Sunday, November 06, 2011

On Completing My First Half Marathon

I ran the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Savannah Saturday. The race itself was nice. I felt great during the run and more or less hit my goal time (we'll discuss the ambiguity there in a bit). I paced myself to the point where I finished tired, but not dangerously so, and actually moving more quickly than at any point in the first half of the race.

It wasn't all great, though. Transportation the entire weekend was a disaster. First, while Savannah is by far the oldest city in the state, being the original colony and all, it is not really that big of a city. There were slightly fewer than 20,000 runners in the combined marathon and half marathon and almost 90% of them were from out of town. All of them had to go to the same convention center to pick up their packet. That convention center could only be reached by crossing the same bridge and taking the same one-lane exit off of said bridge. I rolled into downtown Savannah at 6:15 p.m. I didn't get into the convention center building until after 7 p.m. That's the time it took to cover 3 miles.

The next morning, I got up at 4:45, made my oatmeal, ate it, and got dressed. My wife, dad, and I were out of the door well before 6 a.m. and were only a mile away from the mall where the vast majority of the runners were required to go to catch a shuttle to the starting line on the other side of town. By the time we navigated the traffic getting into the mall parking lot, got in line for a bus, got on a bus, and got to the starting line, it was 7:10. The race started at 7:30. After waiting in line for a portapotty for 12 minutes and being unsuccessful, I gave up and walked quickly to my corral near the front of the race. I only had a couple of minutes to wait before the first corral was released. I'm not sure what happened to the thousands of people who were still waiting for a bus at the mall when I left. The lines were twice as long when I left as they had been when I arrived. There's no way they all made it in time.

I really should have just waited in line to pee and just started with a later wave. By the time I hit mile three, it was starting to get uncomfortable and when I finally found a row of portapotties sometime during the fourth mile, I had to stop and go, which meant I had to wait for someone else to finish so I could get in and go myself. From this point on, however, my personal race improved. I ran my fastest mile of the race (under 8 minutes) and my entire second half was notably faster than my first half. Of course the pee break was part of the first half slowness, but then so was the transportation fiasco. I had no time to really stretch or warm up so I had to take the first mile slower to warm up. Another part was that the race organizers only waited seconds between starting waves. I'm used to running either much smaller races where crowding isn't an issue or the Peachtree where there is a relatively lengthy hold between waves. This means as soon as you pick your way through the slower runners in your wave you have open space for a while and never see a wall of runners again. With the short break between waves, it took me probably five miles of running before I was able to stop having to run on the shoulder of the road to pass slower runners who stretched the width of the road. I actually crushed a guy's sternum with my elbow because he tried to pass through too tight of a space. It wasn't on purpose. I didn't know he was there until I felt his skeleton give under the force of my spear-like elbow. I just hope he was able to make it to the finish line. I may have pierced his heart. At least metaphorically.

Beyond the transportation and too-little-space issues, the rest of the race was nicely organized. By the time I hit mile 6 or 7, I had forgotten about the crowds earlier in the race. There were frequent bands throughout the course, which often ran through the prettiest parts of a pretty town. Every time the course took a turn, the organizers seem to have purposely organized groups to stand across the road in the area to make sure you went in the correct direction. The finisher's medal was heavy enough to kill a guy.

Getting back to the race, most of it flowed by too easily. It made me worried I was going to burn out at the end like I had in my last two long training runs. I knew I was making good time, but I ran without ear phones this time and with my phone turned down so as not to annoy other runners with Runkeeper's audio feedback. I just knew that I was running fast enough that I couldn't push myself much harder but it didn't even feel like I was breathing hard. Then, around mile 9 or 10, I felt the first little twinge of tiredness. Suddenly, my legs didn't feel like they were moving so effortlessly. There was a slight burn in a couple of places. I could have sworn that in miles 10, 11, and 12 I was slowing down. In fact, during the race, I knew I had been dropping my pace and was sure to be losing time, so when I saw the sign letting me know that I only had 1.1 mile left to run, I consciously picked up my pace. When I heard the crowd at the finish line, I picked it up even more. When I saw the bend in the road clearly, I and another guy picked up our pace to the point where I was running faster than my fastest ever 3-mile pace. When we finished the turn, I realized the finish was a little farther than I had expected but I buckled down and refused to slow even though I was starting to get a little nauseous from the exertion at this point. The other guy dropped off and I was passing people like crazy. Seriously, I was running like a 6:45 mile pace for much of the last quarter mile. From the clock, I knew I had done well and basically erased my pit stop. I was on a serious high.

