Thursday, July 7, 2011

Freedom Half Marathon (x2) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 21st Edition 
305.8 miles raced, 5550 meters swam and 146.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Freedom Half Marathon
Place: Gresham, OR     
Miles from home: 760 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; overcast; slightly humid

Heading into this race, I had already but about 1300 miles of driving throughout the Washington and Oregon. The previous day in Sunriver, OR I had run the Pacific Crest Half Marathon course one week after the actual race was run. One of my 52 Marathons back in 2006, the Pacific Crest Marathon and sundry other races which go on that weekend remain a relatively hidden secret. This is a shame as the double loop surrounding the Sunriver Resort in Oregon is both challenging and beautiful. When I found myself the guest of the Sunriver Resort I knew I would be remiss if I did not at least run part of the course. Then I decided that there was no reason to only run part of the course – I should run it all. (Of course, while the legs would feel the 13.1 miles I would never count this as one of my half-marathons run – that would just be ridiculous.  No one needs to pad their stats that bad. Well, maybe some do. I am not one.)

The run was invigorating. I took it relatively easy knowing I would be racing the next day in Portland. Part of three-race –in-three-days series called the Firecracker Triple, my race was smack dab in the middle. I had zero intention of racing per se, for a variety of reasons, so the day held little to no race anxiety for myself.  However, as my girlfriend was attempting to do her second sub-3:50 marathon in one week, I was a nervous wreck for her. I do not do well rooting for others if only because I have so little control over their performance.  Unlike a week ago where I had paced Shannon for parts of the race before joining her for the final 10k, the logistics of this race would not really allow me to help her out much.

We pulled up the starting line about 6:25 AM for a 7 AM race.  Five minutes later,as we walked to the start to get our bib numbers, a huge contingency of runners took off freaking us out to the nth degree.  We then learned that some had elected to do an early start because the previous day had been so warm.  This day would never get close to those temperatures but some were being cautious.  I have no problem with that ideology anf think it is great that some races allow slower runners who will be out in the sun a long time the opportunity to get out of the heat. But I do have a problem in having a race where participants who are trying to be competitive are not actually racing each other.  As Shannon was really hoping to have a race against good competition and not a solo timed run, this was a little perturbing to her as well.  Unfortunately, we needed only another 5 minutes to have been ready to join in at the early start. Alas, we were left in the unenviable position we were in.  So, I simply told her to just run her race and hopefully she would be able to have the fastest time. in reality, all she was really caring to do was continue her quest to get a sub-4 hour marathon time in each state. Washington the week before; hopefully Oregon today!

Before we knew it, it was time for the marathon to start and Shannon was off. I still had thirty minutes to stew which allowed me to mingle with the runners on hand. Populated mostly by members of the group called marathon Maniacs (who have a large representation in the Pacific Northwest) many in attendance were either running two or three half marathons this weekend. It was nice to sit back and hear their stories from the previous day and how they planned to tackle this day and next. One quick trip to the bathroom was all that I had time for before our merry little band of singlet-clad runners were underway.

First four:  6:41, 6:50, 6:33, 6:38 

From the get-go it was clear there were about 5 people who would be vying for the top spot.  Of those 5, at least 3 of them had run the previous day.  After being recognized by one runner who had seen me speak at a couple of races prior (so much for anonymity) I found out that some had a bet going – they had to run all three half marathons this weekend under 90 minutes or wear sports bras for the entirety of the Hood to Coast relay race at the end of the August.  They had run 1:29:34 the previous day. I love challenges like this!

When we hit the 3rd and 4th miles a little faster than some of the guys wanted to run they declared they would drop back a bit and keep it on just under 1:30 pace.  No sooner did they do this than a silent runner, running behind the group of us, slowly pulled ahead of us. 

Middle Four: 27:07

For whatever reason, I forgot to hit my watch over the next four miles. I began running with a runner named Chris who had been the previous day’s half marathon overall winner. We fell into conversation and simply missed the mile markers.  Here I saw Shannon for the first time and she seemed right on target to run what she wanted. I gave her a high five and told her to watch her shoulder creep.  Chris jokingly made a “coach” comment and I said something akin to how she probably listened to me as much as I did my own coaches.

We hit the turn-around and I was quite happy to be heading back.  We had fallen about a hundred yards behind the leader and we both more than pleased to let him run away with it if he wanted to.  I said that if he was within the same striking distance with three miles to go, maybe we would make a race of it but with another race the next day, I was in no need of pushing too hard here. Chris concurred and we began the push home.

