Sunday, January 25, 2009

Carlsbad Half Marathon Race Report

What you can't see from the picture below, is the look of incredible pain on my face as I "sprint" across the finish line. More like hobble, as I lost my quads somewhere around mile 10. The good news? I did manage to finish, and Nathaniel's photo is proof.
What else can I say, but it's ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC to be back, racing, and having a blast. And yes, though I'm still having a hard time going from standing to sitting (14 hours after crossing the finish line), it was well worth it.

Now, something new for this season. My goal is to write my race report in LESS time than it took me to run my race. Great for me and even better for you, dear readers. Because while I love me a good race report, I do realize that I have a propensity to write. A lot.


Alarm went off bright and early. There's something so wrong about waking up at 4:30 am for a race that starts less than three miles from where we live. But pre-race breakfast of oatmeal and coffee needed to be digested and cleared from the stomach long before the starter's horn sounded.

After a bit of running around, feeding our House and Mini Monsters, and gathering my race flats, Nathaniel and I were out the door just after 6:00 am. Though the race started at 7:30, the Race Director's warned participants that parking and traffic could cause between a 30-45 minute delay.

I hate being late for races, or cutting starts close - so the earlier the better. We managed to navigate traffic pretty well and were parked by 6:25 am. Plenty of time for a long warmup, bathroom break, more warm up, bathroom break, etc etc etc. I hate to say it, but I did see lots of participants searching for parking spots as late as 7:15. I don't know how they managed to keep their cool.

Warm-up completed, I finished my strides, stripped off my layers, and then replaced my trusty training shoes with race flats.

Cue VERY scary music.

Race flats for a 5k or 10k? Great.

But it's been years since I wore them for a half marathon. I discussed my options with Jen: she warned me that my legs may be shot by mile 10, but it was my call.

I figured that because this race was just a test, just an opportunity for me to see how I felt while running the longer stuff - I would try the race flats. They had worked great for the 5k and 10k, and I figured a half marathon couldn't be that far off.

Famous last words, my friends.

But hey: live and learn, right? I would rather learn NOW, and figure things out, than before my big races later this season.

By 7:15, Nathaniel and I were headed to the start. For the first time this year, the Carlsbad Marathon directors decided to implement a wave start, meant to cut back on the crowds and packs associated with 8,000+ participants. I had seeded myself in Wave 1. Don't get too excited: it simply meant that when I registered, I projected my finishing time to be under 1:40.

But secretly I was nervous. I wanted to go faster, push myself. But I really didn't know where I would be because 1) It's been 11 months since racing my last half marathon 2) Very little speed work in my schedule to bolster speed (in fact, my heart rate zones have dropped significantly, so I'm running slower on my long runs than I ever have before, but following my assigned heart rate in the process) 3) My weight is a few pounds heavier than where I "typically" race 4) Too many unknowns to really have a good sense of what I could do.

Would I have enough endurance? Could I hold a specific pace or would I blow up spectacularly? How would my body handle going fast for 13.1 miles vs 5k?

Minor disaster was averted by Nathaniel, when I made a rookie mistake. In my excitement to get to the starting line, I forgot my powergel. I knew exactly where it was: a 10 minute walk back to the car, tucked safely inside my transition back pack. So Nathaniel did what any loving, supporting, and incredible husband would do, he RAN back to the car and RAN back to me - corralled and waiting anxiously in Wave 1.

He made it, and I was grateful! What a Man! (Round of applause!!)

Shortly thereafter, we were off!

I positioned myself towards the back of our corral; it was really congested towards the front and I had no desire to trample or be trampled. Instead I started about :10 behind the 1:35 pace group. My goal was to take the first 5k EASY, and I knew if I stuck with a 7:15 or 7:05 pace, I was guaranteed to not blow myself out (like I did with my Resolution 10k).

First mile wasn't so bad, until I saw my time. 7:20. Oops - perhaps I was a little too relaxed. So I picked up the pace slightly, got into a comfortable rhythm, and nearly dropped my gel when I crossed mile 2 in 13:15.

