Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Ventura Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 11st Edition
13.1 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Ventura Half Marathon
Place: Ventura, CA
Miles from home: 1987
Weather: 34 Degrees and 75% humidity

When you have run over 400 races in your life, you don’t have too many firsts left to do. Unless you really start stretching for some odd distances or get hyperspecific, the firsts aren't there anymore. Unfortunately, this being my first race since October 1st of last year,  with my mother passing a week later, it hit me that this would be the first time ever in my life I wouldn't be calling my mom after a race to tell her how it had gone. She had so supportive of my racing, learning so much about the sport for someone who couldn't run, that this was a bit of those gut punches which come out of nowhere after you lose someone.

So I thought I would try my best to look at the positives I had going on in my life instead. Too bad my travel for the days leading up to the race made that pretty difficult.

Starting with a canceled flight moving my flight over 12 hours. and then delays on the tarmac when I finally landed adding two more hours to my trip, and culminating with me having to drive through the hell that hath been let let loose on Southern California in the past couple of weeks kept me getting to my hotel in Ventura California for the half marathon, I realized this was not the way I wanted to start the weekend.  But I had made it safely. That's my positive thought there. 

The previous week hadn't gone well with my training as well. My treadmill had broken causing me to miss a workout. A scheduled run of some note got postponed meaning the rest of the week's workouts were thrown off as well. But maybe I would be more rested. (N.B. More positive outlook attempts.) Plus this race was supposed to be a barometer of where I stood right now, so I figured if I could still do well with all of this, it would show I was further ahead than I had even thought. Look at me: Positive Polly!

If you know anything about me it is that I disdain mornings. I just don't function well in them on a good day.  How I have ever run a race in the morning is beyond me. So when I knew I had to be up at 4:45 a.m. for this race, I wasn't exactly excited. But at least the race day would be over early and I could enjoy the full day after the race, I thought. And after both rain and snow smacked SoCal this past week, when the race morning broke cold, crisp, clear and dry, it was definitely the best we could have hoped for.

On the bus to the start, I met a first-time half marathoner named Peter as he asked if the seat next to me was taken. As we exchanged pleasantries, I was extremely pleasant to see someone in his 40s taking on something new for the first time. He didn't seem to be someone recovering from anything nor having lost a ton of weight which had put him on the bus this morning trying something new for the first time. Rather, he just hadn't had the urge to do this distance until now and here he was. I've never tried to convince anyone to run a race. But when they decided to do so, I will support the hell out of them. Peter was doing his 1st and I was doing my 115th. But we had the same main goal in line - get to the finish healthily. (Peter ran a 1:40 at age 45!  Way to go, Pete!)

Getting off the bus, it was definitely quite chilly with the temperature right around freezing. I had my Sherpa jacket on and slid a beanie over my head and ears. Nevertheless, even with one of my more distinguished features hidden (my ears) I still had a few people recognize me and say hello. As I was zoned out and expecting none of that, it was a nice surprise. I think I coherently responded to everyone.  Again, mornings and Dane don't mix!

I spent some time standing in the bathroom line with a running friend Phil, who just so happened to do the official timing of the marathon I ran around the Crystal Cruise line ship some seven years ago now.

Me and Phil on the wet slick deck.

Bathroom line standing left me just enough time for me to get ready to hop in to the first corral of what I knew was going to be some extraordinarily fast runners. I had absolutely not a care in the world where I finished overall in the race today because I knew even my absolute best time probably wouldn’t even get me in the top 30 of these speedsters. (In fact, it wouldn't have gotten me into the top 50. Wow!) I wished Phil good luck and got ready to run.  (Phil ran a 1:45 at age 61!)

After getting a car out of the running lane that we were about to enter once the race began (they must’ve thought they had the best parking spot ever and couldn’t figure out why no one else parked there) we were finally underway. Billed as having "just the right amount of downhill", the Ventura Half Marathon begins, comically with a slight uphill, followed by a right hand turn into a short but steep uphill for about 1/10th of a mile.

*Break Here for Course Description*

The first quick uphill was a surprise even though it was shown on the course elevation profile. After that, a brief running on back streets takes runners to a regularly-sized running path. Given there were over 1500 runners running this race, the race smartly sent us out in self-seeded waves. So even if it was just a tad crowded at the start, it was great to have some many like-speeded (I just made up a word) runners around me at all time.  The biggest descent by far happens in miles 2 and 3 with a rather surprising and long hill
right before mile five. The downside of that hill leads keeps runners on the road until mile seven (You left the bike path at mile three). For the vast majority of the final six miles, runners will be on this bike path, with slight amounts of downhill (about 30 feet per mile; almost imperceptible) as it weaves through some decent and semi-industrial areas here and there. Only the last half-mile is on the streets of Ventura, ending

with a finish right in front of Mission Park.

*Break Over*

First 5K:

In the first quarter mile I passed a bunch of people who quickly passed me back the minute we hit that uphill. Then when we ran down the other side of that hill, I passed them right back. I am as good at running downhills as I am bad at running uphills! When we hit the first mile markers and I was on the pace that I wanted to run for the day (6:30 per mile) I was quite happy. Given the uphill and how easy I had taken it, I figures the first mile would be a touch over my desired pace. The next two miles, which possessed some of the biggest and longest downhills of the day, gave me quite an additional buffer of time without seemingly taking it out of my legs or energy levels. I thought I might finish far better than I had expected. There was a smattering of fans here and there but mostly it was a ton of fast people running solo on bike paths.  The race crew had their hands full clearing these paths from the debris brought down by the torrential downpour recently but other than a few puddles and mud here and there, it was completely unencumbered.

