Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Santa Barbara International Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 25th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 368.1 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Santa Barbara International Half Marathon
Place: Santa Barbara, CA
Miles from home: 943 miles
Weather: 50-60s; Sunny

I have run either the Marathon or 13.1 distance at Santa Barbara four of the past five years only missing in 2011 when I was contractually obligated to be elsewhere. I don't run the race because it is easy (it is not.) I run it because the race it well-run, honors our Veterans, and, well, is a nice place to be in November.

One of the few complaints I have is the elevation profile given by the website. It is a tad misleading to the average joe. Which is why I am showing you here what you can expect to run when you take on the half marathon. Like Tucker and Dale, you are in for a doozy of a day.

As you can see, you have a few hills to contend with and I will break them down for you in my recap of this race. In addition, what would make this a different race than usual for me would that I would be carrying a US Flag to honor our Vets.  I have carried the flag once before, on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and knew what I had in store for me. I only wish I had constructed my flagpole a little better.

Race Morning: 

The morning of the race I was fortunate enough to have my friend and fellow Team Beef member, Carin, pick me up at my hotel and take me to the start of the race. We got there with just enough time to hit the bathrooms and get ready for the race to start. Carin was hoping for a sub-2 hour half and it was her comment earlier about looking at the elevation profile and thinking it was a "flat" race that prompted me to mention it above.

Moments before the start of this race, I realized that the two pieces of thin flagpole that were simply slung together in the middle were probably not sturdy enough to survive the race. I ran over to a friend who I knew had some tape on him and seconds before I lined up, I had Old Glory seemingly ready to go.

First Three Miles: 6:22, 6:49, 6:32

All I hoped to do on this day was to run strong, show support for our Veterans and survive what might be my last race of 2013. I also wanted to stay out of as many people's way as possible.  As such, I would stay off to the side of the race course, not running the tangents and keeping my flapping flag out of the face of my competitors. When the first three miles went by in a rather surprising time, I thought perhaps I had a chance of breaking my flag-running PR set back in 2011 at the aforementioned race in Chicago. Given the fact I was facing even more technical problems with my flag was very impressive as well.  I had not pulled the zip ties connected to the grommets of the flag to the pole tight enough and it was continually sliding.  Right before the end of the third mile, after simply trying to push the flag back into position and move forward, I grabbed the nub of the zip tie I had not cut off and pulled it as tight as possible with my teeth. It finally seemed to work.

Luckily, these first three miles are simple to run with just a little bit of elevation change. After the first 2.5 miles run on city streets, you pop onto a bicycle path which, if just for a half of a mile or so, technically leaves Santa Barbara and into Goleta (thank you, Google maps!)

To the 10k: 7:14, 7:03, 7:16

I have said it before and someday I will learn why, but bicycle paths always wear me out.  Today was no different. Even though I had solved my flag problems and could concentrate my energy on running, I soon found I had little energy to run with.  Knowing there were a series of hills coming up at miles 6-8, I felt if I was feeling tired right now, I had better slow it down a touch.  Here and there a runner would pass me and compliment me on running with the flag.  It always seemed to come along right when I was feeling the most weary and I would perk right up.  I had learned from the previous time running with the flag to add a cloth handle of some sort to the pole as my sweaty hand would make it rather difficult to hold. In addition, if the handle was too thin, I would exhaust my hand trying to hold it tightly. Even having tried to solve this problem, I nonetheless, had to switch hands every once in a while as my shoulder would start to burn.

Nevertheless, the bike path running would continue until mile 5.5 when we would finally jump out onto the city streets again.  I felt a little stronger here and did my best to take in fluids. It was a gorgeous day but already far too hot for a heavy sweater like myself. A few spectators had made it out to the bike paths (although very few left the comforts of their own homes to step outside and cheer.  This is a big point of contention with me. If I had a race go by my front yard, I would be out cheering people on like crazy.  In fact, I have. Often.)

A slightly slower 6th mile had me hoping I had saved some energy for the hills.

Onto Mile 10: 7:30, 7:07, 6:36, 7:31

Coming out of the neighborhood, we made a sharp right and immediately began a climb.  So many remember the final hill's climb from previous years they tend to forget about the two rises and drops during these next few miles.  As we began the climb up the first of two roller coaster hills in a mile or so, the wind which always seems to be every-present in Santa Barbara varying only in severity, picked up a touch.  My flag whipped back and forth and looked rather elegant.  It made that wonderful snapping noise that flags make in wind and it actually made it sound like a runner was right on my heels. The wind also damn near bent the skinny flag pole in half and I had to start carrying it with two hands to keep it from snapping. Ruh-roh. Seven more miles of this might get a touch tiring.

