Friday, September 13, 2013

Mt. Nebo Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 20th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 290 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Mt. Nebo Half Marathon
Place: Payson, UT
Miles from home: 820 miles
Weather: 60s; bright sunshine

Mt. Nebo is the highest mountain in the Wasatch Mountain range. While the half marathon doesn't start at its peak, it sure does feel like it. Without a doubt, the half marathon (and the marathon) both have a benefit of a seemingly ridiculous amount of downhill. While running a downhill race conveys somewhat of an advantage, I strongly feel that advantage lessens as the distance of the race increases. Once you hit 13 miles of mostly downhill, the advantage of the downhill is more or less leveled by the ferocious pounding that your legs take. If you run into some surprise uphill in the last 5k, well, that is another story altogether.

Race Morning:

As with virtually every long-distance race in Utah, the morning of the race begins with an extremely early wake-up call and then a bus ride to the start. While my previous weekend's racing had been very warm, this weekend was supposed to dip in temperature a bit. Plus, as we would be starting at 8,000 feet, in the shadow of mountains, the air would be even cooler. The only question remained was how long it would remain so.

Approximately 600 people were in a small field with barrels of fire burning to keep the slight nip away from them. I personally did not think that 50 degrees (my guess at the temperature) required it but some were dressed like it was winter. I chatted with my good friend Chris (Vanilla Bear) and his wife (Mrs. Bear) and another friend Rebecca who was kind enough to visit me at the expo the day prior. We made small talk, laughed at some absurdities of some runners, and just bided time until we headed from the field to the small road and mat which served as our starting line.

It was no secret I was hoping for a new personal best in spite of a year that put enough obstacles in my way to make that pretty much an impossibility.  Nevertheless, I remained a relatively strong downhill runner and I wanted to take a crack at what was my oldest personal best.

My half-marathon PR was set over five years ago at a race where I was in shape to run fast but on a course that had obviously been long. That race has gnawed at me every since and the opportunity to break a new PR was here. I would give it all I had. Admittingly, I knew I was not in the shape to run as fast as I want and I felt the amount of downhill in this race, while helpful, would actually detract from running the fastest one could.

I am going to break down this race into three parts.  I think there are three distinct and separate portions of this race and there is an approach to each section that will assuredly help you run a new half-marathon personal best.

First Four Miles: 5:48, 5:49, 5:55, 5:55

Right out of the chutes a few runners took off and I could tell they were just going to be flying. I was very jealous as while I don't think I could have hung with the overall winner the next three or four were definitely in my range of what I could run. But I was here to run what was possible today, not some hypothetical possibility. I knew the first three or four miles would tell me if I was even going to attempt a PR today and I anxiously awaited the mile markers.

As the marathon was run on the same course we would encounter the marathons mile markers .1 of a mile before we would run past the half-marathon marker. I loved this. It gave us another marker upon which to test our pace. Without any doubt the downhill was assisting in getting me out to a fast start and after the second mile mirrored the first mile's split I felt I might have a shot today.

As this beginning section of four miles is going to be where your legs are the most fresh it is really an opportunity to open it up a bit. Not too much, as the elevation of 8,000 feet will keep your lungs from allowing you to go out too fast, but enough to make it burn a bit. I could tell I was racing and not just running as many others post-race were talking about how beautiful the scenery was and how much they enjoyed this or that. I saw none of this. All I saw was an imaginary blue line cutting the tangents of every road as I laser-focused my eyes on the next mile marker ahead.

The third mile marker was off a touch but when the next one made up the difference I simply took the average of the two miles. With all of the first four miles under a 6 minute pace and I knew I had a shot at cracking my personal best. But the first four miles would be the easiest. I knew the next six would contain slightly less downhill, a flat portion and more than few turns.

Heading Toward Mile 10: 5:48, 5:52, 5:55, 6:03, 6:09, 6:13

A runner would pass me every once in a while and I would stay with them for a bit before letting them go. One chap in front of me seemed to be keeping the same pace as I was so I just tried to stay the exact same distance behind him, ignoring the passers. This worked well as I slipped from about 4th place to 8th place. However, after two miles at a pace which crept a little closer to 6 minutes than I would like, I decided to pick up the tempo. I eased past my pacer and began to separate myself a little. However, even though I obviously tried to speed up, we both had slowed. I had stowed one Strawberry Banana PowerGel in my shorts on the odd occasion I would use it. I say "odd" as I almost never fuel during a half marathon. But I knew I was going for more than I could realistically expect to achieve today so better be prepared than sorry.

