In this week's news, I ran 27 miles including the virtual version of my favorite race ever. Let's get into it!
I've joked before that I consider it to be a good omen if the last few runs heading into a race are difficult...well, that's the TL&DR version of my week. I cut each weekday run short by a mile.
Monday: 3.25 miles, felt very sluggish.
Tuesday: a craptastical 5.25 miles. In addition to being difficult, this run was SO BORING. There, I said it.
Thursday: 5.3 miles, which at least had the hallmark of not being boring, but was difficult for no apparent reason. I'm usually not one to care about my weekly mileage ending on an even mile, but out of all the random thoughts that pop into a runner's head while running, I got mathy and realized that I would end up with 26.95 miles as my weekly total so I plowed through an extra 0.05 of misery.
Friday: off, worked on my mental game a bit and got myself psyched up for the race. Between you and me, I really didn't feel ready so I think that played a part in my crappy running week.
All About Half Marathon #5
The last Saturday in September is race day in my hometown. The race has a marathon, half, and relay, and it was through the relay that I was introduced to this race. I ran the relay in consecutive laps for 5 years in a row, and then graduated to the half.
The race made a very strong push to be an in person event but Hometown couldn't find a viable way to shut down the major roads of a fairly large city for an entire day, so this race went the virtual route. The options given were: virtual, defer to 2021, or donate your fee and walk away. Look, this is my favorite race ever, so it's a given that I registered last year on the first day that registration opened and that I was All In.
The race organized a number of virtual events along the way to keep the spirit alive, including a live stream start line, but made the point of asking participants NOT to run on the actual race course since, um, the roads would not be shut down.
FYI, this was my 5th half and 2nd virtual half.
The Training. Ah, the downside of an early fall race is summer training. Last year I was a hot mess and couldn't pull off a long run to save my life. This year I merely had a bit of difficulty with hot weather running and didn't get in as many long runs as I would have liked. In August I ran a bunch of 8 milers, and my last 3 long runs heading into the race were 9, 11, and 10 miles respectively.
Overall Race Strategy. My half marathon strategy is "just finish" and "do not look at Garmin". 13.1 miles is a BFD for my level of fitness. I flat out planned to use 4:1 run walk in the later miles, which I've found to be a very useful tool to keep me at a decent pace while conserving energy. I was pretty certain that I would PR (the nice thing about being a novice half marathoner is a PR is a likely outcome for every race) and my stretch goal was to come in under 2:30.
The Course. My virtual half marathon course requirements are: start and finish at my front door, a city route that approximates the difficulty of a "real" half marathon course, and something different than the route that I took for my first virtual half last spring. I patched together a route that took me through two neighborhoods that I like to run in, a jaunt through the town, and then the final stretch back in my own neighborhood on a route that took me through the parks. The "real" half marathons that I've run have ranged between 13.15 to 13.34 miles, so my virtual course was 13.2 miles long as a fair approximation of "real" race distance.
The only downside of my course was that it meant crossing the busiest intersection in my town twice. My virtual race standards are that I will not pause my Garmin at any point in the race, so I gambled that the traffic lights would be in my favor. My Plan B was that if I had to wait that I would loop up and down the block so that I would still be getting distance and not have to stop for a few minutes.
Race Day Conditions. Utter perfection for the first 10 miles, a.k.a mid 50's, chilly, and cloudy. Too warm and too sunny for the final three miles (my runner's kryptonite running conditions).
Hydration (my "something new on race day"). I talked about my hodgepodge hydration system here...in a nutshell I own two Flipbelts and three Flipbelt water bottles. It's not the most graceful arrangement but it was quite cheap and it works. I had never worn all three bottles at one time before, so that was my new race day endeavor. The only downside is that with all three bottles you can't "layer" the belts as shown below, so the top belt was a little higher on my waist than I'm used to. I didn't feel it at all in the beginning but it got quite annoying toward the end (TBH everything got annoying toward the end) BUT I had enough water with me so this was a win.
Fuel Plan. I started increasing my food intake a few days before the race. That morning I made french toast for breakfast and then had a glass of UCAN afterwards (a.k.a. exactly what I have before most of my long runs). For my last half, I had a gel at 5 and 10 miles, so approximately one per hour. In reflection, that's a bit sparse compared to the recommendation of one every 45 minutes, and I do get awfully tired toward the end of my long runs. In my defense, I think it's fair to say that no one eats salted caramel Gu's for pleasure. Anyway, I had my gels at miles 4 and 8, which was around the recommended 45 minute intervals, and I think that it really helped. I also had a third gel on hand in case I needed it.
Race Recap. the "real" race starts at 7:30, and they did a live stream starting ceremony. I was ready to go by 7, so I skipped the ceremony and got my butt out the door. I walked down the block to a crack in the street, which is my official Half Marathon Start Line and was off and running in the crisp fall air. Remember how awful my previous few runs were? Predictably I felt like One Million Dollars in the moment.
