Monday, May 16, 2011

Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 14th Edition 
224.8 miles raced, 1400 meters swam and 57.4 miles biked in 2011
Race: Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon
Place: Solvang, CA       
Miles from home: 810 miles
Weather: 50-60 degrees; overcast 

At the wine tasting on the night before the expo for this Half-Marathon I was gladly meeting people and telling them that I had zero racing plans for this race. I was simply going to go out, enjoy the scenery and have a nice long run.  I truly meant it as well.

I spoke with a nice gentleman named Jerry who was saying he was going to try his best to set a new personal best.When I asked him what he wished to run I saw that it was right around what I planned on running (1:28-1:29).  I asked him if he wanted a pacer and he gladly accept.  I told him I would run as close as I could to 6:45 per mile which would lead to a 1:28:29.  If he wanted to go faster or slower than that he could.  He would just always know that where I was 6:45 per mile.

The rest of the evening was spent talking with people who could not be more happy to be relaxing and enjoying the winery while I continued to devour the cheese and crackers.  I was as hungry guy and was very much craving some steak. When a group of people ask me to join them for dinner, I happily obliged and made even more friends for the weekend.

At the expo the next day, a low-paced feel for the day permeated throughout. You could tell people were there to relax and have a good time.  This general malaise would belie how exceedingly fast some of the top runners would run the next day but this day’s festivities were about relaxing.  I passed out a ton of beef recipes and facts on the nutritional value of lean beef.  Many were curious how I fuel myself and I was happy to let them know that a diet if lean beef is what keeps me going mile after mile.
With the expo over I hurried over to the dinner to give a small talk to the assorted runners and friends who were still simply relaxing and taking in the evening.  I got to catch up with my old friend Rudy Novotny who would be the voice of the race the next day. Rudy just so happened to announce my current marathon personal best back in Ogden in 2009, a time I plan on smashing in October in St. George.

Dinner ended and I had to drive from Solvang to LAX to pick up Shannon.  Late planning for this race made a lot of extra traveling necessary to get to hotels and to the race etc.  But I most assuredly know a lot about the back roads of this gorgeous wine country. Finally tumbling into bed around 1 AM I knew the 5 AM wake-up call would not be pleasant.
Race Day

Most of my entire race morning was spent in a portapotty line.  It is fun to just sit and listen to the chatter of other runners while they discuss what concerns them that morning. Sometimes it is the race, sometimes it is politics and sometimes it is just the utter inane. One woman came up to me and said “You’d think they would have a private restroom for the elite.”  I mentioned they very well might and she asked me why I wasn’t in it. I realized this was a woman who I had spoken to at the expo the day before and told her that while I was flattered and proud of my accomplishments, when it comes to pure speed, I could not hold a candle to some of the people lining up there this morning.

Exiting the bathroom just a few minutes prior to gun time I quickly headed over to the start line.  The national anthem was just about to begin being sung by one of the race participants who easily cajoled the rest of us to sing along with her.  Rarely do I hear race participants do this but this morning they were full and throaty. I found Jerry in the masses and reminded him of my plan for his pacing effort. Then we were off.

First 6 miles: 14:14, 6:25, 6:37, 8:01, 5:09

Almost immediately we were left behind by some of the eventual leaders of this race.  As there was also a two-person relay involved n the race we were unsure who was just doing a 5.8 mile jaunt and not the whole 13.1 with the rest of us.  Nevertheless, we held our ground. I did not see the first mile marker but Jerry mentioned we hit it around 7:11.  Oof.  I had planned on going out a touch over 6:45 for that first mile but not that much. I told him I would get up there on the next mile and unfortunately that was the last I would see of Jerry.  My next mile was only moderately faster and I thought I might be in for a long day.  I may not even come close to breaking 1:30.  But I had a task in mind and that was to help Jerry so I soldiered on.

The next two miles put me much closer to what I wanted for an overall pace and I began to pass more than my fair share of runners.  The fifth mile marker was in the incorrect place but I did not even notice I had been running longer than planned. I was really taking in the scenery on this picture perfect day for running.  A complete cloud cover enveloped the area, the temperatures were cool and there was low humidity abound. Considering two days earlier it had been in the 90s, I felt quite blessed.  As I ran the “short” 6th mile in a 5:09, I laughed. I cannot imagine there will ever be any half-marathon where I run a legitimate 5:09 mile in it anywhere, let alone about half way through.

Right before this 6th mile, however, we all go a great boost from the exchange area for the relay. I also noticed I was on the EXACT pace to run a 1:28:29.  It only took me 6 miles to get there.  The funny thing was how good I was feeling.  Lethargy had been the norm for the first 5k and now I was abound with energy.  I looked behind me on the straightaway and could not even catch a glimpse of Jerry.  Bummer.  I figured he would have to be on his own today.

Up ahead I saw three women, all separated by a few yards, in single file.  I wondered if any of them would like some help.

