Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2009 Santa Cruz Half Marathon

On the spur of the moment this week, I decided to register for the Santa Cruz Half Marathon. Some shorter races are good speed practice for the marathon and this looked like a really nice one.

Come Sunday and what a beautiful day it was for this race. Sunny, no wind, ocean and bluffs, pelicans, etc. A bit warm for the forecast but I should be done racing by 10am, so not too bad.

If you've read my story about pacing for the Napa Valley Marathon, you know it's a big decision for your race: "how fast can I do it?".

No angst figuring out a pace for this race....given my recent training history (and the fact that it was "only" a half marathon) I set out to run an 8:30 pace.

How the heck did I pick this pace?

Well, I've done a number of training runs at faster paces lately (working on speed) and found that doing a 9:00 pace over a 10 miler required a heart rate (average) of 125 bpm. This is not a very fast heart rate for me since my max heart rate is ~168, (verified on a doctor's treadmill). In January I ran half marathon a time trial on the track at a 8:50 pace (127 hr)...I also felt I could go faster and hold the pace in a real race. My previous best 10k race (Sept) was at a 8:20 pace...I'm in better shape now than then, but I didn't think I could do the entire half marathon at that pace.

This course is not dead flat, but the hills are not very big: just some rolling 30-60 foot dips and rises here and there.

Anyway, 8:30 pace it is.

The scene at the 8am start is relaxed. The sun is up and it's about 55 degrees and getting warmer. The surfers are out and the air smells of the ocean.

At T-10 minutes the PA fires up and they let us know we'll be going out before the 10k runners. Yay! There are fewer of us so that will make the first few miles less congested. They also tell us that this year is a record number of women entries: 65% of the racers!

At T-6 minutes I chug down and discard the small bottle of water I've be keeping for this moment.

5..4..3..2..1 Bang! We're off with a loud canon shot.

The course immediately heads up onto the aptly named Cliff Dr. Popping up 50 feet it takes us through a fancy neighborhood on top of the bluffs. It's quite congested for the first half mile so I can't get up to my target pace. A particularly chatty-cathy group of girls insists on running 4-abreast which is very impolite and annoying..must get away from all that yakking! They don't seem to be working hard at all, sigh. What do they think this is, a fun run? Gradually it thins out a bit and I can get around the gossipers and pull ahead. Oops, clocked a few sub 8:00 quarters....slow down a bit, silly!

First water stop comes up at about 2 miles and I chug a cup. They have lots of great volunteers for this race, which is really nice...so far I'm liking this race setup.

By the time I get to the 10k mark, I've been doing an 8:20 pace and I'm doing ok, but definitely going fast for me. I'm glad to be a little under my goal pace because it's going to get hotter (probably 65 already) and I conjecture some time reserve might be a good idea. Along the way we've passed a few people clearly going out too fast..you can tell at a glance from the breathing and the stride deterioration when somebody is eventually doomed to slow down.

We hit a section of the race that is on dirt trails and they are lumpy and stony in places which takes a bit more energy for the same pace. Around me I'm getting to know the same set of people by sight...we pass each other as each of us speeds up or slows down depending on how we are feeling and how hard we like running up-hills vs down-hills. Almost all of these people are younger than I am. Some of them have clothes that make me hot (thermally) just looking at them...tight fitting spandex pants to the knee, long sleeve tech shirts, etc. probably seemed like a good idea at the start...

The trails are narrow enough that you can't run abreast with each other so we are all spaced out nicely (although there is good room to pass). At one point, I raise my head and I look down the bluffs and I'm treated to a surreal view of a sinuous line of people running down the coast..legs all pumping madly...

At around 8 miles we are off the dirt and heading back the way we came. At the water stops now I take two cups and dump one of them down my back...at this point it's "Half-In, Half-On" . It feels good, if a bit shockingly cold...I can tell I'm running hotter that my usual morning training runs. Every few minutes we pass somebody walking...

This course is an out-and-back for most of it and we are now sharing the course with the slower runners still coming our way. Many are walking. As I get to the 10 mile mark my legs are really starting to feel it. It's very hard to hold my 2:07 quarter miles now and I can see my average pace gradually losing ground toward 8:30. The game now is to hang on.....some of the group I've been with has pulled away from me, some has fallen behind. We are passing more walkers now and sometimes fast and fresh people blow past us ..(hmm must have really going slow for the first 2/3). There are no more chatty-cathys out here. Everybody is doing hard breathing now.

At this point, I'm counting down the quarters to 13.1.....we're past all the hills and just trying to hold our pace as best we can. It feels hot...somebody has a hose with water spray and I take a pass through it. It's cold! (Or I'm hot).

The volunteers have been offering free power gels at several stops...I have no desire...I just want water...

My average pace continues to slip a bit but we've come so far its got a lot of weight behind it now...thank god for that. I'm really feeling dead in the legs, but I still crank out sub 2:07 some of the quarter splits so it's not total 'fall apart time'. However, I'm very glad to be almost done...for the final downhill off the bluffs and onto the beach we kick it up a bit. Then we have to walk in the sand to clear the finish...ewww...that's not fun!

Somebody hands me a medal, and another a bottle of water. Both are nice to have!

Our time: 1:51:26, which is almost exactly an 8:30 pace. Yay!

Finished 450/2604 overall
Finished 19/114 in my age group
Age Graded time: 1:36:02 time (7:20 pace)

Here's my garmin track.


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