A PW, a slow race, plenty of social time, and the time I deserved!
In the year prior to this half, I ran a total of less than 10 miles. That includes the two 5k races I did ahead of this half, including one the day before. So could I expect a good result? Definitely not. But perhaps, given that, finishing is its own success? If so, I’ve definitely lowered my expectations.
My splits for this race highlight a moderately slow start, and continued and consistent slowdown through the course of the race. I walked once at mile three, then by mile nine, was doing walking, then jogging, then walking, then jogging through to the end. I did meet up with a fellow slow runner at that point, and we spent most of the last hour chatting about racing, friends, etc. Just a nice “get to know you” and “encourage you along” chat to reach the finish line.
With absolutely no training, it’s about the best I can expect, so in a way, I’m happy I went forward and completed the run, but there’s nothing about this that says “I kickstarted back into running,” nor did it lead to a refresh of being a runner. It was just a nice day for a longer run, and a good excuse to get some miles in that I haven’t done in several years.
TL;DR? This post can be summarized with “I GOT MY FIRST PR SINCE 2008!”
Past the excitement of this statement, underlies a large amount of elements coming together unexpectedly to me getting a PR on a race I only expected to treat as a “B” race. And honestly, there’s no way that this would have happened without my training for Big Sur, my half marathon the weekend prior, and encouragement from Mai Tran, a karateka friend.
I don’t need to talk about Shamrock’n… again. The race is one that I’ve run every year except the last, and that’s only because I was living in London and not Sacramento. It was my first race, it’s the race I’ve done even in years when I’m not running, and it’s a race that I hope to continue for many years to come. It’s close to home, a fun course, big enough to have a lot of energy, and yet not Disneyland or Nike big. Half marathons are still the perfect distance for me; I don’t need to train much if I don’t want to, yet I can still pull off a great run if I put a month or two of work in.
Thus, coming into the race this year, it’s not that Shamrock’n was a goal race, that’s Big Sur. Neither of my BSIM training partners, Harry or Joy, were running it with me, but there is never a year when I don’t run into folk form STC, TBF, work, or other places that helps add to the fun of the race for me, and this year was no exception. I had been looking out for a few people that I knew were running the race, but beyond one coworker, I was at the start line before I found any of the key individuals, and that was Mai. Mai had invited me to go on a couple of training runs with her this season, but as she is an early morning runner, versus my preference for lunch time, I never did run with her. Yet once I hit the corral, I found her getting ready to start.
Not content with my typical mid-pack starting position (I do like to track the “I passed XX people” stat), Mai grabbed my wrist and pulled us nearer the front of the corral. After the guns had gone off, I went to start my normal “ease-into-it” pace, but Mai had different plans. I like to start about 30 seconds behind my goal pace for the first half mile or mile, then ease up a bit as I get my stride. Mai, on the other hand, started us out at 7:30s. Not to be beat already by someone who’s generally my pace, I kept up with her for a rapid start.
What happened next was not what I expected. By mile three, our pace had picked up to 7:24, and I was still feeling pretty good. Mai began to flag a bit (and I do mean just a bit), and so at that point, I had the choice of slowing down from what I was doing, or going on at what could be a PR pace for me. I bid Mai farewell in mile three, and kept going strong. We had started about behind the 1:45 pacing group, and had caught up with them by then, but I decided to keep up the pace I was making and to keep running.
At about the half way point, I caught up with the 1:40 pace group. Now, I knew 1:40 would get me a PR, as 1:41:34 was my Disneyland ’08 time, so catching up with that group was a big blessing; I could cut my pace down to theirs (a nice 10 second relief), and still make it in for a PR. Through the next six miles, I mostly kept up with the group, dropping behind a couple of times and picking it back up when I had a moment or three of rest (and by rest, I mean running an 8min/mi for a few seconds). My HR had climbed from the high 170s into the mid 180s, and I knew I was pushing about as much as I could, but I had a goal I could achieve, and that was enough to push me. By the last mile, the pace group was about 50 yards in front of me, but a last minute sprint put me just behind them, and my final result was a 1:39:06, over two minutes faster than my last half marathon PR.
Thus, a little early encouragement, an attitude of yes I can, and a group to run alongside and pace myself with brought me to a new PR just ahead of my big race. Woot!
