Sunday, March 20, 2011

#15 - Nikia's Nippy Nor'easter Half

Surprise! I didn't really make mention of it here, but I actually had two half marathons planned for this month. Yesterday was Nikia' Nippy Nor'easter Half (and relay) up on the NCR Trail.

Sponsored by Back on My Feet, this was a nice and low key race that I essentially used as a training run. I first heard about it last month when BOMF brought a team to the Striders' Valentine's Day 5K. Early registration was only $15.

The race started at the ranger station in Monkton and ran south on the trailing, turning around just before Paper Mill Road to make the return north. I got there early in order to find a decent parking spot and later met up with some friends from the Striders, hanging around until everything started at 9am.

My plan was basically to run whatever pace felt comfortable. My legs have still been a bit sore since B&A, so I had no plans to push hard and try and beat my new PR time. I knew that the packed stone surface of the trail would help lessen the impact of the miles on me.

The run itself was uneventful. It was chilly at the beginning but warmed up very quickly and was a gorgeous morning while running along the Gunpowder River. This is not a race for those who like crowds - I went for noticeable periods of time without seeing another runner, biker, or hiker.

The peace and quiet was nice, but also kind of a danger for me. The last 4 miles were rough just from exhaustion and there was nothing to really distract me. I'm proud of myself for sticking with my intervals though, mentally keeping myself going rather than just giving up and taking extra walks and trudging along.

According to my watch, my time was just under 2:42, just a few minutes over my B&A time. This is shaping up to be a very interesting year.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

B&A Trail Half - Starting the Season Strong

Last Sunday was the B&A Trail Half Marathon, my first big race of the year. Now, don't be confused by the trail aspect of this. This is not what many think of when they hear trail, rather it is a paved Rails to Trails path. I train on this trail during much of the year, but this was the first time I had really been on it since the late fall.

In 2009, this same race was my first ever half marathon. I was spent by mile 12, wondering why anyone would ever want to run a full marathon, and finished in 3:02, happy to be near my 3 hour goal. This year this race marked my 14th half marathon, and I was putting everything into it.

My previous best for a half was 2:46, which I did in May at Frederick and repeated in October at Baltimore. Both of those races were very hilly. While I lost some momentum climbing the steep hills, I made up lots of time letting gravity pull me on the downhills. Just how well would I be able to do on a mostly flat path without those downhills to help increase my momentum?

I was thinking a 2:40 might be possible, but taking nearly 30 seconds off my pace per mile is pretty huge to begin with. Plus, I felt like I had really slacked off in my training in January and February. While I had some excellent long runs on weekends, my midweek runs were sometimes non-existent. My normal 3:1 run/walk intervals didn't seem to be serving me well either, and were helping put doubts in my head about reaching my goal. I kept wondering how I possibly completed a marathon with them back in the end of October, and now most runs seemed strained with them.

Katie suggested I drop back to a 2:1, the intervals I had been using on long runs with her. She said that I seemed to really know how I could push with them so it might be worth trying. A lackluster run doing 3:1's the Thursday before the race seemed to seal the choice for me. Physically I could probably do the longer run, mentally I just couldn't. While I had made that decision, even the day before the race I wasn't sure just how hard I wanted to do this. 2:40 seemed daunting, and I decided that if I finished around my current PR time I would be happy.

I struggled over what to wear. The forecast called for heavy rain and high winds, but temps around 50 degrees. While a jacket would keep me dry, I was sure I would get hot and be miserable in it. I finally accepted the fact I would get wet, potentially drenched, and sucked it up, choosing to wear capris and a short sleeve shirt with a long sleeve shirt over top which I could tie around my waist once I was warm. A hat to keep rain out of my face completed my look.

The race started, as did a rain shower and some wind. Luckily this didn't last long and while most of the race was overcast, there was only a sprinkle here and there for the remainder. It was turning out to be great race weather - mild temps and no sun to bake you. Hmmmm, I need to take advantage of this.

I chugged along on my 2:1 interval's, hitting an average 12 minute/mile pace at every single mile marker, and was still at it at mile 6. Now, I have been able to maintain this pace for a ten miler before, but hadn't for a half. I kept pushing, despite fears I was starting out too fast. During some of my run intervals, my pace even hit 9:00 minute/mile. It felt good but freaked me out. Too fast, too fast, don't bite yourself in the ass, just kept playing through my head. But, it felt good.

And then the turnaround came. The way this course works is that you start at Severna Park High School, and run about a mile and half through various neighborhoods so the pack can thin out before reaching the trail. We got on the trail and then headed south. About mile 7, you have to go down a hill, about .7 miles long and then turnaround and immediately climb right back up it. It is a long steady climb, which does flatten out slightly midway before finishing the climb and reaching the head of the trail and heading back north to the high school.

I hate this hill. We train on it during the 10K class, and I hate it. It sucks the life out of you. When I did this race in '09, I don't even think I attempted to run up it. Since hills have really become my strength over the last year, I was determined to beat it in this race. I was so excited to see my friends Joe and Erin, and their adorable human and canine sons, Declan and Brody, cheering just before the turnaround. It was a great boost for me. As I made my climb back up, I passed Kelly on her way down. When I got to the top of the hill and back onto the trail, I found Katie, Kim, and Megan together, and Laura not far behind them. It was good to see them doing well, and I kept pushing along.

Around mile 8 I figured out that I was still on my 12 minute/mile pace, even with the climb up Boutler's Way. Wow! A PR might happen after all. And then it happened, I hit mile 10 at exactly two hours. I had a PR, it was just a matter of by how much. I knew the final 5K would not take me 40 minutes. If I could stay on the 12 minute pace, I'd finish in just over 36 minutes. O.M.G. I then became determined to. Pushing, pushing, and pushing. Despite the number of miles already under my belt, that 9 minute pace popped up here and there, but overall I tried to be consist at about a 10:30 pace on my runs and power walking my walk breaks.

I reached Severna Park and knew I would be turning off the trail and in the final stretch. I was excited and pushing through the exhaustion and pain I was feeling. I knew my roommate, Steph, was volunteering at the finish line and she and my friend, Mimi, were waiting with my medal and hugs. I picked it up as best I could in the final stretch. My final time, 2:37:03. I had beaten my PR by just under 10 minutes. This was huge. I had taken an average of 45 seconds off of my pace. It was also my most consistent race - being at that 12 minute pace at EVERY mile.

I discovered a couple of minutes later, that perhaps for the first time ever, I finished the half before the winner of the full came in. Another minor victory in my mind, lol. I waited for my friends to finish, while enjoying hot pizza that was being continuously delivered to the school. After awhile we headed to a fabulous brunch. A couple of days later, I was still on cloud 9.

A special thanks to all of my friends who were on the course that day, either working water stops or shouting a quick "hi" as we passed one another. Getting to see so many of you really makes this race so fun!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Here Comes #3

Assuming all goes according to plan this year, marathon #3 will happen. Last week I officially registered for the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon.

In other news, the last couple of months have been fairly uneventful, contributing to the silence on my end. I did do a couple of 5K's in early February and managed good times. One is unofficially a PR. Had it been a chip timed race rather than manually clock timed, it would be official.

First major race of the year is this coming Sunday, the B&A Trail Half Marathon. This was my first ever half marathon back in March 2009. This weekend it will be my 14th. How crazy is that. I have been planning on shooting for a PR with this race, but am not sure it'll happen, so I'll just have to see how I feel on race morning. Right now there's also a 90% chance of soaking rain all day, so that might definitely be a factor as well.