I thought we were running on the bike path for the entirety of the race so I was a bit surprised when we popped out of the tree-lined path and began running on the roads. We passed over a lovely bridge with new pavement that felt like it had been laid that morning. The water we crossed was rushing far below in the Ventura River which I am guessing is almost never this vibrant.

To the 10k:  

I knew there was a flat section for the next mile or so until we hit the biggest uphill of the course. I ceded a little bit of ground and maybe a person or two through through this flat section but my pace felt the same. As we approached the uphill, its top shrouded in the mystery of early morning fog, it seemed to go on for much longer than I expected. I wish I could say I paid more attention to my surroundings as I knew they were absolutely gorgeous at this point. The greenery from all the most recent rain was around us and the hills we ran by were probably the wettest they’ve ever been. 

I’ve had a problem in my left quad now for what I have to say has been years that I mostly ignore and it also mostly doesn’t bother me. Yet as I was trying to run speed I hadn't run in quite some time, I was definitely feeling it. I cautiously approached every uphill, and even took the downhills with a little trepidation. That said, when even the big hill only needed me a 6.44 mile I was ecstatic. And when with the help of a downhill, the next two miles went rather according to plan. I hit the halfway point of this half marathon with almost a minute of cushion to get under my B goal of 1:25 (My "A" goal was a 1:23. The "C" goal was to make sure I still ran in the 1:27 range, something I didn't even consider worrying about at this point.)

Onto Mile 10:

The next, mile, however, was the beginning of the end for all the things that I was hoping to get. I ran a 6:41 mile which felt like it was much faster and given the little bit of downhill during this mile was quite confusing. I felt I was working just as hard and running just as fast, yet the runners passing me with ease told me otherwise before I even saw my watch. This almost never happens in the latter stages of races, because I seed myself pretty well meaning those who are faster than me are almost always in front of me. In fact, it’s usually me passing others at the end. I thought perhaps maybe this was just an anomaly and I decided to push the next mile a little bit faster. I thought I pushed it faster however my watch showed me I was wrong. My "A" goal was definitely not going to happen, and now my secondary goal was quickly slipping out of my grasp. Another mile and another slow time just barely under seven minutes confirmed that with a 5K left the only thing I was running for was a little bit of pride, and to not injure myself.

To the Finish:

While the course continued downhill in just about absolutely perfect weather, it felt like I was running on a flat course. A runner would past me, I would run with them for a few seconds, and then they would start to distance themselves. I really didn’t have much of an answer, and it was rather frustrating. I started to debate how hard I wanted to push these last two miles. Was a 1:26 low all that important when that’s not what I wanted at all anyway? As I debated this, for the first time since sixth mile I had a few runners in my sites that I felt I could pass. 

I looked at my watch and noticed that I should run right around a 1:26:20 and picked up the pace nevertheless, hoping maybe I could sneak in under 1:26. But when we hit the 13th mile marker I could see we had well over .1 to go. I am extremely well-versed in being able to run the tangents of course. This means I will cut every corner exactly as tight as possible in order to not run a single step more than I have to. So usually my watch will cut me a little under the stated distance of whatever I race I run (because GPS watches are not as accurate as people think.) Yet, I was quite surprised I would have to make up for another 40 seconds of running I hadn't accounted for as the course was definitely a little long.

As I headed down the homestretch I couldn’t see any of the clocks to tell me how hard I should push until it was too late. I finally saw the clock tick past 1:27 and I was crestfallen. I crossed the mat in 1:27:10 and was rather disappointed with how the whole day had gone. Granted, this was my 25th fastest Half Marathon ever and the fastest I have run in seven years, but it felt like I had so much more in me in spite of all the things that were against me the past few days. Nevertheless,  once again trying to focus on the positive, I realized this race told me where I stood given all of those circumstances. Perhaps I will indeed finish this year with a brand new half marathon personal best at the age of 47. I don’t think there’s that many people who have run as many races as I have that are still on the cusps of brand new personal bests this late in their running life.  

For that I find it easy to be positive.

The course was quite beautiful and very runnable in spite of the fact of a couple surprise are hills that don’t really seem to show up on any elevation maps. For my organizing standpoint, it was very well run, and the volunteers were spectacular, both stopping traffic and handing out water and electrolytes at the eight stations.  I can say this is one of the top five races I’ve ever run where I was running this fast and had so many people around me at all times. It made up for the fact that is was almost complete devoid of spectators.  I can't tell if it will always be this cool and crisp, but I can imagine that most Februarys in this region are still rather hospitable to runners and can see why this race has an astounding amount of runners running it this soon post-COVID. The fact I ran a 1:27 and still finished 106th overall should tell you how many fast people were there on race day.

Next up is my first marathon in over 3.5 years. This is far and away the longest stretch between marathons I have ever had since I began running marathons 22 years ago. This is going to be quite interesting.

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