Monday, November 9, 2015

Santa Barbara Veteran's Day Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 23rd Edition 
302.1 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Santa Barbara Veteran's Day Half Marathon
Place: Santa Barbara, CA
Miles from home: 943
Weather: 50s; Dry; Sunny

Even though I surged hard in the second half of the Milwaukee Running Festival 13.1 last weekend, I was still not pleased with how I did overall. I felt good for the race and even with a tough course, felt I could have easily run a 1:25. As such, I was hoping for a little redemption at the Santa Barbara Half Marathon.

This is the third year that the race has been affiliated with Veteran's Day and the third year I have run carrying the US Flag. I have only run with the flag on one other occasion and that was on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is a wonderful feeling to have people cheer when you run by with the flag. However, I have limited running with it to those rare occasions because doing so feels, well, a bit unsavory. I am not a veteran (although my brother and grandfathers are and were) and running with the flag seems not exactly patriotic but a rather little pandering. This isn't saying others can't do it for their own reasons.  Just for me, there has to be a special particular reason for me to carry Old Glory.

Usually run in conjunction with a marathon, the half was a standalone event due to the cancellation of its bigger brother this year. About a month prior to the race, it appears that it would not be a fiscal possibility to put on the race so the organizers gave those who were registered three solid options: refund, deferment to another year or switching to the half.  It seems while there was some grumbling, most understood how things happen and moved on. Those who don't, well, I would suggest you try putting on a race yourself. You get all kinds of understanding after you have stood in those running shoes.

There was also a small course change to the half but the last 10 miles or so were unchanged. This meant the infamous Cliff Drive hill and its little sister hills earlier in the race remained. So, if I happened to hit my goal of setting a new personal best while carrying a flag, I wouldn't have to add an asterisk because it was an easier course.

As usual, I had an excellent time at the expo, meeting people running their first or hundredth race or everywhere in between.  Each expo is always an opportunity for me to observe the human condition in way that I never find unfascinating. Predictable in many ways, but still fascinating. Was happy to talk to people about my accomplishments, listen to their goals and go into detail about products I use such as ASEA. Runners are never short of curiosity when it comes to find ways to shave just a few more seconds off of their time.

Race Morning:

I got to the race with just a few minutes to spare. I was fortunate enough to be greeted by a woman who purchased my book the previous day. She was pleasantly surprised I remembered her name. We chatted for a bit while I stood in the portapotty line. CJ was her name and she was kind enough to hold my flag for me while I powdered my nose. Then there as just enough time to head to the start, hear an amazing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner (I have to find out if that was an actual live performance) and virtually right on time, away we went.

First Four Miles:

Running with the flag is obviously not an easy task. If you are conscientious when you run, which is seemingly in short supply, it is even more difficult.  In the first few miles, I was doing all I could to stay out of people's way. Fortunately, one of the changes from the previous course was a first ever running along highway 217. This wide expanse of road was completely shut down for us scantily clad sweatmongers to traverse. It also made it easier to run on the side and away from others.

The entirety of this first section was new. It also gave the race a beach to beach feel it had been missing previously. I have now run the race six times and haven't run the same course twice. This is no knock on the race. I have run the Marine Corps Marathon five separate times and am pretty sure I haven't run the same course there either. But these changes might be the best ones yet and I hope they keep them for the future.


My goal for the race was simple: run the fastest time I have ever run on this course carrying the flag. This new section here in the first few miles, while beautiful, may have been mildly more difficult than the previous
course. I felt up to the challenge.

Some quick twists and turns took us from the UCSB campus out onto the highway and then onto a nice tree-lined parking lot. By the second mile, I was curious if my pace was off as the 1:30 pace group rocketed past me. (He would go on to run a 1:28:30 which if not, if you are scoring alone, a very good pacing job.) But a quick check on my watch had me going right where I needed to be.

I wasn't paying as much attention to my surroundings as I was during last week's Milwaukee Running Festival as I was doing what I could to run hard and not get in anyone's way with my flapping flag.

We turned out of this parking lot and onto the Obern Trail. Four miles in, I was still on pace to go under 1:30 for the race. But this is not the race course upon which to guess your finish time on how well you run the first third.

To Mile Nine:

I noticed immediately as we got onto the trail this this was the coolest temperature of all six of the races I had run here in Santa Barbara. Note I don't say it was cool or even chilly, but I was more than happy to not be sweating buckets. I don't recall being as much of a heavy sweater growing up or even playing sports in college. I am unsure if running has increased my sweat output or if I just became aware of it more given I hardy ever moved for over an hour continuously until I started running. But here as I pushed along I could tell it was going to be a good weather day.

This past week I posted my recaps of my previous races and I noticed a theme. I constantly spoke about how bicycle paths, like the one we were on here on the Obern Trail, always seem to give me a hard time. I have yet to really figure out what it is about them that slows me so.  In fact, even in my marathon PR at the Ogden Marathon, the last three miles had me slowing greatly on a bicycle path. Part of it was by design but part was forced.

