Monday, June 15, 2015

Utah Valley Half Marathon

I decided to run the Utah Valley half marathon for a few reasons.  The course profile appeared to be a solid net downhill, but not so much elevation change that it would shred your quads (*spoiler alert: that assumption was incorrect); I had nothing major on my calendar until fall; and visiting Utah's National Parks has been high on my bucket list.  The race also offers Clydesdale/Athena divisions (males over 200 lbs and females over  150 lbs), making it an even more attractive option for me. 

We flew out to Salt Lake City after work on Tuesday, picked up our rental car, and checked into a hotel by the airport.  Wednesday morning I went for a little 5 mile run with some 200m pickups to feel out how the altitude might affect my running.  It went pretty well and it was actually lovely to run without 90% humidity.  After a shower and breakfast, we made the 4 hour drive to Moab and visited Arches National Park.  What an amazing place!

Turret Arch - Arches National Park

Thursday was a rest day on my schedule (a what?!?), so we took the opportunity to head back to Arches for a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch.  We beat the crowds and made it back to the car just as it started to rain, so the early morning adventure was definitely a success.

Delicate Arch - Arches National Park
On Friday I did a quick little shake out run and then we ventured over to Canyonlands and drove through the entire park.  With the exception of one small hike, we mostly just stopped at overlooks to take photos and didn't do anything overly taxing.

View from Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park
From there we headed up to Provo for packet pickup.  I stopped by the information desk to find out if they were doing weigh-ins for the Clydesdale/Athena divisions (Hartford had a mandatory weigh-in prior to the race) and just happened to end up talking with the race organizer, who kindly invited us to the VIP dinner.  Dinner was great, we met some other runners, and I got a picture with Ryan Hall, so that all worked out splendidly.  Plus I figured eating the same pre-race meal as the American half marathon record-holder couldn't hurt!  After dinner we drove the course.  I'm glad we did - there were significantly more uphill sections than I'd envisioned, so I was happy to know that ahead of time rather than finding out mid-race.  It also helped to know that after each hill was a nice downhill, so I felt much more prepared mentally after the course preview.

Unfortunately I could not sleep on Friday night thanks to some serious sinus congestion.  I couldn't breathe through my nose at all and was hoping that the cold appearing out of nowhere wouldn't impact my race.  Not really ideal, but I was awake before my 3:15 alarm and went through my usual morning ritual without feeling rushed.  At 4:00 I left the hotel, and found the temperature outside to be quite pleasant.  I'd worn a light jacket that I planned to leave at the start but decided I didn't need it and might as well save it for my next cold weather race, so I ran back to the room and left it.  Now in just my singlet and shorts, I made the 10 minute walk to the buses at Towne Centre Mall and was on board and heading out around 4:15. We took a very round about way to the start, so though it was only 13.1 miles away, it took about 30 minutes to drive there. I was actually happy for the longer ride, since we had to be on the bus so early, and had a nice chat with the BYU student sitting next to me (side note: everyone in Utah was extremely nice!).  We got off the bus at 4:45 and it was FREEZING at the start. I figured it would be a little cooler at than it was when I left our hotel given the 700 foot elevation difference (starting at 5,269 and ending at 4,564), but it was very cold and I was wishing I'd kept that jacket.  Live and learn.

Around 5:30 I made one last porta-potty stop, did a short 15 minute warm up with some strides, and made my way into the corral.  There weren't any pace signs or assigned corrals, so I found the 1:35 pacer and figured that was as good a spot as any.  Before I knew it, we were off.

My primary goals coming into the trip were to run a new PR (my previous best was 1:33:01 in Hartford back in 2012 during my NYC marathon training cycle) and win the Athena division.  After looking at the race guide on Friday night, I learned that the course record for Athenas was 1:33:14, so that was an extra incentive to run under 1:33.  My stretch goal was 1:31:32, which is an average pace of 6:59.  I don't know why 6:59 sounds so much better to me than 7:00, but I really wanted a half marathon pace starting with a 6!

The 1st 3 miles were mostly flat/very slight downhill with a couple of little hills just after the first mile. I had to do a little dodging around other runners at the outset, but I found myself running along with only a few people in no time.  Much of the first half of the race is on curvy roads, but with only one or two runners near me at a time I was able to stay very close to the measured distance and my Garmin splits were almost right on the mile markers.  Concentrating on the tangents and looking ahead through each curve also made the initial miles go by very quickly.

I didn't know how the altitude would affect me, and my coach had warned against going out too fast, as it would be hard to recover from oxygen debt at altitude, so I was cautious to keep things in check, especially up the hill in mile 3.  Overall I felt great, and the only issue was my sinus congestion.  Though I don't necessarily need to breathe through my nose when I'm running, I realized that it is very helpful to be able to do so when trying to drink gatorade while running through the aid stations.  But things were going well and I wasn't going to let a little thing like lack of air slow me down. 

Miles 1-3: 6:51-6:52-7:07

Miles 4 and 5 each had moderate hills with gains of about 100 feet over a quarter mile, but the rest was downhill, with some relatively fast descents and a net loss of almost 300 feet over these 3 miles.  I tried to increase my cadence up the hills and lighten my footfalls on the way down, while also being cautious to avoid red-line territory.  To my surprise, even with the hills, mile splits well below goal pace continued to pop up on my Garmin.

Miles 4-6: 6:50-6:36-6:40

Other than a short and relatively steep hill leading up to the 7th mile marker and a matching descent, miles 7-10 were all a very slight decline and a pretty straight shot out of the canyon.  Somewhere in these miles my legs got heavier, and I had a feeling I might have to pay for the too-fast miles I'd run so far.  But PRs don't come without taking risks, and my mental math told me I could run 7:10s and still hit my goal time, so I stayed pretty positive despite the slower mile splits.  I got an added boost when I hit mile 10 in 68:??, which would have been a significant 10 mile PR and was my first time getting running that distance in under 70 minutes. 

Miles 7-10: 6:48-7:02-7:01-7:08

Mile 11 was mostly on a slight incline/false flat, similar to the section of the ATT leading to Scott King Rd. When we drove the course, I had mentally prepared myself for this to be my most challenging mile.  Though the earlier hills were much steeper, I knew that at this point in the race even the slight incline was going to feel pretty tough, as Scott King usually does at the end of my training runs.  

Mile 11: 7:19

From mile 12 to the finish is a straight shot on a modest decline (loss of 50 feet over 2 miles) but I was really starting to feel fatigue in my legs and struggled to get the pace back.  Thankfully I could see some of the larger buildings in town, and having the finish line in sight was really helpful.  I really felt like I was pushing myself to my limit, but I just could not get those 6s back.  More mental math, and I knew I had a PR and the Athena course record in the bag, but that I had to keep my pace right around 7 if I was going to get in under 1:31:32.

Miles 12-13: 7:06-7:03

As I approached the finish line I heard Monte cheering for me but was completely focused on the clock and the finish line.  I gave it everything I had left, and crossed the line with 1:31:31 on the clock.  By my watch I ran 13.17 at an average pace of 6:57, and my chip time was 1:31:25 for an official race pace of 6:59.  Not exactly crushing the stretch goal of 1:31:32, but I did it!  

1st Place Athena and a new Athena Course Record
Just missed top 10 females, finishing 11th out of 1,005
After the race we spent the day in Park City and then caught the red-eye back to NC.  My quads are killing me, and I'm still sick and exhausted, but it was worth it.  

16 states down, 34 to go!