Sunday, May 29, 2016

Race Review: The Oregon Spring Half Marathon

Yesterday morning, I completed my third half marathon race in a 49 day time-frame, a feat which qualified me to be an official "Half Fanatic".

My phone says, "I just qualified for Half Fanatics".

The Oregon Spring Half is part of the Überthons race series which consists of a race for every season. As I had been checking out potential races to run, the Spring event attracted my attention because the course is very flat, with the exception of one 75-ft hill leading into the town of St. Paul. It looked to me like a PR (personal record) kind of course, and once I realized it would qualify me for HF, I knew I had to do it.

One of my running friends (Kim) and I carpooled together, and arrived at Heirloom Roses, the start/finish point of the race, right around 6:30; in plenty of time to prepare for the early 7:30 start time. The 48-degree morning air felt a tad cool at first, but that cool temp, combined with a mix of broken overcast, made for nearly ideal racing weather. Kim knew a lot of the Uberthon & Half Fanatic regulars, so we met up near the start line for a quick greeting and photo op.

The Half Fanatics contingent.
This was my first race where the organizers had "pacing groups" set at various intervals, and I have to say that it was really quite helpful for ensuring a smooth start. Runners could line up at the start according to their expected finish time, and not have to worry too much about being surround by a bunch of faster runners passing right away, or getting stuck behind a wall of 4-wide runners going a lot slower than you. It also helped during the race, as I was able to keep the 2:00:00 pace group in sight at the beginning and know that I was in the right spot (I also had my watch, of course).

The course started with a short out-and-back to the right, before looping back and heading south towards the town of St. Paul, where it looped around and headed back to Heirloom Roses. The setting was gorgeous, and exactly my kind of course -- back roads meandering through farmland. As promised, the course was very flat, except for the hill. Thanks to my continued training on hills, combined with this hill's placement at 6-miles in, it was really no challenge at all; and after we looped around St. Paul and came back the other way, it was the perfect boost at mile 10 to get you pumped up for the last 5K of the race.

I had taken my energy chews at 8.5 miles into the race, which I had done during the Goat Mountain Gallop, and the result was great, once again. I had good running mojo all the way to the finish, and most importantly, I never had a nauseous feeling at any time during the waning moments of the race. In fact, the last mile was my fastest of the race -- that is the first time this has ever happened! 

The finish line was at the end of a beautiful rose tunnel, but to be honest, I didn't have time to stop and smell the roses at that point, or even look at them; I just wanted to be done! The end result was that I crushed my old PR by more than 3 minutes. New PR for 13.1 miles: 2:03:21

Rose tunnel and finish line.
After crossing the finish line, I collected my participation medal and a bottle of water, and cooled off, stretched, etc. The medal was nice and hefty, with a nice image of Crater Lake on it, and produced in the form of a belt buckle, as those who complete all four seasonal Oregon Half's will get a belt to put them on. As I was walking around to cool off, I ran into some people from the HF group whom I'd met before the race, and it was nice to be able to congratulate each other at the end.

Oregon Spring Half Swag
Once Kim and I had checked our race results and taken a few post-race photos, we headed for the food. I love it when races have generous portions of food available for racers, because running 13.1 miles makes you a little hungry! For this event, the food was catered by Qdoba Mexican Grill, and it was excellent -- lots of grilled chicken, beans, rice, tortillas, veggies, and sauces; and all with great flavor. Definitely the most satisfying post-race food I've had.

This was my first Überthons race, but I can guarantee that it won't be my last. This was the best supported race event that I've been to -- even better than the RunWithPaula events I've done. The course was well marked, and the volunteers along the course were always cheerful and supportive. I really want to do the Oregon Fall Half, as it runs right through the back-country neighborhood where I grew up, but I may have to try and work the Summer Half in there, too -- this event was just that good.