At the 9th mile, I downed the gel and then followed that with a quick shot of water. Aid stations were placed three miles apart. This was fine for me running the half but I wonder if those running the full wished for more. At this point the downhill roller coaster ended and while still heading downward, the miles would be much more even. In fact, looking back, the best portion of downhill running had actually ended about a mile before. I laughed as I passed the 15k mark knowing I had crushed my (relatively) weak 15k PR. Now I have to decide if it counts. (Probably not since it wasn't officially measured. However, running nearly a 5 minute personal best for 15k felt really good.)
One thing I have always done when I look at an elevation profile of a downhill is to think it is in a straight line. Let it be known that there are many twists and turns to this course. Only a few are ankle-breakers but for those who do not like to look that far ahead of themselves, this is the course for you. That said, I am not one of those people. I like to see where I am going. The first ten miles did not have a great deal of that. When it did, I ran better. I would zero in on opponents in front of me and close the gap. While I had once fallen back to probably around 12th or 13th place, I had clawed back to the top ten before the final three miles.

Then the course changed.
Onto the Finish: 6:43, 6:53, 6:43, :40

Looking at an elevation profile for this course, even just the final three miles seems to belie how difficult it really is. The profile shows a flatter but still gradual downhill profile. I can tell you that might be the case but there are, without a doubt, a few rolling hills in this section. And rolling hills, at 5500 feet, are made even more difficult when you were just rocketing down massive downhills for 10 miles.

When I hit the 10th mile, even though I had slowed from my desired pace, I was still on pace to run a high 1:17 or low 1:18. When the 10th mile was nearly a minute slower than the previous miles, I knew I was in trouble. The 11th mile was even worse, exacerbated by the fact that on one of the uphills, I took a ten beat walking break. I simply had to. My legs were exhausted and my lungs were burning. For the past few weeks I have been having more difficulty than normal breathing and being at elevation wasn't helping whatsoever. Also, to be honest, according to my math I would not be setting a new personal best. So the walk break wasn't hurting anything.

Then suddenly my math skills came to me again and I realized I was not going to break 1:20 but I could still set a PR. Get moving, Rauschenberg! I knew the walk break was not going to hurt my chances and was actually very necessary (not unlike Salt N Pepa's fourth studio album of the same redundant name.) If I hadn't stopped for a few seconds to regain my composure, I would have never been in the position to move forward.

Granted this little break allowed for two runners (and the first overall female) to pass me but this race was never one about position - it was only about time. Time that was quickly fading away.

I had not driven the course and as such wasn't exactly sure where the race ended. Funny thing is that even when you know you only have about three minutes of running left, it helps immensely if you know exactly where those three minutes of running are located. But I was not afforded that luxury on this day so it was run as fast as I could and hope I left enough in the tank to push if I needed it.

As I approached the final twisting and turning  I could see the archway ahead. I could see I was going to be close. I could see...people not getting the heck out of the way! Come on, oblivious spectators with strollers! There was almost a major clean-up on aisle 4 situation as I rounded a bend and almost toppled over someone who must have thought pushing a small child made her invincible.

Finally, crossing under the finish, I had it - a new half-marathon PR.

Sure it was not by the two minutes or more I was hoping but a PR is a PR as I constantly tell my friends. I finished 12th overall, 3rd in my age group and netted a 1:20:30. I weighed myself a little later in the day and saw I was around 188 lbs. I might not be the fastest guy on the block but for a fatty I can sort of wheel.

Friends abound setting oodles of personal bests and are still paying for it days later. Vanilla Bear beat his PR which I had helped paced him to last year. Rebecca crushed her PR in her second half-marathon. Tons of new friends were all bemoaning their exhausted legs but doing so with smiles n their faces. That is what a new personal best does. For a while, at least, it overpowers the soreness. The hobbles always feel better when you know they came at the price of running the fastest you ever have. The race was extremely well-run and I can see me taking part in many Runtastic Events races in the future. Kudos to the event organizers for a challenging but fun course, an excellent post-race spread and beautiful awards and finisher's medals.

To be honest, I do not think that all of this downhill makes for the absolute best way to get a new personal best. However, the chances are very high that with proper training and knowing how to run downhill, your old PR will be left smoldering if you run the Mt. Nebo Half.  

Chances are also good the course will leave you smoldering on the ground afterward as well.


Becca Jane said...

You did it!! It was a great morning! I am so glad it worked out for you to be at this race.

Half Crazed Runner said...

Another great run!