No, I am not that fast and yes, I think the mile markers were incorrect.

But by mile 3 the pace had settled, and I started clicking off each subsequent mile at or just under a 7:00 pace.

I felt strong, I felt good, and I was confident that I could hold this pace.

Somewhere before mile 4, I shot a few snot rockets after inhaling half a cup of water up my nose. Unfortunately, another woman took it square in the face. I was mortified, but she was really sweet, really nice about it. She even commented that it was her fault because she was drafting off of me. I still apologized - what else could I do?

The winds weren't too bad, and I felt stronger as the course rolled along Highway 101. The slight rollers didn't bother me: I ran this course nearly every week, turning off Tamarack and making my way South towards Encinitas and back. The hills became my friends, the ocean waves music to my ears.

Every time I hit an incline, I leaned forward, pumped my arms and shortened my sride. As soon as I hit the hill crest and flats, I pushed the pace, pleased with my perceived effort and pace.

Even though there were 8000+ people running, I really didn't pay too much attention to the runners around me. I passed a few girls right around miles 5-6, and was passed by a few others. A few times I was able to latch on to guys running past, ducking behind them for a legal draft. But mostly I remained in tune to my body, focused on my effort, and enjoying the fact that I was racing.

I hit the turn around point at 45:45, faster than I thought I would. But I was feeling great. Heart rate felt low, the effort was sustainable, and I believed that I would be able to negative split the second half and possibly run 1:30 or under.

I was this close. Until mile 9.5.

That's when my quads began to ache. At first it was a dull ache, something I thought was triggered by the slight downhill near the Power Plant. But once I hit the flat section along Carlsbad Beach before the Tamarack Hill, I knew I was in trouble. Big trouble.

For 25 agonizing minutes, with each and every step I took, my quads felt as though they were being stabbed with a dull knife. I tried to alleviate the pain by shortening my stride and increasing my run cadence from 93 steps per minute to 100+ steps per minute. And while it may have made some difference, I knew my flats were to blame.

I did what I could to keep the pace up, but by mile 11, my legs were shot. I seriously thought about pulling over and walking, but I knew it would only prolong my pain. Nope: the faster I ran, the sooner I would finish. Besides, hope is never lost, and I would bound to succeed even by finishing.

And I learned that race flats for anything longer than a 10k, just doesn't work so well. I have a feeling that for my half IM and IM runs, tempo trainers will be my new best friend.

The final mile was tough: a lot of the people that I had passed from miles 5-8 blew by me, enjoying the downhill sprint towards the line. It was all I could do to keep my quads from seizing up. I'm sure I looked funny, but you do what you can, right?

Rounding the final corner towards the end, it was all I could do to keep from falling over. Quads were long gone, but because I really wasn't running all that fast - my breathing was pretty normal. For the first time in my life during a race, I didn't sound like a caboose or Darth Vader. So there's my silver lining.

Final time was 1:33:04. So in all reality, I only lost 1:30 over the second half of the course - but it felt like it was MUCH worse.

What I DID learn, is that I'm not far off from where I want to be. My fitness is coming along really well, and I'll only get stronger and faster as my season progresses. Never again will I wear flats for a half marathon - but better to learn that now than during Oceanside 70.3 when it really counts.

Overall it's great start to my season. I'm happy with my effort, happy with where I'm at, and really pleased with the mental aspect of this race. The final few miles were some of the most painful I've ever run. For the first time it wasn't a lack of fitness or a blown race strategy: it was a wardrobe malfunction. Next time I'll be sure to make the right shoe choice.

Afterwords, Nathaniel and I went out to breakfast in Del Mar. It was a great date, filled with pancakes, eggs, fruit, ham, and lots of coffee. Oh yes, and sheet cake. On the way home we stopped and picked up a slice. It was well earned and tasted delicious!

