Saturday, June 7, 2014

Covered Bridges Half Marathon

Since I was spending the week following Ottawa in upstate NY with my family, it made sense to me to check out races for the second weekend of my vacation.  Originally this was part of a half-marathon-a-month plan, and running in Vermont or New York in June seemed far preferable to running in North Carolina in June.  As luck would have it, the Covered Bridges Half Marathon, which has been on my running bucket list for a while, fell on June 1.  The 2013 race sold out in 8 minutes, so I made sure to be at my computer when registration opened in December.

It's a point to point race, so runners are shuttled from the finish to the start.  My dad and I left our hotel around 6:20 and he dropped me off about 10 minutes later.  As I got out of the car, the first people I saw were the Hackers, and it was a nice surprise to find the 2 people I knew in a crowd of 2,500 without even trying!  We hopped on a shuttle and arrived at the starting area with well over an hour to go until the start.  Bib pickup was available only at the starting line, but it took virtually no time at all, so even with a stop at the porta-potty and bagel tent, we had quite a bit of time to kill.  It was actually pretty chilly until the sun came out, so I used my heat sheet from Ottawa to keep warm and wished I'd packed some throwaway gloves.  I was not about to complain though, since race temps were supposed to climb only into the 60s, and too cold is infinitely better than too hot for racing.  Around 7:50 I headed out for a quick warm up and then made my way to the start line with about 10 minutes to spare.

The course description says "The course has a very gentle downgrade, dropping 200 feet in elevation over the 13.1 miles. There is a moderate hill at mile 5 and a short, steep hill at mile 8," so I assumed it would be pretty much all downhill/flat with the exception of the two hills mentioned.  And based on previous years' results, I thought I should have a shot at an age group award if I ran reasonably well.  Combined with the nice weather, I thought things were aligned for a good run, so I decided on a goal pace of 7:15 and thought if all went well, I could finish under 1:35.  After running 1:33:01 in October of 2012, I'd hoped to be running closer to 1:30 by now, but it is what it is.  Hopefully that will come next year...

Anyway, the pace plan was set and I felt surprisingly good even though I'd had races on each of the two previous weekends.  The start was actually more crowded and harder to maneuver than Ottawa even though the field size was only 2,500 rather than 13,000, primarily because there were no corrals or even suggested pace signs leading up to the start.  So the three guys in front of me were running about 9-10 minute/mile pace, side by side, and I was boxed in right from the get go.  After a quarter mile or so, I found a little space, and it thinned out pretty quickly.

First 5 miles: Mostly flat with a few gentle hills.  At the first water station, I noticed they had plastic cups (similar to a small solo cup) rather than paper.  I usually squeeze the top of the cup closed, making it easier to drink on the move, but attempting to do so with the plastic cups resulted in the cup cracking in half and the water spilling all over my foot.  Lesson learned.  After that, I just slowed down through the water stops and tried to drink normally without choking.  Average pace: 7:08

Miles 6-7: Started with a quarter mile hill, then rolling. I think this was around the time we ran over Middle Covered Bridge, which turned out to the the only covered bridge we would cross.  We then turned onto a gravel/dirt road, and I prefer pavement, but it ran along the river and was very scenic, so I tried to just enjoy the view and not think about the surface. Around mile 7 I stepped on a rock, right on the ball of my foot where the bruise that had bothered me for months had been and I was reminded of yet another reason I usually stick to paved roads.  But at least the view was nice! Average pace: 7:15

Mile 8: Mostly flat, ending with a short, steep, pace-killing hill. 7:38

Mile 9: Crested the hill and then had a half mile downhill to recover. I probably should have pushed the downhill a bit harder.  7:17

Miles 10-11: Rolling hills to flat.  Debated an emergency porta potty stop, but decided stopping would ruin any shot at 1:35, so I kept on going and prayed I could make it through the last three miles without incident. 7:28

Mile 12 to finish (13.2): More downhill than uphill, with some flats. 6:54  The last quarter mile was awesome because I was able to see my dad and Mary, the finish line, and then (with no time to spare) the porta potties.  

I just missed my goal of sub-1:35 (officially 1:35:34), but according to my Garmin, I hit my goal pace of 7:15 on the nose, and other than the GI issues for the last few miles, I felt pretty good and overall was happy with the run.  Most importantly, I think I'm in a good place going into summer training and am looking forward to the fall racing season!

Race summary
Good: Scenic course, relaxed atmosphere, only a few hours from my hometown. 
Bad: Plastic water cups, only one covered bridge, so Covered Bridges is not really accurate.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

May Training Log

Lots of racing, some solid training, and hopefully a good base for a full training cycle leading up to the Duathlon World Championship and Berlin Marathon in September! #319orBust

Ottawa Half Marathon

We flew up to Ottawa on Saturday morning and met up with my brother, dad, and stepmom at our hotel, which was conveniently located in the heart of the city and only a half mile from the start/finish area.  I had never been to Ottawa, even though I'd grown up only about two and a half hours away, so I was excited to see a new city and spend some time with my family.

