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.

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