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Race report: 2016 NODM half marathon

It was hot. I mean really, it was HOT. Hot as in 75 degrees at the start, 79 degrees at the waterfront finish line, and the day topped out at 86 degrees. That’s warmer than our high temperature for the year in about half the years I’ve lived here.

On June 5, 2016 I was up at 3:59 AM, just before my alarm went off. NODM day at last! My local half marathon.

Despite the usual race morning nerves, I managed to choke down some breakfast. My partner CFL and I began our day’s exercise with a brisk 1.2 mile walk downtown to catch the shuttle bus that would take us to the half marathon start.

At the starting line area in a community soccer park, the runners milled around slowly, with many people seeking shady spots at the far edge of the field. No one seemed to be doing any vigorous warm-up exercising. We were already warm enough.

As the 8:30 start time approached, I lined up immediately ahead of the 2:30 pacer. I knew I didn’t have a chance of beating my last year’s PR of 2:10:38, but I was optimistic of finishing in the 2:20 range. I resisted the temptation to line up with the 2:15 group, as I knew I couldn’t keep up with them. I figured as long as I could stay well ahead of the 2:30 group and save a little something for the last three miles, I’d be in good shape.

The gentle uphill in the first half mile got my heart pumping (as it always does) and gave me a good feeling for just how tough things might get later. Still, I settled down quickly, running mile 1 in 10:25 and mile 2 in 10:21. So far so good. But in the middle of mile 3 I was already ready for a walk break. So I walked for a bit and then picked it up on the downhill toward Siebert Creek.

After that I slowed down a lot. I took my time at each water station, making sure to drink all the water in the cup rather than my usual practice of sloshing down a few drops, trying not to choke, and tossing the rest. I walked the steeper and sunnier parts in the next few miles, which are a series of short rolling hills. I was hardly alone in this strategy — a whole tribe of us were running in the shade and the downhills, and walking the sunny sections and the hills. It was HOT!

Somehere in the middle of mile 5, the 2:30 pacer passed me. I let her go.

I trotted/ambled on, making my way slowly through the huge down-and-up at Bagley Creek. I walked much of the the awful dogleg on a blistering hot road (the only place the course leaves the Olympic Discovery Trail) in mile 8. It was HOT! At the water stations they were now giving everyone two cups of water, and like many others I was pouring my second cup over my head.

Finally we reached the big downhill, sailing downward to Morse Creek trestle. I crossed the bridge (4.5 miles to go!) and welcomed the next part, a long, gentle, tree-lined downhill toward the waterfront. The waterfront section of the trail (3.6 miles to go!) is where I do most of my running. I know every little hiccup on the trail here. On race day, this is where my “GO” flag drops and I give it everything I have left.

My legs were ready to go, but my head was occupied with figuring out what a realistic time goal should be at this point. To make my 2:20 goal, I needed to be just under a 10:45 pace at mile 10 and then run like hell to the finish. In actuality, I was down to an average 11:25 pace and there was no way I could make up that much time. I decided that 2:28 was realistic and that if I pushed I could just get there. I knew I wouldn’t be able to summon the mental toughness to do much better than that.

I’d like to say I ran the entire final distance along the waterfront, but did I tell you it was HOT? It was hot. My brain and my legs battled it out! My brain won. I was forced to continue walking the sunny sections. Fortunately, there is not much sun along the north-facing waterfront, so at least my walk breaks were shorter than previously.

Early in mile 12 I passed the 2:30 pacer back. Yay! Soon after, I heard someone right behind me saying they were getting old and it was hard to keep running in the heat. Someone replied, “Well, I’m 60!” Aha! Someone in my age group was right behind me! That was plenty of inspiration to keep pushing.

Mile 12: damn, it was hot. I walked over the bridge at Rayonier (full sun and 13 feet of elevation gain!) and barely trotted to the last water station just on the west side of the bridge.

After a good, long drink I managed to run from there to the finish, although I was pretty slow coming through the little bump (full sun and 7 feet of elevation gain!) at Francis Street. I hit the finish line at 2:27:58.

My brain had managed to get me to the finish line in just under 2:28.

