Saturday, January 17, 2009

Race Report: Nookachamps Half-Marathon

Update: 

The official results are out at www.nookachamps.com/results

Me? 188 out of 262 runners with an official time of 2:05:23. 

Initial Report (11:14 PM, 1/17/08): 
I've been up for 19 hours now, awoke at 3:00 AM and could not sleep, ran the Half in 2:05:17 (not my best time but, hey, I haven't really been doing speed work either), ate lunch at the Skagit River Brewery (a moo and brew + some turf and taters), took a nap, walked the dog, and went to the 7:30 performance of Pearl Fishers at Seattle Opera. 

More on all of this later, including the purchase of a new hoodie, after I have slept the sleep of the very tired person. 
The Real Deal (Short Version):
 
Unofficial Time: 2:05:17
Amount of Sleep Before the Race? 3 to 4 hours
How many times I shared my inhaler? One (Eww!)
Number of horses I saw? One
Number of turkeys? A lot?

The Real Deal (The Longer View from the midpack):

I do not recommend getting only three hours of sleep before a race. Not sure why that happened but I awoke at 3:00 AM and could not get back to sleep. Nothing helped. Not playing Solitaire on my phone or listening to the calming sounds of the BBC (is the news of the world actually calming these days or is it simply that measured BBC tone?). I think I was thinking about actually racing for 13.1 miles, something I have not done since the Cougar Mountain Half this past August, a run that kicked my A** and resulted in some time on the sidelines watching other runners going by whilst hobbling up and down a Tofino beach. This went on for 3.5 hours before I got out of bed and took the dog for a walk before getting packed for the race. It was going to be cold and foggy and I just wasn't sure what to wear so I planned for contingencies. Even found my last two gels. 

PT and KK picked me up a little after 8 and we hit the road up to Mount Vernon. After chatting for a bit I went out cold in the back seat and dozed until just before we got to the race start at Skagit Valley College (saw a performance of Carmen at McIntyre Hall a couple of years ago, amazing space). We parked and followed the stream of runners going into the gym to register. Lots of runners out there in various stages of cold weather dress or sprint wear (i.e., split shorts, t-shirt, and gloves). I decided on my cold weather gear—soft thermal top and shorts with silk gloves and a beanie. 

Registering was easy, I bought a commemorative hoodie too (I am really liking hoodies these days and I am not sure why), and headed outside towards the start. Boy was it cold but, as with the Resolution Run, the body heat of the crowd became quite pleasant. PT and I ran into a couple of Coach Leslie's clients who were running the 10K. We were all chatting when the pack started to move and it was time to start running (such a low key start). 

Everyone (5K, 10K, and Half) started at the same time but it didn't seem at all crowded. Off we went. 

The first casualty of the race happened just after the start. There were traffic cones in the middle of the road and we were to stay to the right of them. Of course we were all over the road. Over my left shoulder I heard "Watch out for the cone!" followed by the sounds of someone hitting a cone. I turned to see a runner falling face first, arms stretched out, and then hit the ground pretty hard to the sound of a generalized "Oh!" from the crowd. One of her friends stopped and I don't know what happened next. Given my own track record of falling and generally running into things I can imagine how that felt. 

At this point, about .21 miles in, I realized that I had neglected to set my Garmin into running instead of biking mode and that my run was not going to auto record. I started mucking with it and managed really just to turn it off for a while before I realized that it was not recording at all at .76 miles. D'oh! Once I got all that squared away I just decided to take manual splits. 

I don't think I was running all that well. My plan was to try and run between a 9:30 and 9:45 pace. Faster than I have running of late but I could feel the lack of sleep, my left knee was bothering me a bit (there is what I am hoping is a rather stubborn muscle imbalance), and the cold fog and occasional wood smoke was bothering my lungs a bit. Two women were running next to me talking about the Air Stagnation Advisory in Seattle and speculating as to why something like that would happen.  I settled in to my own little world surrounded by fog and a rapidly thinning rank of runners as the 5K and 10K runners peeled off. An occasional conversation would spring up around me too (how many times had they run this race, what were they training for, PR's, the Obama Inauguration, the fog, etc..). Passing a paddock one of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen comes out of the fog. It is silver-grey, tall, and running effortlessly. Wow!

It is a pretty eerie thing to be running along the side of the road in dense fog through which you can see the people in front of you but barely make out landmarks more than 100 yards away. We ran along Francis Road, through field areas that showed evidence of recent flooding—standing water and a fair amount for flood debris on the side of the road. I was just running along in a dream zone, passing and getting passed with the miles ticking by as they do. I noticed that I was actually running between a 9:30 and 9:40 pace and started feeling more optimistic. 

I also have NO IDEA where I am! 

