Monday, April 27, 2009

Oklahoma City Half Marathon Race Report

An emotional race with a good focus... I had a great time improvement on this race from last year, but it was brutal and I had no chance to PR.... a good race to test my hardiness... That's it in a nutshell, but the details are where the meat is!

I had PRed with a 2:42 3 weeks ago at Big D. I hadn't run since then but I woke up Sunday morning feeling good. The only negative I felt like I had going was the recent stress and lack of sleep from the bus trip / hotel arrangements and then the upcoming Heels and Hills Half Marathon next weekend - too many details. But I woke up feeling like, if the weather was decent, I might PR again. Little did I know how the weather forecast that popped up on my Blackberry that morning would affect me.

68 degrees, 80% humidity, winds gusting to mid-20s...I stepped outside and thought the wind wasn't too bad and at least a good temperature to the wind - not freezing cold, not a dry hot wind. Humidity hadn't really hit me at that point.

I get about a mile into the race and a girl "latches" on to me. "Hi, I'm going to run with you for a while, ok?" Wow. A less social runner would have said no, I bet, with that direct approach. But I don't mind having several conversations with strangers during the course of a half marathon, so I say sure. Her training partner, the veteran half marathoner, has injured herself about a half mile in and decided she'll walk the whole way, leaving this newbie half marathoner to run the race on her own. And she looks scared! We chat about our lives, our kids, she asks a ton of questions about running and races, I share a few other tips and advice as we go. The poor thing doesn't even know her typical training pace, doesn't wear a watch, never tracked it.

I was trying to work on even pacing again, and I've gone out too fast, so I'm taking an occasional walk break to conserve some energy and keep my pace on track. The newbie takes the walk breaks too even though I encourage her to go on. At about mile 4, I go to take a walk break and she thanks me for the help and encouragement and goes on ahead. Passed her a couple miles later, much to her surprise.

Races are emotionally draining besides physically draining - anyone that has ever cried for any reason after crossing a finish line will attest to that. Halfway through mile 5, up about 50 feet is a spectator family - dad, couple kids, jogging stroller with something in it. That falls to the cement. I approach and it's a girl about 18 months, my daughter's age. The dad didn't have her strapped into the stroller and wasn't paying attention and she has tumbled out and hit the cement! He scoops her up and she bawls, and he acts so nonchalant. The mom in me just wants to SCOOP up that child and run the next 8 miles with her and gets overly protective and wants to scold "bad daddy!" Every mom has felt that more than once...but you don't act on it. Instead, I keep running, but tears well up in my eyes. All of a sudden, I miss my little girl SO MUCH. I'm mentally lost the next half mile as I run along, holding back tears.

I'm ahead of PR pace up to about this point, but it's all downhill (figuratively, not literally) starting at mile 6. I'm sweating heavily, and I hit an aid station and think "Can I just sit down here and drink ALL of your water?" That's when I start to think that I'm starting to dehydrate, because I'm rarely thirsty anyway in my day-to-day life but especially in the middle of a race!

Mile 7 and I get a little cramp in my left calf - never had a cramp during a race before. I stretch and go on. But now I'm wondering if it's related to salt and electrolytes and such and connected to how I feel dehydrated and a little ethereal. I take that slight lightheadedness, the urge to drink, and little cramp, and I completely change my aid station strategy. From then on, at each aid station with pretzels, I take a handful, follow it with a half cup Powerade, and then a FULL cup of water. I never get a sloshy tummy or the feeling like I need to go to the bathroom even though my brain thinks this is WAY too much fluid compared to any half I've done.

Wind kicks up at mile 8 right into your face. Pace cars come up and the lead male runner for the marathon passes. I'm thinking this means a slower finish time than usual, but can't do the math to figure out what that means his pace at that point is or projected finish time.

Lots of people walking at this point. I am so drained at this point and have really stopped looking at my Garmin for my time although I'm about to explain why I am referring to its screen frequently still. I seem to be encountering a lot of first time half marathoners from miles 8 to 10 - and their brains have all turned to jello. I keep hearing "Are we at mile 8 or 9? 8, right? or maybe 9? 8?" I pipe with the correct rough mileage and get thanked a lot. Happens again before mile 10 with two girls who are together - in addition to telling them where they are at, I emphasize a couple times in an encouraging way that once we see that mile marker, they have a 5K left...they've done 5Ks...this is just another 5K.