I ended up 8th out of 50 in my age group — and sure enough, 9th place finished just 4 seconds behind me. Yes, it paid to push to the finish! And guess what: if I’d made my original, and entirely unrealistic, goal of 2:20, I’d have just barely finished in 7th place. All things considered, I ran as well as I could have — and as well as I needed to — on that day.

I got in the very long line for food. I just had time to go through it before I walked back to the finish line to watch for CFL.

While I was waiting near the finish, I watched a 30-something female full marathoner nearly collapse. Someone came out to support her, give her a sports drink, hold her while she vomited, and help her to the finish line. It was scary to watch. It was really, REALLY hot out there.

CFL walked in at 3:10:41, which was his fastest of two NODMs and his second fastest ever. He said he actually jogged a little on some of the downhills. He said maybe he’d jog a little more in the future. I am dumbfounded.

After CFL got his food, we headed to the beer garden.

Free beer!

After our free Space Needle IPA from Pike Brewery in Seattle, we walked home and showered. Then we walked back down to Barhop for truly local beer.

 

Even on a sunny day, it’s usually too cool to sit outside at Barhop because there’s always a stiff breeze off the water. Not that day! We enjoyed the view of the harbor and passers-by for a good long time before finally a gentle whiff of a breeze caused us to start thinking about dinner.

So now my 7th NODM — my 14th half marathon — is behind me. All in all, it was a good race and a great day. I’m satisfied with my race. It was really HOT. I find as I get older that making a rational decision not to kill myself out there is actually a good way to go. Stay strong and finish healthy! May there always be more finish lines ahead.

Slow and happy!

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It’s race time again!

It’s hard to believe it, but this coming Sunday I will run my 14th half marathon. That race will be my 7th local North Olympic Discovery half marathon. That’s the race that I stood and watched, with tears in my eyes, in 2007 and 2008 before resolving that I, too, would become a runner.

There is something extra special about running a race in one’s own town. I’ve run so many, many miles on the Olympic Discovery Trail, in all kinds of weather, through all sorts of joys and sorrows.

I’ve watched each year’s race mile markers get placed (usually painted) on the trail in the days immediately before the race. Then I’ve watched the numbers fade in the sun over the months after the race, always a reminder of race day and an encouragement to keep a steady progress toward next year. This year’s markers are a little different, and I don’t think they’ll remain in place on the trail after race day.

I’ve seen four different versions of the course, slight variations necessitated by sections of the trail being added, improved, or blocked off for various reasons.

This year, the final half mile to the finish was blocked for a couple of months by a major landslide. The trail here runs along the waterfront beneath a bluff. A house at the top of the bluff caught fire. When firefighters turned their hoses on the blaze, the sudden rush of water caused the bluff behind the house to fail. Rather than risk losing several more houses to the slide, they had no choice but to let the house burn to the ground. Then there was a delay of several weeks while the homeowner and the insurance company worked things out. The slide could not be cleared until all of the debris from the house was knocked down and carried away. As a result, the trail was finally reopened, and the race course was assured, only about five days ago.

While I’m excited to be running yet another NODM, I’m not particularly optimistic for a great performance. My post-marathon bronchitis really took a lot out of me. I basically lost the entire month of April. When I was finally able to run again, I couldn’t go further than a mile or so before I’d have to take a walk break and catch my breath. My cardiovascular fitness was gone.

The last week or so I’ve become able to run a little longer, a little faster. But I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that I’m much slower than I was a year ago at this time. And that’s okay! I have no illusions about a PR; I’m simply going to try to maintain a steady pace and finish healthy and happy

I still get to show off my beautiful trail and my wonderful small town to out-of-town runners. I still get to run up and down those rolling, forested hills, sail down the big hill to the Morse Creek trestle, and then get down to business in those final 3+ miles along the waterfront. Where I’ve been paced by deer, accosted by river otters, serenaded by bellowing harbor seals, and buzzed by the occasional bald eagle.

Whatever happens during the race, it will be a good day! And there is local beer at the finish line. What more could anyone ask for?

One step at a time!

 

That was fun!

It would have been considered perfect race day weather probably anywhere in the country except for here on the Olympic Peninsula. Here, we locals shudder at the idea of running when it’s over 70 degrees.

When I got off the bus and took my place at the starting line for the 13th annual North Olympic Discovery half marathon (coincidentally also my 13th half marathon), the temperature was already in the low 60s. There was neither a cloud in the sky, nor a hint of a breeze. It was going to be a scorcher!

