Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Race Report: Run Wine Country Healdsburg Half Marathon

    Garmin: 13.16 miles / 1:38:54 / 7:30 pace
    Official: 13.1 miles / 1:38:52 / 7:33 pace

    Overall: 66/1156
    Women: 13/889
    (LOTS of speedy women not in my age group out today!)
    A/G: 2/121

I have enough interesting stuff to say about this race that I'm just going to say it all up front. Scroll down for logistical details (cuz you know I've got you covered like that). ;)

The Race:

You know those inspirational team sports movies that start out with the team sucking and with all manner of dysfunction, & then after some amount of wacky shenanigans & heartfelt bonding experiences & a rousing speech or two from the coach, they rally together & win the big game against all odds? This race was kind of like that, with all my different muscles & joints & things as the players & my brain as the coach. As of Saturday night, any number of my critical running parts still weren't talking to each other, and I was feeling pretty nervous about how things were going to go. I was scheduled to do a few shake out miles on Saturday morning, but what with the state things I didn't dare. I just packed up the car, did some easy stretching, & left.

I got to the expo around 4 & grabbed my stuff, which was a breeze. After that I killed some time at the 3rd Street Fleet Feet & talked shoes with Mark, then walked over to meet Cathryn & her family at LoCoco's for pasta. It was so great to finally meet her! They are all lovely & we had a wonderful meal & a little wine (um, hello, Run Wine Country), then headed back to our respective hotels for an early bed time. (Er....mine did not end up being so early. :P )

Given the tenuous nature of my lower extremities, I'd brought two pairs of shoes--my Newtons, which I prefer for racing, & my Brooks Adrenalines, which I wear for long runs & when my legs & feet are feeling weak & I don't trust them to get it done with less shoe than that. I figured I'd warm up in the Newtons & see how I felt, & if I still wasn't feeling comfortable I'd race in the Adrenalines. The next morning before I started jogging, I mentally gathered the troops & gave them a little pep talk.

"Alright, guys," I told them, "we've been working hard for the last few weeks. I know you can do this. I know you can run a strong race. I'm not asking for a PR, just a solid effort that doesn't leave me writhing in pain afterward." And then they all gave each other the awkward, painfully earnest look that dysfunctional teams give each other at that point in the narrative arc, put all all their hands in the middle, & yelled, "Goooooooo TEAM ANGELA!!!"

I would not say that warming up is a bellwether because I have had sucky warm-ups that preceded PRs & AG places. But I've never had a really good-feeling warm-up & then a disastrous race, so I took it as a good sign that I felt "in phase" as I jogged around the start area, with everything working together & cooperating the way it's supposed to.

Since I'm right in the middle of marathon training & wasn't really thinking of this one as an "A" race, I was never intending to go 110% all-out the way I did at Windsor Green in May, but I still wanted to push hard & race--say, maybe 90% effort. I've been running enough halfs lately that my body has started to learn what the right effort level is at different points in the race, so for the most part I wanted to just go by that & see what happened. If nothing else, it would give me an idea of roughly what kind of shape I was in & an updated benchmark I could use for the rest of my marathon training. The nice thing about this was that I really didn't feel any pressure to run a certain time or finish in a certain place--I just wanted to run a strong race & finish feeling good.

I'd left my phone in my car so didn't have a great way of finding Cathryn & Jen, but I'd seen Cathryn's bright orange top & figured I might spot it if I milled around long enough. A few minutes before the gun I headed towards the start & spotted both of them, & I was glad I got at least a little time to say hi & chat some before we were off.

The rest of this race report has a theme and it is called THINGS THAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM RACING HALF MARATHONS:

  • I have definitely learned that my effort-o-meter takes a couple of miles to calibrate, and this can result in seeing paces on my watch in the first half mile that are realistically 30 seconds too fast & going "I feel GREAT!" Then a couple of miles later I no longer feel so great.
      Mile 1 - 7:46
      Mile 2 - 7:34

  • I have learned to let go--really let go--of the idea that averaging a given pace means I should be sticking close to that pace at every single moment or even every single mile. I have learned to embrace a pace in the early miles that is 15-20 seconds slower than I want to average, even though at that point it feels two minutes too slow, and that I will thank myself later for showing restraint.
      Mile 3 - 7:46
      Mile 4 - 7:46

