Sunday, September 9, 2012

Skagit Flats Half Marathon race report

Didn't have a lot of expectations about this race. I signed us up for it somewhat as a whim -- they have a very good medal, which always helps, but also because it just seemed like a good date for a race. But we hadn't raced in a while, so my goal was just to finish... with bonus happiness if we finished under 2:30 again.

The race has a patriotic theme, so I went to special effort with my toenails:
race-day toes
 Classy. Totally classy. Man I have ugly feet.

We got up, had half a bagel for breakfast, and then drove up to Burlington-Edison High School, home of the Tigers. Rowr. We picked up our numbers and shirts (red... sigh...) and then milled around for a while, enjoying the fact that they had proper bathrooms we could use. Proper bathrooms, generous parking... this race has it figured out. And by the way, the organizers kick some of the money to local school sports teams and search and rescue programs.

nice small group before the race
Eventually we followed the crowd to where we assumed the starting area was. We watched a bit of bad line strategy by the port-a-potties (people, there are only 7 or 8 of them, you don't have to stand 20 feet back so that you can see all of them at once...) -- and watched the line (or one strident member...) policing the front of the line from halfway back. Ahh, good times. 

Wil gets his race face on, I just smirk
Eventually we would hear the muffled "whah whah whah" of announcements, so we moved to the starting area. And, of course, took pictures...

we both show off our cheesy pre-race grins
There was a nice little rendition, sung live, of the national anthem, and then they said go... and we were all surprised that the race started like that. So quickly!

One possible weirdness.... we had all gathered on the wrong side of the timing mats... and essentially had to squeeze past them to get to the start. Now, I am sure they just reset the timing mats before the start. I'm sure of it. At least, I sure hope so.

Talk about a flat course -- there may have been a very slight but drawn-out elevation gain, but I only noticed one small rise. No wonder there was a large group of would-be Boston Qualifiers in the field! 

I always struggle at the start of the race. I find myself doing a little mental examination, inventorying any little ache, pain, or niggle. Left knee feels a little wonky. Right achilles is a little sore. Funny bone pain in my left foot. Slightly queasy. And I always have that, "Hmm... don't really have it today" feeling. But at least I KNOW I always feel that way, so I just plod through it. I spend time thinking about what I'll blog about. Sometimes I try to come up with a good subheadline. But this time, I just decided to keep moving. And I distracted myself by admiring the pretty scenery.

lovely Skagit Valley
The weather was perfect -- cool, overcast, not too breezy. Apparently last year it was HOT HOT HOT, so people were chatting about the lovely grey day.

I don't know the Skagit Valley very well -- other than La Conner, I guess -- so the twists and turns meant nothing to me. I do know that eventually we reached a turnaround, which made me very, very happy. I decided not to look at my watch at that point. I had just eaten a tasty Vanilla Bean Gu so was feeling fine, fine, fine.

Until we turned and realized that we had been running with a tailwind. Oops. Not a huge tailwind, but more than a gentle headwind on the way back. Luckily, it didn't last all that long. And on we went.

Was pretty pleased to see how many people were actually still behind us. It probably makes me a bad person, but that's one of my favorite parts of out-and-back courses. Not only to you get to see the leaders as they come back at you, you also get to see the back-of-the-packers. And, yes, I cheer for both.

At some point, probably at mile 9, I sensed that Wil was speeding up. I looked at my watch for the our elapsed time... hmmm. We're well ahead of schedule. Of course, I usually struggle with miles 11 and 12, so it probably wasn't all that strange that we were ahead of our usual pace. But I did realize that, well, I now regularly run 4 miles in under 40 minutes, which would give us a huge PR.

Not that I wanted to say anything to Wil.. I kept this dark secret to myself. Also knowing that, when I regularly run 4 miles in under 40 minutes, it's on fresh legs in the morning, rather than after 9 miles of running...

So on we went. I sneaked another peek at 10 miles. Yep, still on track for a huge PR.

Eleven miles. Sharp pain in my right achilles. Still on track for a big (if not huge) PR. Ouch. Head down, feet moving.

Twelve miles. Achilles screaming, as is my hamstring. Guess that's what happens if you try to alter your stride. Still on track for a big PR. Remember that there is still a mile to go. I decide to distract myself by counting my breathing in and out -- every 50 is another minute gone. Keep moving. Keep moving.

The school is in sight. We reel in a runner, then two more. We take one more walk break -- just 30 seconds so we don't stiffen up -- and Wil asks what our PR is. I say, "We could walk the rest of the way and still beat it." "But what IS it?" "2:21. Or 2:20. Something like that." We start running again, and pass two more runners. I feel a little jerky about it, but we were on a mission.

We make a turn toward the stadium because we're finishing on the track -- and pass the 13-mile mark. I see timing mats and grab Wil's hand... realizing slightly too late that those are just the "cue the announcer who's coming" mats. We've got another 100 yards to go. Sigh.

We're both trying to sprint and pumping one of our arms while holding hands with the other and staring at the big clock. Tick, tick, tick. And then, smooch, we're done.

I feel woozy and a little unbalanced as I collect my pretty medal and then wander over to the chip removal. Nice touch -- they had little footrests for the runners. Another classy touch. Oh, and did I mention the Skagit Runners have their own timing chips? AND their own garbage cans on the course. Very, very nice set-up.

We stretched a little, drank some water, and cheered in a few runners. But then I started to get a little cold so we just decided to head to the car. On the way we passed a post-race snack buffet, where I loaded up on delicious Great Harvest bread, some potato chips and pretzels, and half a banana. Perfect!

So I know what you're asking yourself. What was their time? Well. Nike+ has me at 2:16:59... and I think I remembered to start my watch as I crossed over the starting mat and very shortly after crossing the finish mat. So that's pretty close. And our previous PR, you ask? 2:21:16. Yowza!

I set a number of running goals for myself this year -- with the biggest, most "stretch" goal being to set a PR -- either in the half marathon or the 5K. Since I had been doing more short runs and actually thinking about getting a little faster, I thought I might be able to squeak out a PR on a good 5K. So imagine my surprise -- and complete delight -- to get a PR in a half. Just, wow.

I think the key was staying calm and just deciding NOT to whine through miles 11 and 12. I'm not saying I feel like I can keep bettering this time by much -- but I'm really proud of what we've done this year. Wil didn't even have to prod me much today -- other than cutting our final walk to 30 seconds.

Something amusing I just noticed -- the fastest I ran all day was the final 0.1 mile at the finish. Yeah, talk about finishing strong!

this is what a PR looks like!

and a handsome medal, to boot!

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