Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Windermere Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 9th Edition 
132.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Windermere Half Marathon
Place: Spokane, WA
Miles from home: 348
Weather: 70s; humid; sunny

You can only do your first once. Best to do it wisely.

That is what I told myself when I chose the Windermere Half Marathon as my first race as a Masters runner. I had run the marathon put on in Spokane two years ago when abysmal and abnormal heat had left me demolished on the side of the road before finally nearly crawling to the finish. I figured that record-breaking temperatures wouldn't happen again. I was, of course, wrong.

As little as 72 hours before the race, some of the daytime temperatures for Spokane were in the 40s. Beautiful racing weather. But then, inexplicably, each day added 10 or more degrees to the daily high so that race day had a projected high of 97 degrees. Sure, when you start a race at 7 a.m. and hope to only take 90 minutes to finish, the true high of the day won't be when you are running. But the day doesn't start in the 30s either with a high like that. When it became apparent my first race as a 40 year old wasn't going to be ideal, I made some changes.

First, I decided on the Wednesday beforehand, when I actually turned 40, to run 40 km around a track. Of course, that day, in Portland reached 90 degrees during the actual running of the event.  And, double of course, it was a high of 73 and cloudy the next day. But I did this because I knew I wouldn't be racing well in Spokane. As such, it wasn't a problem to exhaust myself beforehand.  Regardless, when I got to the race on Sunday morning, I still hoped to have a solid day. Solid however, had much more to do with placement than it did time.

I spent time at the expo talking to fellow runners about their own desires and dreams.  Many were interested in the product I was talking about, called ASEA which I have been using to recover from races since 2009. These events are always blogworthy in and of themselves. There is an interesting cast of characters who populate these races we run and their motives and actions always provide at last one head-shaking moment per expo.

I have run a fair amount of races. Suffice it to say I have run all kinds of terrain, routes and with all sorts of participants. Many races these days talk about how they are no-frills and wear this as a badge of honor. Maybe that is what some want. For the most part, that someone is not me. I have said it before but I like frills. I am not talking about needing a ridiculous amount of catering but when I am racing, it is nice to actually feel like I am racing. I train 99% of the time alone. If I wanted to race alone, and experience that, well, I don't need a medal and an official result to do so. I race to run hard, beat as many people as possible, and hopefully see many of them along the way. So when I stood on the starting line of the Windermere Half Marathon, with ~1500 or so other people, I was happy. It was hardly the biggest event in the world.  But it at least felt like an event was going on and not just a little group run.

First Three Miles:

When the gun went off, myself and three other guys knew, just KNEW that the three women standing at the front, headphones in, iPhone in hand, would have to be run around. It would be nice to say we were wrong. We weren't. Come on people. It is simple race etiquette. No one can claim ignorance about this anymore. If you aren't where you are supposed to be, you know it. We know it. Everyone knows it. Just step aside. It is not like the local newspaper is the only place where you can see a picture of yourself anymore.

Immediately after two-stepping around the selfie triplets, a few runners bolted out. I was not one of them. Within a few hundred yards I could counted and it appeared I was 14th overall. I was happy with that number. I had a feeling some of those who were quickly disappearing would come back to me in the end if I ran a smart race.  And that was going to be absolutely paramount to today's success: intelligent running. My legs were tired from the aforementioned 40 km run, it was hot as heck, and I wasn't going to run "fast" today.  Ergo, run smart but hard and get to the end unscathed.

Before even a full mile of running along a nice curving road went by, we were on the Centennial Trail. A bike trail that goes from Washington and into Idaho, this was the exact same course I had run for the marathon in 2014. As such, I knew what to expect.

My first mile went according to plan. Unfortunately there was no second mile marker for the half-marathoners. It took me until mile three to see that I had fallen off the pace a little bit but was still well within my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, my stomach wasn't agreeing with me too much at this point and I couldn't understand why. I hadn't had anything for breakfast (my norm) to upset it.  I think it was simply revolting at the heat. Here a gentleman who looked like he was in my age group passed me and I got a little bummed. I am not going to lie: I wanted to win the Master's Division in my first race. It didn't look like that was going to happen.

To Mile Six:

The first woman had passed me in the second mile. She fell in with a few runners, including one who had been riding my coattails for about a mile earlier in the race. And by "riding my coattails" I mean no matter where I went on the bike path, he stayed about 6 inches behind me. With no wind to break and no discernible reason for him to be so close, I had to admit it was a bit annoying. When he latched onto the female, I was glad to be rid of him. I didn't have to use my patented phrase for this situation which is not exactly family-friendly (but hilarious and you should ask me what it is in private.)

