Monday, May 21, 2012

Palos Verdes Half Marathon Race Report

A few months ago, I decided to pick a half marathon to run with Christie to gauge our progress part way through our training for the Missoula Marathon in July.  I found the Palos Verdes Half Marathon in mid-May, which would work nice.  We had been to Palos Verdes before and knew it was hilly, but we also knew it would be a beautiful race.  The race is organized by the Kiwanis club, and it also had the second oldest Marathon in the US (second to Boston) up until it was cancelled this year.  Kiwanis uses this race as a fundraiser for programs that support children through scholarships and other various programs.  The entry fee was around $75 per person for the Half Marathon, and it includes the race with chip timing, a finisher medal, a finishers tech tee, and a post race expo with food and music.

We woke up at 3:00 AM to get ready and get out the door by 3:45 for the 90 mile drive from Palmdale to lovely Palos Verdes Estates to make it to the start early enough to pick up our bibs and be ready for the 7:00 start.  The 5K and Half Marathon start at a parking area near the Ocean, however there is not enough parking there for everybody to park their cars there, so the race directors had a shuttle system set up to ferry runners from the Promenade shopping mall to the start line, about a 6 mile trip.

We arrived at the parking garage around 5:15, and were surprised that barely anybody was there.  We got to the start around 5:35, and the organizers were still setting up the registration area, so we waited around for a bit to pick up our bibs.  There were plenty of port o potties there, but there was the typical line at around 20 minutes before the start.  We picked up our bibs, and walked around a bit to enjoy the awesome seaside scenery.  It was cloudy and cool, temp was in the low 50's, and there was only a slight breeze.

The course was changed from 2011, and from what I was told it was basically the same course, but instead of running a short 3.1 out-and-back portion at the end, we were now running it at the beginning. The USATF had certified the 2011 course that had it at the end, but I didn't find any information about the new course. I was slightly confused as the course USATF listed had different directions than the course on the 2012 Palos Verdes Half Marathon website.  An elevation map was not provided, however the elevations listed on the map my run website were available, but we would later discover that they were severely incorrect.

We made our way to the start line around 6:55, and were once again surprised that nobody was getting ready to start yet.  In fact, buses were still dropping runners off, who were frantically trying to get ready for the race.   Eventually, organizers started funnelling people onto the road to get staged for the start. 7:00 came and went, a girl sang the star spangled banner, and then some other guy abruptly shot us off at around 7:08.

I started out taking it easy, after the initial quick start, I settled in behind another runner, Eric, that was doing around a 7:00-7:15 pace, and just let him pace me out.  As we made it to the turnaround for the 3.1 section, I counted the runners ahead of me coming back and discovered I was in 19th.  I was pretty pleased with that since I was running over a 7 minute pace so far.  I stuck with my pacer for the next few miles as we turned and went up some long hills.  We were doing about 6:50-7:05 pace for miles 2, 3, and 4.  Mile 5 was a bit slower as I tried to keep the heart rate under control.  I fell back a bit from Eric as I slowed.  As we went up the hills, we caught up with the 16th and 17th place guys and we ran in a pack of four for a while, I stayed behind everybody until I knew that I had enough energy to pass them and a couple others and moved up to 16th.  It's helpful to listen to their breathing, turnover, and how hard their feet are hitting.  It will tell you how hard they are pushing or how easy it is.  If they are struggling, I won't stay with them for too long since they will start to slow down.  I finally caught back up to Eric as we hit mile 6 and ran down a steep alley (-10% grade for .2 miles).  We said hello to each other and chatted for a bit as we ran along the coastline from mile 6-8.  We both were trying to get close to 1:30:00.  I think we both kinda zoned for a while and paced each other for those miles.  The big hill started at 7.5 and went to 9.2.  I ran a bit ahead of Eric here to help pull us up the hill and keep the pace up.  Mile 9 was around a 7:17 pace, so we had dropped a bit but not bad considering the 114 feet of climbing in that mile.  When we got to the top, we looked at each other and said that it was time to go.  I quickly picked the pace back up to about 6:40.  I knew we needed to put in some fast mile to get in around 1:30.  About this point I saw a girl ahead, she was in 14th.  I told him we needed to catch her, and I picked up the pace some more.  Eric started dropping back at this point, so I went on.  I crossed mile 10 at about 1:10:00.  To break 1:30 I would need to run a sub 20 minute 5k, which I knew was nearly impossible given the amount of hills that were ahead of me.  I tried anyways, and ran mile 11 at 6:28, mile 12 at 6:30.  I caught up with the girl right before 12 miles, and she congratulated me.  At this point we were both running into a sea of 5K walkers that were out on the course.  Since the 5K started at 8, we hit them at their turnaround about 20 minutes into their race.  I almost ran over five or six kids that were all over the road.  I don't necessarily blame them, how would they know somebody is coming up on them from behind at 10 MPH?  I told the girl that we needed to run the last mile like a 5K to break 1:30, she laughed.
Mile 13 was another story though as there was a very steep hill with about 100 feet of climbing right at the beginning.  My pace suffered, but I pushed hard.  I continued to dodge 5K walkers and joggers for the next mile, and I noticed a guy that was running ahead.  I figured he had to be the 13th place guy.  I tried to sneak up on him and pass him without him noticing me in the field of 5K joggers, but I was also trying to race the clock, so I actually sprinted by him with .1 miles to go.  He saw me, and countered my attack.  He just barely got me at the line, but the results show my chip time being a second better than his as I crossed the start a bit later.  So he technically beat me, but the results showed me ahead of him, and I was ok with that. According to my count, I should have finished in 13th if I was ahead of that guy at the end.  The results however show me being 14th, so I must have miscounted by 1 or something.