Ottawa is a beautiful city and it was a lovely day, so we walked around a bit before heading over to the convention center for packet pickup.

Doing some sightseeing

Packet pickup was pretty quick and easy, and I got my packet and Adam picked up his very first marathon race bib.  I am not sure who was more excited about him running a marathon - me or him!

Saturday evening was the 10K, which featured a fantastic race field.  Normally I'm in races, which means I never get to see the elites, so it was cool to spectate!  The elite women got a 4 minute head start, and Mary Keitany ran 31:22 to easily hold of Wilson Kiprop, who won the men's race in 28 flat.  It amazes me that people can run that fast!

After the 10k, we went to the Mill St Brewery for dinner, and despite a strong desire to try the beer, I stuck to water.  The things I do in the name of racing... ;)  Then we walked back to the hotel and I got a relatively good night's sleep (by my standards anyway) before getting up at 6 to go down to the start of the marathon with Adam.

The marathon started at 7 and the half marathon at 9, but I got up early to go down to the start with my dad and brother, and shortly after 7, Adam was off.  I went back to the hotel, had some coffee, got put on my race gear, and jogged down to the start around 8:30.  I ran up and down the closed street a few times, and called it good after about a mile and a half, then went over to my corral (the first behind the elites) and found a spot toward the back.  Though I was in the back of the blue corral, I wasn't very far from the start line, and couldn't see the end of the waves of people behind me (based on results, there were about 500 ahead of me and 12,500 behind me).

Me and Dad before the race
I felt pretty good at the start, so I decided to aim for the low end of the 7:20-7:30 range that my coach had suggested.  I spent the first mile dodging other runners a little, but for such a large race, I felt like I had quite a bit of space.

Had a surprising amount of space when I saw my family at mile 0.7
Miles 2 and 3 were quiet and scenic as we headed out of the city along a paved path by canal and Dows Lake.  After that there were several miles through residential areas, which offered some nice views of the city and had great crowd support all along the way. Somewhere around mile 8, we crossed the bridge into Quebec.  By then the sun had come out and the temperature seemed to be rising pretty quickly, so I made sure to drink a bit of water at each aid station and started to also dump a cup on my head.  Around that time, I started to come up on marathoners and it got a lot more congested.  With the skyline in the distance and growing crowds through which I had to maneuver, it almost seemed like a completely different race from the one I'd been running for the first hour.  I hit the 10 mile mark right around 1:13 and was pretty pleased with how consistently I'd run to that point (7:20-7:16-7:15-7:17-7:15-7:13-7:19-7:19-7:18) while sticking very close to my 7:20 goal pace.

The full and half marathons shared the first bit of the course, separated, joined again in Quebec, and then redivided after crossing back into Ontario on the Alexandra Bridge, around mile 1.5 of the marathon and mile 10.5 of the half.  I'd wanted to find a location where they could see both of us go by and the bridge was less than a mile from our hotel, so I figured that would be a good spot for my family to be.  Plus, by my estimate, Adam would only be 10-20 minutes in front of me at that point, so they wouldn't have to be out there for hours.  Shortly after the 10 mile marker, I started onto the bridge.  I was passing more and more full marathoners, and just up ahead, there was my brother!  I sped up a bit to catch him, and then slowed down to his marathon pace.  I couldn't believe that I'd caught up to him, and done so less than a half mile from where everyone was waiting to see us!  He said the heat was getting to him and that it would be slower than he'd planned, but that he felt confident that he'd finish.  I gave him a bit of encouragement and advice, and was just thrilled to be able to share part of the race with him.  I knew that meant the 1:35 I'd been shooting for was off the table, but at that point I really could not have cared less.  As we came off of the bridge I saw Dad, Monte, and Mary there cheering, and it was so awesome that Adam and I were running together.  We were running 11+/minute mile pace, but it was undoubtedly a top 10 race moment for me.

I couldn't help but smile seeing my little brother running his first marathon
Shortly after passing our cheering squad, the marathon turned left and the half headed straight, running back along east side of canal, past the finish line (on the other side of the canal), over a bridge, back up the west side of the canal to the finish.  As I left Adam, I hit the lap button on my watch and tried to pick up the pace for a strong finish. Getting it going again was not as easy as I would have liked and by that point I was lacking motivation.  Though I wasn't able to run faster than I had been, I was able to get back to about goal pace, and averaged 7:19 for the last 2.7 to finish in 1:37:18.  Despite the little break to run with Adam and having raced the duathlon a week before, I was only 1:20 slower than my fastest half of the year, and I felt great, so I'm encouraged that things are headed in the right direction.

Spinner medals
10/1023 Age Group
64/7417 Gender
561/13180 Overall

After crossing the line, I quickly made my way through the finisher's area and headed over to our family meeting spot.  I drank some chocolate milk, changed into a dry shirt, and then we went over to to mile 26.1 to watch Adam finish his race.  Less than two hours later, we were happy and proud to see him coming and cheered him on as he picked up the pace and finished his first marathon in impressive fashion!

