Sunday, October 3, 2010

Half of Nothing, 100% Race

I have to admit that I stole the title of this blog from The Gifted Runner but it's so true!

I ran the Heritage Half Marathon today in Gainesville, VA. The weather was perfect: low 50's with a 7:00am start so the sun didn't get too high in the sky. Many of my critics tell me that I am too obsessed with the weather, but I know that in my case I cannot come close to performing at my peak when it's hot and sunny.

I had originally been registered for the Wilson Bridge half marathon two weeks ago, but I opted out of it a few days prior because my legs hadn't fully recovered from the 10K. I didn't think it would take me so long to recover from a 10K, but the hills were very, very steep and I really flew on the downhills-- murdering my quads. So I watched my husband run the Wilson Bridge half and decided to do a half two weeks later, which was today!

Training has been going well. The week after the 10K, I logged only 37 miles because of the recovery. But then the following week, I logged 58 miles, including some intervals on the track and an 18-mile long run.

The day before the race I drove the course and was surprised at how hilly it was. I had used Map My Run to take a look at the elevation and it didn't seem like the hills would be too steep. But when I drove the course, I realized that the entire course was made up of constant rolling hills, some of which were steep, and most of which were long. I didn't let it bother me, though. I had been doing a lot of running on hills so I figured I could handle it.

My strategy was to run an even effort. This meant I would have to really push on the downhills and not over-exert myself on the uphills. The result was that my pace was all over the place. It seemed like most runners were running an even pace, so there were a few that I kept "leap frogging" with. They would pass me on the uphills, and I would pass them on the downhills. I thought that even effort was the best approach so that I could get into a "groove" of an effort level and just maintain. I also thought that negative splits would be a good approach, given that the first half was a net uphill and the second half was a net down.

A graphical illustration of my race is below. The blue represents my pace. Constantly speeding up and slowing down. And yet I was putting out a fairly even effort. The green represents the elevation. Notice that huge hill for the entire last mile. Not fun!

Click here for a larger image.

Miles 1- 4
The first mile was a huge downhill, so I really gunned it. I knew that it would mean an uphill in the last mile (the course was out-and-back) so I knew I had to "bank" some speed. The first mile was 7:30. Miles 2, 3 and 4 were a net uphill. There was a lot of up-and-down, but it was a net uphill, so those miles were slower. I took my honey energy gel earlier than planned at mile marker 3. This is because there was a small period of relatively flat ground and I didn't want to have to be taking honey while trying to push on a downhill, or while I was trying to focus plowing up a hill.

Mile 1: 7:30
Mile 2: 7:57
Mile 3: 8:02
Mile 4: 7:59

Miles 5-9
These miles were run on a bike path on the side of the road. Runners were going in both directions (out and back) so it was a little crowded, but I still managed. The last few miles had been slower than my goal pace, but I was completely fine with that because I knew there had been more ups than downs. I also remembered from the elevation profile that the first half had a net uphill, and that negative splits were the way to go.

The worst part was when we turned off of the bike path into this park. The park was crazy hilly and just as you think you're about to exit, there's a course Marshall telling you to run up this really steep hill (steepest hill of the race) and then back down. I thought to myself "why make us do this stupid hill" but then I realized they needed to add more mileage in the park because the turn around had to be before a major intersection.

I took my other honey gel at mile 9.

Mile 5: 7:40
Mile 6: 7:43
Mile 7: 8:05
Mile 8: 7:39
Mile 9: 7:55

Mile 10-Finish
Since miles 2-4 had been slow, I knew I was in for some downhill time before that last final climb. The sun was starting to really shine on me, so I told myself to run faster to "beat" the sun. I wanted to finish before the sun started to bake me and affect my time. Maybe I am crazy, but I feel the sun on me in a race and it just seems to zap energy away. I gave it all I had on the downhills. I was feeling tired, but not as bad as I have felt in many of my previous halfs. In fact, I was surprised at how strong I felt so late in the game.

Mile 10: 7:44
Mile 11: 7:49
Mile 12: 7:42
Mile 13: 8:05

My official time was 1:41:40, which is an average pace of 7:46. My Garmin showed that the race was 0.1 too short, and that my actual pace was a 7:51. However, my Garmin typically makes me run longer than the actual distance (at least based on the W&OD trail mile markers) and this race is a USATF Sanctioned course. Plus, all of my other PRs are on "long" courses, so I am going to take this one at face value- 1:41:40. It was really easy to run the tangents here because most of it was on a bike path, and there wasn't much choice.

I won an age group award! Third place!

Age Group Award

I placed 20 out of 181 women.
I placed 3 out of 36 in my age group.

This is a PR by 2:24. The previous PR was from Shamrock in 2009- a pancake-flat course, also in ideal conditions.

I am very happy with my race today, and I think it really reflects all the running outdoors I have been doing since I moved into my new house last spring. I used to run most of my runs on the treadmill because I had no safe place to go in the mornings. But now I run outside all the time (I don't even have a gym membership or a treadmill), typically with my husband.

Up next: The Army 10-miler


  1. Huge congrats, Elizabeth. You ran a wonderful race and woohoo on the award! How exciting. I also love, love, love how it's no longer Greg, but "my husband". That is the coolest thing. :-) Here's to more speedy races and awards from here on in!

  2. Awesome job Elizabeth! I agree with you on running an even effort rather than an even pace on a hilly course. In fact I almost advocate reducing your effort on the hardest hills, because usually that gives you the opportunity to go all out on the downhills so long as your core strength is there and you aren't a heel striker.

    Congrats on placing in your age group! Isn't it a great feeling?