I cruised though the first mile including my first pass at the busy intersection. It was as ideal as could be expected, meaning that I just had to slow down the tiniest bit and I was through. And then I encountered my first of many other runners along my route...like I said, this race is beloved in my community and many other people were running their own virtual races on the real race day. Many distant high five were given.
The miles clicked away nicely. I took a sip of water around 3 miles and then had my first gel as planned at 4 miles. I was able to keep running, albeit slowly, while fueling. I cleared neighborhood #1 and made the transition over to neighborhood #2. After the six mile beep I snuck a glance at my Garmin to see that I was over halfway there and everything was feeling like a dream. The dream continued on until mile 8. I knew there was a hill coming up, so I strategically walked to conserve energy while I had my 2nd gel. There was way more hill than I had planned on so I decided not to be a hero and just walked for a few minutes. Once I cleared it, I was surprised at how good I still felt. I came back to the big intersection, and again the force was with me and I just had to slow down a bit to get through.
At the end of mile 10 I started feeling it. The temperature was climbing and the sun was out in full force. I was back in my own neighborhood, and on paper I just had to run from one park to the other, do a victory lap on the trail, and come home. But the reality was that the wheels were off the bus. I wouldn't say that I was in "the pain cave", it was more like the "do not care cave".
Most of the next mile was the flat walking trail in the park where I do my speedwork, and I was able to keep myself distracted, if not fully in the zone. And then I heard the sweet beep-beep that mile 12 was over. In my previous half I was also struggling at this point, but once I got into the final mile I had the psychological boost of knowing that it was the last one. This time I doubted myself more than ever. I just wasn't seeing much of a reason to keep running.
Well, at about 12.8 miles I pulled myself together and got back into the spirit of the thing. My street came into view at 13 miles and the remainder of the race was spent staring at my wrist...13.07...13.10....13.15....what 13.2 already??? I did a cool down walk up and down my street and then walked into my front door and cracked open a beer. No offense to Miller Lite which is served at the finish line of the real race, but the beer is better at home.
How I Feel About This Race. Pretty darn good. I have a sizeable leap in pace from my last half to show off, and that's with the long walk break in mile 8 and the struggle bus at the end. I don't think that running 13.1 is going to get "easy" anytime soon, so that's why I plan to keep chipping away at it. I felt like I walked for a good portion of miles 8, 11, and 13 so it's pretty stunning that I still hit 12:xx splits (my everyday running pace prior to this year).
The biggest shoutout is how I felt after the race. I mean, yes, I was tired but I wasn't devastated. We hosted a family party at our house that night, and I was able to stay up and at 'em, though man did I sleep well last night. Today I'm a bit stiff and achy, but nothing major. I think that being able to nail down my nutrition played a huge role in this.
Looking at my Smashrun stats, oof I did not do a good job with planning the elevation in the last half of the race. I thought that I was giving myself an easier course than last spring but I really didn't. But hey, "real" race courses also aren't the best at giving runners a break in elevation, so maybe I should start more hill training.
Swag Recap. The raced mailed out swag packages in advance of the race, and I decided not to open mine until I "earned it" after the race. Contents:
- A race bib (I considered asking my husband to open the box ahead of time so that I could wear the race bib but in the end decided that I wasn't quite "that" into it...one of the perks of virtual racing is never having to open a safety pin).
- Two Cliff shots (the official race course fuel). Gu is my gel of choice but I'm not one to turn down a free gel pack.
- A coupon for Miller Lite. As mentioned before, I am not a fan but one of my SIL's is, so I always smuggle my finish line Millers to give to her afterwards. The race has "security" to make sure that no one takes beer outside of the finish area so naturally it is a badge of honor to do just that...I mean if they *really* didn't want people to take the beer off course they wouldn't pass it out in sealed cans, now would they?
- Race shirt (love it, will wear it often)
I'll be getting my flu shot this afternoon. Last year work scheduled a flu shot clinic for the Monday after the race, and I realized that was perfect timing since the shot sometimes makes my arm ache a bit but I was achy from the race anyway so I hardly noticed. Just sayin'...the flu shot is extra important this year so if you're not sure when you're going to get yours, the day or so after a race is a great time to do it.
I *might* be running a real live half marathon in two weeks! This race was originally supposed to take place in April, and one of the options that they gave was switching to their October race. I didn't think in a million years that live racing would be an option for October, but there have been a few smaller races in my area this month and our numbers are looking good so.... There will be a staggered start line, it's a small race and not in a city so road closures shouldn't be a problem, masks are required at any time that you are not acutally running, and no start or finish ceremonies. A lot can happen with case numbers in two weeks, so I am not betting the farm that this race will happen but I think it has as good a chance as any race in 2020.
As I said before, 13.1 is quite the big deal for me, so I considered not running my virutal half this weekend so that I could train more and put all of my energy into the real race. But then I decided that (1) I can't count on this race to be live, (2) while the whole COVID thing is looking really good in my area there's nothing to say that I won't get it between now and race day, and (3) I didn't want to miss out on my favorite race, even its virtual format. So while it's not ideal to run two halfs two weeks apart, in the spirt of 2020, I'm going for it. I'll take it easy and recover next week, and go from there.