    Mile 4-5ish, maybe? You can tell two things from this picture: 1) I clearly still land on the absolute outside edge of my left foot, and 2) running is SRSBZNS.
  • I have learned that (when I am in race shape), it takes me 6-8 miles to feel good. I think part of this is psychological, because before then there is still so much race left and I'm dealing with the mental burden of trying to monitor my body & manage my pace / race strategy, which takes a lot of energy & focus on top of what I'm already expending just to run. By mile 5, I was cautiously optimistic & pretty sure I was going to have at worst a solid low 1:40's race. Then right on schedule, I hit mile 7, took stock, and concluded that, yes, I'd made the shift from feeling pretty good to feeling FABULOUS.
      Mile 5 - 7:42
      Mile 6 - 7:36
      Mile 7 - 7:38

  • I've learned to trust my Garmin & my rational brain for the first part of the race, and to trust my body and my primal, intuitive "runner brain" for the second part. At what point in the race I trust the body/runner brain to take over & finish the job has gradually been shifting earlier & earlier as I get more comfortable & experienced at the distance. It used to be that I kept things tightly in check until around mile 10, and at that point whatever I had left was what I had left. In Healdsburg, the runner brain started badgering me around mile 7. "I got this," she kept whispering. "Please let me do it? I can do it. I got it." "Are you sure?" I probed. "There's a lot of race left still." "Trust me. I got it." So at that point I let go of all strategy & pacing & just let that part of my brain & body take the reins & run the rest of the race completely by feel.

    Which was scary. Very occasionally (seriously, like once a mile), I'd glance down at my watch & nearly choke at the numbers I was seeing. "Are you sure we can do this??" I'd demand. "Yep," replied runner brain, unphased. "Like, really, really sure?" "Yep." I had to admit that I still felt great, just cruising right along, not even pushing.

      Mile 8 - 7:18
      Mile 9 - 7:18

  • I've learned that if you want to run races with hills, any kinds of hills, and not trash your legs and/or blow up at mile ten and/or watch your pace drop by 30 seconds per mile every time you head upwards, you can't ignore strength work for hamstrings & glutes. Just running is not enough. I don't even think it matters what you do, as long as you do something and with some kind of consistency.

    I wouldn't say this was a hilly course the way that SFM or Nike Women's are hilly, but it was pretty much short, not-insignificant rollers the whole way. They did not let up. I was fine with it for the first 3/4 or so of the race, but in those last few miles, that was the one spot of discomfort I suffered. Every time I went up a hill I could feel myself ascending them slower and slower, gradually shredding my hamstrings & glutes. Around 10.5ish I started to feel my previously strained right hamstring muttering a little, but it hung in there. Let me tell you, if there is an MVP in this race, it's those hill running muscles. They are not in anything like peak condition but BOY did they show up & hang in there. As tough as it was on them, they were troopers the whole way.

      Mile 10 - 7:32

  • I've learned that half marathons are made & broken in the last 5K. At that point there is no hiding or lying or bargaining; if your training has been half-assed or your fitness had declined some, that's where the bear will be waiting. In Santa Rosa, my first 10 miles were in 1:17:13 & my last 5K was in 27:39. In Healdsburg, those numbers were 1:15:58 and 22:54. So you can see where the difference in my fitness showed up.
      Mile 11 - 7:21
      Mile 12 - 7:24
      Mile 13 - 7:08
      .16 - 1:01 (6:11 pace)

    Also, please witness the absurdity that is me crossing the finish line:


    This is my new favorite race picture of all time. EVER.

    And now a somewhat more normal(ish?)-looking picture from maybe half a second later:

    If it looks like I am frantically trying to stop in that picture, it's because I am. It turns out that sprinting all-out to the finish presents certain logistical difficulties when you suddenly realize that you're not just going downhill but really downhill and the finish chute is rather on the short size. Now I know what it's like to try to land a 747 on a runway meant for a prop plane. Sorry, volunteer girl...It's not like you didn't see me coming.

    This half was superlative in a few ways:

      1) It was the fastest one I've ever run.

      2) Mentally, it went by faster than any other. At just about every mile marker after five, I was like, "Really? Already?"

      3) It was the easiest / most physically pleasant I've ever run. Really. I didn't push on this one at all until maybe the last half mile, and even then I wasn't all-out sprinting until I could see the finish. At mile eight I just turned the runner brain loose & let myself run as fast as felt comfortable & cruised all the way to the end. This is the only half I can remember (other than Santa Rosa, because I jogged the last few miles easy) where at mile 11 I wasn't thinking "Dear Jesus, just freaking kill me now & get it over with." I wanted to be done, but mostly because I knew I was going to have a good time & I was excited to see what it would be.

