Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Utah Valley Half Marathon Race Report

Friday Morning
I have had an EPIC four days, and cannot wait to share it all with you, starting with Saturday, the Utah Valley Half. Welcome to the race recap!

If you've been following along on here or on Daily Mile, you know that I have been battling a foot, then knee, then calf strain for over a month, and that this has threatened race day both by screwing up my speed work, then my threatening even my ability to run without constantly stopping. So it was with great trepidation that I entered this weekend. I didn't know where I would fall on the spectrum that runs from a PR (Personal Record) to a DNF (Did Not Finish). Walking large portions of the race seemed likely. 

On Friday my St. Louis BRF (best running friend) Rachel was scheduled to land about 10am, having taken a brutal 5:30am flight from St. Louis. About 9am I got a text message that their departure from Las Vegas (a layover) had been delayed. Then....canceled. CANCELED?! Having lived in the Midwest for 8 years, I'm no stranger to canceled flights. Think you're catching the last flight south from Chicago? Think again. Think you're getting to Michigan in December? Nope. But this? A canceled flight from Vegas in June? This was unprecedented. 

What to do? Southwest couldn't get her on a flight until 9pm, landing at 11 or something. We had to get up at 2:30 Saturday for the race. If I left right then, at 9am, to get her, it was 6 hours each way. We wouldn't get back until 9pm, best case scenario, and both of us exhausted. 

I was facing a possible DNF. She was stranded in Vegas. This Race Eve sucked. 

Being the resourceful girl that she is, she had made friends with a couple on the flight to Vegas. As she stood in line at customer service with a strange man creeping on her, she caught sight of the couple, who asked if she was game for a rental car, and she took the first chance to escape Mr. Creepy and get on the road with, and I quote, "2 gay guys and a plump middle aged woman". As the options went, this was the lowest risk strategy available. She was on her way. 

This left the small issue of a packet pickup, and, cue the superhero music for the Utah Valley race organizers. She emailed them about her situation and within minutes had a reply (by email! on race eve!) that I could pick up her packet as long as I had a copy of her race registration. She sent that to me (seriously, thank God for smart phones), and with that I was headed to Provo to the expo. 

The Expo
No surprises here. They had maybe 30 vendors, including some shoe stores, some other regional races, some nutrition and personal care product companies, including one for essential oils, at which a woman insisted to me that she had a relative in a wheel chair by 50, and she (the sales person) had completed some insane number of marathons and it was all thanks to the power of essential oils. Um....they're great and all, but, just maybe you're overselling it here?? 

I made my way to the back, to the packet pick-up, and looked up both of our numbers, and approached the desk. The girls, in their late teens or early twenties I'd guess, were incredibly nice and patient as I explained needing to pick up two packets. I told them I'd met my AWOL friend doing exactly what they were doing now--handing out pre-race swag at a half & full marathon (read about that day here). 
On my way out I thought I'd capture the moment. I was attempting a selfie when some do-gooder offered to help. I think the selfie might have been less awkward looking. He tried!

Friday Afternoon & Evening
After the expo, I ran errands around Salt Lake, including REI then the Mormon version of Goodwill to pick up some throw-away sweatshirts, remembering shivering at the start line last year. I sent a few last work emails, cleaned up the house a bit, and around 5:40 headed to the airport to pick up Rachel, finally.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way back home to pick up groceries for the morning. We got home, had a pasta dinner, and pretty much immediately started getting ready for bed. I was in bed by 9:30 and asleep soon after, my alarm set for 2:40am. Because we're crazy people.

Getting to the Start Line
Race morning more or less went smoothly, aside from having to come back to the house when we were about 3/4 mile out the first time, to leave a car seat behind. That detour ate up the entire cushion we had built in for ensuring that we would arrive square in the middle of the window in which to catch a bus up the canyon to the start line. When we arrived there were gobs of people standing in the parking lot, lined up for buses. In fact, there was at least a bus-full of people lined up behind us by the time the window ended, but, as it turned out, we did ride the last or next-to-last bus up the canyon. Here again, the race organizers were tremendous. No one got deserted if they showed up on time, and the crew herding us into the buses was both efficient and kind. Thumbs up on this.

The bus deposited us at the start line about 30-40 minutes before the gun. By this point, we'd each had a small cup of coffee, a bagel with various things on it, and were about to have some Gu, which is to say, we were more than ready for the port-a-potties at the start line, and were race-ready afterwards. We got our gear situated, cinched up our drop bags and put them on the truck. Before we split to find our respective pacers I told her I'd never felt less confident at a start line, and that if I didn't come in within 10 minutes after she did, something had gone terribly wrong for me.

I lined up just behind the 1:45 pacer, and next to a trio that appeared to be somehow related to one another. They asked if I knew the course, and when I said I did, they asked questions about different parts of it. I asked about their goals, and very politely suggested they move back in the starting area when they said "just to finish". Oy.