Around 5.5 miles (by my watch) a town emerges from the fog and I think "This looks like La Conner. What are we doing way over here?"  Before you give me any grief about this, I had studied the map beforehand and knew that I was not West of I-5. Soon, a sign welcomed us to Clear Lake and the view improved too as the fog was beginning to lift. 

The race really turned for me around 6 miles when the Pringle Street hill hoved into view. "A HILL! Yay!" I remember thinking. Running on the flats is pretty monotonous for me, my feet actually get bored, and I am accustomed to running hills in general. I charged the hill and started flying up, catching and passing some of the people who had recently passed me on the flats. One woman, Lime Green Woman, was walking but started chasing me as I passed (she didn't want to be passed maybe). I kept going and then started coasting the downhill (charge the uphills, recover on the downhills right Coach?) when LGW went flying past me again. But we had entered a "hilly" section of the course and I caught her at the next hill and dropped her again. 

We were going past some barns when we caught up with a man running along, the eventual winner of the 70 year old age group (70yoAGW) I think. We exchanged pleasantries and he admonished me to "Save some for the end!" I said "Too Right!" and kept going on the rolling hills, taking the opportunity to eat a gel before I started feeling hungry.  I took some water somewhere around 7 or so, I think, and pressed on. 

The water stops were pretty fun. Kids out there handing out water, sports drinks, and encouragement with obvious joy. In fact all the volunteers seemed happy to be out there helping and offered cheery sentiments to the runners. I thanked every one as well as all the drivers who took the care to move to the center of the road instead of forcing the runners off. This was nice to see.

The strangest part of the course was the out-and-back section from 8 to 10. As PT has observed, it seemed endless. Visibility was pretty limited because of the fog and after 100 yards or so I could only see the vaguest of outlines of the other runners. I did get to see many of the people who were out ahead of me though and that was neat. PT came flying by at about 8.2 with a smile on her face and we got to say "Hi!" and wish each other Bon Chance. 
I could hear 70yoAGW behind me and also LGW and also some new voices, two Boston Marathoners running the race as a nice training run, chatting about how nice the half distance was for a workout. Off in the distance I heard some horses whinnying through the heavy breathing and footfalls of those runners around me. After what seemed an eternity I could see the turn-around spot. I said thank you to the volunteer who bade me to "enjoy the run" and headed back the way I had come. 70yoAGW and LGW had dropped back but Boston Couple were right behind me along with a friend of theirs. They eventually passed me just before the water stop at 10 miles.

Then the race started getting a little hard. 

Why?

Three miles to go and most of that generally uphill along Swan Road (speaking of which I saw some turkeys which were gobbling but no swans or geese). I missed taking a split at the 10 and so the miles between 9 and 11 seemed to take forever. Going up a hill I passed someone who was plainly done in. He asked me what mile were at and I told him that I thought we were approaching the 11 but that I hadn't seen a 10 marker yet. He looked done in and I could see the spirit seeping out of him. Climbing the hill was slow going but I tried to keep my pace steady and again started reeling in runners including Boston Couple whom I stayed behind for a bit. I also started seeing a fair amount of what I presumed were 10K walkers. Either that or they were half-marathoners who had gone out way too hard. 
Mile 12 had a wonderful surprise, a nice coast downhill. The sun was beginning to come out too. I took advantage of the downhill and poured it on, passing Boston Couple and their friend, catching one of the Air Stagnation Advisory women, coming up behind a couple of other guys. Ran past a woman wearing a purple top who was walking. She was wheezing very badly. But then, moments later she has caught up with me, wheezing even worse. The following conversation took place:

Me: Are you alright?
Purple Wheezing Woman (PWW): Not really.
Me: Do you need an inhaler?
PWW: I have one in the car.
Me: I am carrying one if you need to use it.
PWW: Really, you are carrying one? Maybe I should do that too.
Me (pulling out my inhaler): Here
PWW (taking a hit): Thanks
Me: Good luck

PWW took off. We had less  than a half-mile to go at this point. She had stopped at the 13 and I am not sure when she finished. 

Me, I blasted around the corner as fast as I could go on tired legs with two guys behind me and crossed the finish at 2:05:17 (at least this is the number I saw when I crossed the line). 

Slowly into the gym where I find PT and KK way up in the bleachers. Stretch a bit, shower, and then out for a well-deserved meal at the Skagit River Brewery wearing my "brand-new, guaranteed to annoy my DW" Nookachamps Winter Series maroon hoodie. "What is wrong with hoodies?" I ask. :-P

Overall I am so pleased with this run. Yes I am sore and tired but not devastated and I managed to run much faster and with more strength and consistency than I have in a long time. That I re-realized that I have power to spare is a nice thing too. 

Great run!

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