Saturday, March 17, 2012

Canyonlands Half Marathon 2012 - Moab, Utah

Back in December, on almost a whim, Shane and I entered the lottery for a chance to register for the Canyonlands Half Marathon in Moab, Utah. If you want to read about the day we we were notified we were in, visit my old running blog (click here).

Fast forward March 11, 2012. We arrive in Moab, UT. On the way into town, we drive the half marathon route through Castle Valley, and Shane snaps this picture:

So, as you can see, the race route is SLIGHTLY scenic. It's an absolutely beautiful canyon--probably one of the most beautiful half marathon courses in the world. We had the GPS set to give us altitude, and the course ran around 4,200 ft. There were rolling hills, but nothing too awful. The biggest hill was in mile nine.

The day after we arrived, we did a test run of about 6 miles at an easy run pace. Altitude didn't seem to affect us much (we live at 600 ft.), but it was dry! I easily downed a 16.9 oz bottle of water in no time and was looking for more. The run itself felt great though.

Another two days later, we did our final run--a tempo run at {hopefully} race pace around 8:20. We went out to a bike trail that runs along side of Arches National Park. We did a warm-up mile and then started running. Unfortunately, the path was uphill the whole way. I set one of my GPS fields to elevation, and we climbed about 100 feet in a mile. It was tough going and we did not make race pace. It ended up around 8:29. The second mile ended up the same, but we had a turn-around at the halfway mark. The third mile was all downhill and after the last two miles, 8:15 seemed easy! We did a cool down mile and it crossed my mind that I could do 8:20 if I wasn't running up a hill the whole time. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Fast forward to the morning of March 17, 2012, and the day of the Canyonlands Half Marathon. We wake up around 7:00 a.m. We have to get to the park at the finish line to get on a school bus to be dropped off miles up the the canyon where the race will start at 10:00 p.m. We're wondering what we will do for the two hours between getting dropped off and when the race begins, but we're sure it's a lot of standing around. We catch one of the buses right away, and it's this driver's first load of people. As she keeps driving and driving down the canyon, she is sure she missed a drop off location. Another runner tells her to look for the huge line of porta-potties and she'll know she's there. We arrive, and sure enough, there's a ton of porta-potties. She asks, "you all are going to run back to town from here?" When she put it that way, we did seem a little crazy, but mostly to people who don't run.

So, we wait... {with about 3,500 other runners}

The wind blowing up the canyon was strong. It wouldn't be so chilly if the wind wasn't so strong. We were getting closer to the start time, so they let us head to the starting line area. This is where we had to drop off our gear bags. Anything you don't drop here, you have to run with or discard along the course. I am freezing, so I really want to keep my fleece. There's still 45 minutes until race time. I decide to keep the fleece and get rid of the gloves and hat. BRRR!! I'm cold!

At the top of the hill, there are more porta-potties. Yes, we already went three times this morning--the last time about 20 minutes ago--but we don't pass up an opportunity to go. The wind was so strong that it blew over five of the porta-potties here. I hope no one was in them when it happened. We get lucky and pick a short line that no one has noticed yet. After, we huddle in masses with other runners behind the porta-potties to stay out of the wind and stay warmer. Did I mention the wind was awful?

Around 15 minutes to race time, Shane and I take a warm up jog down the road and back. Ugh. Legs do not feel good. We push through the crowds and scale rocks on the side of the road to try to get closer to the 1:45 pacer. We are going to try to finish in 1:50, but in the back of my mind, I already know this isn't realistic for me today. That warm up jog solidified it for me.

We stand packed in a crowd, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for the start of the race. I feel a little apprehensive, but not totally nervous like I was before my first half last year. I can see the officials up on a platform with the bullhorn, but can't hear them very well. He points the gun up in the air and fires. GO!!

The crowd surges forward. We slowly start walking toward the starting line in one giant mass of people Here we go! No, wait...screeching halt. I run into the person in front of me. I guess we got over anxious. I'm really hoping that we get enough room around us that we can actually be running by the time we cross the starting line. It spaces out a little. I see the starting line coming, and we are doing a slow jog by this time. We cross the starting line, I hit the start button on my GPS. Here we go.... {for real this time}

This is the biggest race I've been in so far, and it's crowded! I knew the first mile would be congested, but this is a little much. Every step I take, I'm trying to make sure I don't step on someone else's heels.

We cross back by the staging area porta-potties and several people peel off the crowd already. Wow, so soon? Kind of funny, but not. I'm trying to keep next to Shane, but we are weaving in and out of people in an attempt to keep our goal pace. This weaving goes on for at least a half of a mile, but opens up a little more with each tenth of a mile or so. The GPS finally rings for mile one.

