Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dirt Inspires Women's Trail Half Marathon Race Recap

It's a long one, so strap yourselves in!

My pre-race prep started around 5pm on Saturday night when I laid out all the stuff I would need for the race...

...and then packed it up to take to my in-laws'. I went back and forth for weeks about sleeping in my own bed on Saturday night and waking up early to drive over the hill to Santa Cruz on Sunday morning, or sleeping in a strange bed on Saturday night but being able to have a more leisurely Sunday morning before the race. I went with strange bed/leisurely morning in the end.

The race was scheduled to start at 8:30 and I needed to pick up my bib number and timing chip, so I set my alarm for 6am. When I woke up, I immediately drank two glasses of water and had my normal pre-run breakfast of 2 pieces of whole wheat toast with almond butter and banana and half a cup of coffee.

At around 7:40 Brian drove me to Aptos Park where I picked up my race packet and milled around feeling nervous!

Fortunately, it wasn't a very big race (only about 300 runners) and everyone was SUPER friendly. There were a lot of A) first-time 1/2 marathon runners or B) first-time trail runners. I was both! I'm an overachiever.

They postponed the start a few minutes because the line for the port-o-potties was super long. When we finally got going,  everyone cheered and the announcer kept saying (rather ominously!) "13.1 miles! 13.1 miles!"

I didn't wear my Nike+ for this run because I knew it would distract me, so what follows is a rough estimate of how the race went for me.

Miles 0-2
The first two miles were pretty standard. We immediately climbed a huge hill out of Aptos Park to get into the state park, but then the elevation flattened out. The weather was perfect - a little chilly, but not uncomfortable. I settled into around a 9:30min/mi pace. I did not go into this race with any sort of goal for my time, but figured I could probably run 13 miles in 2 hours (since my last 10-mile run clocked in at about 1 hour, 30 mins).

Miles 3-5
Mile 3 was relatively unremarkable. First of several creek crossings, which was fun. At mile 4 I stopped for a minute and ate a few Honey Stingers and we crossed another creek. I was feeling great! One volunteer said, "You signed up for this because you can do this!" as we ran by her, which was encouraging and energizing!

And then we started climbing... And climbing... And climbing... Around mile 5, I realized that there was no way I was going to finish under 2 hours. There were some sections that were so steep it was almost impossible to run and other sections so narrow that even if you wanted to run, you couldn't pass the woman in front of you. I had a hard time breathing for a while in here, because my pace was so irregular and I could just never catch my breath. And we just kept going up, and up, and up...

Miles 6-8
Still.... climbing.... And then suddenly, around maybe 6.5 or 7 miles, a HUGE downhill section, so steep in some parts that you had to walk or you would tumble down head over heels. It felt great to not be huffing and puffing up the hill, but it did not feel great to be pounding down the hill on my sore knee.

When we got to the end of the downhill, another very friendly volunteer informed us we were over halfway done! Normally, this would thrill me. Instead, I almost started crying because I could not imagine running another 6.5 miles with my knee hurting so badly. I readjusted my knee brace and soldiered on.

Miles 9 -13
One word: Brutal. My knee was killing me. I had a few more Honey Stingers at mile 9. At mile 10 I stopped to adjust my knee brace again and a volunteer asked if I was OK. She said that she had planned to do this run, but begged out at the last minute due to her own knee injury. I sort of laughed and said, "Well, this is my first half, so I didn't want to wimp out!" She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Wow. My first half was much flatter than this! This is a really tough course!"

No kidding.

Usually when I have a mile or two left in a long run, I just suck it up and run it out. No point in walking, you're almost done! Not this time. I wanted to run so badly but literally had a hard time doing so (and I tend to run through a lot of pain). I did a lot of run-walk-run in the last two miles, praying all the while that I hadn't done any serious damage to my knee.

As I came out of the state park and headed back down the hill into Aptos Park, I picked up the pace and passed a few runners (I was determined to beat somebody! And it feels great to finish strong, even if you've had a tough run). I heard Brian call my name as I entered the chute and then I was done!
  • Final Time: 2:47:30
  • Overall Place: 186/273
  • Age Group (20-29): 34/48
The first place runner finished the course in 1:42:16. She was 40! There was also a 78-year-old woman who ran the course! Pretty incredible.

They had a really celebration in Aptos Park after the race, with lots of yummy snacks from Whole Foods. I had a banana and a muffin and about half of this surprisingly yummy local organic energy drink. It was fizzy!

All in all, this was a really fun race (even though it was super hard). I really liked that it was small and women-only - no one was crazy-competitive or pushy out on the trail and everyone was really encouraging and nice. It was also a Go Green race, and the race organizers did a really great job finding as many ways as possible to reduce waste, encourage carpooling, and promote buying local.

As I was struggling through my last mile, all I could think about (to distract myself from thinking about my knee) was a glass of chocolate milk and a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with avocado. So that's what I ate when I got back to my in-laws' house (after I sat in a bathtub of cold water for a while - I'm not hardcore enough for a real ice bath yet).

So, in conclusion: Was this the easiest way to do my first half marathon? No. Am I confident that I could run a regular (flat) half marathon if I train in a similar way? Yes. Am I planning to? Yes. Once I can walk without a limp again (and yes, I'm going to the doctor).