This race weekend was fantastic.  Mainly because I got to spend time with my family and see my brother run his first marathon, but I really enjoyed both the city and the race.  Ottawa is beautiful, clean, friendly, and they have excellent poutine and beer, so it's worth the trip for sure.  As for the race, the course was mostly scenic and had great crowd support; the entire event was really well organized, had really nice medals and shirts, and got rave reviews from my family as being very spectator friendly.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

USAT Long Course Duathlon National Championship

This year, the Cary Du Classic was selected to host the USAT Long Course Duathlon National Championship.  I was planning on racing anyway, since it's basically in my back yard, and was really excited to learn that it would be a qualifier for the World Championship race in Switzerland.  It was really my main goal race of the spring, and I really wanted to finish the 5 mile run-32 mile bike-5 mile run course in under 3 hours.  Specifically, I was giving myself 40 minutes for each run and transition and 1:40 on the bike.  I felt pretty comfortable about the run-transition times, thinking I should be able to finish the run in about 37 minutes and would have a fair amount of time to run through transition.  The 1:40 on the bike was less certain, as I'd have to average over 19 mph and I haven't ridden at that level of effort for any sustained duration since September at Augusta.

I got to packet pickup around 6:00, checked in, set up transition, and found Jennifer for a short warmup.  It was actually pretty cool at the start of the race, and I was grateful for that considering the North Carolina weather in May can be quite unpleasant.  We picked a spot somewhere around the middle of the crowd lining up at the start and were off.  The one thing I found disappointing was that there was no start mat, so it was based on gun time rather than chip time.  It took us less than a minute to get across the starting line, but I felt like I needed every possible minute to meet my goal of sub-3 and would have liked those extra seconds!

I'd done a test run of the course a few weeks prior when it was in the 80s and humid, so the run felt much easier thanks to the cool temps.  The goal was to stay in the 7:20s for the first run leg, keeping it fairly conservative to be sure I didn't ruin my chances of a decent bike time.  The first mile is flat to rolling, and included about a quarter mile off road.  Normally this would just be grass and dirt, but after several days of rain, it was all mud and puddles.  I rarely run on anything unpaved and am not a fan of wet feet or dirty shoes, so I followed the group running a bit extra to go around the worst of it.  Then we were back on roads and I settled back into a rhythm, hitting the first mile in 7:18.  At mile 1.5, the course turns onto a greenway, and the mile to the turnaround is all downhill before doing a 180 at mile 2.5 and coming all the way back up (7:10, 7:25, 7:22).  The uphill section on the way back had felt terrible on my test run and I was really happy to have made it back to the road without losing much time.  Mentally that gave me a bit of a boost, and I ran the 5th mile, including a return trip through/around the mud, in 7:09.  

Run 1: 36:41 

Transition 1: 1:08.  Somehow I always end up at the far side of bike out, so I have to run the full length of transition in cycling shoes with my bike.  I doubt this adds much time, but I would love to be near bike out/bike in at least once in a while! 

The bike course is rolling hills for the first 23 miles or so, and then mostly uphill for the last 9 miles or so.  Nothing crazy though, and several of the roads are part of my normal route across Jordan Lake, so I  knew what to expect.  

I tried to ride by effort and not worry about speed, but for the most part, each Garmin beep flashed a mile split pretty close to my target pace.  But it felt like most of the field was flying by me, and it really gave me some extra motivation to work more on my cycling.  Though being passed by so many people was a bit disheartening, I was really just competing against myself and the clock, so I stuck to the plan.  Other than a brief stint of being stuck behind a truck (who was in turn stuck behind other cyclists), the ride went well... the weather was perfect, and my Garmin showed 1:39:41 when I got back to the transition area.  Official race time: 1:40:18 - pretty close to my goal of 1:40!

Transition 2:  1:03.  I worked more on hydrating while on my bike, and I guess I did a little too well at that... I am not so serious about this that I've learned to be ok with just peeing on myself, so after leaving T2 I stopped by the porta potty.  I wish it had been inside the timing mat and added to my T2 time rather than my second run time.

Run 2: 38:32 (37:51 without the pit stop)
The goal for the second run was to shoot for 7:10s-7:20s.  I started out feeling pretty good and hit the first two mile splits right on target (7:19, 7:18).  I hoped to just maintain through the uphill section and then pick it up for the final mile, but that hill really took the wind out of my sails.  Despite my best efforts, I was dropping speed in a hurry (7:40, 7:51) and started the mental battle to keep pushing even though it seemed futile.  I was able to get it together a bit for the final mile and even managed to pass a few people (7:24).   A little over a minute off of my goal for the last run, but thankfully still fast enough to get in under 3 hours, and I was really pleased to cross the line in 2:57:44, especially after struggling at the end.  

In addition to finishing below my time goal, I qualified for the Long Course Duathlon World Championship at Powerman Zofingen in Switzerland!  I am not sure how wise it is for a person who hates running up hills to sign up for a race that has a TON of climbing, but I am really excited to represent the USA and take on the challenge of what is said to be one of the toughest races in the world!