I got through the first couple of miles fine, and actually a bit ahead of my plan. As we hit the first hill just past mile 3, I was talking firmly to myself and instructing myself to slow down and save energy for the hilly miles to come.

Somewhere in mile 4 or 5 my watch must have hiccuped at least once. It lost about a quarter of a mile, although I didn’t realize it at the time. What my watch said was that all of a sudden I was running a lot slower than I expected. I lost (or thought I lost) so much time in those two miles that by the time I got to the really steep hills at mile 7 I was almost 3 minutes behind the elapsed time I’d expected to see at that point. This, combined with the heat itself, was starting to feel very discouraging.

As I came down the big hill in mile 9, however, I could feel that I still had some speed left in me. I picked up the pace. I figured I still had time to pull out a 2:13:something, which would be a respectable time on this warm day.

Rounding the turn toward the waterfront, I felt a hint of cool marine air. I would have appreciated feeling the usual brisk breeze at that location, but there was none. Still, I was feeling all right and I pushed on.

When I reached the official mile 10 marker (at which point my watch said I’d run 9.7-something miles), it finally occurred to me that my watch might be wrong. It finally occurred to me to look at my elapsed time, add another 30-ish minutes, and I’d have a projected finish time. That time was 2:11:something. A PR was very much in sight!

So I ran the last three miles as hard as I could: which turned out to be 9:43, 9:43, and 9:23. I hit the finish line at 2:10:38, which is a new PR by 56 seconds. It is also my first sub-10:00 half marathon — I averaged a 9:59 pace! This is a major, really-big-deal milestone in my running career!

I took 8th place out of 61 in my age group. I was comfortably in the top quartile of all female runners, and in the top third of all runners. I’m very happy with that result!

It took me a while to realize that I’d done it and to enthusiastically congratulate myself. The free beer at the finish line certainly helped.

The beer went down especially well because it was 72 degrees and climbing at the finish line. We sat in the sun and had a few beers. Yesterday’s high turned out to be 82 degrees — not an all-time record for early June but certainly much warmer than normal.

Today I’ve got a few sore muscles, but not bad. I have some serious chafing on my chest from wearing my heart monitor. One of my toenails looks a bit bruised — a first for me. Other than that, I feel great!

Now I plan on taking at least two weeks off from running while I attend to other priorities. In late June I’ll start running again, focusing on long and slow. I’ll also do a lot of bike riding to prepare for a cycling event in early August. I won’t start the serious full marathon training until the second week of August. That gives me two months to prepare for Victoria. At this moment I’m confident I can do that!

The art of the taper

Once again, it’s taper time!

I guess I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve been doing this runner thing long enough that I no longer stress very much about training for a specific event. At distances up to and including a half marathon, I can pretty much be ready to race with only a few weeks of focused training effort. Or it seems that way to me anyway, at the moment.

The North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon (NODM) is now only twelve days away. I’ve done some hill training. I’ve done some speed drills. I’ve done a bunch of medium distance (6-9 miles) tempo runs.

Last Saturday I did what I call my “dress rehearsal” for NODM — I ran essentially the last 11 miles of the course, give or take a short dogleg. I ran it at race pace (it actually would have been PR pace) and I finished feeling really, really strong. At the time I wondered whether I might have overdone it, but I came out of it feeling just fine. I was helped immensely by absolutely perfect weather — overcast, calm, and 55 degrees — which definitely contributed to how easy it felt. I doubt I’ll be as lucky weather-wise on race day, but I’ll have the always-helpful adrenalin factor to help carry me through.

So now I’m contentedly welcoming the taper. Over the next week and a half, I’ll run shorter distances with less intensity. I’ll try to limit my other activities, or at least try not to go all-out (as I write this, I’m looking forward to an e…a…s…y……. 15-20 miles on my bike this afternoon). I’ll try to eat well and get lots of sleep. I’ll try not to stress out when the scale tells me I’ve gained a pound or three: it’s all that glycogen and water I’ll be storing in my muscles!

I’ve generally taken a rather scientific approach to my running — the thoughtfully designed training plan, the carefully logged miles, the focus on the numbers — but I’m coming to see that there’s an art to it as well. Sometimes, when I don’t feel like running, the best thing to do is take a few days off. When I’m fed up with pushing the pace, it’s okay to slow down. My baseline fitness is now good enough that I can give myself those little breaks and still be ready on race day.

