Thursday, September 29, 2011

Niantic Bay Half Marathon

I haven't raced very much this year and for the most part, when I have raced I've raced long. A marathon, a half, a 20K, a ten-miler. I didn't have a great 20k, but I felt like I could have a decent race at Niantic Bay.

First, the conditions were favourable, that is hot and very humid.

No, hot and humid are not prime running conditions. However, I tend to respond well on hot and humid days, partly because of the way I'm built and the the degree to which I can dehydrate before suffering a significant decline in ability, and party because I carry a bike bottle full of sports drink with me.

It's the biggest thing that separates me from the other A and B level runners out there. I'd say 'elite' runners, but I am not an elite runner. I am in that second level of competitive athletes and it is baffling to me that you would go out to run a half-marathon and not carry a bottle with you. I'm not talking about an ironman fuel belt with the little bottles that you see people wearing. Just a bottle- 16 or so ounces of whatever you train with- Heed from Hammer nutrition in my case.

I also carry a cliff shot for around 6 miles or so.

The race is tough in that you have to get off to a fast start. It starts in a remote parking lot which leads to a very wide starting line. Within 75 meters though it narrows down to a one lane road, while going uphill and through several turns. It widens out a little after about 500 meters, but if you aren't up front and on a good line, you're going to lose time, so you either have to run a fast first mile or risk running a really slow one.

This is tough, because the whole theme for me at this race is to pace myself. Still, I feel like you can blow up the first mile of a 1/2 marathon and still settle in and have a well-paced opening half.

I was running just behind the group with Jesse as we headed down towards the finish line and they were talking about why Jesse wasn't running with the eventual race winner, who went on to win by 4:30 something.One of the guys said 'Is it because he could drop you at 4 miles ?' to which Jesse replied 'he could drop me any time he wanted.' I looked at George Buchanan after this exchange and said 'We're too old to be running with this group.'

We went through mile one at some crazy fast time and then right away I started to back it off. I had to. I was planning to run the whole 13 miles, not run the first 11 and stumble through the last two.

I tried to pour some water over my head at the first aid station, however, all the water got grabbed up. I took a cup of Gatorade and dumped it down my back, although not over my head. Probably sounds gross, but you either regulate your body temperature or you don't.

By the time we'd taken the turn back of the main road after exiting the park, people were passing me. This is the hardest part of a long race, the part where I am being passed by people I ultimately want to beat and have to force myself to just let them go. George passed me, Maureen passed me, and another guy passed me.

I got mixed up in a group with a guy that seriously into green- green racing flats, a green singlet- and three other people. The woman who would eventually finish third also got mixed up into the group as as we were running towards the sea wall, I clipped the green man's heel slightly because he got off his line as I was trying to run right in the middle of the road, just to the right of the cones that were dividing the road. I mumbled an apology and thought he didn't notice. Then the woman clipped his foot and she apologised and he went off on her about how sorry didn't cut it.

Both she and I moved away from the green man. I lost pace with her for a bit. We went into the back section, where the only real hill is. I just couldn't really hold on to Maureen, George, and company and I was kind of back and forth with the green guy, but I also wasn't concerned. I was watching that group's back because I had a plan.

As we came out of this little back loop we were headed back on the long straight road that parallels the park. I was waiting until we got back in the park to make any kind of move. George starting coming off the back, then reconnected with Maureen and the other guy, then started to fall off again. Last year I had passed George just passed the halfway point where you run by the finish line. I was planning to pass him again there. At each aid station I was dumping water (or if I couldn't get it, Gatorade) on my head and toros. At around 6 miles I took the cliff shot, tossing the wrapper at the aid station and heading into the park. It seemed like there was five or six of us in a group, sort of jockeying. We went past the finish, around and back out. I tossed my now empty bottle, 16 ounces of fuel consumed. I passed George, put the hammer down a bit and started to separate from the other guys around me, for the most part. One other guy was running ahead of me, closing on Maureen while I was still marking time.

Once I hit mile 8 I steadied again. Yes, I was running out of time with just 5 miles left, but I still had my plan, and no one was getting away from me. I was slowly picking up the pace as we headed back out towards the sea wall. For two miles I just slowly closed on the people in front of me, starting to feel good, my stride lengthening, and at mile 10 as we went into the back loop Maureen and the guy between the two of us were getting closer. Other people were falling back, losing time on me. We broke through the loop and back out onto the straight away and I made my move.

I passed the last guy between Maureen and I and then pulled up next to her right at mile 11. We exchanged brief greetings and then I was off again, chasing the two guys in front of me, trying to hold off the people I'd just passed.

I was back in the park soon after, and before I knew it I was at mile 12. I took as much water as I could get and dumped it on myself and tried to zip up my Zane's cycling jersey. The jersey was so wet and had slid so low on me that when I zipped it up I felt like I was choking and had to unzip it again. The last mile was not easy. I was running as hard as I could but I wasn't catching the guys in front of me and I was little concerned about the people behind me. That last mile seemed to stretch out in the way the last mile always does there, whether it's the half or back when it was the marathon.

I got through the final turn and I knew no one behind me was coming. I was disappointed not to be able to catch the last two guys I could see, but I'd gone from mid-30s to 25th overall on the 2nd loop. Still, it's funny how much time 2 seconds a mile costs you between the guy in front of you (who ran 6:36) and yourself (I ran 6:38) over that half-marathon distance.

I put more than 30 seconds on some of the people behind me in just the last few miles, so my strategy to hold something back for the second loop, plus staying a little better hydrated, and just being an ornery runner, all kind of played in to help me have what I thought was only my second good running race of the year. Not because of who I beat or where I finished.

I finally felt like I ran a good race, and that's been way overdue this year...

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