It's been a little under a month since I ran the SF Marathon, and in between then and now I have ran two smaller races, although they were both trail races with hills, that have kind of acted as a gauge for how well I have recuperated. I think they may have deceived me.
iWalk Half Marathon - 1:50:10 (8:25 pace; 20/95)
The race was in Mountain View, which is about 25 minutes from where I live, so was able to sleep in longer than I normally would on race morning. That being said, I didn't leave enough time to eat a proper breakfast and have it digested in time, so ate half as much before heading out. I arrived only about 20 minutes before the start of the race at 7:30, which was perfect timing. I was able to get my bib, make a bathroom stop, drop the shirt off at the car and then get back in time to watch the organized stretching that this event organizer always does (they did this as well for the Walk For Rights 10k).
As I waited I pictured the course in my head, some of which I have ran before. It starts on a dirt road, joining a paved bike path, and then joining a gravel road that moves through the Palo Alto Baylands. It is a flat out and back course, which is fun because you get to see all the runners ahead of you as well as those behind you. This always lifts the spirits as I gain motivation from seeing other runners doing exactly what I was doing. If they can push through then I most certainly could too!
Soon enough the bull horn went off and we were on our way. Typically, I started out too fast. I was resolved to settle into an 8-8:30 pace and hold that steady, but the first few miles went by and I had ran them both under 8 minutes. Oh well. Oh, and interesting enough, someone recognized me from my blog (I think it was the blog)! That was a first. After a few words passed between us, though, he pulled away and ran a much faster race than I was able to sustain. If you are reading this, thanks for saying hello!
I was able to eventually pull it into the desired range at around mile 4-5 and I felt strong. It was at this point that the last two people passed me up, as I was able to maintain a steady enough pace to hold off all other runners. At this point I am right on my 8 minute pace, so things were going smoothly. I hit the turn around point and moved on to mile 8 where I stopped for some water, which I probably shouldn't have done. I immediately felt my right foot and both knees stiffen up as they remembered the soreness from the Marathon. I was able to hold it through about mile 9 at a little above an 8 minute pace, but I pooped out. I had to start taking more walk breaks and the last person that I had any hope of catching slowly pulled away. Damn!
This was where the race got the most interesting. The 10k and 5k runners started their race an hour after us and they were just hitting their turnaround as I was hitting the mile 10 marker. The course went from virtually empty to overcrowded at the flip of a switch as I now shared the course with about 500 runners, not counting the 80 or so that were behind me running the half marathon. Kids sprinting everywhere, walkers to weave around. At times I had to leave the path and run in the weeds in order to get around the walkers and kids sprinting around. Then there were the 10k and 5k runners who I now set my sights on beating to the finish line. This was the fun part: run a race after I have ran 10 miles and they have ran 3 miles. A few passed me, but for the most part I held my own, running the final 10k faster than almost all of the 10k runners!
After kicking around that notion while running I eventually got down to business and brought my attention back to my race, which was, ultimately, all that mattered. I was trying to do the math and see if I could come in under 1:50 and I knew it would be close. I pushed it hard, racing three 10k runners the last mile, picking up quite a bit of speed. Eventually two 10k runners pushed ahead when they saw the finish, but I was able to leave the other one behind pretty easy. I saw the clock, looked at my watch, and ran the final stretch hard, which was probably 3 tenths of a mile, pushing to come in under 1:50. Alas, I missed it. By 9 seconds! I can only hope that my watch was off (I also wasn't sure where to press the stop button because of the long finish chute), but that is wishful thinking of course.
I walked over towards the grass and sat down. I had plenty of energy, how come I slowed so much? Ultimately, it was the tendons behind the knees and the tendon on the right foot, both injuries/soreness that had occurred during the SF Marathon. Perhaps I've jumped too soon into racing again, having run three races in the past month since SF, and just need to stop and take a break.
The course was run pretty well. There were three water stations within the first three miles, and at the fourth mile there was a help yourself table with some water bottles. Then there was another water station at mile 5, which I bypassed because I knew that there was a water station at mile 6.5. But they fooled me! When I got there they said that they didn't have any water yet! Huh? An hour into the race and the water station wasn't set up? So I had to wait until mile 8 (which was also the mile 5 station) to get some water. So in all there were 10 water stations (11 if you count the one without water), which is more than I have seen at any half marathon. Impressive, which helped offset the organization at the check in counter.
All in all a good experience. I was able to see how my body responds after running a marathon, and thus know now to leave at least a month of no races after the Silicon Valley Marathon in November. I did in fact set a PR by 45 seconds, so all was not lost. And this does tell me that I have hit my plateau, and that I need to start focusing on tempo, hill and speed training if I expect to be running faster in the future. In the past I've run knowing that I was still getting into shape and each new run would be an improvement, but now having ran this distance 4 times at this same pace (2 half marathon races, once as the first half of the SF marathon, and once in training), give or take seconds, I know that improvement will only come from a more focused training.
So rest from races and focused training is on the menu. I do have a another Half Marathon at Lake Merced in San Francisco in two weeks, but I may very well skip this one to allow for a more full recovery. Who knows.
Until then, happy running!