Monday, October 15, 2018

Orion Half-Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 15th Edition 
156.5 miles run and 7600 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Orion Half-Marathon
Place: Surfside Beach, TX
Miles from home: 195
Weather: Mid-80 degrees; humid; bright sunshine 

I had an opening appear on my calendar this weekend and I wanted to take advantage of two different races on two different days in the greater Houston area. The first (a half-marathon) was put on by my friend Rob Goyen and his Trail Racing Over Texas series. Rob always puts on amazing races as is evidenced by the fact that one of his events is in my book of must-run races all over North America. The second was part of a series of ten milers, a distance which I think there needs to be more focus on from runners, called the Texas Ten Series. My only trepidation? The weather.

I knew it was going to be bad. Just super-hot and humid and make me want to die bad. But I figured that I could power through. I am the guy who ran 52 marathons in one year, right? I am a bad ass! Yeah, well, I am, maybe, when it isn't hot. Part of the reason I moved to Austin two years ago was to try to get better in heat running. I have now come to the conclusion that:
1. I will never ever ever ever ever get better at running in the heat; and
2. Everyone should train in the weather that best suits them to be in the best shape possible for whatever race they plan on running. Sure you can get a little heat acclimation in or elevation training or whatnot but the number one thing to running a race well is to show up to the race in the best shape possible.

The Orion Half Marathon is actually part of a whole slew of races which take place on the hard-
packed sand of Surfside Beach, Texas. From 5k to 100 miles, people are running back and forth on this stretch of beach all day and night (and maybe day again). I have never run on the beach before where the sand was so beaten down. Footing is 100% not a problem on this course. It wasn't exactly the same as pavement but it sure was close.

As we lined up to start the race at 8 a.m., it was already 82 degrees on the beach. I had opted to wear a Camelbak for this race as there was only one aid station we would hit twice. Otherwise it was self-supported. Normally, in a half, I wouldn't even need water at all. But this was different. The night before the race I had frozen a 1.5l bladder solid with water. My intent was to wear it during the race hoping it would partially cool me while it melted.

Looking at the relatively unreliable race predictions from Ultrasignup I saw there was one runner who I thought might win the race. I might also give him a run for his money if I had a decent day. I figured it would be a nice birthday present for my mom and decided to give it all I had if it came down to that.

As the sun made a gloriously beautiful, yet threatening cresting over the horizon, we watched the marathon runners take off half an hour before us. After some milling around, and running into running friends I hadn't seen in years, it was soo our turn to join the rest of the beach runners.  The clocked hit zero, and away we went.

About 100 yards into the race, I knew it wasn't going to come down to that at all. One runner took off like he had been shot out of a cannon. Another runner followed suit a little bit behind. Then another shirtless fella was in front of me looking quite solid as well leaving me in fourth place. I felt maybe one of these guys might falter but not all three.

We passed the first mile marked in the sand and my 7:15 mile had felt like a 6:40. I was already drenched in sweat and the three runners in front of me were disappearing in the distance. Another runner passed me here and I had no answer. Fourth of fifth makes no difference to me. Heck, fifth is actually more palatable.

Around the fourth mile, I heard some footsteps and a fellow runner I had talked to online appeared by my side. "Katie?" I inquired and she confirmed. We chatted for a bit and then fell into a bit of silence more or less running in lockstep. As the aid station appeared at the fifth mile, Katie's partner was waiting with her with some food and/or water. I kept motoring on.

Trying to ascertain where on this long straight and flat stretch of beach we would turn around was made a bit easier by the front runner coming back at me. I figured he was close to a mile in front of me by now so I had less than a half of a mile until the turn around. Katie joined me off to the side and slowly began to slip by me. I knew I had no answer to her today. I was here to run out the rest of this race and not die.

But no other runners were coming back towards us. Katie had put about ten yards between us.  I suddenly saw the shirtless guy heading back our way. With other runners of all the races, and regular beach traffic it wasn't exactly easy to see your competitors. Suddenly I noticed the turn around sign and realized that the second, third, and fourth place runners must have all missed it somehow. Katie turned, now in second place, shirtless guy turned in third and now I was in fourth again.

As we began the 6.55 mile return trip, the wind which I thought had been in our face, showed me that I was mistaken. It was not clear that it had been more sideways than anything but running to the finish was going to include a pretty stiff headwind. I was not completely minding because, to be quite honest, without this wind, I would have been toast.

Shirtless fella had passed Katie but hadn't put a huge distance between her and me. However, at the mile five aid station, he took an extended break to refuel. Katie stopped for just a few seconds, mostly just walking forward with the aid from her partner and I, with my Camelbak, was just looking to be done. Now I was in third place. It didn't last all that long.