The best part about racing with TBF is the history I have with the group. Two years of twenty-hour weekends running the events, and to come back as a racer feels comfortable. I know the people, I know the organization, and even if eighty percent of the volunteers are new to me, it still feels like the same group I spend so much time with. So coming into this race, I didn’t come with the idea of winning, or even treating it as an A or B race, it was just a fun event, on a course that’s outside of my usual training routes, with some extra organization and support that makes it a more fun venue.
Since I’ve run this course (or similar) twice in the past, I knew what to expect, and I knew not to work too hard at any point since the hills run through the entire route, so I took off easy, didn’t work too hard, and enjoyed chatting with a few people when I could. I expected to breeze through the hills since I had done a decent amount of hill training in prep for Big Sur, but I will say that they were harder than I remembered. I’m not training quite as much as I should for the upcoming marathon, and to make this post short, I’m not entirely satisfied with what my performance means for April, but I was just a couple minutes slower than my last time on this course (2012) and felt okay, just not great. It definitely met its goal of a much more interesting training run for this short-weekend training day. I just hope this means I won’t do poorly next week at Shamrock’n.
One thing I like about this race is that, well, it feels like home. Shamrock’n was my first race ever, and even in the last couple years of not racing, I’ve still continued to do it every year; even if training for it meant a couple of runs ahead of time, and nothing
more. On my bib, I wrote “Shamrock’n #8”, but I realized before it started that it really was only #7… Oops! Oh well, Sharpie to the rescue.
This year, thanks to CIM, I was a lot better trained. Harry and Joy had been doing more running than I had, but I had joined them on a sixteen mile run starting up Costco hill, as well as a few other runs. So while I only did 10 runs in the two and a half months leading up to Shamrock’n, they averaged 7 miles each. I was pretty sporadic, though: two runs one week, zero the next, two the following, then zero, then three… you get the picture. Harry, on the other hand, is back into marathon prep, and is pretty solid in his training. As usual, I went into this fully expecting to be beaten again… as did he.
So packet pickup done, race day comes. I have been working to cheapen up on my running: gatorade is free at work, so why am I buying Gu (or actually, Raspberry Hammer Gel)? That said, I spent a month’s worth of Gu money downgrading my water bottle. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Camelbak, but I’ve watched coworkers switch to the smaller ones for shorter runs, and I was hoping to carry less weight on my arms. Harry and Joy had both decided to try this marathon solely on supplied hydration, but I’m too much of a wimp to go that far. I bought myself Nathan’s little bottle. Enough to get me from stop to stop.
So after dropping off my bag with my STC buddies, we were off to the start just as the gun was going off, just like last year. While I believe that is not a way for me to get a PR, for that every second counts at this point, I wasn’t going for a PR this year… that was Harry’s job. I was just hoping to stay social through the start, and maybe the first half or quarter mile, then start picking up the pace after the warm-up.
The rest of the race went pretty normally. The small bottle worked great. Using the race fuel was plenty sufficient, though looking back, I guess Nuun doesn’t have any carbohydrates, so I really only fueled up with my single Gu
packet? Guess I should check closer next time! My performance wasn’t stellar, but wasn’t bad either, coming in fourth of my thirteen road halfs. The better news is that Harry broke his PR (which he missed by only seconds last year), so the main goal of the race was a success! On sadder news, I still beat Harry, even though he out-trained me. Coming into mile twelve, he had to pace back for a bit, and I wasn’t willing to give up anything at that point. We were still within shouting distance, as he responded to my call-out of mile 13! Oh, and starting at the back of the wave, I get to use my favorite statistic again… I passed 4,939 people on the run, in a field of 6,190!
Let me start with the differences between this year and last. Last year, I started training about a week ahead of time, with just a couple of small runs. This year, I’d run a half marathon the week before! Last year, I ran alone. This year, I ran the first 12 miles with Harry. Last year, I expected to do horribly. This year…. I still expected that, though hopefully better than last year. Last year, I ran my third-to-worst time for a half. This year, I was right in the middle of my results.
I’ve blogged before about the route, so I don’t need to cover that, other than confirming that I do like it. The one thing I can talk about in this blog is the difference in jogging with Harry through the first twelve miles. Harry had definitely out-trained me… as usual for the last few years. However, since we had been running together for the prior month, we were in a good position to run together for the first part of the race. It’s not unusual for us to run the first several miles together, or one of my best races had us running 11 miles together, then splitting for a final push. This time, we ran our longest distance together in any race; twelve miles.
