Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day Half-Marathon Recap

This was one of the toughest races I've ever run, but also one of the most satisfying!

I wanted a sub-two-hour half-marathon so badly, and I dug deep to get it done at the last minute — literally.

Official time: 1:59:46 (PR)
Average pace: 9:09


The Labor Day Half took place in my hometown, Woodinville, and started and ended at my former place of employment, the Redhook Brewery! I had a good feeling about doing a race on my home turf.

The half-marathon didn't start until 9 a.m., so waking up and getting ready to go was a leisurely process. I really only began to get nervous for this race about 10 minutes before leaving my mom's house, and even then, it was excited energy that got me pumped up for the race. I ate an apple and a Larabar for breakfast, plus a banana on the way to the brewery.

I met up with my training buddy and good friend of 11 years, Carly, before the race, and we warmed up a little and goofed around with our parents.

"We're gonna win."

I broke one of the top rules of racing — never wear anything new on race day! — in two ways. I wore a new top and hat, both of which I'd purchased the day before in anticipation of hot race conditions. I'm happy to say that the both pieces were nice and light, kept me cool and didn't give me any trouble during the race. Woo-hoo!

As we lined up at the starting line, there were no pace signs or anything. The announcer just said, "Fast runners at the front, joggers behind them and walkers in the back!" Well, that's specific. 

"Just go anywhere. We don't care."

Carly and I positioned ourselves near the back of the "fast" pack and it worked out perfectly. We fell right into the flow of the race and didn't have to pass too many slower people or be passed by too many faster people.

iPhone pic courtesy of Carly's dad. Hi, Dave!

We felt great for the first three miles and hit a sub-9:00 pace with ease.

Our goal was to aim for 9:00 miles, but there's nothing wrong with creating a time deficit at the beginning of a race as long as you don't wear yourself out! I was starting to worry about having enough energy for the remaining 10 miles (which is a horrible way to think about it — 10 more miles!), and we agreed to slow down a little for mile 4.

The course was relatively flat and shady through this point, so we were just cruising and feeling confident!

And then came the hills during miles 6 through 9.

Yeah... no.

This hilly section was the part that I wanted to preview on my 11-miler last weekend, but I missed a turn and completely bypassed it. Oh, well. Maybe it's better that I didn't know what was in store.

The course headed over to the UW Bothell campus, where it took us up and down and up and down some icky hills. The first one was the steepest, and Carly and I powered up it, but had to walk briefly at the top. I must have blacked out for the rest. All I can remember thinking is, "Are we done with Bothell yet??"

The course wound around itself in strange ways, so I kept thinking we were done with Bothell and could head back to Woodinville, but then we would loop around another corner and go up another hill. Rude.

It was also hot by this point, and Carly and I kept up with our great water-station strategy that we used through the whole race: Walk through each station, grab a cup to drink and a cup to dump on our heads, down our shirts, etc.

We each took an energy gel at about mile 7.5, which you can see helped us power through mile 8 even though the hills slowed us down in the miles before and after.

I had my own chocolate Clif Shot tucked into my shorts, which is really the only flavor I like of any type of energy gel. I held onto it for a while and probably took a mile to eat the whole thing. I did not cramp up or experience any negative side effects from it, unlike my last half, when I got a horrible, frustrating side stitch after eating Shot Bloks. I call it a fueling victory!

Mile 10 marked the end of the Bothell section and the hills, thank God, but the route was almost completely shadeless from there on out. It was hot, we were tired from the hills and I could tell Carly was not feeling great. (I learned after the race that she started seeing spots... not good.)

I had a good amount of energy from my Clif Shot and wanted to keep a strong pace, but Carly fell behind more and more each time I looked back. I felt bad for leaving my friend, but we had agreed to run our own races if it came to that, and she waved me along. I had more race left in me and badly wanted to run it — I kept telling myself there was only a 5K left! — so that's what I did.

The last water station was around mile 11, and I needed it desperately. It gave me an excuse to walk briefly and cool down, since it was becoming harder and harder to run in the heat. My tired legs felt like they were moving faster than they actually were, and I kind of panicked each time I looked down at my watch because I realized my finish would be very close to two hours and that I needed to pick up my pace.

I needed a strategy to finish strong because, holy hell, I was not going to come this far only to miss my goal by a few seconds.

A woman ahead of me seemed like she was running strong, so I ran right up behind her and stayed on her for the last mile. I was probably no more than two feet behind her, and all I did was stare at her feet and try not to trip her. It was the only thing I could do to keep moving at a good pace, and it worked.

Near the end of mile 13, we hopped off the Sammamish River Trail and onto the road that leads to Redhook. I stayed on my pacer until we reached the entrance to the brewery, and then I fully sprinted the 0.1 (or 0.2, according to my watch) to the finish line.

Fun fact: 6:47 pace feels like death!

My watch said 1:59:50 as I crossed the finish line, and I later confirmed my official time of 1:59:46 at the official results station. Sub-two by the skin of my teeth!

My mom found me after I had my timing chip cut off and was all excited to congratulate me, but all I could say was, "Water! Water water water water water." Then I found a shady spot in the grass and collapsed. (She got me some water, and I apologized for my rudeness once I returned from the brink of death.)

Carly finished strong at 2:04:59, and we both felt a lot better after downing lots of water and hanging out in the shade. Although we didn't finish the race together like we'd hoped, we both did the best we could under some pretty intense circumstances!

I also ran into Aaron before and after the race, and he absolutely killed his first half in 1:39:35 (7:36 pace). Amazing!

Aaron (#610) eats half-marathons for breakfast.

I'm extremely proud of this race. I completed six weeks of training that included running, cycling, swimming and strength-training to achieve this sub-two-hour finish, and I ran the smartest race I could. My body never failed me, and the biggest challenge — the heat — was something I prepared for and didn't let stop me from reaching my goal.

Now I get to rest and relax... for about a day. And then there's my first triathlon this Saturday.

The next challenge awaits!


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  1. Congratulations on your half marathon! That is so awesome and it's nice to see that you kept a positive attitude the entire way. What's bizarre is that I know a family that lived in my hometown for about 3 years and just moved back to Bothell and one of them is from Woodinville. Very small world seeing as I'm all the way in Wisconsin :) Congrats again!

  2. Thanks, Brittany! It was definitely tough to keep going in the heat and on tired legs, but it was one of those mind-over-matter situations. What a crazy Bothell/Woodinville connection you have! Tell them that the hills in Bothell are evil — haha. : )

  3. Congrats on your great run. A time of 1:39:35 is fantastic. Arron must really be an athelte.

  4. Found your post accidentally while reading about marathon training. A sub-2hr-half is my next big goal after running my 1st marathon in May. Loved your story

  5. Found your post accidentally while reading about marathon training. A sub-2hr-half is my next big goal after running my 1st marathon in May. Loved your story


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