    Afterward I found Cathryn, who set a five-minute PR and also met her sub-2:00 goal, so WOO-HOO!!! We both agreed that it had been a great course (if a little roley-poley), great weather, & just a great race all around.

    Me & Cathryn & her little dude. :)

    I didn't get to see Jen again because of some drama with my car (irrelevant & moot), but Cathryn said she'd also had a great race & run just barely over 2:00, also a PR. She is soooo close to sub-2:00!! It's seriously going to happen for her any day now.

    I was so excited about the overall quality of my race & the fact that it was over a 1:00 PR that I almost forgot to check to see if I'd gotten an A/G award. So that was a nice little cherry on top. Huzzah for races small enough that 1:3x is good enough to place & let me feel like an elite for a day. :)

    Oh, except for this:

    Really, Healdsburg??? At Windsor Green I was 3rd & got a bottle of real, honest-to-gods Chardonnay. Last I checked, you were part of the "Run WINE Country" series, not the "Run FANCY GRAPE JUICE Country" series. Just sayin'.

    Now, in case you are getting the idea that this race was a cake walk and I didn't pay for it, let me leave you with a few images:

    So you can imagine how pleasant the second half of this race was from the ankles down. Also, I have some serious, SERIOUS pain in my left Achilles tendon. I didn't feel it while I was running, but after about an hour I couldn't put weight on my left leg anymore. It's a little better now, but I'm still limping.


    run wine country healdsburg half marathonLocation: Healdsburg, CA

    Date: Mid-October (Oct 14, 2012 this year).

    It's important to note that there are two half marathons in Healdsburg in October that get referred to as the "Healdsburg Half Marathon." This one is put on by the group Run Wine Country & generally happens in mid-October. The other one, whose official title is Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon, is put on by Destination Races & usually happens on the Saturday before Halloween & has kind of a costume theme. I have heard lots of great things about the other one & went back & forth between which one to run, but in the end I went with the Run Wine Country one because it's significantly cheaper. (Also, if I end up doing something fun & Halloween-ey on Friday the 26th, I didn't want to regret having signed up for an out-of-town race the next day.)


    * Before 6/1: Half/$65, Full/$75
    * Before 8/1: Half/$75, Full/$90
    * Before 10/1: Half/$85, Full/$100
    * After 10/1: Half/$95, Full/$120

    Plus they do the discounted price if you register in a group of 4. (Maybe ~15% off or something like that. A group of us did it for Windsor Green.)

    Deadlines/sellout factor: I don't know if it ended up selling out or not, but the week before the race there were only 30 spots. (The web site did a good job of updating how full the race was & how many spots were left during the months & weeks leading up to the race.)

    Field Size: 201 in the marathon, 1156 in the half

    The Expo:

    The expo was at Kendall Jackson Wine Center just north of Santa Rosa. The winery was under construction so the expo was outdoors from 1 - 5pm, which was really nice given the fantastic weather.

    When I arrived at 4, there were maybe 100 people or so. I found the bib table pretty quickly & only had to wait behind maybe 3 people to get my bib, then walked right up to the T-shirt table. So yay for super speedy packet pickup! There were a few other tents set up (sunglasses, running clothes, race logo merch, HonesTea, bottles/foam rollers/headbands/etc.). I wandered around for a little while to see if there was anything else I couldn't live without, but the selection wasn't enormous so I was out of there by maybe 4:30ish.

    The Course:

    The half marathon course is a loop that more or less follows mainly Dry Creek Road & W. Dry Creek Road, with the marathon making two loops. In generally, I'd say it was a really nice course -- all on paved roads (in most places they had one lane blocked off for us), weaving through pretty fall foliage. Like I said before, there were no terribly long or steep hills, but the short rollers were non-stop. It was only even kind of an issue for me because I hadn't been able to find an elevation profile anywhere & other than what Jen gleaned from Google street view & shared with Cathryn & me, I really had no idea what to expect, & by mile 10 they were mentally starting to wear on me a bit. Totally manageable, though.

    I would call the course "partially shaded" as far as that goes, but it ended up being a moot point. Between the 7:00 am start & the early-morning mist / fog, the weather & temperature was just about perfect. (I especially appreciated this given that Healdsburg was supposed to reach the upper seventies that afternoon.)