About half a mile later, shirtless guy passed me. About half a mile after that the former secnd place runner passed me as well. At this point, placement meant nothing. I just was hoping to get home. As my miles went from 7s to approaching 9s and slower I was just trying to stay upright. The only consolation was that all but the lead runner in front of me, while separating themselves, weren't blazing away. It was quite clear we were all suffering.

Around the 11th mile, a runner passed me and I realized this was one of the ones who had missed the turn as well. I now felt like all was right in the world as everyone who missed the turn had made up ground and was in front of me. Never want to beat someone because they made a mistake. I hung onto him as long as I could but I knew he had more in the tank than I.

I hadn't really been paying attention to my overall time but suddenly, with one mile to go, I saw that I was probably going to run the slowest half-marathon I have ever run in my life and it wasn't even going to be close. I have it emblazoned in my mind that my slowest half-marathon ever not only came in the middle of a 70.3 Ironman but was one that, because of a wrong turn myself, I ran the better part of a mile long. That was a 1:43:28. I wasn't even sure if I was going to break 1:50. Somehow, with the end in sight, and Rob in his big, goofy, all-felt and all-must-be-suffering shark bodysuit on cheering on runners, I found a gear to get me moving again and ran my fastest mile since the 9th.

I crossed the finish in 1:48:48 for 6th place overall and immediately crashed on the beach.

"Sweating as much as ever," Rob said as he high-fived me and one of his volunteers handed me a medal.

After just trying to gain my bearing in the sand for a few minutes I was finally able to walk about half a of a mile back to my car. I stripped down to just my shorts and walked toward the Gulf of Mexico. With waves crashing all around me, I submerged myself in the water and tried to cool myself. It worked minimally.

I now had a decision to make: what to do with the ten mile race the next day. After some food and a shower, I felt much better than I had just an hour before. Unfortunately, the forecast called for basically a carbon copy of Saturday's weather. This time, however, the race would begin at 7 a.m. I figured that the shorter distance, along with the early race time, would mean that I could tough through it. I convinced myself that dropping to the five mile race was not necessary and I could steel myself for ten miles.

Fast forward through three miles. After consecutive sub-seven miles to start the race, I slowed a bit
and ran a 7:20. The fourth mile was just about the same even though I felt like I was slowing. As the course was two loops of the same five-mile loop, I now knew what was in store for me. However, as we turned out of the trees, the sun burst forth onto the road in front of me and I felt like all of my organs were cooking in my juices. I made it to the sixth mile OK, but as we rounded a corner and headed for the seventh, I all of a sudden came to a stop. Twenty steps beforehand I had told myself if I made it to the next aid station I would take a long drink of water and walk for a bit. My body apparently took this as a sign to quit. Right this very minute.

 I now realized if I stopped I had to walk back two miles to the start/finish. If I continued I had to run three. Yet even if I maintained the same much slower pace for the last miles, which would put me in around a 1:15 for the day, I still wasn't guaranteed to finish. I was broiled. So I said the heck with it and turned around.

I began retracing my steps back to the start/finish cheering on every single runner who was going the right way. I got more than a few surprised looks but I had a feeling most people knew what was up.  The race itself was excellently put together with energetic volunteers, great course marking, and a super flat course. (And I will run more of these races and give them a proper recap.) But it was not for me to run today. With a marathon a week ago, the half-marathon the day before, and another race coming up on Tuesday, I said no thank you.

Interestingly enough, I still have never finished a ten-mile race. The Cherry Blossom race I ran in 2015 in D.C. was a shortened course because of a car accident minutes before the start.  With this DNF, I still have no ten-mile finish. Which means when I finally do, it will be an instant PR!

What is crazy is that the weather in Austin and Houston and all other areas is going to drop like 40 degrees in the next day. The race I have on Tuesday, my final aquathlon of the series I have done every month since April, promises to be the coolest race all year by over 20 degrees. Doing well in that race means much more to me than slogging through this particular 10-miler. I might still have overcooked my goose but I think I made a wise decision to call it a day.

The athletes I coach are a varied lot. However, almost every single one of them has run a race where they had to quit, or it went far worse than they expected, forcing them to walk or shuffle. I have always preached the idea that no race as important as your health, there will always be another race, and really, sometimes racing just sucks. I talk about self-preservation and knowing when enough is enough. As I have Gilbert's Syndrome - a liver disorder which makes endurance sports difficult - I am the textbook definition of needing to take it easy after exercise. I am also very stubborn and have great endurance. This combination can mean disaster. Fortunately, I often use my head when it comes to pushing my boundaries, and like during this ten miler, assess my body and realize that stopping is not only the wisest choice but it is really the only choice.

In other words, I practice what I preach. I also have a race in like two days so I need to go rest up for that.

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