We had a very solid start, and kept it up well. We were almost late to the start, so were some of the last ones to cross the start line, and thus we made good time, and passed a lot of people as we kept a steady pace. The advantage to running together is that, when one of you starts to flag in energy, the other can keep you going, and Harry definitely did this in the first half of the race. By the second half of the race, our roles were reversed. I don’t think Harry has really pushed himself at the end of the race with the mentality of “I only need to push for this much further…” So at the half way point, I’m talking about us being half way there. At mile 10, it’s about having only 3 miles to go, and visualizing the quick warm-up runs we do to see how little there is left to go. At mile twelve, Harry didn’t have anything left to continue winning the mental game, and I took off. Little did he know that, if he had stayed with me (and probably could have!), he’d have gotten a PR. But he stayed strong, and so did I, and we both came in with good times for us.
It was a great run and race, and my most social half marathon ever. I really look forward to doing one like this again!
Other than the small USAA 5k race, I’ve never podiumed on a race before. Did I deserve to get there? No, not really. My age group was one of the worst represented at the race, but do I care? Not at the moment. I enjoyed my moment on the stand, I love the plaque, and I’d be grateful to make it up on a podium again! Had I been female, my time would have gotten me 4th place. Had I been 40-49, eighth place, 50-59, seventh place. 30-39… second place!
The Course, or the Ever-Improving-Mark-Shaw
I have to take a moment to speak on this race versus my last TBF trail half marathon. The first time that TBF did a half on the Granite Beach trails, I think the race was short about a quarter to a half mile. I look at the resulting times between the two races, and the statistics point to the very same belief; the average time was about ten minutes faster, and the number of people in the 1:30s was astoundingly high. Now take this race: my GPS still shows it short, but it’s also not very accurate, the times seem appropriate, and the GPS versus the stated distance were well within the accuracy bounds. I think Mark has done a great job improving the course, both for accuracy, and for having a pretty even lobe on the south side of the beach (about half the race) and the north side. So Mark Shaw, well done sir.
My Mental See-Saw
So now to how the race went for me. I’m still under-trained, and so I struggled more with this race than I should have. But I also learned a few things about myself and my racing that I think I should put down in my blog. First of all, thinking you’re right behind someone can be a great motivation to speed up! At about mile eight, I was told that I was within spitting distance of Bill. I know he’s in much better shape than I am, and he blew away my time last year at Shamrock’n, so the idea of catching up with him was very appealing. I felt I had enough left in me, so I picked up my pace by about a minute per mile, and flew by several of my competitors. It felt great! Unfortunately, the speed-up did not leave enough in me for the hill that was at mile ten, so I lost my momentum there, and didn’t really gain it back. Oh well, “A” for effort!
Most of my time in the back half of the race was a struggle between two conflicting mindsets. One told me that I just needed to relax, let gravity do most of the work, and make my way to the end. The other was the drive to push myself faster to keep under two hours. I’ve never done a half in more than two hours, so when I reached mile eight, with five to go, and realized that I was an hour and a quarter into the race, I knew I had to get down below nine minute miles consistently (including hills) in order to do the last five in 45 minutes. So off I went, and I learned something. Gluts are great for climbing hills!
In the past, I’ve always used my hips and quads to lift my legs when ascending. However, as they were pretty beat down by that point, I discovered that instead of pulling my legs up with my quads, I could push my legs up with my gluts. This whole new muscle set really allowed me to go for the last half of the race, and brought me a new found set of muscles that I could interchange with others for extra speed. w00t!
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in under two, so I was quite a bit disappointed in what I did. But when I saw some runners that I highly respect, and know are better than me, come in behind me, and then when I got to stand on the podium, I was no longer quite as disappointed in my time. I still finished in the top third of the race (25.8%), and with the “trail penalty,” would still have what I would consider a respectable time, I just wish I hadn’t broken the two hour mark. Oh well, next time!
Put on by TBF Racing, the Granite Bay Trail Half Marathon is the longest trail run I have ever done. In fact, before that, five or six miles topped my trail running background. So when I hit mile six, I was surprised to feel like I’d already ran ten miles, and by mile eight, I felt like it should be over already. Yet thanks to having Sati with me, keeping me honest, and just my general desire to prep for AZ, I kept going, and enjoyed a pretty decent pace for me on trails.