    I carried my own bottle this time so I didn't pay too much attention to the aid stations. From the web site:

    Half Marathon Aid Stations:

    Mile 3.1 water
    Mile 5.8 water - Gatorade
    Mile 8.7 water - Gatorade - Accel Gel
    Mile 10.35 water - Gatorade - Accel Gel - cola - pretzels
    Mile 12.1 water - Gatorade - Accel Gel - cola


    Packet pickup was quick & efficient, and HUZZAH for no plastic bag full of coupons & samples that are just going to get thrown out.

    Parking was pretty easy since the race was so small. After a harrowing experience at Kaiser Permanente one year (I literally heaved my bag into the sweat check truck as it was pulling away), I am always nervous about parking so I arrived about an hour early to be sure I could snag a spot in the public lot I'd scoped out maybe 100 yards from the start.

    Port-a-potties were plentiful, & the lines didn't get very long until maybe 6:50ish, and even then I think I waited maybe five minutes. (At 6:15-6:30ish, you could walk right up.)

    One of the most glorious race day sights!

    Setting up the finish line.


    Logo tech shirt & finisher medal, plus a sweet logo wine glass:

    The shirt looks kind of dark purple in this picture, especially next to the lighter purple, but it's actually black.

    I've already mentioned the wine (or non-wine?!?) for the age group awards, plus I think there were some boxes of free samples (not wine) sitting out for people to take if they wanted. I guess this takes the place of the usual plastic goodie bag. (I approve.) Plus a wine tasting after & hot food, though, as usual, I did not partake.


    To be honest, I'm having a hard time coming up with any. Great course. Great expo. Really well organized. Great volunteers. (When I was locked out of my car with no phone or wallet, one of the volunteers gave me a long sleeve shirt so I didn't freeze to death & let me use her phone to call AAA. I tried to pay her for it since I obviously wasn't going to give it back, but she wouldn't let me. So yeah. AWESOME volunteers.) Nice course. Sweet awards. Very reasonably priced. What more can you ask for?

    (Though I would prefer some real wine for my trouble, plzthnx.)

    Overall Assessment:

    See above. I had a GREAT time at both this race & Windsor Green, & I'm really sorry that I was out of town for Water to Wine (the 2nd race in the 3-race series), not only because of the sweet bonus bottle of wine you get for running all three, but just because the other two were so well done. I would definitely consider running any of these races again.


    1. I ran that race last year and absolutely loved it -- but I couldn't get anyone to do it with me (my friends seemed more interested in NWM). From the sounds of it, maybe next year I should try to hit all three. Congrats on the PR and the well run race. That is all very cool!

    2. I KNEW IT!!!!! Congratulations speedy lady!!! What an awesome race! I am so proud of you. I knew that you could do it and you crushed it. Woohoo!

    3. Great race! Sounds like you are really running well out there - if you set a PR and really didn't race 100% all out!

      My favorite part of the recap: "Goooooooo TEAM ANGELA!!!" lol

      And wow, you really do land out the extreme outside edge of your shoe. Another runner that I know that lands like this is this blog:

      Landing like that must be fine for you, since you seem to have minimal or no injuries.

      The course sounded awesome, eventually I hope to do that race, sounds like a fun one!

    4. SO much more fun to race with you and Jen than by myself - even if we lost you in the first heartbeat!! Congrats again on your PR! I can't think of much I'd improve either about the race - even the race photos turned out well and are pretty cheap, relatively speaking. See you soon!

    5. Congrats again! That's incredibly weird about the "dealcoholized wine." What in the world?? Anyway, it was so great to meet you - hope to see you at CIM!

    6. I am so totally impressed by your performance! I may have even squealed when I saw the splits and the 'assessment' comparing Santa Rosa to this one :) Way to go!!!!! Giving you an awesome cyber hug and high-five right now!

    7. Nice work with the PR! I have seen this race listed and have been curious about it. Thanks for such a thorough review. Hope your feet heal up soon.

      Congrats to you!

    8. Congratulations!! Even though we were time twins, it sounds like your race was SO much more enjoyable, and I'm jealous! I definitely need to work on my hill running muscles.

    9. Awesome job!! That is a phenomenal time and to do it feeling great is huge. Faster times yet for you :) Owww!! to your heels :(

    10. Thank god I found your blog! I was looking at the Healdsburg half scratching my head all "I thought this was an out an back race? Why are there shuttles?!" This post cleared up some serious confusion ;) Thanks!

      And congratulations on your amazing PR. I don't think I could run that fast in my dreams, so cheers to you!