I finished in 1:30:29, just 29 seconds off of a 1:30 but a PR still. The Garmin shows the course being 13.2, either way I was close and happy with the result as it was my first sub-7 minute pace half marathon.  Eric crossed at around 1:33:26, so I gapped nearly 3 minutes on him in the last 3 miles.  We talked briefly and congratulated each other and complained about the hills.  Christie finished in 1:45:11, which was only 27 seconds away from her PR.  She was pretty disappointed, but we both agreed that the course was more than twice as hilly as expected and that we both did great.  I received 2nd in my age group, but it would have been first if they had taken out the top 3 (which is standard).  Christie was 4th in her age bracket, being just edged out by 16 seconds from 3rd.

There was plenty of bottles of water at the finish and some bananas, and all the rest of the food and the finisher shirts was at the bottom of the hill at the expo.  We walked down there, all the bagels were gone so we got some bananas and watermelon.  We sat down around 9:00 and waited for the age group awards which were scheduled for 10:00.  There was some bands playing, and that was cool.  10:00 came and went, and nobody had picked up the mic yet to do the awards.  Christie and I were a bit upset as it seems like they weren't really doing anything to follow the schedule they had published.  At 10:15 instead of doing the half marathon awards, they did some team awards and some school awards.  The lady on the mic had no experience being a race MC before, and things drug on and on.  Finally at 10:35 they announced the half marathon awards.  I picked up my medal, and booked it out of there. 

We followed the signs back to the shuttle bus pickup.  When we got there a man with a radio was standing there and he said this was the shuttle pick up.  When the bus finally arrived, we asked the driver just to be sure that this bus would take us back to the promenade.  To our surprise he said 'no, this bus goes to the city hall building'.  Everybody that was waiting was upset when he told us we had to walk to another stop up the hill and wait for that bus.  If I wanted to go to the city hall building I would have just walked the half mile there, there was no need for a shuttle bus to that place.  Christie and I walked up the hill to the other bus stop and saw a line that was over 100 people long, maybe 200+.  We were pretty upset that we'd have to wait around again just to get on a bus to get back to the place they told us to park.  We had known that there were issues with the shuttle system last year, but since the organizers had posted to facebook and their site telling everybody to park there, we figured that they had resolved the issues and that there would be better coordination this time.  There was not.  Organizers were standing around and nobody was really taking charge.  On top of that it appeared that there was only 1 or 2 buses taking people back, not the 7 or 8 that brought everybody to the start.  In our frustration we decided that there was only one option, we walked the 6 miles uphill back to the promenade.  We don't really know how long we would have waited in that line, but the buses were still bringing people back even after we completed the hour and a half walk back.  So I finally made it back to my car about three hours and 45 minutes after I finished the race.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this race to anybody unless the organizers fix the logistics.  The 5K walkers were a severe interference on the course, the parking and shuttle system was extremely lacking, the time schedule was not followed, the beer garden was cancelled last minute, and the awards ceremony was disorganized and slow.  The course was nice, but much hillier than expected and I don't believe it is USATF certified.  For $75, there are other races that cater to the half marathoner much better.  I do realize that the Kiwanis use this as a fundraiser, but with a little more coordination they would be able to put on a much better event that would attract more runners and bring in more revenue.  It seems like they are slowly giving up instead and that will result in runners not coming back.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Race Inspiration