So how was the race? Mostly, I was treating it as a run, not a race, but even still, I did near to my best performance, and still came near the back of the pack for my age group, and half way back for the race. I’ve learned that trail running is a great way to work on my hips, gluts, and other secondary muscles. All of the ups and downs, twists and turns, and the sloping ground takes a lot out of the joints and muscles. And I love TBF’s runs, obviously enough to work with them for two years on staff. The group feels close-knit, the socialization is great, the trails and locations out at the lake are great, and the post-run beer choices were superb. Oh, did I mention that beer was included in the post-race food?! Black Butte Porter, ftw.
The Distance, and why I have two paces listed
Marking an accurate distance on real trails is tough. If one, say, used a GPS and trusted it, I’m certain the course would be long. Why? 15 foot accuracy, and 1-3 second polling, the GPS will cut off too many of the corners. So your 13.1 per your GPS would be closer to 13.5, maybe. My Garmin told me I ran about 12.4 miles. Someone else had 12.5, and someone with a 310 had 12.7. In fact, 12.7 was the longest I heard off of a Garmin. So if all of them cut it short, then 12.7 could easily be 13.1. The only reason that I think it was short: I was pretty dead on on the mileage except for one mile that cut me .4 miles off, then the rest stayed dead on.
So I think somewhere between 12.7 and 13.1 is the real mileage, because though off, rarely do the Garmins miss by 5%. I think TBF did great, and I think they were dead on for most of the miles,
but I do think somewhere around mile 4, they missed a bit. Regardless, it was close, and better than some other races I’ve done.
Two days after I finished this race, I was still sore. Running Clarksburg, the camber is so consistent, it hurts. Running a road race, my quads and hams are being punished, and yet they’re trained and for this. But running trails like this run, it’s a whole new use of muscles. The camber is omnipresent, but changing, such that it doesn’t cause pain, but just works my hips and inner thighs a lot. The hills are everywhere, but my road training has my quads and gluts ready for that. So I fortunately came out without any pain from doing any one thing a lot, but with all of my secondary muscles sore from never being worked this hard. Maybe adding trails to my regular training would build my hips and keep my knees from pain, while helping me build my running base.
I usually like writing these blogs after I’ve had a day or two to answer people’s questions on how my race went. I do this for a very specific reason, the more I talk about it, the more I analyze what I did, how I did, and how I felt. Yet if I wait too long, I run the risk of editing the story in my head of how things went. So as I began to look back at this race on race day, my initial opinion and feelings were poor: two years later, and my time is almost exactly the same! Yet as I began to talk to friends, I began to realize that, though the times may look the same, my running definitely wasn’t.
In 2007, when I ran Shamrock’n three months in to running, and as my first half marathon, I ran all-out. I kept my eyes on the back of runners in front of me, focused all my energy on run form and breathing, and ran… and ran… and ran. I remember at mile three being jealous of a few guys in front of me who were able to chat with each other: I don’t think I could have gotten out more than a few coherent words in a single sentence. For Shamrock’n 2008, I began the first ten miles of my run at a pace that I found moderately easy, kept my heart rate around 160-165, running 8:15s, and then kept up 7s for the final three miles, brining my pace down to 7:52s. For this race, I was somewhere in between. I was trained less than 2008, and so my 8:15s took me to a ~170 heart rate, my conversation level stayed moderate for the first 7.1 miles, my energy level was great, and I felt natural in the run. Whereas my first run was a mental battle of continuing to push myself, for this race, there was no battle, it just felt natural and normal. For the latter 6 miles, after departing from Harry at the relay point, I pushed myself to a 180bpm heart rate and sped up a little, though without the training as the previous year, not nearly as much as before.
The other difference that I look back to, in slight comparison to last year, is that the route was a little hillier, the wind a bit heavier (though I’m not positive on this, as the “wind-tunnel” of the stadium wasn’t as bad, so this may be an excuse and not a fact), and the minor route changes may have been enough to push the heart-rate up a few beats. If that’s true, and not an issue of re-building the story in my head, then my run was nearly on-par to last year, and definitely much better than 2007. So, though I was disappointed at first, in retrospect, my running has matured significantly in the last two years of running.