Mile 1: 8:37 - Our goal pace was 8:20. Nearly impossible to get with such a crowded start.

My mouth is already extremely dry. The wind and dry climate just seems to suck the moisture out of everything. Shane seems to pick up the pace to make up for the first mile. I'm seeing a lot of 8:05 and 8:10 on my GPS. The sun is coming up over the canyon walls and it's immediately HOT! I wish this wasn't one of my favorite fleeces, because I'd ditch it if I could. I wish I would have gone to that thrift store to pick up a disposable jacket. People are stripping off clothes everywhere. One girl tries to throw her sweatshirt to the side of the road and catches someone in the face. She yells sorry. I chuckle.

Mile 2: 8:14 - I thought so. Fast mile. Will we ever settle in to a pace?

There's a waterstop here so I grab a cup and walk a little to try and get every drop down. I can see dehydration happening very easy today. I'm wishing for a running belt with water bottles or a CamelBak today. I'm constantly thirsty. Shane still seems to be pushing the pace on me. I ask him if he is intending to go that fast. The self-doubt in my head is screaming at me, but it's also very realistic. There is no way I can keep this up for 13.1. We're just starting mile three. There's TEN more to go. No way. He says he is intentional, so let him go. I slowly drift back, but he's not too far away. My mouth is so dry, I am so hot, and that wind is just howling up the canyon in our faces. This is going to be tough.

Mile 3: 8:31 - Ran close to goal pace on this one, but the water stop added some time.

Shane is getting some distance ahead now. I can still see him. I am wishing I had my iPod right about now. It's a beautiful canyon, but the view is slowly changing and similar in a lot of places. This is far different from running a race in an urban setting where every corner has a new view, a new look. I'm not complaining, it just seems that time moves much slower in the canyon for some reason. I watch for patches of shade and run to the side of the road to get some relief from the desert sun on my dark hair. It's nice in the shade. When I'm not in the shade, I'm watching for the next bit of shade around a corner.
Mile 4: 8:36 - Slowing down a bit, and that's okay with me.

Another waterstop--YAY! I walk through it. I take one cup and drink it all. Then I grab another, half goes in my mouth, the other half on my head. I'm so thirsty! I'm sure this will probably last through the whole race no matter how much I drink. I'll make sure I drink two at each waterstop. The next few miles blend together. I am alone in my thoughts and my struggle to keep some semblances of a decent pace. At times, I'm struggling to even keep up with my normal "easy" pace for a long run. Here are the next few splits:

Mile 5: 9:00 - Yikes!

Mile 6: 9:14 - Getting worse!

Mile 7: 9:21 - Oh, man. Seriously?

Mile 8: 9:31 - Yep, this is my long run "easy"pace right here.

Mile 9: 9:16 - A little better than the last.

Mile nine is here...along with the infamous mile nine hill. This is the hill we watched the elevation rise on the way in. For some reason, looming off in the distance, it looks so much worse today. I remember thinking, that doesn't look so bad while we were driving it. For the last mile, my body has been pleading with my mind to walk a bit. Just for a little while. My brain argues back--if I stop, I may never start running again. That would make for an awfully long day. There's still five miles to go.

I make a deal with myself. If you keep running the whole time, except for waterstops, you can walk through the mile nine hill....BUT you have to start running again as soon as you hit the top. It's a deal! I'll take it! I press on to the hill.

As I get closer, I see lots of people walking it. I don't feel so bad. I'm so anxious to walk, I'm seriously craving it. I'm willing to bet that I am speeding up right now just to get to the hill to walk. I reach the bottom of the hill and start walking. My desire is to do a strolling pace, but I know I have to keep it to a fast walk so my time doesn't get ridiculous. I may not be on target to get a 1:50 starting corral at Chicago, but I still have a PR and a finishing time under two hours to consider. Right now, I'm still on a decent enough pace to do both. The walking feels great {kind of}, but the crown of the hill is coming soon. Oh well, here we go. I mentally will my legs to get moving again, and after a short protest, they comply.

Down, down, down we go! At the bottom of the hill, we complete mile 10. Only THREE and some change left to go!!

Mile 10 - 9:53. To be expected with the walking.

My overall time so far is at 1:30:14 according to my GPS. This means I have a little less than 30 minutes to finish 3.1 miles. A little under 10 minute per mile pace. I can do this! I think I can? Right?