Final Five: 6:58, 6:59, 6:46, 6:52, 6:43, :43

With the out and back nature of the course as well as the early and regular start for marathoners we were able to see what seemed like hundreds of runners on the path.  In reality there were barely 90-something people running.  However the Marathon Maniac groups were well-represented and quite cheerful. With about three miles to go, another new friend and runner Adam Hennessey passed Chris and I and started to seemingly make a push for first place.  The first place runner, Jose, however had opened a sizable margin. I told Chris if he wanted to bolt he was welcome to do so.  I felt no need to try and track down either of them. I said that winning a race is an awesome feeling and who knows if José had ever done so.  There was no need for me to try and run a time well slower than my personal best simply to rob him of that pleasure. Chris said he had won the half marathon the previous day and was happy to be where he was.  So, on we continued in running bliss.

The running path crossed a few open streets and in each occasion, both when we had been running as a bigger group and now just the two of us, we worked together.  It is hard to explain how this sort of thing works, especially when no one agreed upon anything prior. In one instance, I ran a little bit a head to sort of get a body in the road so any car coming down would start to slow (there were signs telling the cars to slow down which virtually every car I saw did in fact do).  At the same time one of the other runners would look up the hill to the left and declare it was all clear while another looked right to do the same thing. The camaraderie of runners and the desire to want to make things fair so that the footrace is only a battle of who runs harder, not who did not have to wait for a passing car or something of that nature will never cease to warm my heart. 

With about a mile to go I was wondering if I would see Shannon. I had worked out the math in my head and if she ran what she should be running, she would be about a mile ahead of me heading back out for her second loop when I was coming in to be done for the day.  Sure enough, right on time, she appeared, looking quite fresh.  I felt very sorry for her as there were only two, possibly three other runners in front of her running faster than her and she had absolutely no one to pace off of. This has to be the hardest way to race and why I felt those running in the early start had an unfair advantage.  Nevertheless I tried to say some more encouraging words to her and got ready to be done.

It is funny that no matter what race you are running, of whatever distance, that you can more or less gut out about 90% of it.  In that last 10%, you look to be done.  In a 5k, at mile 2 you can’t imagine running another 2 miles.  Hitting the final 5k of a half-marathon you know there was no way you could do a marathon that day. At mile 20 of a marathon you are happy to just have a 10k left.  It is such a mental game.  And here, with just a few minutes of running left, I could not be happier to be done with this race.

As Chris and I matched stride for stride, we closed in on the finish.  I could tell neither of us really wanted to pull in front of the other but both wanted to be done and was pushing to get to the finish.  We crossed the finish just microns apart and were given identical times of 1:28:53. A few seconds later, Trevor and Joel both avoided wearing sports bras for another day by finishing again under 90 minutes. We all high-fived. Job well done.  I later asked the timer if he would make sure that Chris was third in the placings and he said since he was doing it alphabetical for ties, that it would definitely be that way.

My only desire now was to see how Shannon would finish.  When the early start women’s leader came in at 3:48:36, I knew Shannon had a chance.  Both Shannon and this woman, Rebecca, had run identical half splits even though they were separated by 30 minutes at the start.  I ran back onto the course to try and encourage Shannon to hopefully best the time.   

When I finally saw her I knew it would be close. In the end, not knowing she needed to push it, Shannon had not really tried to do so until the last half-mile. Unfortunately, this would not be enough as her time of 3:49:12 would but her less than .1 of a mile behind the winner at the end. It was, however, good enough for fifth place overall and a mere 50 seconds faster would have given her a bronze medal for the day. The milestone for this race remains regards of that placing and that is by finishing under 4 hours she was halfway through her journey to complete a marathon in every state under 4 hours and be the youngest woman to have ever done so.

After having run the very tough Seattle Marathon the week before, driven 1300 miles with me all over Washington and Oregon, running in all kinds of climates and environs for the previous week, I am saying she had a pretty good showing. But no rest for the weary as quick showers and a three hour drive to Seattle awaited us.  We were both flying home – me to another race in less than 24 hours.

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 22nd Edition 
318.9 miles raced, 5550 meters swam and 146.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Freedom Half Marathon

Place: Salt Lake City, UT     
Miles from home: 6 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; overcast

On the Thursday before the Freedom Half in Oregon I received a phone call from the race director of a series of races in UT. He noticed I had the Freedom Half on my website but had not been able to locate my name in his registrants.  A moment of confusion hit me before I realized he was thinking of his Freedom Half happening on the 4th of July in UT.  I mentioned that I would be getting home around 10 PM or so from my flight and while I might be quite tired from the previous few days, if here was still a slot open in his race I would love to register and run it.  There was and so I did.

Arriving home late from the previous week’s travels, I had just enough time to shower and fall asleep before it was time to get up again to catch the bus to the start line of the Freedom Half in Utah. The races would be hard pressed to be more different, even if they shared the same name. Fortunately, I barely had time to wake up before the starting gun was fired and away we went.

The downhill: 6:02, 5:56, 6:18, 6:40, 6:23, 6:42

I knew from the previous year that the race would go down Emigration Canyon for about 6 miles and then make an abrupt right-hand turn and basically climb a mountain.  You can see me sucking wind on this very hill on the front page of the race from last year here. Given all the running and traveling I did, I knew I was not going for a Personal best on this day but I did want to run faster than I had just the day before.  Given the downhill nature of the first portion I knew I could build a small cushion but I did not wish to go out too fast and exhaust myself on the hill to come later.