Some parts of the course changes were more subtle than others, while others were quite obvious.
One of my favorite parts of the 2008 course (which was there in 2007, but I didn’t like as much), was the Red Bull arch down the there-and-back on Riverbank Road. This year, with the extra two miles running throughout downtown and old town, there was no there-and-back down the road, and apparently no Red Bull sponsorship, either.
Whereas the original course went only to third street, this year, we went down to seventh, ran out to the same point along the river, but instead of running along the river (where there seemed to be more construction than last year), we followed closer to the freeway, then as we progressed under the bridge as before, instead of coming up to the bridge directly, we headed into old town. I was originally worried about how running on the cobblestones might go, but fortunately, we cut back down an alley before we hit first street. The rest of the route, excepting Riverbank Road, was pretty similar. The choice of using one of the square blocks in West Sac to do the relay exchange, whereas runners went on one side of the block, while relayers went on the other, was a great idea. And all-in-all, the route was as good as I remember it, with a few extra hills thanks to the alley and other areas, a lot of opportunities for spectators, and a nice view of varied parts of town.
Oh… and one other comment. If you like almonds, this year’s race had the BEST post-race food bag, ever. If you don’t like almonds, I’m sorry. The two fig newtons weren’t quite enough. Good for me, I love almonds. I just wish they had all six of the bold flavors Blue Diamond offers: the salt and pepper sounds great, as does the lime and chili.
And now, lastly, thanks to my original feelings of inadequacy on my times, I began an analysis of all of my halfs so far. I wanted to see if I really was improving, staying the same, had backslid, or if this was truly business-as-usual. So, without further ado:
Statistically, my results fell into the 38.6th percentile against average (good!), though if I discount the two >100 degree days as handicapped, then I’m up closer to the 70th percentile (bad!).
So, it’s not exactly a bad result, nor is it a good result, but it’s an appropriate result for the effort level and training I’ve done, and is completely consistent with my expectations. I did fine, I felt fine, and I am sure my next race will be just about the same time… again.
Overcast, 80 degrees, man was this better than last year! I was disappointed a little that we didn’t get to run through Angel’s stadium again, but the in-park portion of the course was better attended by characters, parade floats were out and turned on, and the run through the park was even better than I remember. With water at ten of the thirteen mile points, thousands of spectators, cheerleaders, scout troups, and more, this is definitely the best of the races I’ve done, and I look forward to doing it again next year.
I started out with a 1:45 pace group, and having the support, distraction, and people to talk to kept me at a strong pace, and pushed me a few times that I needed pushing, and kept me happier in times that I needed nothing. Rachel was a great pacer, though a bit of a cynic, and kept me chuckling at her comments on “training the spectators” and her commentary on racing throughout the world. Her helpful comments like “relax on the downhill and stay perpendicular to the ground” or “pump those arms and get yourself up this hill” helped keep us at a steady pace, up and down, and her group seemed to stay strong.
At mile ten, after sprinting through to “high-five” the hands of scores of boy scouts, I decided to keep my break-away lead from the pacers and push the last three miles, as I did in my last PR. And like Shamrock’n, I was able to keep the pace up, knock out a few miles at a 185+ HR, and take a few minutes off my steady pace. I loved it, and am very glad to add this to my results page, especially when I see that I’m in the top 4% of racers and top 8% of my AG. w00t! An average HR of 177 and max of 195 says I really did push myself, but it stayed sub-180 for the first ten miles, and only in the final push did I spike upwards.
I trained less, and did better. Racing smarter, having help and support to push me, and knowing when and where I can push, cut another two minutes off my PR. Add in a flat race with great weather and fun, and this race was wonderful once again. I hope to be back next year!
Well, the PW doesn’t include Disneyland, but between a lack of training, gross heat, and bad fueling, this race was a personal worst time. And well… that’s okay. Listening to other racers, comments like “This isn’t a day for a PR” or “I did five minutes worse than normal” says that my results came in just right. So yay?
In all honesty, the course was better than I remember, with actual wine fields that I ran by, and only a single dairy farm; the food afterwards was much better (Togo’s), the race management significantly improved, the problems of last year well resolved, and everything would have been great, were it not for the 100+ degree day. The end result was a fairly exhausting and miserable race from the heat, but otherwise a good race. Not much else to say, but I will be here next year.