Well, hello there voice of self-doubt. It's been a while since you've reared your ugly head. For the past six to nine months, my long run pace has been around 9:40. Of course I can do this! Shut up, voice!

Around this time, I see the foot/bike bridge across the Colorado, and I know we are getting close to town! {An after-thought: the sight of this bridge played a cruel trick on my mind. While it represented being close to the main highway that goes through town, there's still three miles left to run! It made my mind think the race was close to being over. Not even. Little did I know, the toughest mile was still in front of me.}

We run through one of the lowest points in the race as we leave the main road and get on the bike path that goes under the highway. As we head up the other side, my GPS rings out another mile done.

Mile 11: 9:17 (total time, 1:39:31). Not too bad. At this point, I'll take anything under 9:30. It's keeping me on pace for finishing under two hours.

This is where I begin the toughest mile of the course. Not only are we running up a decent incline for the next mile, the wind is roaring straight in our faces, and sand, dust and grit from the sides of the road are coming with it. We're also running next to traffic and totally exposed to the sun and heat. It's getting close to noon now, and the high sun is just cooking me on top of it all. I'm miserable. Totally miserable. I want to stop. I want to be done. This is not fun. Who the hell thought this would be fun?!! Big dummy!

I trudge through the mile, hating every step. I will my mind to focus on the finish line instead of the conditions and how I feel. I run past a guy who had enough--he's being helped by a course marshall along the side of the road. He's asking his name and where he's from. I don't think this guy is going to finish. I sympathize with him. He's made it so far, so close to the end to stop now. He looks in pain though. I keep going. And I keep reminding myself that I have to keep going. There's no option to stop yet.

Mile 12: 9:35 (total time, 1:49:06). That sucked.

Just a little over a mile to go. We turn off the main street and there is a waterstop. I take some Gatorade, but move quickly because I'm getting short on time. {Ugh, warm Gatorade. Gross. Should have stuck to water. Blah!} I only have about ten minutes left, and I know I'm going to have to cover more than 1.1 in that amount of time. Usually the race gets a little longer according to the watch, because I'm not running a perfect straight line route, especially with all that weaving back and forth in the beginning of the race. It's amazing {not in a good way} because I literally feel like I'm pushing hard and when I glance down, my watch is always over 9:00 for pace. I'm just drained!

More people are lining the course now. Cheering, supporting, clapping. It helps a little. I'm thinking of Jocelyn and seeing her at the finish line. The people are yelling things like: "Not too much further! It's just around the corner!" I turn the corner. It's there. Seemingly WAY off in the distance. My watch rings out.

Mile 13: 9:27 (total time, 1:58:33).

I've got less than a minute and a half to get to that finish line! It seems so far away! Will I make it under two hours? I lengthen my stride and pull on every ounce of energy I have left in my body. I start to pass some people. Believe it or not, it's still very crowded.

I'm getting closer. I can read the clock above the finish line. It's already over two hours. I hear my name in the crowd and look over to see Shane's mom cheering for me as I go by. Shortly after, I cross the finish line!

Final GPS time: 1:59:44 - I made it. By 16 seconds. Final 0.16 mile pace was 7:35. I still had something left. I don't know how.'ve never been so happy to finish a race before! I immediately see Shane waiting for me and we hug. I feel like I'm about to break down and cry. I could have just fallen to the ground in a heaping, crying mess if I didn't fight it. For those of you who know me, I don't cry much. When I do, I'm either very hurt, very sad or very pissed off. However you look at it, it's not a good thing when I'm crying. I think this time, they might have been tears of relief though.

I find out later, that the gun time is the official time for this race, which pretty much means I tied my race time from last year (2:01:01 is showing on the clock in the picture above). However, my timing chip time matches my GPS time--so I'm going with that! Since it took us over a minute to even start the race, I don't think that it's fair to count the time it took to get going through a crowd of people. So I have a new PR of 1:59:44 for a half marathon.

Post-race thoughts: I'm glad I did this race. I loved the experience. I don't know if I'll do it again, but maybe--and I'll be more prepared mentally next time. This one was tough! I didn't realize how much climate change and altitude would affect me, but I know it made it much harder. I had originally thought I could do three half marathons in three different states in three different months--I don't know now. I still don't know if I'm recovered from this one, and the next one is a little over a week away. I don't think I will ever "race" a half marathon that is not in my home state or close to home. It's just too hard of an adjustment. I just want to enjoy the experience of running in a new place, not curse the fact that I'm running.

I'm not sure this was the best way to start a running season, but we shall see where this year takes me. I'm ready for it!! How about you? Here's to great races! =)

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