Sunday, January 28, 2007

Almost There

Today I successfully completed the sixth of the seven races in the Austin Distance Challenge. I had a good, uneventful, unspectacular race and finished the 3M Half Marathon in 1:58:39.4 at an average pace of 9:03 minutes per mile. I'd hoped to run maybe 10 or 15 seconds per mile faster, but my body just wouldn't respond.

I got back home from Santa Clara, California late Friday night and slept in on Saturday. After wasting time on the computer I picked up my race packet and had a nice large Freebirds burrito full of rice and beans for lunch. After wasting some more time in the afternoon I took the family to see Eragon and then stayed up too late watching the latest episode of my favorite show, Heroes.

The race started at 7:00 am so my day started at 5:15 am. The temperature was a crisp 33 degrees according to our patio thermometer, but it was clear and it was supposed to warm up quickly once the sun came up. I wore my typical clothes, spandex shorts and a long sleeve under armour shirt with a light skull cap and running gloves.

The turnout for the race was pretty large; the results listed a total of 3438 finishers. Along with the half marathon they were also simultaneously running a half marathon relay which probably added a few more participants. I stayed in the car as long as possible and I lined up at the back of the crowd. When the horn sounded it took almost 5 minutes before I was able to cross the starting line but they had all four lanes of the street open so it was pretty easy to work through the crowd of slower runners.

The first couple of miles are up hill, as you can see in the linked elevation profile, and I wasn't warmed up yet so the first mile took 9:22.7 (161 avg HR) and the second in 9:23.5 (158 avg HR). At that point I had a good sweat rolling even though it was in the 30s and the hat came off. Mile 3 had a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill but I was able to get on my target pace and finished in 8:58.2 (160 avg HR). The gloves came off and I stuffed them and the hat into my fanny pack as I slurped an energy gel. I finished the fourth mile in 8:53.2 (159 avg HR) but it was tough because the road had a slight incline.

At this point I was a little worried because my heart rate was under 160 and I wanted it to be around 163 or 165 for the first half of the race. I wondered if the low temperature was keeping my heart rate down in a similar way that high temperatures elevate it. Whatever the reason, I just couldn't sustain a faster pace.

Starting at mile 4 the course steadily dropped nearly 200 feet over the next two miles and I was able to complete miles 5 and 6 in 8:39.8 (157 avg HR) and 8:54.1 (162 avg HR). Miles 7 was slightly uphill and felt hard after the extended downhill, but it was a bit of a wakeup call when I passed the mile marker in 9:27.9 (158 avg HR). As the course flattened out a bit I picked up the pace and finished mile 8 in 9:03 (161 avg HR). This was a difficult part of the race. I was starting to feel stressed and was having a tough time maintaining a steady pace on the roller coaster course. My heart rate seemed to indicate that I was running too slow, but I was already getting fatigued and having a tough time with my cadence even though my heart wasn't racing.

The rest of the race was up and down with a net drop but there were no more flat spots. This part was interesting to me because it is basically the same as the last six miles of next month's Austin marathon. Even though it is a net descent the hills are going to be very tough with legs that have already run 20 miles. I only had 4 miles left and I tried to push a little harder. I finished mile 9 in 9:05.5 (161 avg HR). With only 5 km left I tried to push hard but mile 10 took 9:26.7 (159 avg HR). I kept pushing and finished mile 11 in 8:51.2 (162 avg HR), and mile 12 in 8:53.3 (160 avg HR). The final 1.1 miles took 9:48.0 (163 avg HR).

My average HR for the race was only 160, but as I walked through Waterloo park and drank water and listened to the live band that was playing I was periodically doubled over with hoarse coughing that didn't produce anything other than pain. I've continued to experience wheezing and coughing through the day so either I'm coming down with something or else some allergen in the air was affecting my lungs.

My previous fastest half marathon was 2:08:05.3 at last year's 3M. My time was even faster than the 1:59:00.0 that I ran the first half of Dallas last month. I should be happy, but I'm disappointed because I know I could have run faster. I'd have felt better if my time had been slower and my heart rate higher, but the low average heart rate means that I left something on the table.

So, I'm pleased but not thrilled. Another bright spot is that I didn't have any injuries. I finally peeled the dead skin off my pinky toe yesterday and the combination of new shoes and 3M bandages kept it from blistering again. My sore right foot is still sore, but it's not any worse. I'm a little sore and stiff, but I should be able to train well over the next 3 weeks as I taper and do final training for the Austin Marathon on February 18.

A big thanks to my lovely wife who took care of my sweats at the starting area and picked me up at the finish.


MattMan said...

As usual, I think you're being a little hard on yourself. :)

Heart rate isn't everything, as you know. Your description of a sort of brick wall syndrome (unable to go any faster, feeling fatigued even though heart rate was more than reasonable, etc) spells oxygen uptake issue to me. The coughing at the end seals the deal, for me, on the theory.

You just never know what's in the air. If you're getting reduced oxygen intake or extra pollutants / toxic intake, then you're just not going to be able to perform like you want -- and your fairly low heart rate seems tell-tale for that type of issue.

It could've also just been an "off" day for you -- those happen too. Personally, my bet is on either pollution or allergens; or, of course, you were borderline coming down with something.

Bull said...

Matt, you'd make a good verification engineer :)

On a rational level I understand that I should feel good. But this highlights the fact that sometimes our feelings aren't terribly rational.

If there's a silver lining to all this, the pace was reasonably comfortable and I'm only a little sore today. I actually think that I could maintain close to the same pace in the marathon given similar conditions.