On this day, however, I ran one of my better efforts on this path as I passed a few people who were in front of me and used the energy of a few who tried to pass me to help propel me forward.  One young fella who had been out way in front came to a stop on the side of the path. I had guessed he might have gone out way too fast but was hoping he was another prodigy as I seem to be running into them left and right this year. I offered some encouragement as I passed and he seemed to be at least in good spirits. I assumed he would be up and running any second again and thought he may just pass me.

One runner in this race, who was definitely younger but hardly a child, I had met at the expo the previous day. Peter from Denmark, now living in Santa Barbara, had asked me about the course. I told him I had heard a few friends set a PR on it but it might be tough.  He told me about his race results rather generally and I predicted a 1:19 for him. He ended up running a 1:18:05 for 10th place overall.  Kudos Peter!

After a bit on this trail we were finally spit out onto the back streets of a neighborhood that I feel like I know so well after so many repeated running of this race. I was happy to be out from the skinny bicycle trail and could roam a bit more freely. This neighborhood area starts a slight uphill portion which becomes full blown in less than a mile. While many know of the Cliff Drive hill coming up later, this portion here can make or break your race.

A very interesting thing has happened to me in the past few years. I used to be an excellent downhill runner. I can't say I have slowed that greatly but I have noticed my uphill running, at least when it is done on roads, has improved a great deal. As we ran along Modoc Road, I found myself, even without the full use of my arm holding the flag, powering up and passing more than a few people. Interestingly enough, right here, there were no less than five women all running close to each other in time. At least two of them seemed to be partially working in tandem but for the most part these women appeared to just be women running roughly the same pace. As they had passed me on the path earlier I was not expecting to see much of them again.  But up and down the hills of Modoc Road, leading to the downhill before Cliff Drive, I was able to pass most of them and get ready for the last four miles home.

While it appeared I had lost all chance to break 1:30, I was still well under the pace I needed to best my two previous times of running this race holding a flag (1:32: 57 and 1:32:35.)


Heading Home:

Making a turn off of Modoc Road on a short but steep hill, I knew we had approximately 1.5 miles of gradual downhill to shakeout our my legs. I expected to do better on this downhill than I did.  As I mentioned above, I used to be able to shred downhills. Perhaps I was saving myself a but as I knew that Cliff Drive awaited.  I know I didn't feel strained at all which was reassuring. while this section is normally
shaded by the sun for most of the run downhill, it still felt even a bit cooler than usual.  The wind was there as I could tell from the flapping of my flag but it was not as bad as in previous years. For the past few miles, I had been playing cat and mouse with a couple of women and one had pulled far ahead. Another was on my heels and we ran down this hill together. She also pulled away near the tenth mile, about .3 of a mile before we began our climb up Cliff Drive. I looked at my watch and saw it was going to be one of those races where my time was going to probably be close to the next minute. I have more races with 50-some seconds in them than any other time.  If I can, I do everything possible to not have a time that ekes over into the next minute. I know I am not the only one who does that.

I took a deep breathe and began to climb Cliff Drive. For some reason, even though this hill has almost made me walk sometimes, and has made me walk others, I felt strong today.  I powered up it with my eyes held high. I am not ready to say "before I knew it I was at the top" as it is assuredly a hill that makes its presence known.  But 3/4 of mile later I was on the top and breathed a sigh of relief. I knew a couple of turns through some neighborhoods and a small uphill was all that stood between me and the long beautiful downhill home.

Again I played cat and mouse with a some runners and again I was able to pull past them on the uphill. We made the turn and the Pacific Ocean exploded on our right. Soon thereafter, the mile of flags began with members of our military there to hand out small postcard-sized flags to everyone to carry to the finish. I politely declined as my hands were already full..

Here I also noticed that because I had run Cliff Drive far faster than I expected. I had an outside chance to run under 1:30. I would have never thought that possible a few miles earlier but wanted to give it a go. It would requite a 6:00 mile in this last mile, unfortunately. I lowered my head, and began to run.

As the final few yards of the race came into focus I knew I had run hard and had made up some time but that sub-90 minute half was not in the cards today.  I ran a 6:19 last mile and finished in 1:30:22. This was just my 51st fastest half-marathon ever but one I was exceedingly proud to run. (Also, for the third straight year, I had someone pass me very close to the finish line, with not a care in the world that they were passing a flagbearer. No major complaints as a race is a race but at least this one hadn't tried to trip me three times.)

Having now done this event six times in one form or another I think it might be time for me to move onto a different race.  I love coming here in November but with only so many weekends in a year and only so many miles in my legs, I want to see more of this country and world. I am presently accepting invitations from all races.

Until that time, however, my heartfelt thanks goes out to all veterans. By doing what you do, I am able to choose to go run around on weekend's knowing I live under the blanket of security you help provide.

1 comment:

Georgann Porterfield said...

Thanks, from a veteran, for honoring veterans and sharing ASEA.