That concludes one of the better days I've had in a long time. I crushed a PR, qualified for Half Fanatics, and ran my very first Überthons race -- and I met some good people in the process. #alldaylong #specialkindofcrazy #22kmbefore10am

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Volcano Valley Action Shots

Gordon with GCC Photography is the official photographer for many of, if not all of, the Run With Paula race events; and I have to say that his quality is the best of all the race photographers I have encountered thus far. His photos aren't free, but he does offer an inexpensive, lower resolution, download option. 

So here are this years photos... I actually saw him this year and was able to smile! The one at mile 12 is a faked smile...

About 3.5 miles in and still feeling good.
Mile 12 -- barely keeping one foot in front of the other, but looking
 better than last year's photo!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Volcano Valley Half Marathon: Be Careful What You Wish For

In my last post, I talked about the value of taking on challenges. Well, be careful what you wish for. 

Yesterday I ran my second half marathon in three weeks, the Volcano Valley, as part of my plan to run a total of three within a two month span, which will qualify me to be a Half Fanatic. The Volcano was supposed to be the easiest of the three, with very little elevation change and half of the course meandering through shaded overgrowth, but I had to go and talk about wanting a good challenge.

Ten days before the Volcano, my 10 year old daughter tested positive for strep throat; and the next day, my wife started to get a sore throat. Two days later, as I was out on my last long run before the race, I got a dry, scratchy feeling in my throat as the run progressed. This was not good.

During the following week, my scratchy throat evolved into full blown upper respiratory congestion, and by Thursday I was wondering if I would even be able to run the race at all. I quickly consulted with all of my different running circles, and the common theme was essentially, "If it's in your chest, you need to rest". The race director even offered to switch me to the 10K or 5K event if needed, but I was only going there if absolutely necessary.

Things felt somewhat better by Friday afternoon, with all of the nasty stuff leaving my lungs and taking up residence in my sinuses. I decided to go out for a slow-paced 3.3-mile test run Saturday morning, and was pleased to find that, while my sinuses burned like jalapeno in the eye, my lungs were fully capable of handling a run. I didn't know what kind of mileage they were good for, but I felt I could at least finish the 13.1 if I just took it easy.

I'm not so good with selfies.
The end result? I finished the Volcano Valley half marathon, turning in my second best time of the five races I've done at this distance. I felt marginally better Sunday morning, with less burning in my nasal passages, which was a good sign. Before I left for the race, I kissed my wife "good-bye", and she said, "Go get your PR". From then on, I couldn't get that out of my head. I kept telling myself, "You're still sick. Just be happy to finish. You don't need to PR".

The weather was perfect for a road race -- about 49 degrees as I set out at 6:15 AM, with clear skies and a projected high right around 80 degrees. During the hour or so that I waited at Willamette Mission State Park for the race to start, that phrase kept popping into my head, "go get your PR"; and it never left my head, even as the race started. 

I started out following my original plan of taking it easy, finishing the first mile at about 30 seconds per mile behind my normal half marathon pace. I had planned to try and keep "negative splits" throughout the race, so with each successive mile, I gradually picked up my pace. After completing one full lap of the double-loop course, my RunKeeper app updated in my ear with a cumulative pace that seemed to be within reach of my record, but I would need to kick it into another gear; and at that time, I was feeling good. I blew my nose one more time, popped an energy supplement, and stepped up the pace.

All went well along the back stretch as I encountered a short downhill section, and my fastest one-mile pace came from mile 9 to 10, and the next mile wasn't too far off, but right about 11.5 miles in, I hit the wall. My fingertips were starting to tingle, a sure sign that my oxygen supply wasn't keeping up with my pace; and I started to feel nauseous, possibly because I took the energy block too early. But mostly because my body was still recovering from the illness, and was pushing back. I had wanted a strong finish, but it just wasn't going to happen. I need to be happy with knowing that despite my upper respiratory ailments, I was still able to finish with my second fastest race time ever. 

Despite the course change, it was technically my first repeat race.

I definitely didn't ask for this challenge, and really don't want to have to face it again, but it is good to know that the mind is stronger than the body... even if the body does give some resistance of its own. Next challenge on the list: The Oregon Spring Half Marathon.