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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Distance

Orange County Half Marathon Race Report:

Marie and I getting ready to race
Goal Race Time: 1:45:00
Actual Race Time: 1:49:45
Pace: 8:23 min/mile

It's going to sound like I'm making a lot of excuses for missing my target for this run (and let's face it, I am), but for the sake of saving face, let's call these "excuses" "learning experiences". After all, it was the first race for me this year, and I have a lot of room for improvement. Also, it may appear that I am painting the experience in a negative light. On the contrary we had a blast, and can't wait to do it again, but the stories about what went wrong are far more entertaining. These are also the experiences we can learn from going forward. But just so I'm clear (before I start ranting), it was a very fun race.

The day started early, as the race start time was 6:15 am. They asked us to be at the Orange County Fairgrounds at 5:30 sharp at "Corral #1" to load on to shuttles to take us to the race start at Fashion Island (the fact that they called it a "corral" is really telling). We should have expected a complete lack of coordination on the part of the organizers and planned accordingly, but we chose to be lemmings this day and follow the rules.

Standing at the end of a line that stretched along the entire circumference of the fairgrounds, I recognized the impossibility of shuttling 10,000 people more than 10 miles away via school buses within a 45 minute time frame. We began to realize that we wouldn't make it to the start at the beginning of the race, thus I would not be able to join the 1:45 pace group. First challenge of the day, but that's alright. The time does not start until I cross the start line. It occurred to me while we were standing there that this was not a logistical failure at all. I feel that the organizers planned (and probably rightfully so) to trickle groups of people in in a more manageable way, most people getting to the start after the gun. Thus, 3-4000 people starting at the correct start time makes a much better photo op than 10,000 people flooding the streets, bottle-necking the start line. Unfortunately for some of the faster runners arriving late, this means zigzagging through people on the course.

Bomb sniffing dogs - an ominous reminder of what happened in Boston a few weeks earlier. Fortunately, Keanu Reeves  was not present for this bus adventure
The bus ride (and the accompanying smell) brought back bad memories of bullies and uncomfortable silences with crushes. Fortunately it was short lived and we were dropped off about a quarter mile from the race start. This gave us an opportunity to do a quick warm up before getting to the race start. As expected the start line was now empty, aside from our bus group, some teamsters breaking down equipment, and piles of litter and clothing. I must admit we crossed the start line a little hastily, as I didn't check my heart rate before hand, and I struggled to start my iTunes and mapmyrun. About a quarter mile up the hill at Fashion Island and I finally looked at my heart rate, which was about 20 beats per minute above where I wanted it at this point. As my paces will show below, I was not running too fast, so I think the heart rate was probably due to lack of sufficient warm up, nerves, and anxiety about getting to the start line.

The race course itself is actually a well designed and beautiful course. The first half is mostly downhill, which makes for a fast course. The second half is relatively flat with a couple of pretty short but sizable hills. As I mentioned, it starts at Fashion Island, exits out to MacArthur for a lengthy downhill to PCH. It then meanders through Corona del Mar and along Bayside Drive. The course ascends Dover Road and then travels along the Back Bay, shooting out at Irvine Ave, and then up side streets, terminating at the fairgrounds. I think the half marathon was the better deal, as the full marathon did exactly the same course, but instead of turning into the fairgrounds, proceeded into Santa Ana for 13 more miles of fun(?).

With the 1:45 pace group about an hour ahead of me at the beginning, I knew I was pretty much on my own. One of the benefits I wanted to get from running with that pace group was the organic "pull" I would get from pacing stronger runners. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred and I was behind slower runners. The crowds were impenetrable at many points in the course, and I found myself zigzagging constantly to pass crowds. Every time I did this my heart rate would spike, so I just couldn't relax.

I was extremely impressed by the crowd support along the course. We went through a number of neighborhoods, where people were standing outside, drinking coffee and cheering us on. They could have easily been irritated by a barrage of runners waking their kids and littering up their streets, but they chose to keep it positive. Kudos to them.

As I mentioned, my heart rate was much too elevated for most of the race. Based on my training, I would have liked to have seen my speed at the beginning better reflect what my heart rate was telling me. I was in the high end of zone 2 (between 150 and 160) during the first third of the race. During the second third I was in zone 3 (between 160 and 170). The last 3 to 4 miles I was in zone 4, and reaching what was supposed to be my max heart rate. I recognized pretty early that my heart rate was not going to cooperate due to my inability to relax, so I mostly focused on perceived exertion.

What was the effect of running this way? Many of us know it all too well, and I'm feeling it now, three nights later. Legs that feel like a semi drove over them, complete and utter fatigue, and the feeling that I never want to do that again (that feeling at least escaped me pretty quickly after the race). This reminded me of what it was like to train like this in every effort. Good Lord, how did I survive? I barely did.

I finished the race in 1:49:45, less than a minute faster than my previous best, but a personal best nonetheless. Below are my 1 mile split times as measured by map-my-ride. It measured a tad long, as I was doing a lot of weaving, and I turned it off a bit late. Plus it's a $2 app and is likely not extremely accurate, but it's clear enough to see that I ran the second half much faster than the first (despite the fast downhill on the first half).

Distance
Pace
1 mi 08:42 min/mi
2 mi 08:10 min/mi
3 mi 08:33 min/mi
4 mi 08:22 min/mi
5 mi 07:53 min/mi
6 mi 08:31 min/mi
7 mi 08:09 min/mi
8 mi 08:19 min/mi
9 mi 07:48 min/mi
10 mi 07:44 min/mi
11 mi 07:18 min/mi
12 mi 06:55 min/mi
13 mi 07:11 min/mi
13.9 mi 07:34 min/mi

This tells me I could have been faster off the start if I was more relaxed. It also tells me that I gave it everything I had during the last half, and I'm proud of that. To see that I still had enough in the tank to post a sub-7 minute mile and 5 consecutive sub 8 minute miles makes me feel great (not physically, of course, but you know what I'm saying). Despite my complaints about having to pass tons of runners, not locking in my heart rate, and that I didn't hit my goal, I was still able to post a personal best. And post that best after only about 2 and a half months of training from absolutely unfit. Also, to achieve this with relatively "easy" training. That tells me that something's working with what I'm doing now. Makes me think "what if I could post 13 consecutive sub-8 minute miles? How about sub-7?"

I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'm obsessive, that's what I do. For the time being I'll get back to humility, patience, and acceptance. Back within my heart rate training, and hopefully I'll hit my goals next race. I also want to say that I'm proud of my wife, Marie for finishing this race. After all, she inspired me to do this one in the first place which got the snowball rolling.

A couple more notes about this race. First, the parking situation was a nightmare. It literally took us longer to get out of the parking lot than it did to run the race (that's what happens when you wrap the race course around the parking structure and finish it at the main entrance). That was the least enjoyable experience of the entire day. Second, there were camera people everywhere snapping photos that they will eventually sell online. If there are any that were taken of me that look ridiculous (and if the price isn't too crazy), I will post the worst one here just for laughs.