To the Finish: 6:52 6:21 6:07, 6:19, 6:26 6:28, 6:42, :36

Before I could help anyone with anything, we all had to get up the tight turning hill named simply “Corkscrew”. Aptly named it rose rapidly underneath our feet testing our breathing.  I passed the first of the three women and then seconds later had put the other two behind me as well, exchanging pleasantries to all of them.  I wanted to lend a hand to one of them but how to choose?  I decided I would simply cruise up this hill, down the fast other side and whoever stuck with me would get my assistance (if they wanted it, that is.)

When I crested the hill and began to sprint down the other side I could feel my shoelace coming untied.  I forgot that these particular laces have a tendency to do so and when the hill finally dies and led to a flatter running space, I pulled over to retie it.  As all three women passed me, I stated “rookie mistake” with a smile hoping they would find some humor in my stupidity.

Back on course, I was able to pass the runners again, and the top two women had changes places.  We began running down a nice smooth downhill when off to our left an enormous, steep and soul-crushing hill appeared.  Knowing the course, I knew we did not run up this but I wondered if the ladies knew.  SO I turned around and running backward pointed to the hill and said: “yeah, not sure if you know the course but we do not have to run up that.” From the smiles on their faces I could tell they were at least wondering if that was the case. 

With even more downhill in front of us, I crushed out my fastest mile of the race to see if anyone would follow.  I could hear footsteps not too far behind me and glanced over my shoulder to see the two women leaders had changed places again. I slowed just a touch and asked the lead woman what she was shooting for.  She said a 1:28 would be great and Ii asked her if she would like some help getting it.  She obliged and we soon became a running tandem. Jessica was her name and she looked like she was ready to move even faster.

We chatted a little bit as we ran and I offered advice here and there as we would undulate over hills and around corners. The course was not lacking in either beauty or tight turns. As the miles slipped by I found out she was coached by a friend of mine, Rusty Snow, who so happens to be the Santa Barbara Marathon Race director as well. It is indeed a small world after all, Toto. (Wait.  Did I just mix my references?)

While Corkscrew Hill got the cool name and the press for being tough, the latter hill – Chalk Hill – was probably the more difficult of the two, if only because of its placement later in the race.  As we approached it, Jessica slipped behind me and saw my running shirt which said “Fueled by Beef” on it.  She asked me if I really was and I told her most definitely.  She told me she was fueled by salmon.  I asked her if she wanted to have salmon vs. beef sprint over the last .1 to see who the winner was.  She laughed.

Right before Chalk Hill I felt my shoelace come untied again.  This is ridiculous.  I told Jessica I would catch her and quickly tied it.  Upon reaching her side I looked at my watch and asked her if she wanted to run either a 1:25 high or a 1:26 low.  She said 1:25 and I told her it might hurt but we had a shot.  I found out we had almost broken her 10 mile personal best in the first 10 miles of this race so everything else, including this new half-marathon would just be gravy.  So it was time to make it hurt. Well, right after my shoelace came untied again. 


Pulling over one more time and this time swearing out loud I could see both shoelaces were on the verge of being untied.  I guess this is one benefit the barefoot runners have. I took off sprinting once again, angry that I may have cost Jessica the opportunity to be led to a sub 1:26. When I caught her again right before mile 13 I saw her speed up for a second, see it was me and then ease off the throttle a bit.  This told me she probably could have run a smidgen harder if I had been by her side the whole way.  Disappointed I had not done so, I sort of gave her a nod to say “It’s all yours” and fell back behind her. We were not sure what place she was overall for women but I was really hoping it was third as I had guessed it might be.

Pulling ahead she cruised into a 1:26:08 missing third place by just one woman. However, this was a brand new personal best for her by a couple of minutes at least and she gave me a big smile and hug at the finish. I was able to get a 1:26:14 and somehow do a two-minute negative split on a course not designed for negative splitting.  Given how awful I felt in the beginning this was a very pleasing result for me.  Jerry had a tough day and was able to still run a very respectable 1:32.

Post-race, listening to the times of the runners was very humbling.  By running a little faster than I planned I put the seed of thought into my mind of maybe I could have placed a little higher in my age group if I had given a little effort.  My 6th place in my age group was a little tough to swallow but when I saw third place overall had run a 1:16, I felt much better.  Wow.  Only 7 seconds separated the first two males both running in the 1:06s including one runner from just up the road from me in Utah, Bryant Jensen.  He told me it was great to come down and run at sea level after training at elevation.  I replied I wish I was in Salt Lake City long enough for one stretch to benefit from that myself!

I bumped into not only old racing friends but old high school friends as well (quite randomly) at the post-race shindig.  Fellow Ex-Titusville High School Swimmer Brad Nystrom was on hand to support his wife and her whole family who were running one of the races this weekend.

All told I had a fantastic time in the area and Shannon and I would enjoy some running later on in the greater Ojai area.  Finding a random reservoir and realizing that while cars cost money to get in, pedestrians were free, decided to make a running adventure of it.  We tested the hills and did some sprint repeats all while the rest of the world was waking up. I still know of no better way to check out this wonderful country than by foot. 

I can only hope you agree and follow suit.

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