August 16, 2016

Race Recap: The SeaWheeze Half-Marathon

When I signed up for Sea Wheeze, I had no idea what my running would look like nearly a year later. I was in the middle of training for Chicago and it wasn't going great.

I started training for this race in May after starting to train for a spring half and then quickly abandoning plans because 1) it was cold and, 2) I favored a trip to San Francisco that weekend instead. 

I never told anyone this (or posted about it), but when I decided to just give up on training for that race (not simply to skip it and run a different race instead), I very seriously thought my running days were over. If you've been following my running journey for any length of time, you know that I was sidelined with an IT band injury from June of 2013 to October of 2015. 2 1/2 years, four rounds of PT, countless "comeback," races that weren't comebacks at all...where I either walked 5 miles to the finish, or, didn't finish at running dreams of going sub-4 in the marathon seemed to be a distant, elusive dream that I no longer seemed capable of. 

My training for the Chicago Marathon last year was a disaster. The race; a very adequate reflection of that training. When I decided to just skip a half-marathon and stop training all together this year, I honestly thought that I might be giving up running for good. In my head, I still wanted to go sub-4, but despite knowing exactly which race I wanted to run, I couldn't pull the trigger and sign up, and the San Francisco Marathon came and went, without me even attempting to train for the race. 

I knew I had Sea Wheeze on deck though, and I really wanted to run that. Emily, my running buddy from NY and I had planned the weekend months before and I wasn't going to cancel a trip to Vancouver...or go to Vancouver without running, so I started training. I chronicled some of that training on my blog, but as most of you know, my posts have been less frequent that usual for the last few months. I wasn't not training, I just wasn't posting about training. In fact, I was training really well. Hill workouts, speed workouts, spin classes, yoga...I was doing everything I needed to train for this race, but as the race drew nearer, I had no idea what the race would look like. Training run after training run, I would try to anticipate what my time might be, what I might realistically expect to run, but DC heat yields to some pretty inconsistent times and I was clueless.

I flew into Seattle on Wednesday afternoon and we took the train to Vancouver on Friday morning. It wasn't until I was on my way from Seattle to Vancouver that I finally thought of a race goal that I thought was realistic, and that I would be happy with: 2:15. It would be faster than my last half (2:34) and a realistic representation of what I thought I could run. 

We got to Vancouver and went straight to the Expo. Emily and I checked out all of the lululemon gear and had lots of Expo fun before resting up for the night.

Saturday morning, I woke up at 5am without issue (thanks, Jetlag!) and laid in bed for awhile thinking about the race. I got dressed, had some yogurt with granola, and Emily and I made our way to the starting line. We were only about 15 minutes away and it was a beautiful morning, though a little bit warm. My stomach was hurting and I felt really nauseous. I was really worried that I was going to stomach issues on the course, which was the absolute last thing I wanted. 

The race start was pretty uneventful. Emily and I seeded ourselves near the front, the national anthem (Oh! Canada!) was beautifully sung, and before I knew it, we were off.

The first 5k were pretty uneventful. We were running downtown and my watch was having a hard time picking up the signal. Emily and I ran together for the first two miles or so, and then she went on ahead. The first cheer station was awesome. It was on a small bridge and lululemon had set up about 40 spin bikes with a bunch of people spinning away blasting music. 

I will say, while the spectator support in this crowd was pretty minimal, the "official" cheer stations were awesome. 

Right around Mile 4 began the longest out and back of a race I have ever run. We ran out on this stretch of homes through the city, and up, onto, and over a bridge. The bridge had a steep incline but it wasn't too bad. When I got to the top, I could just see herds and herds of runners ahead with no end in site. There was another cheer station on the bridge and someone had a sign that said, "The end is in sight." Umm no.

As I was running this long out and back, I started seeing the lead runners coming by and, as the crowd thickened, I started seeing the pacers on the back portion of the course. 1:30. 1:35. 1:40. 1:50. The 1:55s made the turnaround just before I did and I realized that I was running a sub-2 pace. 

At this point, my left knee was starting to bother me (my injured knee) and I was worried. I was running in the low 9s and feeling great and I didn't want to slow down, especially with the sub-2s behind me. 

