Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chasing Lions Half Marathon

NOTE:  Yes, I'm behind.  I've had this in draft mode for more than two weeks.  Sorry!  I promise to be better about posting in the future.  I'm also going to be better about running, so I have more meaningful running content to post. Really!  

so, the "don't call it a comeback plan" was supposed to include running the Half at White Rock today.  I absolutely despise the full course there, because you spend ten miles running around that hideous lake, with downtown so little and far away.  But the half course is pretty much an out and back on the relatively new Katy Trail ("relatively new" meaning since I quit driving to Dallas every day three years ago), so I thought it might be a good goal race for the return to distance running.

Except that I didn't sign up in time.  A combination of a lack of training, not a lot of confidence going into December and the need to wait for payday to sign up led me to miss the registration window, as the race was closed at 20,000 total runners.  So I needed to find an alternate.  I found a race about two hours south in Temple, the Scott & White Chasing Lions Half Marathon.  Scott & White is the same organization that benefits from the Miracle Match marathon in Waco (the hardest hilliest marathon I've ever done), the day before White Rock, so I decided I could drive down for the day and do this race.  Not only was the race small enough that I could sign up the day of the event, but it was also less than half the registration fee.

After the Turkey Trot 10K on Thanksgiving, I ended up doing a 10K on the spur of the moment last weekend and really enjoyed it.  I averaged exactly a 10:00 mile for that race, and so while I didn't have the distance base that I had hoped, I was feeling strong enough that I thought I could work it out after that 10K.  So I announced the intention on FaceBook, knowing that once I did that I would HAVE to follow through.

When I left the house at 5:30, it was misty and cold, and it wasn't expected to get any drier or warmer as I headed south.  I had pretty good success in the previous week's race with a layering strategy to keep warm at the start, and the weather then was a low of 27 that morning (OK, you northerners, you can back off - 27 is FRIGID for us Texans!).  So I figured I would be OK with the same plan, even in the rain.  The top layer I chose is a skiwear layer that repels water pretty nicely, and it served me well in my long run last week, too.

The drive down was good, even though it was drizzly and messy the whole way.  But I had plenty of time, so I wasn't rushing at all.  I had loaded up the iPod with all kinds of good songs that nobody else in my family likes to listen to, so I was jamming the whole way down. I stopped in West, Texas at this little truck stop/bakery place that has amazing kolaches and cinnamon rolls and such to refill on water and grab something to eat.  I had planned to have oatmeal from Starbucks somewhere in Ft. Worth, but it was on the wrong side of the road, so I went a little further than I planned before stopping. Ended up having an oatmeal cookie with nuts that had about the right ratio of carbs and protein in it, and grabbed a muffin for later, too.

When I arrived at the race site, the tent was up and there were a few people milling about.  It was colder than it was when I left home, though, and still pretty misty.  I knew it was going to be the same kind of weather as my last long run the Sunday before, but I knew I was dressed OK for it and it was just going to be a matter of keeping going, one foot in front of the other, until I reached the finish line.

I registered, got my goodie bag and headed back to the car to relax for a bit.  I still had about an hour before the start, and I needed to get out of the cold and warm up some, too.  About 20 minutes before the race, I got in line for the porta-potty and started getting ready for it.  I knew I could handle the distance, it was just a matter of how much I would slow down from the first ten miles to the last three.  I also had to be sure not to psych myself out with the course - it was this weird figure-eight loop that we had to do twice, so the mile markers were funky - we saw the mile 7 marker well before we saw the mile 2 marker.  I don't usually do loops in my training, because I'm not that disciplined - if I'm near the ending point, I'll bail and call it a day even if I'm only halfway done, because, well, my car is right over there, see?  Yeah, so that part made me nervous.

But before I knew it, it was time to line up and go.  I couldn't really tell how big the field of women 40-44 was since the little dots they put on our bibs were so small.  But I was really more concerned with getting started so that I wouldn't be so darn cold!  We received a few instructions about the course and were off.

The first half mile or so was through a slightly muddy pathway, and then we were on the paved trail.  Apparently, the city of Temple has spent a good amount of money improving the path and the surrounding park, and from the part I saw, it was money well spent. We ran on it for a while, then were soon on a sidewalk next to a fairly busy road.  This was the longest part of the course, and we were on it for a good few miles.  We could see the mile markers for the second loop as well as for the first loop, and that was a little disconcerting, to think that we'd have to go this route again eventually.  The weather was misty and cold, but it didn't feel so cold once we got moving. I was wearing wool ski socks, so my feet were in fairly good shape, and I kept my gloves on until about mile 3.

I had run a small 10K at the local university the weekend before, and had fallen into a rookie trap of pinning my race number through my bottom layer as well as my top layer.  It took longer than it should have for me to extricate myself from it when I warmed up, and I was able to keep from making the same mistake this time, so when I hit the first turnaround at mile 3, I was fairly smooth at removing the top layer while not breaking stride.  However, the time saved there was burned when I took a slight detour to the restrooms at a local park right off the route - I had miscalculated my water intake and it was a welcome sight, especially since I never did see any port-o-potties on the course.  I lost about three minutes, but it made a difference as I was able to keep running comfortably in that department for the rest of the race.

Before I knew it, we were back at the start of the loop, and it was time for the second six miles of the course.  I was still feeling pretty good, but a hot spot on the bottom of my left  foot was beginning to develop. Besides that, I was doing OK.  I knew the last three miles would be tough, given that my longest run to date was 10 miles the week before. But, I also knew that I would finish, it was just a matter of how much I would slow down.  By now, I had stowed my gloves in my waistband, had the top layer off and was in a comfortable stride.  The second loop seemed to go by pretty quickly, at least until the mile 11 mark.  That was when the mile markers seemed to get further and further apart!  The hot spot on my foot was making itself very well-known by now, but I dared not stop and check it out.  I could tell I was slowing down, and actually walked across the streets when I came to them and through the water stops, but didn't give myself permission to walk any other time.

The last stretch was through the park, and I knew as soon as I hit mile 12 that I was nearly home.  I still felt OK, although I knew I was slowing down, and I was just determined to finish out strongly.  The return trip through the muddy path was a little dicey, as it was much more chewed up now, but seeing the finish line up ahead gave me the energy I needed to power through.  The clock read 2:20 as I neared it, which is about 10 minutes off my PR for the half, but actually faster than I expected for this race, given the lack of training and distance prep.  And, that did include the time at the pit stop, which I usually don't do in races, so I was fine with it. After they handed me my medal I walked over to the little tent for refreshments.  All the bananas were gone, and there was one sad little grape in the bowl, but I did get a few orange slices and some yummy trial sizes of clif bar, luna bar and a full-size powerbar.  I had to get home for an afternoon hockey game, so I changed shoes (thank goodness for Crocs!), put on a dry shirt, and headed north on I-35 (sadly, I noticed when I got home that I'd lost one of my gloves.  Wah, I loved those gloves!!).

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the effort.  It did reinforce that I need to do whatever is necessary to ramp up the training sufficiently for Cowtown.  I will not go in unprepared for that race. It's not as much fun in the late going when you haven't put the miles in, and I am not going to do that again.  I don't want to struggle to finish like I did at that race, not ever again.  Especially not when I'm in New York City.  So, yeah.  More to come on that later.