Last Saturday was my first distance race since the Boston Marathon at the Slacker Half Marathon in my home state of Colorado. Slacker is a misleading term as this race starts out at over 10,000 feet and is virtually an all downhill race ending in the historic silver mining camp town of Georgetown, Colorado. Years earlier, I made the mistake of posting on Facebook that I wanted to qualify for the New York City Marathon.
|Start of the Slacker Half Marathon|
"I want to run sub 1:30 and qualify for the New York Marathon."
|Tight corner turn of the finish line.|
I shared this goal right after Boston with coach Benita and she laid out a plan to achieve it. Post Boston, my confidence couldn't have been stronger. I had run my second fastest marathon and felt strong up to the finish. Game on. The only distraction was that my love of marathons had a mistress called triathlons. I shared with my coach that my primary goal was a NYQ, but I wanted to also race in a triathlon in June.
Subsequently, my training "playbook" focused on speed, hills, strength, and cross-training that would fit in some bike and swim. I competed in the Greeley Triathlon two weeks before the Slacker and coach told me to take that one easy so as to not to wear myself out for the half. I "half listened" and raced to win.
Between my "cow country" 1st place AG (age group) podium in Greeley and the Slacker was two weeks of travel to Chicago and San Francisco. Whether it was pushing myself in the tri, or the travel, it started to show its effect as I was downright "sluggish" at the BCSM (Boulder Center for Sports Medicine) workout one week before my ambitious half mary. This was not exactly a confidence boost. I hopped on a plane on Father's Day which put me in a foul mood to start race week. Flight delays and a towed rental car within a week and a half of my race did not put me in a happy place. Trying to turn the situation around, I arranged my travel plans to maximize the hotel sleep.
During this training, I also broke my streak of consecutive days worked out by taking two rest days leading up to the race. I had worked out over thirty days straight, and 41 of 42 days. My last "test" if you will was a short tempo interval on Tuesday in California. I had an "okay day" on the Bay Area (aptly named) Bay Trail, but was still a bit on the sluggish side.With the race on Saturday, I was back in Denver and focused on getting a great night's sleep two nights before (on Thursday.) That part worked.
My confidence was rebuilt with a phone call from my coach on Friday. She brushed off last Saturday's run and focused instead on the strength of my training which included some monster uphill intervals, and the fastest Yasso times I've ever recorded (running sub six minute per mile pace.)
From there, things went as they normally do on "race eve" with absolutely no sleep on Friday night. I constantly rolled over and looked at the clock...four hours rolled by with this bullsh*t version of sleep. My alarm went off at 4 something AM...that is my mental alarm, knowing my phone's alarm was about to go off.
The rest of the morning routine was just that...a lot of bathroom stops, and heading up to the foothills to the end of the race where buses would shuttle all the runners up to the start. The start was the least picturesque part of the course as it was a gravel lot for the Loveland Ski area. Good news...plenty of porto-pottys along with a Red Bull party van blasting music to lighten the mood. Routine kicked in (Part II) as I did a brief run along with some strides to get loosened up and the race adrenaline going. I was also eyeing the crowd looking for the really fast runners in my age group. The one thing about Denver being so close to Boulder is that there are some crazy fast runners. With a goal of running a 1:29, I felt a podium was also within reach. I spotted one of my age group rivals, but another athlete in my age group had run a tough ascent race the week before. No sign of him. "My odds just improved," I thought.
Benita set up a race strategy that was set out to hit the goal. Run even splits for the most part, don't overdo it in the first few miles, and after mile five, start to run more by feel. The last couple miles...kick it up a notch if I could. I did not "toe the line" up near the front of the start as I didn't want to overdo it early on. The only issue with that strategy was literally eating some dust as we tore through the first part of the course. I stuck to my coaches recommended splits through the first five miles running between a 6:40 to 6:50 minute per mile pace.
|Just a "little bit excited" about the podium.|
My breathing was a bit strained at first, but I started to settle into a nice rhythm. The nice part about running a half marathon at this pace, is that the mile markers seemed to come by quickly. One of my run teammates (Todd) had mentioned an in-race strategy of thinking that your feet were shuffling along a treadmill. I would also occassionally glance at the river that mirrored the course...as it flowed, I got into my flow and thought of a treadmill.
As the miles passed, my confidence built. As each mile passed, I played with the race math in my head...I was "banking" small amounts of time, but still hovering around the pace that coach had prescribed. I pre-fueled with Generation UCAN and Power Bar Gel Blasts within the race. There seemed to be plenty of water stations yet I seemed a bit dehydrated. I hit one slightly lower split around mile six where there was a bit of an incline on the all downhill course.
It "played with my mind" that I had fallen behind my overall race pace. The good news was that around mile 12, it was all downhill with what seemed like a much steeper decline. I got an energy boost from somewhere and started to fly down the hill running at a 6:30 pace.
|BCSM Run Team|
The "reward" for this screaming downhill stretch was a couple of turns once we got into town on gravel roads with just enough of an incline. I'd slowed down again. I was running on pure guts at this point as I was completely "spent." I watched my brother-in-law race the Slacker last year so I knew where the last turn was. I dug deep to turn it up once again knowing I was within reach of my goal. My last tenth of a mile was back in the 6:30 minute per mile pace.
As I passed my family cheering me on at the finish, I pushed my Garmin stop button as I crossed the finish line timing mat. 1:29:18. This was a new PR by three minutes and my first half marathon below 1:30. Crazy fast, but 18 painful seconds away from my stretch goal. Looking at my splits afterwards, I had slowed down a bit around mile 10 as well. If only I could have run 9 seconds faster over those two or three stretches. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
While I'm normally critical of myself after a race, this one was a lot like Boston. I knew I trained hard and smart and turned in a good performance. I had no more to give on those gravel roads in the finish town of Georgetown. The icing on the cake was I soon learned I took "silver" (2nd) in my age group. Not easy to do in run-happy Colorado. A "gold rush" in a silver mining town.