As my pace slowed here and there, fighting the wind and the hills with no arms to pump, a runner would pass me occasionally.  All had kind words to say whether it was about my effort or the flag. One gentleman said something, looked at me and said, "You're THAT guy!"  I agreed with him knowing full well what he met (I had spoken to him briefly at the expo) but didn't have much of a witty comeback other than "Yep, I am that guy."  As he pulled away he just said "52.  Wow."

Running down a hill, I can usually make up time on virtually anyone.  But my legs were simply exhausted and sore.  Not used to this happening so early into a race, I just decided that the difference between a 1:29 and a 1:31 or whatever was not worth looking bad holding the flag.  It is amazing how much straighter and truer you run when you are carrying your nation's colors. I am not sure I would consider myself an enormous patriot but as much as is wrong with our country, I do love it.  I love those who serve and protect us and allow, as I say, goof-offs like myself to play around on weekends knowing we are about as safe as is possible in a dangerous world.

Back up another hill and then down another, the crowds grew a little more dense. I would hear clapping as I passed and would raise the flag as high as I could. The clapping and cheering got louder and it urged me forward. As we passed under an overpass, I heard the feet of a female runner approaching me. It is always interesting how not only the footfalls but the breaths of women differ so much from men.  Perhaps I have just run a lot of races but they are so distinctly different.  It reminded me of me running this marathon back in 2010 when I was joined by a woman running the full and decided to help pace her into a time she was hoping to get. However, this time I didn't have the energy to do much more than hold onto this girl's coattails.

I knew there was one more small rise before a nice long downhill.  I put my head down and pushed. Making up some ground on a few runners and passing a few who had been in front of me left me feeling vindicated and knowing I had run the course the best way possible until now. This trip down Los Positas Road left us mostly in the shade. This was good because I needed a break from the penetrating sun.  It was bad because, and I think I am remembering meteorology correctly, air travels from high pressure to low pressure so it was rushing out of the shadow of the colder darker air to the sunnier drier air to the right of us. All that means was my flag was a flying. Again, it became a two-hand affair and all momentum was lost.
Credit: Simon Ibsen
Then there was Cliff Drive.

Heading home: 8:06, 7:06, 6:51, :53 

As I made my way down this last bit of hill, one runner said as I passed him "I am just going to try to hang with you."  I told he was welcome to do so but chances are he would pass me on the next monster of a climb.  I think, however, he was just wishfully thinking as he soon fell out of sight.

This marks the fourth time I have run Cliff Drive in this race and it never gets an easier. At least knowing it is there helps keep the "Will this EVER end?" thoughts out of my mind. As I pushed hard up the hill, my friend Chase, a Maintenance Officer at the Arizona Army National Guard came up beside me. I told him I would love to run with him but I didn't have the energy to keep up.  Chase ran this race last year on a wonky ankle so bettering his time today was huge on his list. He ran a stellar time, beating me by over a minute in these last three miles.

When you finally reach the top of this beast, you are almost in the clear.  You do a quick little snake of right turn left turn and then one tiny little hill awaits you.  I hate this damn hill.  But then you turn and within seconds are treated to a glorious view of the ocean and a long gradual downhill to the finish. Even more glorious is the last mile is adorned with flag after flag, put out to honor our veterans by the local ROTC.  Members are there to hand a small flag to every runner who wants one and I can't imagine anyone turning them down.  As I ran by I heard of them say "I am guessing he doesn't need this."

As the course flattens, you head toward Santa Barbara City College and finish on their track.  I had made a reference to the fact that I disliked how the course zig-zagged a little before entering the track a few years ago in my race report here and I readied myself for that twisting.  Much to my delighted surprised, that portion was removed and just a lap on the track remained. I am not saying that I caused it but I am taking credit for it in my head anyway.

Onto the track I went and proudly raised the flag as high as I could. Two guys behind me saw this as an opportunity to pass me in the last 10 yards and I can't really begrudge them of it.  A race is a race until you cross the finish.  However, knowing I had a little more ornamentation on me, I decided to not try to push it to the finish with them, potentially poking out an eye.

All told, a solid effort on the day with a time of 1:32:57 and 77th overall is what I netted. I had more than a few friends run very solid times on this course which just impresses me to no end. It is not the most difficult course out there but it is not easy.  To run well on this means you really do like to climb some hills.  But no matter how tired I got, I knew what I was doing was a cakewalk compared to what our soldiers went through in combat and what many of them go through after returning home. This was my miniscule attempt at trying to say thank you to all of them.

So, thank you, Veterans.

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