short walk breaks, but mostly stuck to my strategy of aiming for the person in front of me. The most disheartening moment was getting to the final aid station and seeing that I still had another 1.7 miles to go (I’d somehow convinced myself that I was much closer than that to finishing). I think I took another walk break or two between there and the finish, but there were spectators at that point, which provided me with the motivation to keep running. Plus, as long as I kept running, I was still passing people. I was SO glad to see the finish, though.

After finishing, I stopped by the medical tent to get my knee cleaned out, and then took advantage of the buckets of ice water to soak my feet and remove the mud from my legs. The Goretex people were there with a “test our rain gear” truck that simulated rain, but although no one was testing rain gear, they were letting runners used it as a shower of sorts. Being able to rinse the mud and some of the sweat off was awesome. One of the women I’d carpooled with won her age group so we stuck around for the awards (highlight: Dean Karnazes) before getting on the bus back to the parking area (we may have been the least bashful group of women I’ve ever been a part of, since we all changed clothes at the car) and going to lunch (we went to Outback, where I think the waiter was intimidated by our enthusiasm for the bread).

All in all, I had a great race and really enjoyed myself. I see many more trail races in my future.