Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Turquoise Lake Half Marathon Report

I definitely look forward to running the local half marathon each year. For at least the past two years, it's fallen on the Saturday after the Sage Burner 50K, making for a double race week with only four days to recover between the two. I have a hard time motivating for tempo runs, so the Turquoise Lake Half provides a great excuse to get out and run at a faster pace than normal. As someone who has yet to fully embrace speed work, I'm pretty sure I would benefit from running even more half marathons during my training. (Probably more than running yet another hilly marathon or 50 miler.)

With my disappointing 50K effort, I was really hoping for some redemption in the half. Not that the two races are much alike, but I felt I needed to run a solid race-- of any distance-- without any issues to restore some of my confidence.

  • Tuesday was a slow recovery run of 6 miles on Wheeler's Way, Gold Digger, Cold Feet, and Old Chub. As I mentioned in my previous post, I actually still felt that side stitch during this run. Crazy.
  • Wednesday was a 7 mile hill effort up Elk Run. 1,000 ft of vertical. I took the downhill super easy.
  • Thursday was an easy 5 mile effort on (Lower) Boulders. The beavers have been busy! The river crossing is now above my knees. Refreshing!
  • Friday was an easy, flat 3 mile loop on Giddy Up.

I love the fact that all the rest of my races this summer start at my door step! The half started late enough on Saturday morning (9am) that I didn't even have to set an alarm. I just rolled out of bed, fixed some coffee, drank my traditional smoothie, and gathered my gear. Nutrition plan: simple. Carry a 20 oz bottle full of maltodextrin mix. I deviated a bit from my normal recipe and omitted the protein given the short duration of the race, plus I added the contents of an Endurolyte capsule out of paranoia. I went a little lighter on the protein and fat in my breakfast, too. I didn't want to overdo anything. I figured the bottle would last me until around the first aid station and then I would just drink Gatorade the rest of the way.

When I reached the lake, I picked up my bib and t-shirt, and ran an easy warm up mile alongside the lake to loosen up the legs (and lungs). Lots of my local friends were present-- either running or just spectating. It was great to chat and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. Around 9am, we all gathered at the start for a quick briefing. The most interesting news: the race would now be a true half with an added 0.7 mile section on a nature trail to bring the total to 13.1. Awesome, but I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that my initial reaction was that it would complicate my PR efforts. I guess I'm a little hung up on tracking my historical progress-- not that I've ever run the exact same 100 mile course twice! (Nor will I this year: they keep changing the damn thing.)

After a blast from the shotgun, we were off. The Turquoise Lake Half breaks down into roughly three sections: 6.5 miles of road (with most of the climbing), 4 miles of moderately technical single track with some rollers, and finishes with 2.5 miles of smooth, flat single track. The entire course has 1,250 ft of climbing, so it's pretty flat by Colorado standards. Those 4 miles of technical single track can be surprising slow, however. Anyone who has stumbled through them in the dark during the 100 knows what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I didn't really have a specific pacing plan in mind-- for example, a goal for a particular section or anything like that. I had looked at my mile splits from the previous year and I definitely saw room for improvement. I felt a PR was very doable, but after Sage Burner I was trying not to take anything for granted. So, I settled on the amazingly complicated plan of "just run everything faster, you're in better shape". Yup, genius.

The time to beat was 1:56. My modest goal was to try to average <9:00 minute miles over the entire course. I knew the road would be the fastest section, so I wanted to put in a solid effort early on. I managed to run two 8:45 min/miles while gaining 150 ft/mile. At 10,000 ft, that's not too shabby, at least for me. On the heart rate graph, you can definitely tell where those hills were. They represented my hardest effort. On the downhills I hoped to be somewhere in the mid 7:00's. I clocked two 7:40 min/miles on the way down to Mayqueen. Again, a relatively modest pace-- certainly not as strong as my uphill pace-- but solid for me.

The group of runners I happened to be running with all stayed pretty close to each other during the entire race. I passed a few folks on the uphill, and cruising into Mayqueen into the first aid station, but one or two runners also jumped ahead of me on the downhill and on the more technical sections that followed. However, I wasn't too worried. They never got out of sight and I was fairly confident that unless they were also training for a 100 mile race (which, in the end, I'm actually pretty sure some of them were!), my advantage increased the deeper into the race we got.

I'd guess that after mile 8 or so, I started reeling folks in who were ever-so-slightly fading. It was all very good natured and we'd always congratulate each other and say a few words of motivation. But I was certainly happy to see that I was maintaining a strong pace. And, honestly, my pace felt solid, but totally sustainable. I was certainly not in the hurt locker or anything like that. I am a wimp when it comes to speed work and really pushing myself aerobically while moving quickly. For whatever reason, I prefer to push going uphill where leg speed has less to do with it. But even then I try not to push so hard that it takes too long to recover once I reach the top. I think one of the most surprising differences for a flat lander coming up to altitude is how long it takes to recover from an uphill effort.

Anyway, I hadn't really been checking my watch during the race, but it was pretty obvious given how good I was feeling that I was going to go well under my PR. I was definitely excited and thoroughly enjoying the race. I grabbed some more Gatorade at the Tabor Boat Ramp and kept chasing the runner in front of me. The new section of trail turned out to be really nice-- a very soft and runnable trail through the pines and around two small ponds. The trail looped tightly so you got a glimpse of the runners a minute ahead and a minute behind you.

I passed one runner, joking that if it was last year we'd be done already, and then set my sights on the next. I had been running within sight of him for the entire race. As I approached the finish, I waved to my wife and kids who were playing in the sand on the beach. It's always great to see them at the finish line. Finally, I made my passing move on the wooden stairs leading up to the parking lot and sprinted to the finish. (I seem to pass someone every year right at this point. It's kind of stressful-- I generally try to avoid finish line drama if I can help it.)

1:50. A 6 minute PR on a course that was a half a mile longer!

Insert obligatory spreadsheet image here.

The atmosphere at the finish line was just as fun and relaxed as the starting line. It was great. I felt energized. I had no problem chowing down on the post race food immediately after I'd finished-- always a good sign that I've stayed on top of my hydration and nutrition during the race itself.

My race went about as well as I could have hoped. I recovered quickly from my 50K on Monday and managed to run a solid, well-paced half marathon on Saturday.

How do I feel? I believe Mr. LL Cool J said it best: Mamma Said Knock You Out.

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