Today was a great start to my 2009 season. I can't wait to see what else is in store! Next up: Desert Olympic Triathlon on March 6th. Cheers!


Pedergraham said...

1. On the snot rocket. Been there, done that. So embarassed, but now feel better to know that I am not alone.
2. I totally would have tripped over that finish "line" bump thing.
3. GREAT RACE woohoooooo! hope the quads feel better soon.

ADC said...

Great race Marit, well done. And lesson learnt. Sounds like a lovely breakfast.

Missy said...

Ouch, I hope you can navigate steps today:) Way to go, though. 1:33 is smokin it! At least you didn't show a boob with YOUR wardrobe malfunction;) Congrats, I will look at your 1:33 with envy!

BriGaal said...

Way to stay tough and stick it out! I have totally been there with the knives in the quad feeling in a half marathon. Make sure you take it easy for a couple of days - that is really deep muscular breakdown. I'm so excited for your racing season and can't wait to read all your future race reports!

Marni said...

Wow! Great fast! You are back to yourself and probably a much smarter athlete after your crash :) I can't wait to see how your season goes! :)

TriGirl Kate O said...

I only run a 1:30 half in my wildest dreams. Wow, way to push through and triumph! I'm sure that cake tasted great.

Alili said...

Great job Marit! A triumphant return. :)

Jen said...

What a great way to start the season...CONGRATS!

Molly said...

Great job!!! Wonderful way to kick off the year!

Anonymous said...

CONGRATS Marit!!! I was thinking about you during my workout yesterday :-) And, I am glad you learned your lesson when it comes to race flats for a half before Oceanside. YIPPEE on having a GREAT race!!!

Charisa said...

YAH!!!! You did awesome. And you learned from the race too, what more could you ask? :) Glad you are back in the racing!!

Sarah said...

Wow, Marit - that is AWESOME!! 1:33 is rockin' fast and you're only going to get faster from here. CONGRATULATIONS on such a fantastic start to your season. My smile is've come so far and I am absolutely ecstatic for you. Bummer about the racing flats, but now you know, right?? :)'s a post I saw that made me immediately think of you - I knew you would love it!

Beth said...

Darn wardrobe malfunction!! :) Great race though. I know that quad pain well and it's the worst...but you kept charging through!! Recover well!

Kim said...

AHHHH!! So excited for you!! Amazing race - way to control the pace at the right times and make it happen Marit! You should feel so good about it!! Yes, I know the EXACT feeling you are describing. I had it too in a word that rhymes with tireonman.. from like 15 miles on!! It was ugly! Again, really you are so well along and this should only encourage you. Way to go my friend.

GoBigGreen said...

Yippeee!! That is so great, and what a good "test" for the flats:'0
Thanks for the comments about the cold, btw. It sounds like you did such a good job at running YOUR race and just staying in the moment. that is huge. Onward and Upward for Marit. And i hope i can run in your draft in AZ...right now my calves are so sore from jump jump and cold cold I have to believe that warmer temps will help. Um it is 1 degree out right tready is my buddy for a bit.

Shan said...

Awesome work, Marit! I knew you'd just rip through that course! I can't imagine running more than a 5K in race flats, so muchos props to you for sticking it through...Glad 2009 has started out so well!! :)

Bob Mitera said...

You are a frickin' rocket!

Nice! I am so glad I am a) male b) not in your age group.


Jennifer Harrison said...

Well, I am happy to congratulate you again! WAY TO GO, is great to have YOU back! :)

Maijaleena said...

Great race! Good way to start off the year of racing. Maybe some lightweight trainers for your next half marathon?

BreeWee said...

I am so happy for you, way to get back to racing, and with a 1/2 marathon too! You look so happy to be back at it again...

Ordinarylife said...

Well done!

Eileen Swanson said...

SUPER DUPER AWESOME MARIT! You know how happy I am for ya.....XOXO

Laura said...

WOW! Kick arse!!! And I love your race reports. Even at their longest, they are FUN and very entertaining! :)