Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Portland Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon: A Sob Story

Well, half marathon #12 is in the books.  Prepare yourself for the longest race report of all time.

To say it was a care-free pain-free race would be the overstatement of the century.  This one hurt.  A LOT.  Like possibly the most pain I’ve ever experienced in a half marathon ever.  The pain after mile 9 was more comparable with running a full marathon than a half, and the whole experience left me kind of in a pit of despair, and depressed about running.

Are you feeling uplifted yet?  If you don’t want to read one big pity-party post, go read this post about falling in love with trail running instead.  Or just come back tomorrow.

 Look at us looking all happy before the race starts.

Anyway, my upcoming full marathon (my 3rd, a quest to PR, and a quest to “feel better” during it) is coming up quickly in about a month.  So you’d think that having a 20 miler under my belt would make a half marathon feel like a walk in the park, right?  Wrong.  Pretty much the entire race, my mantra was: “I don’t want to run a marathon”.  So there’s that.
Second, anyone who says this course isn’t hilly is a LIAR.  After my comparison of the elevation chart of this race with Lincoln City’s, in which this race claims to only gain 338 feet and Lincoln City’s gained 656, I was thinking this would be a flat-ish race and a good race for a PR attempt.  Then I told you all about how I really wanted to PR even though I wasn’t sure I could (confirmed: I can’t). 

Well too bad those claims about the elevation change were LIES - ALL LIES!

It's officially confirmed - at 528 feet of elevation gain that is a statistically significant (p < .05) difference from the claimed 338 feet of elevation gain.  Here's what it REALLY looked like.  And although I realize there are some similarities between the two maps, they're NOT the same. 

This post is already getting out of control with rants and I haven’t even talked about the humidity yet.  Did that play a factor?  I’m not sure.  But I was warm before the race even started and felt hot the entire time.  The starting temps were around 60-65 and ending temps probably around 70 with sprinkling throughout and high high humidity.  It would probably be a cop-out to claim this played into the incredible effort required to finish this race but if it had been 10-15 degrees cooler (like the weather I’ve bene training in) I think it would have helped.  I feel guilty even complaining about this because obviously it could have been much much worse.
Now that I’ve complained your face off, let’s get into the nitty gritty.  Saturday night we had a lovely Claim Jumper dinner and a The Vow viewing party.  I hydrated with Nuun Tropical like normal and ate some carbs.  All was well.  I slept poorly – aka as expected – waking before my alarm at around 5:30am.  I made my typical pre-run breakfast of oatmeal with banana and peanut butter but I shockingly had no appetite and could only force half of it down.  We headed down to the race, parked, and Jordanne and I did a 2 mile warm-up, hitting up a less used group of port-o-potties near the finish twice.  All was well.

 One last photo before the race starts.
Our corrals ranged from 3-6, but by the time we went to the start you couldn’t even get in to the corrals they were so full, so we slipped through the bars of a gate to jump into the front of corral 3 a little ways behind the 1:45 pacer.  Even though this was technically my corral, I wish we had started farther back.  This is the closest I've ever started to the start line in a race so big.  It wasn’t a great morale-booster when I was constantly being passed by people later in the race.  The first mile was fine, Anya, Jordanne, and I running most of the first mile together. 

Mile 1 Split: 8:18
Mile 2 Split: 7:32

Mile 2 was way too fast.  Another mistake of the day.  I didn’t feel like it at the time, but this is more like my 5k time, not a pace to be setting at mile 2 of a half marathon.  I think there was a bit of downhill in here though.  A side stitch came on near the end that lasted for a few uncomfortable miles.  I also passed the 1:45 pacer in here somewhere.
Mile 3 Split: 7:56
Mile 4 Split: 7:59
Mile 5 Split: 8:34

I was feeling pretty good through mile 5, until the first horrible hill that seemed to “break” me came.  It was the worst of the hills, and when I reached the top I felt like I had nothing left to give.  Normally when I reach the top of a hill I feel a surge in energy / accomplishment and excitement that now I get to go down a bit.  Not today.  I just felt defeated at the tops of most of the hills.  Here is where the 1:45 pacer passed me, and although I kept him in my sights for a while, thinking I would catch him on the downhill, that never happened, and he was never seen or heard from again. 

Mile 6 Split: 8:08
Mile 7 Split: 8:46

The seventh mile marked the peek of the hill and it seemed to be everyone else's slowest mile as well.  I had expected I was pretty much done with hills by now, but that was very incorrect thinking.  There were lots of people with signs that said "It's All Downhill From Here" but they were LYING.  Took a DELICIOUS Peanut Butter GU somewhere in here and it did seem to help.  I did NOT feel like eating it but I forced myself to choke it down.

