Sunday, January 16, 2011

13.1 LA Race Recap

3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 13.1 miles @MP (6:19) or faster
Actual: 1:20:27 (first half @~6:15; second half @~6:00)
1:20:30 gun time; 1st place female
Total: 16 miles

As most of you know, my training leading up to Houston Marathon has been fragmented at best. For various reasons, I haven't had the opportunity to enact a marathon sim
ulation run, which I consider to be 13-16 miles at marathon pace or faster. Luckily I have the best job in the entire world. This means that I am often allowed to participate in the events at which I work, provided that I arrive early to help set up and stay late to help sell our wares. With 13.1 LA, I figured that the combination of being jet-lagged and working on my feet for two days would fatigue my body in a way similar to having already run the first half of a marathon. It wasn't a perfect race simulation, but it would have to do.

Leading into this race, my plan was to start out comfortably at 6:20 pace and then progress as my body dictated. Garrett and Daniel, two employees at our partner account Top to Top, had planned to start at 6:20s and then gradually work down to a ~1:20 finish time. That sounded swell to me, so we made plans to work together. Initially I'd heard that the first half of the course was slightly downhill while the second half was slightly uphill, which I thought would help our cause. (As it turns out, the exact opposite was true, but I wouldn't learn that until around mile 7
of the race. Awesome.) After helping set up the Craft/Karhu booth at the finish line, I was able to jog to the start with time to spare before the 7:13 gun time and fortunately located Garrett and Daniel with ease. Things were shaping up nicely.

Before I continue, another word about the start: It was on the boardwalk. Adjacent to the beach. Where there was sand, palm trees, crashing wav
es and a glorious sunrise. Oh, and it was 60 degrees at 7am. IN JANUARY.

13.1 LA start line

Moving on. The gun sounded at 7:13 and a resounding hoard 3,000 strong sprinted off into the gradually lightening daybreak. I stuck with Garrett and another girl, the only potential female speedster I'd spotted on the starting line, not sure of the pace but feeling quite comfortable. When we split the first mile in 6:22 I knew I needed to pick it up a bit, and together the three of us plus Daniel cruised to a 6:18 second mile. At this point the other girl's breathing was labored and I was admittedly growing a bit panicked by the lackadaisical pace--even though I'd told myself ahead of time that I would be perfectly fine with this tempo, but I clearly wasn't--so I made a conscious decision to strike out on my own. I would not see any of them for the remainder of the run.

With that said, despite my resolve to increase the tempo, my third and fourth mile s
plits were more of the same. This was a bit distressing, as the course was angling slightly downhill the entire time. This was the first and only time that I allowed a few negative thoughts to flit across my consciousness."Why do I feel this flat so early in the race?" "If I can barely muster marathon pace while running downhill, what hope do I have for the second half?" "Maybe I should just back off and turn this into a training run." I allowed myself about a half mile's worth of a pity party before resolving to push those thoughts aside and simply focus on taking the race one mile at a time. Apparently this worked, because before I knew it the six mile marker was upon me. I remember the split being around 37:30, almost exactly 6:15 pace. At this point I figured 1:22 was a realistic goal for the finish, and one that would still be considered a success by my original expectations. I had no idea how quickly my mindset was about to change.

In hindsight, my shift in tempo can largely be attributed to the sharply downhill seventh mile. Without increasing the effort, the drop in elevation corresponded with
my drop in pace. I clicked off a 6:03 at the bottom of the hill, just in time to turn around and retrace my steps all the way back to the finish. Faced with a seemingly endless gradual uphill, I expected to drop back into the 6:10-15 range almost immediately. Instead, I was shocked to discover the complete opposite to be true. Inexplicably, my legs were jolted to life by the uphill, and I found myself charging up with an intensity and cadence I hadn't come close to experiencing in the previous seven miles. It was during the following two splits of 6:03 and 6:01 that I found myself catching up to quite a few dudes who'd no doubt gone out too hard. A few offered encouraging words as I passed, while others simply glanced up halfheartedly before returning to their own struggle; either way, I guarantee I was just as surprised as them to find myself rolling by with hardly a second thought. It was also during this time that my spirits were buoyed by the cheers of encouragement from the hundreds of participants I passed going the opposite direction. I found it absolutely amazing that many of them, who were no doubt working just as hard as I was to complete their own races, were willing to expend precious air and energy to encourage a complete stranger. Their shouts of encouragement helped keep me strong and focused throughout the second half.

The miles kept rolling by: 6:06, 6:01. My breathing was labored and my legs were tired, but I refused to let the pace lag. I didn't catch the 12-mile split, but as I (finally) crested the hill at 13 I saw 11:55 for the previous two miles. The finishing straight was agonizingly long, but I still felt strong. A quick glance up at the clock indicated that I would definitely come in below 1:21 but would miss 1:20 by a sizeable amount. Had I known earlier in the race that I would come so close to that barrier, I probably would've pushed to find 30 extra seconds. 1:20:27 is a 2-minute PR for me, but 1:19 sounds way more legit. Such is life, I suppose. At any rate, after breaking the finish tape I didn't have much time to dwell on the race, as things were hustling and bustling at the Craft/Karhu tent. I'd unfortunately missed witnessing our "Beat the Bear" promotion during the 5k, in which we'd pledged to give away a free pair of shoes to anyone who beat the lucky chap encumbered by the Karhu bear suit (which boasts all the heft of a college mascot costume). As it turns out, our "bear" ran a very respectable 18:45 (and, by the grace of God, did not succumb to heat stroke or agoraphobia and pass out on the course), which meant only 13 people were at our booth clamoring for free footwear. Still, the resulting activity meant I missed out on any chance of a cool down or moment of post-race reflection.

Karhu Sisu and a few of his competitors

Fortunately, I have time for that reflection now. Initially my goal had been to run at or below marathon pace comfortably, and I'm happy to report that I accomplished that. Only one of my splits was slower than marathon pace, and that was the first mile of the day. And, while at no point did I feel like I was simply out for a morning jog, it's hard to be displeased with such a substantial negative split. I'm fine with not feeling comfortable in Houston as long as I feel strong, and that certainly was the case today. Most importantly, this cobbled together marathon simulation taught me that it doesn't really matter if I feel terrible during the first 10k of the race. In fact, given the nature of the marathon and the state of my current fitness, I should almost expect to feel terrible early on. In reality, all that matters is my ability to keep my composure and to confidently rely on the knowledge that once I settle into pace, good things can happen. Perhaps even, dare I say, great things. We'll see in two weeks.

Accepting my award with the second place female


jayholder8k said...

coincidentally, I just told Lauren that I think you have the best job in the world.

allensroadtoboston said...

It really is incredibly unfair that you are able to run AND write so well. You should only be allowed one such talent. Great race and great recap. And thank you for giving me my 4th time goal of 2011 - I must beat the bear!

Valentine's Run said...

nice hardware, and a great read. way to pull the 1:20:27 out even if it's not as pretty as the 1:19:XX. To rattle off those lower 6's that aggressively on the uphill second half shows great gusto.