I discarded my throw-away sweatshirt, got back into the starting mob, and then,


With absolutely no fanfare--no anthem, no announcements, no words of encouragement, no real warning--the start gun went off. Much later we speculated that there was some gap in communication between the full marathon (which starts farther up the canyon) and the half, and by the time the half start line crew realized it was go time, it was too late for the normal formalities.

At any rate, we were inching toward the start line, and then off! It's at this point that I hear one of my favorite quotes from the day, from a girl next to me: "1:45?! Isn't that some kind of qualifying time??" I laughed out loud.

Miles 1-3
Maybe 100 or 150 feet over the start line, a crazy thing happened. My subconscious exerted itself in a visceral response to people engaging in bad race day behavior, which I and 99% of other runners habitually just deal with as quickly and painlessly as possible. Before I really realized I was doing it, I'd said, out loud, to four women WALKING, four-abreast, that if they were going to walk, they could not line up with the 1:30 pacer.

Is it considered rude to bark at other participants? Yes. Yes, it is. But since I did it, let's take this moment to be crystal clear about something:
If you are planning to walk, DO NOT line up with the 1:30 pacer. Line up with the 3:00 pacer, if not the 3:30. Also, it is rude to run or walk more than two abreast during a race unless you are literally the last people on the course. If people have to veer much to get around you, your group is too wide. 

Hissy fit aside, these early miles were crucial gauges of my ability to run. Earlier in the week I'd put in all of 2.5 miles, and had had to stop 3 times to stretch. And that was the last run I'd attempted before the race. Could I get going? Could I hit the paces on my pace band?

Could I get going? Yes.
Could I hit the paces on my pace band? Sort of.
I missed my Mile 1 pace target by only a few seconds, but this immediately gave me flash backs to the Cleveland Marathon, when I missed the Mile 1 pace and never could regain footing. But I felt OK, and most importantly, my calves and Achilles felt OK, which was a huge relief.

Miles 4-6
The course's biggest hill comes after mile marker 3. This hill is a medium grade, but long. If you're not expecting it, not accustomed to hills, or have trained at sea level, this hill is a b*tch. I tackled this hill slightly slower than intended, then pressed on. Just barreling down the canyon--the gorgeous, dramatic canyon.

Miles 7-10
We came to the mouth of the canyon around mile marker 8, meaning that we had 5.1 miles to go on the valley floor. For a bit I wasn't sure if we'd hit the mouth yet or not, because I wasn't really paying attention when we turned left. I was off in runner-land somewhere, doing my thing. So it took me about half a mile to convince myself that we'd turned left and were out of the canyon. My game plan was to approach the race in early (pre-hill) miles, from the hill to the bottom of the canyon, from the mouth of the canyon to the last hill, then the 2.5 miles to the finish. So when I figured out where we were, I knew I just needed to drive hard to the last hill.

Miles 11-12.6
When I hit the last, smallish, hill at about 10.7, and felt good coming through it, I knew I was in the home stretch. It was too far out to kick, so I held my pace and kept my eye on the downtown landmarks I knew were near the finish, just chasing them down.

The Finish
At 12.6 I kicked. It was hard. I relied on my memory and muscle memory of running all those intervals, to remember that they are hard, and to remember that I ran them in training to prepare me for this point in the race. Push. It's a little hard to tell, but I held this pace around a 7:40 through the end. Coming down the final blocks to the finish line, I didn't let myself look at my Garmin. It's too hard to gauge how long it will take to cover 2 city blocks, and that can be hard to deal with when you're at the very end of a race. So I just ran, hard.

As I approached I spotted Rachel waiting for me just over the finish line. I crossed the mat, clicked my Garmin to stop, and looked at it. 1:47:01. I'd PR'ed. At a race I thought I might DNF. I yelled. Loud.

Then I rang the PR bell. Or, more accurately, I epically failed in my effort to ring the PR bell, all while a young guy stood waiting for it and trying not to laugh at me. *facepalm It's harder than it looks!

Chip time: 1:47:00.4
While my pace bands said 1:45, I'd been hoping to land somewhere in the 1:46 range. This four-tenths of a second just pissed me off. Four tenths! The time lost running around four women walking abreast at the start line. Ha! But seriously.

Overall place: 244/1658
Gender place: 76/1005
Division place: 11/152
Overall pace: 8:10/mile

I am particularly pleased with these place stats--top 15% overall, and in the top 10% for both gender and division. Hell yeah!

Immediate Post Race
We loitered around the post race as long as possible, trying to shake out the legs and recover a bit. In doing so, we ran into my super fast neighbor, who won a prize, and, wait for it......placed second to a guy running in Crocs. For all things, I wish I were making this up. Crocs. And his son won some award too, also running in Crocs. Who does this?!??

After the race, we headed back to Salt Lake to get cleaned up, nap, spend time with my boys, and pack up for our next Utah adventure. Stay tuned.