I suffer through to the end. Amount of cheers at the finish line are awesome - so many people there. Have to learn how to "kick" at the end better because I continue my routine of getting outrageously nauseous within 20 feet of the finish and gagging badly. This time, I'm sure it will be in the finish picture. :-) 10 feet from the finish and I heard a huge surge of cheering from the crowd - now I know that's not for me! The overall women's winner of the marathon is approaching the finish line. I've never finished at the same finish line of someone so awesome, so cool moment. Wondering if I'm in the background of some news footage somewhere? :-)

Side note: crowd support at this race is wonderful. I had given some on the bus a heads up about this, and I hope they weren't disappointed. With the Memorial of the bombing being such a pulling together for this community, the town shuts down for this race and everyone turns out on corners of intersections and in front of their houses.

In the end, 2:55:26, I'm satisfied with it given the weather even though it's way worse than my recent PR, but it's a 13 minute improvement from my 3:08 finish at the same race last year.

I walk back to the hotel in my slow death march. I see a dad with approx 5 and 7 year old girls and a 1 year old unsteady little boy. The 5 year old wants the 1 year old to step onto the sidewalk but in the process accidentally pushes him a little and he smacks his face into the pavement. As he starts bawling and I quickly get closer to help, his dad realizes what has happened and scolds the daughter and scoops up the sobbing little boy and checks that his face is still intact. I walk on to the hotel, but I'm so close to crying now that I've seen two little kids hurt (refer to above at mile 5) in one morning. I get to my hotel room, grab my cell phone, call my husband, and, crying, I demand to talk to my daughter Marissa. He thinks it strange but complies. I tell her how much I miss her and love her and then explain to my husband what had happened and he completely understands... Then I tell him how the race went. What a good day and bad weather to reaffirm what's most important!

OKC Bus Trip and Weekend Experience Minus the Race

A crowd of DRCers gathered at the clubhouse Saturday morning 9:30 am, but it wasn't for a training run. Armed with luggage, we were heading off to wage war on our own personal race goals at the Oklahoma City Memorial Half and Full Marathon events. The bus driver arrived about 20 minutes late but I loaded everyone on the bus quickly and doublechecked we were all there. And I literally mean double check. I had checked everyone off my list when they arrived in front of the clubhouse and then I told them all that when they got on the bus, that was it - they weren't getting off again. And so everyone found a seat, I went down the aisles and rechecked everyone on the list. Good - no one is being left in the clubhouse bathroom or on a quick run to the Starbucks.

We arrived in Oklahoma City without incident and shuttled everyone to their different hotels before returning back to have our host hotel, the Renaissance. I'd heard the expo line was long and out the door, but was much shorter by the time I got there.

OKC's expo is minimal. Mostly local things of no interest to a non-local runner. Having walked through it in detail last year, there wasn't much to see so I didn't spend much time.

I had told everyone I would be in the lobby at 6 pm to lead a group to the pasta dinner. We had 20-30 show and we walked the 5 or so blocks there. It's nice to have a pasta dinner outside and it's right by the memorial, which is worth spending time at when you go, but the food itself is definitely not what to go there for. They were out of breadsticks when we got there, and the pasta was lukewarm at best. The highlight was the Carl's Jr. chocolate chip cookie they give you for dessert.

I happened to sit down at a table with a guy who saw my DRC Training Program shirt and said he was also from Dallas. We introduced ourselves and he said his name was Kim. I asked if he ran with Park Cities Morning Running Group and he said yes. I said, "Oh, you're Master Kim!" He laughed and said he was. That's what people call him. The guy's sitting there decked out in his Boston Marathon hat and shirt from '08 and has done over 200 marathons or something like that. Hardy athlete and cool to finally meet him!

After dinner, we shuttled everyone back to their hotels. Forced myself to go to sleep at 10 pm knowing it would be a long day the next day. I'm such a night owl that I couldn't even tell you the last time I went to bed before midnight, except probably my last half marathon!

Race day morning, I'm up at 5 am. My roommate, neighbor, and good friend Sarah gets up and just isn't feeling right. She's been feeling "off" for a few days and had pneumonia a couple weeks ago. Her throat is scratchy and so at 5 am, we're sitting weighing pros and cons of her running it. We runners are crazy - the answer should have been an obvious no - but here we are debating. She decides not to run but has to find a way to get home and get to a CareNow before they close Sunday night, so she can't take the bus home. So in addition to getting ready, since my Blackberry has internet access, we're looking up rental car places and hours and directions of how to drive home!

6 am I meet Laurie in the hotel lobby. It's her first half marathon and the night before, Sarah and I had offered to walk her to the start line and help calm those pre-race jitters. We walk to the start, get there in time for the 168 seconds of silence for the victims of the bombing. It's pretty interesting to see that huge of a group that quiet and still for that long. Quite a nice tribute.

