Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tyler Rose Half Marathon 2013

So, it might not have been the smartest idea ever to choose, as my first half marathon, the one that makes all the runners in the North Texas area go, "Whoa... HILLS."

But I think I've made it pretty clear by now that I'm just winging it and if it looks like I did something quite smart, I mostly just got lucky. For example, mid-October weather is highly unpredictable weather in north Texas. So, to sign up for the Tyler Rose is to potentially sign up to run non-stop hills in super-humid 80 degree weather.

This very real threat smacked me in the face the morning before the race when I opened my back door in Dallas to let the dogs out. Warm and oppressively humid. Houston humid. I first thought about my poor running group doing 11 training miles that morning, and then thought, "Oh crap, this better blow out by tomorrow."

It was humid and yucky and drizzly all the rest of the day. I kept checking the weather hoping this was the ugly end of a cold front blowing through, but the 5 weather apps on my phone refused to budge off lows in the mid 60s and highs in the high 70s with nearly 100% humidity for Sunday.

"Run? On THESE hills, Doctor?" - Rose Tyler
What have I done?

Fortunately, Saturday's warmth abated, cloud cover kept the sun from being a factor, and the light mist in the air kept me from overheating, despite the sweat dripping off my fingertips as I ran. I might not have felt smart for signing up, but at least I didn't feel dumb for it either.

 I knew when I signed up for the race, I had two main challenges: First is that my longest training run had been 10.5 miles. I was throwing this race in a little ahead of where we were on the schedule. Second, those hills. I read race reports, I asked people who'd run it. I said, "So, what kind of hills were they? Long slow hills? Short steep hills? LONG, STEEP HILLS??"

All the kinds of hills, they said. Okay. I live in a hilly neighborhood with all the kinds of hills, and our training runs included hills (both on our Tuesday night runs where we did a few hill repeat workouts, and on our long runs around White Rock Lake neighborhoods). I figured the best I could do was devote all my Thursday runs to hill work in my own neighborhood. So that's what I did. Dutifully, every Thursday, 3-5 miles of hills.

I didn't know if I'd done enough, but at least I could sleep easy and know that I did as much as I could for where I'm at in my training.

The DRC 15k Loop club race the Saturday before threw another challenge my way, when my overzealous speed, thanks to my determination to beat the pants off the girl in the Pujols shirt, led to me pulling my hamstring. PUJOLS! (I beat her soundly, BTW, so it was worth every painful step.)

So, now I'm running:
  • My first half marathon
  • It's super hilly
  • I'm slightly injured
  • It's humid, and
  • I'm nowhere close to finishing my half marathon training.
I wasn't sure what my goals were for the race other than to just get through it, but as race day came within reach, it clarified for me.

Three main things:
  1. No racing; run training pace and enjoy the journey. Even if Pujols himself lopes past me. Do. Not. Chase.
  2. Don't make the injury worse.
  3. Finish strong and smiling.
I had a time of 2:45 in my head as respectable, but given all the unknowns, I just couldn't tie any goals to time. I had to listen to my body and do what I needed to do (even if that meant stopping at a port-a-potty midway so I could run a more comfortable race... man, I hate stopping and I hate port-a-potties).

So, when Runkeeper kept telling me at nearly every mile marker that I was clocking an average pace of exactly 12:33, I knew I was meeting goal #1. That's a little faster than my group training pace, but my instinct during races is closer to 11 and I'd had easily beat that into submission. Happy.

I felt my hamstring maybe once the whole race. I'd put KT tape on it and between that and taking it easy and running my natural stride (not too short, not too long), it was a non-issue. Happy.

The final mile and change of the race has two big uphills. As I was approaching the 12 mile marker, my phone gave me the ol' "7% battery" warning. Shit. I was NOT losing this race data! So I decided to ditch my 2:1 intervals and run it in. I felt great and knew I had this final push in me so long as my hamstring stayed quiet.

And so, I ran. And I felt strong. And entered the rose garden and there were my parents cheering me in and the guy announcing my name and the photographers and the finish arch and the people handing out medals and bottles of water and the astroturf or grass or whatever the green under me was, was so soft on my tired feet. I finished strong and smiling. Happy.

I'll admit to a tinge of disappointment in my time, but when you factor in the 5 minute potty stop (3 women ahead of me), I really wasn't that far off the mark with my 2:53 finish.

Once I gathered myself and thought about the race with some clarity, the one goal I was afraid to set was the one I met and am most proud of: Conquering those hills.

Because I never once thought how bad the hills were. I think maybe one time, a fairly short hill was steep enough that I had to swing my arms a little higher to keep my steady pace up it. I passed people by the dozens on those hills, especially late in the race, especially that last mile, when people who'd passed me miles ago were now slowed to a waddle up these final ascents. 

I was READY for those hills. I whooped those hills. I finished saying, "What hills?" and meant it without an ounce of false bravado. I really thought, "What is the fuss?" And yet in the days after the race, I see tons of, "OMG that course nearly killed me!"

I'm here to tell you, there's nothing to be scared of on this course if you've put your work in. And for what it's worth, I'd characterize most of the hilliness as longer slopes of moderate incline but not much break from the ups and downs either. Do your work and you'll eat those hills for breakfast.

After sweatyhugging my parents, I drank my chocolate milk, ate a banana nut muffin I'd brought (apparently you had to walk up stairs to get to the post race pizza, so no thanks) and hit the road for Dallas. My hip flexors are my achilles heel at the moment (just started working on fixing that) so they were screaming when I got home. I took a nice long nap and then went and played hockey that night.

Not surprisingly, the lingering soreness the next couple of days was in my quads. I worked most of it out of my right (dominant) leg at hockey getting up off the ice, but my left was sore for 2 days after that. Go figure. I really don't understand how the human body works sometimes.

But add playing hockey to the list of victories that day. I honestly thought I would make a mess of it, but we actually ended up winning the game and my stiff legs didn't snap off like I was worried they might.

All in all, I'd call my first half marathon a raging success. Maybe not on the clock but in every other way, from training to mental strength, it was an amazingly rewarding day.

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