This past weekend I "ran my first race" since November. I air-quoted part of that sentence because my mindset for the day had almost nothing to do with the race distance itself. The event I participated in was the RunVermont Unplugged Half Marathon. It's pitched as a "No Hills, No Frills" event and pretty well lived up to its billing in both regards.
My goal in running this event was to complete a dry run of the pre-race routine for the marathon. It was all about watching the diet the day before, getting everything ready for the morning, getting up, getting to the event, pre-race nutrition, and navigating the crowd during the first few mile of the race. I ran both of my half marathons last year in just under 1h41m and have completed training runs at that distance at about a minute per mile slower than that. What added to the challenge of this run is that after crossing the finish line we (my friend Shannon & I) had an 8 mile run back to near the starting point to complete a 21 mile run.
The weather was absolutely perfect for a 10AM start. The problem was, the race started at 9AM. Fortunately, there was no rain, but it was hovering around freezing when we made our way to Airport Park in Colchester, VT for the start. We were dressed for the 50s that we were going to be running in 2-3 hours later, not the 30s it was then!
The race shot off at 9AM. We had discussed goals for the day and agreed that the best bet was to find a pace that was doable for a 20+ mile run. Though being half a decade younger and a life-long runner, Shannon's race pace is about a minute per mile off of mine, so my role for the day was to try to keep a steady, consistent pace that she thought she could maintain for the distance.
The first several miles fell away quickly, snaking through some of the back roads and neighborhoods of Colchester before crossing the Winooski River on a bridge that felt that the engineer never expected hundreds of people to run across it at the same time. From there, the course picked up the Burlington bike path until near the finish in South Burlington on Flynn Ave.
Shannon ran this race last year and finished in about 2:10. Her last HM race was in the fall and she dropped her time to 1:57. I've started getting a pretty good sense for my own pacing and knew we were setting a pace that put us right in the neighborhood of a 2:00 finish for the first 13.1 miles of the run. Both of our fitness levels have increased since that HM in October, but I know that I can't run 20 miles at my fall 2010 half marathon pace! I was doubtful that we'd maintain the pace, but part of training is trial and error, so we hung steady at a pace just over 9 minutes per mile.
Another one of my goals for this run was in-race fueling. Shannon had complained about running out of gas for 15+ mile runs, but also admitted to not really paying much attention to hydration or remembering to take energy gels. My plan for the run was simple. There were 3 water stations during the run. We'd walk through each one, drink a bit of water, take 2-3 Shot Bloks, and get back to it. For the non-race part of the run, the plan was to hit 2-3 gels every 30 - 35 minutes. We each took sports drinks with added L-Glutamine on the run with us and set a goal of finishing half by the end of the race and using the other half for the remaining 8 miles.
When we first started talking about doing this race, I always knew I was going to do it as the race + 8 mile run. Shannon strongly contemplated doing the race to try to set a new Personal Record (PR), but in the end figured that getting a long run in was more important to the big picture than getting a good time. Since we weren't running for time, the race itself was quite uneventful. With both of us being competitive runners, I kept our pacing and expected finish time to myself. The goal was 21 miles, not 13.1. We finished with the clock showing 2:00.xx and with very little effort could have been under 1:55 for the event.
After getting a re-fuel (and bit of un-fuel at the portolet), we set out for the run back. The brief downtime caused me to experience a few calf twinges when we started back up and our overall pace was down a bit. That was when both quads started cramping, something I haven't ever had happen before. It wasn't bad enough to stop my run, but it hurt and made running extremely unpleasant. One of the problems with the course being so flat is that there weren't any hills to break up the monotony of the repetitive flat-ground running motion. I look forward to some ups & downs to give my legs something different to do once in a while and this run really didn't give me that.
After a few miles of ouchy/crampy, we hit the base of the only real hill on the run (Battery St., Burlington) and I took a minute to stretch my legs before we tackled the hill. The combination of the stretching and the change in stride to tackle the hill gave me a bit of relief from the pain, but it soon returned. Through trial & error, I figured out that the root cause was that our pace had slowed, causing me to to run just differently enough that my quads got over-worked. Once we picked our pace back up, the cramping mostly went away.
The remaineder of the run back was all about just trying to find that zone and tick away the miles. The last 4-5 miles evaporated very quickly and, before I knew it, 21 miles were in the book and I was sucking back chocolate milk, Accelerade, and a banana as quickly as possible. For the rest of the day, I felt surprisingly good. My feet didn't hurt. My knees didn't hurt. My shins didn't hurt. My quads... okay, those still hurt a bit.
I devoted myself to being a pig for the rest of the day. As of around 2PM, I was still running at about a 700 Kcal deficit for the day with 3200 Kcal left to the break-even point. I make every effort to eat all of my exercise calories for the day to ensure that my body is fueled for recovery mode and ready to take whatever I decide to throw at it the following day. I attribute the majority of our success on that run to solid running nutrition and giving our bodies exactly what they needed to sustain aerobic activity for 3 and a half hours and the raw materials for rebuilding the damage we did on those 21 miles.
The experience was a great confidence booster and as much as I'm looking forward to getting this marathon behind me, I'm also starting to look forward to the day when I can bring all of this training to a point. There, the talk and the theory stops and it all becomes about one thing: racing.
2011-APR-09 Diet Log
2011-APR-09 Nike+ Run Graph