We find David and Marie from her pace group, who she'll be doing the race with and I move more to my area of the start corral and chat with Vicki and Roxanne, who are leading some first time half marathoners. (By the way, Laurie did complete her first half and did a great job of it - congrats, Laurie!!!)

The race was brutal, but that's a whole other post once I get past the trauma that has blocked the memory!!! :-)

After the race, I take the bus to pick up folks from their hotels. At 1:30 everyone has listened well to my instructions and is waiting in the lobby. Thank you to everyone for not showing up late and worrying me about leaving someone behind in Oklahoma City. My role as tour guide includes a group activity before we leave - I get those with PRs to raise their hands, and then those who completed their first half or full marathon. We leave perfectly on time, people chat, play games, and sleep on the long drive back, and we get back 4 minutes after the 5:30 pm return I had put on the itinerary for everyone, not bad.

A successful trip is finished. I hope that everyone enjoyed the hotel room block I reserved at a discount and saving their legs and feet from having to drive there and back by having the bus available. I have a lot of fun planning out logistics like this (sick, huh?) and was so glad I could help with this!

If you want to be on the list of those who want info as soon as it's available if a trip is done next year, please go ahead and send me a RaceNation message with your name and email address, and I'll make a list, so those people get "first dibs". Thanks.

Happy Running wherever the road takes you!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Big D Half '09 - Sometimes PRs Happen Unexpectedly

I had written a post a week or so ago to get my thoughts out on paper about my excitement for Big D Half today and the items making me nervous or freaked out about the race.  I wasn't able to get into the chiropractor the week before (a must for me), I would be standing for 3 days straight before race day because I supervised Big D Packet Pickup in Dallas... oh yeah, and I hadn't run in a month.  That was the big one.  I had done Austin Half, Cowtown Half, and Texas Independence Relay pretty much back to back before that month off, but all I could think about was that month of no running.

I was happy to be getting another half marathon under my belt, in a world where doctors told me I would never run.  Take that!  But I was sad because I had PRed every half I had ever run, and this would break that highly unusual trend.  And at least I have enough of a sense of humor to keep joking that when you started out as slow as me (long distance walker before a runner), it's not as hard to shave multiple minutes off a half marathon time!


Recent history:

Big D Half, April 2005: 3:33:17 - FIRST HALF EVER

Jump ahead to...

Big D Half, April 2008: 3:07:57 (first half back after the baby was born, and a PR)

Oklahoma City Half, April 2008: 3:00:15

White Rock Half, Dec. 2008: 2:54:25

Austin Half, February, 2009: 2:50:34

Cowtown Half, February 2009 (two weeks after Austin): 2:42:40

Big D Half, April 2009: 2:42:13 - 27 second improvement


Race Review

This was my third time running the Big D Half. 

Horrible traffic getting to the race.  Coming from Allen, we left at 6:30.  We were at the ramp from Hwy 75 to I-30 at 7:05, plenty of time.  And then we just weren't moving.  It took FIFTY MORE MINUTES to make it the 1/4 mile to parking and get parked.  We jogged most of the way to the start line, a good warmup perhaps? Got there a few minutes before the race started.

The weather was 52 degrees but with a COLD, sharp, strong wind.  I felt pretty cool knowing that I was the ONLY person in the world running with my shirt.  I had decided to run in the one sample proof of the 2009 Heels and Hills event technical shirt, so stinking cute in its hot pinkness!  When I saw other runners at the race, I  wondered if I was crazy to have a short sleeve shirt and shorts on when tons of people had windbreakers, long sleeve shirts, and pants.  But I was really comfortable during the whole race.  I think wearing a running cap helped keep me feeling a little warmer, my head always felt warm the whole race.

I saw Debbie and Barbara at the start line.  They were sending us all off just to cheer us in later.  I saw Jeff, who was running the marathon with first timer Elle.

I spent the first four miles expecting that friends and random runners were cursing me.  At packet pickup, when asked if it was a hilly course, my response was that it wasn't too bad.  "There's hills but they don't go on forever.  You do them and they are over, and there are nice flat segments.  It's not like Oklahoma City (lots of rolling hills) and definitely not like Austin (killer hills)."  I didn't remember all these hills the first handful of miles from my past runs of the course.  In terms of hills, nothing seems bad after Austin, so I felt good about them, but wondered how others were feeling. 