That's when this half-marathon turned into a race. I passed the 10k mark and the signs and spectators were shouting and saying things like, "You're half-way there" and "Get that negative split!" We were going back up the bridge at this point, and the climb on the back felt steeper than the climb on the front, but I could tell that all of those repeats of Capitol Hill paid off. I felt strong as I powered up the hill, and when I reached the top, wearily accepted the remark someone made that "It's all flat from here." (He was right...except for Mile 12). 

Once the out and back was over, the entire rest of the run, through to the finish (with the exception of about 3/4 of a mile toward the end) was along the water, with the most stunning views I have ever seen. This was the 2nd race I've run that was tracked in kilometers and I feel like they go by so much more quickly than miles, and it's a nice way to break up the course. 5k, 10k, 15k, 20k, Finish.

Just before the 15k mark, I realized that my knee didn't hurt anymore...and that the 2:00 pace group still hadn't passed me. No sooner had I made this realization, then we reached a cheer station and I heard the spectators shouting, "Come on 2 hours!" and heard the pace group coming quickly on my heels. They sounded like a herd. I started running faster. I felt incredible, but I had no idea if I could keep up the pace for 4 miles as I saw my watch creep from 9:10 to 8:55 to 8:20, and even below 8 a few times. 

We hit Mile 10 and I got boxed in by an exceptionally narrow water stop. When I recovered, the 2:00 pace group had passed me. I took a few sips of water and then started dialing in. There were 3 pacers in the group. A woman leading them, a man anchoring them, and someone in the middle. I caught up to the anchor and started running alongside him, evenly matching his pace. I heard him yell to the group, "We're doing great guys. Last 5k. We're a little ahead of our target pace, but we can do it!" The 2:00 pace group had started behind me; I wasn't  sure how far behind me, but this gave me hope. I wasn't necessarily trying to go sub-2, but would I be able to hit the 2:00 mark evenly? The fact that this was even crossing my mind was insane to me. Was I really on pace to run a 2:00 half?

We were on a pretty sunny stretch of road and again, I was wondering whether I could maintain the 9:10 pace I was running, and I said, "Well, nothing hurts yet," so I kept pushing. It was hot, and there were a lot of runners dropping. At one point, they had to push all of the runners almost into single file along the course, while medics attended to a runner who being given oxygen and an IV.

11 and 3/4 of a mile in, we hit a hill. It wasn't as steep as Capitol Hill, where I'd been doing hill repeats for 3 months, but this late in the race, it hurt. I tried to power up the hill, but I couldn't. I was slowing down. When I got to the top of the hill, the 2:00 group was ahead of me and I was spent. There was a water stop and I tried running through and grabbing a cup, but running up that hill and slowing down for water were too much. I stopped and walked through the stop. I probably only walked for about 20 seconds, but when I looked ahead, the 2:00 pace group was nowhere in site. We were 12 miles in and I was tired. Again, I told myself, "Nothing hurts yet," but I was tired. When i finished, I saw that Mile 12 was my slowest of the race. 12.1 miles came and went, and with less than a mile ago, I was eagerly looking for the finish line. 

We got to 12.5 and had left the waterfront view behind us...and, so it seemed, any semblance of a crowd. There was no one in site. There wasn't any music, which I desperately could have used at the time, no spectators, nothing. The course had thinned, and I felt like I was on my own. At 12.75, I decided to spring to the finish, except, the finish seemed miles away. We came across curve after curve, every one of which, I thought would yield the finish, but they didn't. My watch hit 13.1 and the finish still wasn't in site. My watch was pretty evenly in sync with the rest of the course, so I expected to finish right around 13.1. Finally, we hit another curve and I saw the finish. I tried my best to sprint, but I had nothing left. I picked up my knees a little higher, dug a little deeper, and crossed. 

2:04:27 (Official). My fastest race since I set a PR at the Cleveland Half in month before I got hurt. I was elated. 

This was the first time I've actually raced in 3 years. I trained for this, but I definitely didn't train perfectly, and that's pretty awesome. If I could put up a time 10-15 minutes faster than what I thought I could reasonably accomplish, I'm pretty excited for what the rest of my running year has in store.

For three years, I've been saying that I would make a comeback, and for three years, I've had a lot of disappointments, but this weekend, I crossed the finish line feeling happier and more accomplished than I have after any PR I've set because I can finally say I've made my comeback.

That's how I ran; and it felt good. 

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