Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook: My Slacker Half Marathon Race Report

I typically have three goals when I go into a race.  The first goal is to complete training and arrive healthy.  With the rigors of marathon training a that's not always automatic.  After that I have a goal that's pushing myself, but within reasonable reach to attain.  After that, are the "stretch goals."  Stretch goals assume everything has gone right with training and on race day and that I push myself as hard as I can push.

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
Yes...Seeking Boston Marathon has been secretly (or I guess not so secretly, if it was on Facebook) Seeking New York City Marathon.  At the time of my proclamation, a fellow run group member retorted, "do you know how tough it is to qualify?"  I did, but at the time, I had just run another fast downhill marathon at a half marathon PR of 1:32.  I merely needed to shave two minutes off my time to hit the 1:30 mark to qualify for the "Big Apple."  As we all know, there's a bit of a rivalry between New York and Boston.  Just ask any Yankee fan what they think of the Red Sox and vice versa.  No love loss between the two.  The little problem this rivalry created for me was that when Boston raised the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon, New York had to follow suit and raise their standards.  Even hitting a new age group last year did not help as the new time for a "NYQ" was 1:29 for me.  With a new coach and running stronger than I ever have, I shared my "stretch" goal with only two people; my coach and my wife.

"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.
Georgetown, Colorado

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.

9 comments:

  1. Screaming fast time and congrats on such a big PR!!! Are you planning on running Georgetown/Idaho Springs? I find that race even faster than Slacker - still downhill but not as steep, somewhat lower altitude, and 100 ft less incline.

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    1. Kathy. I had an entry that last year's race director for Georgetown offered to apply to this year. This year has a new director, and she say's (sadly) tough, but no cigar. I'm looking at other races that weekend. #bummed

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  2. Great race!!! It's frustrating to be so close to your goal, but hey, at least there's next time, right? If you're looking for another really great possibility for a qualifier - 3M half marathon in Austin is also a nice net downhill and a lot less elevation. :)

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  3. I wish I could have been there to see you at the finish but I had the same (albeit slower) experience in the last half mile - working very hard bit barely moving. You will get it next time though!

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  4. Nice racing, hard work and coaching seems to be paying dividends. Curious on how to contact Benita and James the BCSM website doesn't have any information posted, though I've seen it up in the past when they were with Hudson Training Systems. I am interested in working with them before next years Boston (just hoping I get in, qualified by 9 minutes but looks like it may be be tough with that) Seems like they are helping a number of people to get quite fast.

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    1. Sorry for the delay Neal. email me at tyg9543@gmail.com and I can give you more detail and their numbers. #bigfan of BCSM (Boulder Center Sports Medicine) race team.

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  5. That's awesome Ty!!! Super fast, and you're right, age group wins are tough in a big race like Slacker! Way to go!!!

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  6. The first goal is to complete clases de slackline training and arrive healthy. With the rigors of marathon training a that's not always automatic.

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  7. The first goal is to complete training and arrive healthy. With the rigors of marathon training a that's not always automatic. After that I have a goal that's pushing myself, but within reasonable reach to attain. slackline chile

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