Tomorrow morning , a mere 15 hours from now, is the Palos Verdes Half Marathon. This will be my fourth half, exactly one year after running my first on a horribly cold and rainy morning in Cleveland. I remember the buildup for Cleveland - I had never run 13.1 miles in a race before and I was terrified and excited at the same time.  It was all I could talk about with family, friends, and coworkers, and of course the question always was, "What's your goal?" I had decided that I should be able to match race pace of a hilly 15k that I had run in late March, 8:20/mile, so this was my answer. But by mile 8 I was hurting, the dreaded side cramp. I stopped to walk for a few seconds, and then ran again, but slower, and walked painfully slowly through a water stop near mile 10 or 11. The thought of having to tell everyone who asked that, no, in fact I wasn't able to hit my goal, was unbearable. I decided at that moment, leaving the water stop and turning onto the bridge to head back toward downtown, that I wouldn't do it.  Give up on my goal, that is. Thank God for the quarter mile downhill to the finish line! I had done it, averaging 8:16/mile. Monday I hobbled around, more sore than I'd ever been (maybe I should have spent more time stretching and less time celebrating at Winking Lizard post race), but I was proud of my accomplishment.

Back to Palos Verdes.  In contrast to a year ago, I now know that in addition to a simple overall average pace, I need a race plan. I need to study the course, understand each mile, each climb, and know where each water stop is located. I need to refuel, at least once, maybe twice, on the course, preferably about a tenth of a mile before a water stop. Instead of trying to bank time early, causing myself to run the last miles slowly, I need to conserve energy, watch my heart rate, get through the final hill at mile 9, and leave it all out there on miles 10 through 13, which are downhill. What thought will keep me going tomorrow? The desire to PR, and prove to myself that with of of my training I'll be able to PR at the Missoula Marathon in July.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Negative Split

The negative split is one of my favorite distance running techniques that is sure to help you cut seconds and minutes off of your race times.  A negative split is defined as running a later portion or a race at a faster pace than an earlier portion of the race.  In essence, you start out slow and speed up as you go, each split is successively less than the one before it (negative). But why would you want to do that and how will that make you faster? Let's start at the beginning.

When I began running, I, like many others, believed that you should start fast when you are fresh and slow down as you wear out and become tired.  Some call this 'banking time'. You are running faster than your goal at the beginning in an effort to bank enough time so that you can run slower later in the race.  There is a fundamental flaw to this line of thinking and it has to do with your physiology (fancy word for body science).  As you might already know our muscles get energy during running from glycogen (carbohydrates) and fat stores in your body.  Glycogen is limited in quantity, and even a well trained athlete will not last long running above 85% of their max heart rate. They will be running anaerobically and burning a great deal of glycogen and producing lactic acid in their muscles at a rate faster than it can be removed.  Lactic acid stops your muscles from converting fat into energy.  This will cause you to slow way down or even walk.  Your goal is to use your fat reserves, which are much greater in quantity and will keep you going longer.

The negative split running strategy coupled with the right aerobic training you can teach your body to use more fat and less glycogen which will allow you to run for much longer periods of time while burning fat and without running out of glycogen or generating large amounts of lactic acid.

So what can you do about it?  First focus your training to be aerobic, in the 60-75% of your maximum heart rate range for at least 30 minutes.  Yes that means running slower when training; it seems counter intuitive but it works.  And the next time you race, instead of going out at full speed and fading in the later miles, start out at a pace a few seconds per mile (10-15) slower than your goal pace for the first few miles, and slowly pick up the pace running each mile a few seconds faster than the last.  During the second half of the race you should be cruising at a bit faster than your goal pace and if everything goes correctly your second half will be faster than your first half and you will meet your goal.

Negative Split Works!

The first time I attempted to run a negative split it took almost 4 minutes off of my previous half marathon time where I went out at 6:59 at the start and slowed greatly at the end.  This time I started off at a 7:20 - 7:24 min/mile pace for the first 3 miles and had tons of energy during the second half of the race and passed several people.  I finished with an overall pace of about 7:09 min/mile.

First Half: 47:30  (7:15 pace)
Second Half: 46:03 (7:02 pace)