Later that night I found out my official time was 1:52:20 for the 13.1 mile race. My goal had been 1:50:00 so I wasn't far off. If I could have gone to the bathroom before the start of the race and warmed up a little, I would have easily been in the 1:40s. When I finally checked my Runkeeper data I found out I had been wrong about my performance in the final miles. Not only had I not slowed in that stretch. I was actually faster in miles 9-13 than at any other time in my run except for mile 5 and 6 when I was booking it to make up for the potty break. Those two miles looked like I was running a 5 or 10k. Despite the effort, I'm not even sore today.

I will definitely run this distance again. During my training for this race, 5k has turned into a joke. I actually now consider busting out a 3-mile run an easy day, which is a little weird considering that it was less than two years ago that I was hoping I'd even be able to run that far. I'm still considering whether or not I want to go for a full marathon next year or just stick with the half and try to improve my time. It's amazing how sticking to a training schedule and succeeding at a certain distance suddenly turns distances that had seemed ridiculous only months before into possibilities.

My next fitness goal is the Olympic distance triathlon I'm planning on doing in the spring, although now I'm actually thinking about trying a Half Ironman too. I know for sure I can run the half marathon, and I've done almost twice the distance of the 56-mile bike leg. It's just a matter of mastering the 1.2-mile swim and doing it all back-to-back-to-back.

There's going to be a point here when my wife puts her foot down though. I'm pretty sure even she has a limit for how much time I spend away from home running, on my bike, or in the water, and I'm not going to take on an event unless I'm able to reasonably train for it.

Of course, at least I'm not leaving the house to go out playing poker or spending hours every day in some bar. I could have much worse addiction, you know.


Jacob said...

I just found out that my half marathon time qualified me by last year's standards to run in the B wave for the Peachtree Road Race. I was a bit shocked. I thought I had a good run at this year's Peachtree and it only qualified me for C wave. I did not expect to perform relatively better on 13.1 miles than I ever have officially over 5k and 10k.

My ultimate goal for next year's Peachtree is actually to run with the A wave. My best time over 5k in training is actually 21 seconds slower than the 2011 standard for that wave, so it's very doable. I just have to make sure to work on speedwork and stay close to home where the courses are less hilly. Wish me luck.

Julie said...

Good luck! And congratulations!

I'm willing to forgive Savannah if you do. They did call it the inaugural race in lieu of the first annual so that's got to count for something.

Courtney said...

Great job! I wish a 5K were a joke for me, but since I basically took a month off from running, I'm kind of starting over, which sucks. I still think running a marathon borders on insanity, but plenty of people do it so I'm sure you can too.

Jacob said...

Running 5k only recently turned into that for me. Like in the last two months. When all I usually ran except for a few months in the late spring and summer was 3 miles or less, it was a bit more of an effort. Now, my brain is wired to be able to get through 13 miles without getting bored or freaking out and 3 miles just seems like a quickie.

Also, you've been running for months. I've been running for almost two full years. Also, I have an obsessive personality. You may not.

Mickey said...

Very cool. I just find it so interesting how you've basically nerded-out on physical fitness. I'm not as obsessive as you, but I think we have similar motivations: not vanity (maybe a little), not winning (although it would be nice), but really just an almost academic interest to see what you can do. And you're doing quite a lot.

Jacob said...

It would be incredible to actually win something, but it will never happen (unless I sign up for a race with no real competitors). I'm pretty sure I could really improve my times from where I am, especially if I could drop another 10-15 pounds, but if you look at the guys in the elite wave of most races, I couldn't lose enough weight to match their builds. I'm going to be a big guy even if I were running at 3% body fat and I don't have a lot of natural athletic talent to make up for a less-than-optimal body type. I'm cool with that. I compete against myself. Running is good for that.