October 10, 2010

Towpath Half Marathon

Superman and I at the start of the 10/10/10 Towpath Half Marathon
I'll start my race recap all the way back to this past May, when I ran the Towpath 10K. I struck up a conversation at the start of that race with a gentleman who told me he was running the Akron marathon, because he'd heard the Towpath marathon was boring and flat. I'd already signed up for today's race at that point, but was concerned with the distance enough to like hearing "flat." We then ran the 10K on the Valley View portion of the path (the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath runs approximately 100 miles), which is in fact rather flat.

Yesterday I went to pick up our packets and discovered today's race was not on the same section of towpath as the 10K. It was based out of the ski resort near Hudson. Ski resorts are not flat. I'm ok with a hill here and there, but the rises I was driving had me worried, especially considering my first attempt at a half marathon. 

I checked out the expo, hoping they would have a Vibram dealer with a discount. The expo was much smaller than I expected, with no Vibram dealer. I picked up packets for myself and my sister, the Energizer Bunny. I was happy they let me downsize my shirt, since I was a large when I signed up, but am now a medium!

I've never seen oil and vinegar in a packet before, and kind of expected a bit more for such a popular race, but was happy with the socks and shirt. There were also several coupons.

I was determined to purchase Vibrams, so after picking up the packets I searched my trusty iPhone for a local Vibram dealer. Lo and behold, there was one about 15 minutes down the road. I hopped in the car and headed over. I had no plan to run the race in the Vibrams, but do plan to include barefoot/Vibram runs in my routine. I hope to run the Cleveland Half Marathon in May 2011, in Vibrams (if not barefoot!). 

I looked at all the Vibrams the running shop had, and chose the Bikilas mainly for the tread. I expect to run in these outside all winter, so want some traction. Unfortunately, they did not have Bikilas in my size (only smaller), so I ended up with KSOs. I didn't want to wait another month to start running in them. I'll go back for the Bikilas before the snow starts flying, and get them a size larger so I can wear socks. Otherwise my feet will freeze! 

While I was trying on the KSOs, a gentleman came into the store for Gu. He was running the marathon, and I told him I was running the half. I then mentioned my concern about the hills, and he told me it wasn't that bad, that it was a relatively flat course. The Energizer Bunny told me the same later that day, and it turned out to be the case. I worried for nothing.

I don't know why, but I was up this morning at 4am, and couldn't go back to sleep. Superman was up at 5:30. We didn't have to be out the door until 6:30, so had plenty of time for breakfast and coffee. We pulled into the ski resort where the race would start at just about 7, and happened upon the Energizer Bunny with her friends as we walked through the parking area. We hit the porta-potties at just the right time, because the lines got crazy behind us. Not surprising, when all 3 races (10K, half and full marathon) were sold out.

In front of us at the start

Behind us at the start

The people you see in the pictures above are all running. The walkers started a good half hour earlier, and on a different route. I was glad the Energizer Bunny lined up with us. That's when she took the picture at the start of this post. I told her I had 3 goals. A = 2:30, which I knew to be impossible. B = 2:45, which was hopeful. C = under 3 hours, which was certainly doable.

The race started just after 8, and we headed down the hill toward the ski resort entrance. The Energizer Bunny started working her way forward the moment we crossed the line, and she was gone. I'd stretched and warmed my ankles since 4am, so they were loose and did not bother me as they normally would early in a run. Superman, as my pacer, warned me we were moving quickly, but I was comfortable.

3 miles later we turned off the road and onto the towpath. That was the last we saw of a hill, beyond a gentle rise here and there. I had a pleasant surprise when I found the path was actually a hard packed dirt and gravel trail. We would go out for 5 miles, turn around and come back, then finish just past where we entered the trail. It was all wooded, with glimpses of train tracks on one side, and bits of canal remnants on the other. We saw an old rusted out paper mill. We ran across wooden bridges. The sun was shining and the temperature was in the mid-60s. I thought about taking the phone out for pictures, but didn't want to slow down. 

I missed the 3 mile marker, but Superman saw it, so according to plan I took my first fruit snack. I was comfortable and we settled into our pace. I walked through water stops, because I cannot drink from a cup on the run. Superman ran through them, so I would catch up to him after.  At about the 5th mile he had to make a pit stop, and I continued on. I was concerned he wouldn't be able to catch me when I saw there was a line, but as the elite runners started passing me on their way back, Superman came up from behind. The elites were incredible to behold, and I was impressed with Superman for catching up so quickly! I hadn't slowed for him...

I missed the 6 mile marker, so when we came up the 7 mile marker I took another fruit snack. By then I'd determined the sports drink, though watered down, made my stomach cramp. I was sticking to water. I was also watching for the Energizer Bunny to pass us on her way back. When she did, she had her head down and was hauling ass. I went for the high five, but she was already gone.

My toes, as they do, started hurting around mile 4. By mile 8 they and the balls of my feet were very uncomfortable. I walked a short distance, hoping to relieve some of the discomfort. It didn't work. Throughout the race I never walked more than 10 feet, which is a HUGE improvement over my last half marathon. Superman didn't walk, so every time I had to work to catch up with him, which was perfect. Pushing that way used muscles I wasn't using in my normal pace, so a time or two I was able to actually pass him and hold the increased pace for a short time. I think I walked a total of 4 times, not including water stops.

It was between mile 10 and 11 that the elite marathoners started passing us. I'd seen the leader on his way out, passing through a water stop without taking anything. I didn't even notice him breathing hard. We started seeing more and more marathoners, some walking, others stopping to stretch, but most running strong. I knew how I was feeling. Every time I saw a marathon mile marker, I considered how they would feel when they got to mile 24, 25, 26... 

At mile 11, I crashed. My breathing was strong through the entire race, until then. All of a sudden, I found myself hyperventilating, starting to cry, and on the verge of hysteria. It was just as we ran into a water stop, and I started to turn down the sports drink, then thought better of it. I was not exhausted from lack of fuel (a feeling I know all too well). Maybe I needed electrolytes. I still don't know if that was the problem, but 2 glasses of sports drink and I was better by mile 12. Exhausted. Asking "are we done yet?" But better than the episode at mile 11.

At this point I was pulling out all the mind games. My legs were exhausted and in pain. I chanted "almost there, almost there, almost there" under my breath for a while. I thought about this blog, about Barefoot Neil (I ran the race virtually for him, to help celebrate his birthday). I put my head down and pushed forward, catching up to Superman again and passing him for a moment. 

I could have wished the finish was more clearly marked, that we didn't have to make a sharp turn and run down a small grass hill to get there. I also don't think the finish area was long enough, nor the food placed in a way that runners would see it when they arrived. I am not an expert though, and I'm sure there were reasons for all the choices made. I know I appreciated the hot tub filled with cold water. I appreciated the banana and the bagel, as well as the shuttle back to the start.

I finished in 2:46:28.77, which is 20 minutes faster than my previous half marathon time and just shy of my goal B. I'd hoped to have splits for each mile, but the app I'd downloaded didn't work as expected. 

I'm scheduled to run my final half of the year on November 21. I plan to run the entire thing, maybe not even walking through water stops. I want to break 2:45.   

1 comment:

Barefoot Neil Z said...

Great run... it's amazing what the mind can tell the body to do! You finished it! at your B goal too! Great! It's not supposed to be easy and you conquered it, 20 minutes faster than the last one. *WoOT*