The first mile more or less shook out the leaders of the race and I could see who the top two runners were going to be. (The top two places would indeed only be separated by two seconds when all was said and done.)  After that another group of three runners were running together and then another pack of about 4 or 5 of us, including myself, trailed further back. For these first six miles that is how it would stand.  I passed a runner or two and then they would pass me back but that was it. Around the third mile, however, one runner who I remembered running this race last year, Trevor, sped passed me and continued slowly picking off runners.  He would eventually continue to do so all the way to the end, running possibly exact even splits when it was all said and done and finishing fourth overall.

About the 4th mile a well-built man ran up to me and we ran the next two miles together. I found out we were both participants in the Boise 70.3. His name was Jared and he was far more modest about his finish time than he should have been. Finishing 30th overall in a time of 4:21, he had simply crushed the course. As we glided along together I told him this was my top speed as I was saving myself for the turn into the hill at mile 6. He said he was more than happy with this speed.

The uphill: 5:47, 7:29, 7:02, 7:27, 7:02, 15:32

Mile 6 came and went and no turn was made.  It was now I learned that there had been last minute changes to the curse, necessitated for a variety of valid reasons (which I would later learn from the race director.) unfortunately, this meant I had wasted my opportunity to speed up a little on the downhill portion and make use of a strong advantage that I have, which is running solid downhill miles.  When we finally made a turn, I knew exactly where we were going and I did not like what lie ahead one bit.  I had run this section of Salt Lake City many times in training runs and I knew we had a lot of climbing to look forward to.

With no desire to kill myself and no pride wrapped into this race, I walked on at least three occasions that I could think of during some of the uphill portions of this final 7 miles. I knew Jared and I were battling for the 10th place overall but I definitely did not have it in me to battle him too much. Through the remainder of the course we were never separated by very much, with me being able to hang on his coattails (if he had REALLY long coattails, that is.)  At one point I thought I had slipped back into 12th place as a runner went flying by me, but it ends up it was the guy who had been in 9th place returning from a bathroom break.  For a moment, both Jared and I hung right behind him before he separated himself from us and pulled ahead.

At mile 11, with all of the climbing behind us, I tried to settle in and see if I could get my leg speed going again.  It looked like I would be able to run a 1:25 high or 1:26 low if I kept up the pace.  In fact, I narrowed the gap on Jared and we had both narrowed the gap on 9th place.  This could get interesting.  As we continued forward I began to realize that this curse was going to be long. Damn it. 

I should not have worried about that and simply focused on running against the guys in front of me but with this being my third 13.1 mile run in 48 hours I did not want to run a single inch longer than I had to. I knew the remaining portion of the curse and it was going to be longer than 2.1 miles.  I allowed this to creep into my head a little bit, got a little negative and then just as quickly pushed it back out.  I decided I would instead cheer on all the 5k walkers I was passing instead.  Hopefully a little “waytogo!” from me would help make their Fourth of July a little better as do the sounds of anyone cheering form the sidelines do to me on race day.

In the end, the course ended up being about a quarter of a mile long.  But honestly, no one should try to go into this race looking to set a new personal best as it is not the race to do so.  As such, I told the RD it was like we got more for our money.  He told me that no one would have been happy at all if it had been short and I 100% agreed. He obviously regretted the decisions which needed to be made to make it a little longer on race morning but it had to be done. I ended up taking 11th place overall in a time of 1:28:24.  Even with the extra two plus minutes of running I ran my fastest half of the three in two days.  I would say that I am pretty pleased.  

If anything, the hill climbing and tired legs helped jump start my July and start to get me ready for my 15k PR attempt this weekend at the Boilermaker Road Race. I will be extremely honored to be taking part in a Runner’s Forum with such running luminaries as Kathrine Switzer and Bill Rodgers.  I have been planning on being back here to avenge a rather dismal running last year since about two seconds after I finished the race. 

 My goal? 55:03. Why? Because that would be one second faster than running legend Ed Whitlock’s 65-69 age group record (which is also, ironically, over a minute faster than the age group record held by the younger 60-64 division!)  In order to do so I will actually have to break my 10k PR in the process.  Is this possible?  Probably not.  I have simply not been specifically training for shorter distance runs like this. But the reason for having difficult goals is so that we can do our best to try and exceed what we think is possible. Otherwise, they are not goals but only “Things We Know are Easy.”

Hope to see you in Utica!


Kim said...

I knew it! My Garmin is always a little off during a marathon, but it seemed way off on this half. Hmmm... makes me wonder what I can really do! I enjoyed staring at your back for 80% of the race, by the way. Nice job!

Anewmeforever said...

Awesome!! Congrats to both you and Shannon :)