Mile 8 Split: 7:40
Mile 9 Split: 8:10

I was SO ready to be done at mile 9.  My legs began feeling like lead in here, and here is where my heart rate was low and it was simply the heaviness and horrible feeling in my legs that was holding me back.  These last 4 miles are seriously where everything went terrible, and where all my negativity is stemming from.  I tried to tell myself to suck it up and stop being a baby, that even on my bad days I can pump out 4 miles, but when I started thinking about running for 40 more minutes is when I just sunk into a PIT OF DESPAIR.  Seriously, I couldn’t handle it.
Mile 10 Split: 8:19
Mile 11 Split: 8:53

Clearly mile 11 was the pit of the despair.   It wasn't even uphill, I think it was even partly downhill. it was straight up JUST despair.  I got myself through Mile 10 and half of mile 11 by just promising myself that if I made it to the next aid station I could walk through it.  And walk through it I did.  I also forced myself to eat another GU (vanilla bean this time) with the slim chance it might help but it didn't.  I am proud of myself for not just quitting and / or walking the rest at this point because the voices in my head wanted to do that SO badly.  All I could hold on to was that I NEEDED to sub 1:50 just for my pride's sake, and I think that is one take-away that I can be proud of - that even though my mental toughness was nearly absent altogether, I didn't quit.   

At 11.7 I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel, that the finish was near, and I told myself to seriously suck it up for real this time.  And I did.  I was also lucky that there was some good downhill from here to the rest of the race, although the straightaway to the finish line seemed to last FOREVER and I lost some of my luster here. 

Mile 12 Split: 8:14
Mile 13 Split: 7:57

Total Time: 1:47:50   Average Pace: 8:11

So I didn’t PR.  But I didn’t expect to so this wasn’t heartbreaking.  However I DID expect to beat my Lincoln City time (I was hoping to come in somewhere around 1:45:xx), and I didn’t even really come close to doing that, at 3 minutes behind PR-ing and about 1.5 minutes behind my Lincoln City time. 

Things I so obviously need to work on: 
  • My mental toughness sucks.  The pit of despair I felt was so incredibly ridiculous that I feel scarred for life from it.  Yes I felt terrible.  Yes my legs felt like they weighed 300 pounds each.  Yes I was pretty devastated that I felt like that at mile 9 (okay technically I guess it’s mile 11) when I’m going to run a MARATHON in a month.  I should be able to pump out 15 miles with ease at this point.
  • My hill climbing skills are HORRENDOUS.  I mean seriously.  Every hill (and there were a LOT of them, they seemed never ending) resulted in a pathetic slowing where I would be passed by about 50 people on every hill.  Yes I make up time on the downhill and pass most of them back (sometimes) but I desperately need to do more hill work.  I lose a ton of time when my climbing pace slows to 10 minute miles.  
  • Positive splitting is NOT a good thing.  Especially considering the first half of the race was uphill and the second half was downhill.  First 5k pace average 8:00, 10k pace average 8:07, 10 mile average 8:10, final average of 8:14
Positive splits anyone?

       This race wasn’t “fun” for me.  I always expect to be in some serious pain during half marathons but I expect for it to be cardio pain, which I am much better at dealing with, rather than the leg heaviness I faced today.  At the end of the Lincoln City half despite some major pains and lows I was really excited at the finish line and so happy to have done the race.  I mostly felt like crying at the end of this race.  I know bad races happen and maybe it’s just because this is probably my first real bad race (marathons don’t count), so I guess 1 bad half marathon out of 12 isn’t such a bad average, but it’s still hard to deal with and trust that this isn’t a permanent fixture, or predictive of how my marathon will go. 

Final Race Thoughts (in case you’d like to do this race someday):
  • The course is okay – you get to see some of the Portland neighborhoods and cross a bridge or two.  I was not overwhelmed by the beauty of the course or anything like that.  Some people were also forced to stop at intersections (I was about 5 seconds away from being stopped and was lucky that way) and this would NOT have amused me. 
  • The bands were also okay.  If you’ve done a Rock n Roll before you probably know what I’m talking about.  Don’t build up the bands to think that they’re amazing and will entertain you the whole race.  I don’t know what I would have done without my ipod, which I just turned up as loud as I could tolerate and tried to use the music the best I could.  Several of the bands were on breaks or something when I passed by as well.
  •  I like the medal.  It’s heavy and well made.
  • The food at the end was impressive and appreciated.  There were Snickers Marathon bars, fruit cups, water, Gatorade, bagels, and cute little food boxes with pita chips, hummus, trail mix, and chocolate inside.  There was probably more that I missed because I was so incredibly NOT hungry.
  • Space blankets = greatly appreciated.  Thank you! 
  • The race seemed well organized overall.  The aid stations seemed plentiful although I carried my own water through mile 7 (when it ran out) so I guess I can’t be sure of this, and I got 2 GU’s at mile 8 which I also liked (though the station probably could have been earlier). 
  • The bib is HUMONGOUS (not a fan of this).  We had special bibs because we registered first, but who cares about that?  I would have much rather have had our names on the bibs, I like it when they do that.  
  • There were about a billion photographers on the course and I feel like there must be about 20 different pictures of me.  We'll see when they actually get posted but this is likely a plus. 
And to all my Voodoo Donuts peeps – I’M SO SORRY!  I planned to meet you after the race and I didn’t, and I feel absolutely terrible about that.  I went there and even got in line but it was pouring rain, the line was ridiculously long, and I felt like I wanted to die, with the last thing I wanted to eat being a donut, and so we left.  I’m really really really sorry and I hope to make it up to all of you someday! 

Finally, to everyone else who read this lengthy sob story, I greatly apologize.  I don’t like to write things like this, and I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I do want to tell it how it is.  I guess sometimes runs go bad and sometimes races go bad, and part of being a runner is learning how to deal with them.  Clearly I have a lot to learn.