This race felt more isolating than some of the past halfs I've done.  EVERYONE had on headphones.  I never wear them, so it made it all the more noticeable to me.  Typically, at least with people my speed, there's many general occasional comments back and forth from runners, encouraging banter, etc.  None this time.  It seemed people were in their own world, and there were too many instances where it seemed their music was too loud because they couldn't hear the biker warnings near the lake or the car warnings coming through the Swiss Ave area.  I was concerned for their safety, but I generally missed the social moments that come from people chatting with each other during these challenges.  <head shake>

My pace has been all over the place in the past, so I was concentrating on hitting more even pacing this race.  I'm still only a few months into owning a Garmin so I'm still learning that what my body is feeling corresponds to a certain number on that screen.  I felt extremely good with how I did on my pacing for this race, you can see it on the splits at the end.

Around mile 8, I started doing the math, good distraction for a mathematician and a normal thing for me to do in a half.  I compute a couple dozen finish times based on every possible combination of paces I could have over the next 5 miles.  What if I do a fast few miles then have to walk the rest?  What if I do slow and steady and still have to walk a couple miles?  What if I keep going strong the whole way? etc etc etc  (I usually repeat this exercise at mile 10 with a 5K to go)

And I had gone through several miles contemplating this odd Avg Pace item showing up on my Garmin.  It kept saying around 12:15 the whole way.  I kept thinking something was broken.  Because I knew my last half at Cowtown was a finish at a 12:30 avg pace.  So what could that mean?  It took that whole mile from 8 to 9 to convince myself that yes, I was actually ahead of PR pace!  Funny how stupid you can become in the middle of one of these races.

About the time I had figured this out, I was looking for Natasha and other DRC folks and spotted them, around mile 9.5 on Swiss Ave.  She had said they would be out cheering on runners and where to look for her.  They gave me some great cheers and I just spit out, yelling, "I haven't run in a month and I'm on PR pace!"  I was freaking out and I'm sure all the runners around me thought I was crazy.  I heard Amanda ask if I wanted her crutches, and everyone else gave me some last cheers as I passed.  Thanks, guys!

Right after this I was also losing some steam and didn't want to stop and take a Gu.  I never feel very coordinated and tend to take a walk break when I want my Gu, which is every 4-5 miles for me.  I thought about not taking it at all with about 3 miles left but thought I would end up sputtering out.  So I slowly jogged while eating it and was glad I did for the energy it gave. 

Mile 11 I hear one girl tell another she has pretzels.  I would kill for a pretzel.  I wanted to chew something more than Gu and wanted the salt.  I later found out pretzels were at those medic tables on course, but since I knew I didn't need a medic I never even looked at those tables!  I actually consider offering her $5-10 for a couple of her pretzels, with the promise that since I'm friends with the Race Director, I can get her address from him and mail her the money afterward.  Desperate, huh?  I quash the thought and continue.

Mile 12 is a blur.  I just want it to be over.  I never want to run again, especially with this pressure I'm putting on myself at this point to hit that PR - it will be close.  I hate this part of the course because of the way it winds around the perimeter of Fair Park, you are so close to the finish but SO very far away. 

I'm in a please-be-over please-be-over trance inside Fair Park for that last couple tenths of a mile.  I pass the Race Director, who says something to me but I'm so tired I can barely translate the words he's saying.  And then I see Debbie and Barbara and probably a couple other friendly faces in the blur cheering me into the finish, all the faces blend together but I hear my name a bunch.  I've been watching that Garmin like a hawk the last mile or so, and I know I've made it.  A PR.  I never would have thought it possible going into this morning.  The streak of Half PRs is unbroken. 

How am I ever going to PR again in 3 weeks at Oklahoma City Half?  EEK!

I never hang around much after races, not even to get post-race food, so I missed congratulating a lot of friends on their finishes.  Congratulations to all the finishers!


Next up

Probably won't get in much running between now and OKC...  

Here's where to catch me the next few weeks...

April 11 - Race Directing - Heels and Hills Distance Challenge 15K, $15, Irving

April 18 - Race Timing - a small race in Carrollton

April 25-26 - Coordinating DRC bus trip and accommodations for Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.  There are about 10 bus seats left before we fill the 52-seater giant bus if people want to join us.


Mile Splits at the Race

Mile 1: 11:51

Mile 2: 12:29

Mile 3: 11:49

Mile 4: 11:32

Mile 5: 12:28

Mile 6: 12:41

Mile 7: 12:21

Mile 8: 12:50

Mile 9: 11:56

Mile 10: 12:29

Mile 11: 12:37

Mile 12: 12:35

Mile 13: 12:39

Last 0.1: 11:59