Around the fourth mile my stomach still hadn't settled and right around mile five the second female passed me. I kept telling myself that mile six is where my body wakes up and I have no business making any decisions about anything before then. You know, decisions like "I am going to stop here and take an Uber and never run again." I did recall that mile six was where I had gotten very downtrodden in the marathon two years prior. Thinking it was mile 20 and realizing it was mile 19, my spirit had been crushed. Knowing I would feel infinitely better today as compared to then, when we approached this section my mood actually brightened. It brightened even more when I was able to avoid a child manslaughter charge by doing a spin move around the four year old who was hiding behind a tree and decided RIGHT NOW would be the opportune time to sprint to mommy on the other side. Don't mind us racers, who are in the zone and not paying attention to chitlins.  By all means, let them wander all around amongst our feet. Actually, it was a double pirouette as the guy I was running next to had to do the mirror image move on his side of the trail.  It is things like this, and not the Chewbacca Mask Lady (bless her heart) that I wish were on videotape.

Onto Mile 10:

After getting away from the Spokane River and running through some neighborhoods, here we joined her on the other side.  It was a nice section that had a little more shade for me this year than the
marathon year simply because of the time of day. Nevertheless, whenever I hit the shade I felt like a different man. In fact, I had already passed three runners who had gone out fast and felt like I might have inched back into the top 20.

The course ran close to, but for the most part, not on the road as we traversed the trail. One fella, the aforementioned back-clinger, decided his course was on the road. Technically he wasn't running the course. But I wasn't sure if it was helping or hindering him. He was also still too far ahead for me to bother or even advise him. Why, when everyone else was following the path, he thought his race was on the road was beside me. But the distraction helped me get into my mind a little bit and I either missed a mile marker completely or it wasn't there. Next thing I knew I was at mile nine and feeling fairly good. And, a slew of runners were coming into focus again.  Did I have enough real estate left and energy in my legs to reel them in?

Heading Toward the Finish

The race had been a little bit frustrating to me. Even though I knew I was tired and it was hot, I still thought I should be able to throw down 6:50 miles with ease.  Instead I was running 7:05s and it was simply annoying. Yet whatever the miles were time-wise, I was catching other runners. As I mentioned above, the race would not be about time, but rather racing those around me suffering in the same heat. In fact, at one point I saw no less than nine of us within one minute of each other. I had to decide whether I wanted to push hard and try to catch them or push medium and try to catch them.  I went somewhere in between.

It is difficult to really dig deep when even digging deep will give you a time that is less than stellar. If I was fighting for an overall podium finish, without a doubt I wouldn't care about the time or the pain it took to push harder. But when you are just battling for a top 20 spot it is harder to find that killer instinct. You rationalize a great deal. You make bargains. You, more or less, find copouts. But I was still in the stage where I wanted to ignore those nagging Slow Down Demons, especially since I had made so much progress in catching these runner who had originally left me for dead.

Up ahead, something interesting was happening and it alone was spurring me on. The overall female had come back into sight and it looked like 2nd place might just catch her. In order to witness this I had to pick it up. So pick it up I did!

This section was new to me as when I ran the marathon it had been just a sufferfest. So the twists and turns and ups and downs of the trail were unfamiliar. The drama in front of me was not.  I have been privy to the top female overall battle on numerous occasions and could almost hear the broadcaster's voice in my head if they had been lucky enough to be in this vantage point. In fact, it wasn't until mile 12.7 that the 2nd woman (Lori) overtook the first woman (Kara).

We crossed over a bridge which carried runners over a portion of the Spokane River which comes to an end in a park and it looked like Kara's hopes of winning were dashed. She had led for all of the race except the part which was important: the finish. (Side note: I am unsure if this division in the Spokane River is manmade or what but it is an absolutely beautiful park and area to finish a race in.)

As we headed into Riverfront Park, I could see Kara was struggling a bit but was valiantly trying to hold on. We did a left turn and then a right turn before crossing a bridge onto Canada Island for the last 100 meters. I lost sight of them both here for just a second before regaining a glimpse.  In that time Kara had made a move, passed Lori and with ten yards left, gave it everything she had. The women ended up only being separated by three seconds on the clock with Kara eking out the win! What a great finish!

I had made great inroads into catching a slew of runners but more than half a dozen had remained uncaught but all in the same minute as me. One included the Stage Five Clinger mentioned above.  I looked at the results and noticed that I had placed second overall in the Master Division in a time of 1:34:55. At the time I didn't know who had beaten me but if it had been that fella, I figured I might just make a stink. Fortunately, he was a few years younger than me and the guy I originally thought was in my category way back in the early portion of the race had beaten me handily. Somehow that was a better consolation. But in my first race as a 40 year old, I ended up with second place overall in my age group, 19th overall in the standings and more importantly, not in a medical tent.

I went back to cheer on runners and wait for my best friend Shannon. She was finishing her 10th half marathon ever. I find that funny since she has done something like 30 ultramarathons and a month prior to this race set a new PR in the 50k.

This race was also a testing ground for me as I was trying out some relatively new shorts and some new shoes. Look for reviews of those to come soon. All told, I was more than pleased with how events went down even if they were not my best results ever.  But that is what makes your best results ever the best: the fact that they don't happen all that often.

I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of my 40s has in store with me and plan on sucking every ounce of fun I can out of each and every day.  For the next few days, however, I am sucking down even more ASEA than usual. Man, do I not like racing in heat!

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