There’s an art to this running thing, a beauty and grace that I’m finally beginning to grasp. The other activities (cycling and hiking and walking almost everywhere I go around town) that also occupy my time and interest these days have helped show me this. It all has to do with living an active and healthy life. It’s not just about what happens on race day. It’s how I feel the next day, the next month, the next year. It’s getting out of bed every morning, feeling alive and eager to be out there and moving in the world.

It’s the overall, constant rhythm of activity that matters.

Slow and happy!

Easing into training season

It’s April!

I guess that means I’d better get serious about training again. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been content to run a bit less, with less intention. Although we’ve had an extremely mild winter, I’m generally less than enthusiastic about running when my hands and feet are sure to go numb for the first 3 or more miles. I confess that my weekly mileage has been down… a lot… so far this year. Whereas I usually aim for 17-25 miles a week (and I can train quite adequately for a half marathon on that mileage), I’ve been doing more like 8-12.

But it’s April! So it’s time to get serious again.

The other day I passed the one-year anniversary of breaking my arm while trail running. Although I hiked on many miles of steep, challenging trails last summer, I’ve kept my vow to resist running on a rugged, rocky, root-filled, hilly trail ever again. I’ve recognized that it’s not for me. My habitual semi-shuffling gait is not well suited for avoiding obstacles on uneven trails, and I’m not likely to change my running style enough to warrant risking my life out there.

Fortunately I have many beautiful places to run while staying on pavement. I’m good with that.

But now it’s suddenly just nine weeks before our local half marathon. It’s time to get busy!

My primary goal for this year’s NODM on June 7 is, of course, to arrive at the finish line safely and in good health. Beyond that, I’d like to beat my current PR for this race, which I set two years ago, of 2:13:25. On this rather hilly course I’m not likely to set an all-time PR, but a race PR would be nice, and feels quite doable.

I’ve recently invested in some new running gear that has been really helpful. A couple months back, I decided to try running with a heart monitor again to see what I might learn about my progress as a runner. I used one for a while, maybe four years ago, but stopped using it because the big numbers I kept seeing were scary! I almost convinced myself I was going to have a heart attack out there, even though I was actually feeling just fine.

Well, when I strapped on the heart monitor again I was delighted to see how much progress I’ve made! I know enough about myself as a runner now that I know what it feels like when I’m pushing hard rather than just moseying along. The heart monitor provided validation of those feelings. I still habitually tick along on the high side of what the charts say I should be doing at my age, but the numbers are lower and less variable than they used to be. The fact that I can run along for miles with a steady heart rate of 150+, and still comfortably carry on a conversation most of the time, actually means that I’ve got a very healthy heart. I should celebrate those numbers, not fear them!

So I spent some money and bought a new heart monitor that, in conjunction with my watch, tells me a lot of really interesting things like how far my feet come off the ground (not nearly far enough to consider trail running) and how long my feet stay on the ground (a rather leisurely amount of time). With this data I’ve figured out that the best way for me to get faster is to focus on cadence and simply turn over my feet a bit faster. I can do that!

After upgrading the heart monitor, of course I could not resist upgrading the watch. I’m now the proud owner of a Fenix 3, Garmin’s latest multi-sport GPS watch. While in the past I’ve worn a GPS watch only while actually running or cycling or hiking, this one is also an activity and sleep tracker. Hence I’ve taken to wearing it 24/7.

It’s not exactly a fashion statement on my wrist. It’s huge!

But it does get the job done. When the danged thing buzzes and tells me to move, I get up and walk around the house.

I’m about to go out for a 9 mile run. I’ll put some big numbers on the step counter, and try to put some smallish numbers on the average pace screen.

Tomorrow I’ll ride my bike. I’m trying to alternate running and biking days so that I’m doing lots of both. As the days get longer and warmer I’ll start mixing in hiking days. But from now through June 7, running is my top priority.

After June 7, cycling and hiking will take top billing. I have a major cycling event coming up in early August. After that I’ll get serious about training for the marathon I’m going to run on October 11.

What about you? What are your running plans for 2015? Has your training kicked into high gear yet?