Training on the road is always a challenge. It's no big deal to whip out a couple of 5-6 milers when I'm not really training earnestly for something, but right now I am deep in the thicket of goal marathon training, which can often mean trying to squeeze multiple double-digit runs into a trip if I'm going to stick to my plan.
It can be extra challenging because if I'm traveling, almost by definition there is something going on that has to take priority over running, whether it's work or family events or what have you. Obviously there is a financial limit to how many weekends I am willing to pay for "races" where I'm not actually planning to race, but I don't have a lot of great options for long runs when visiting my family and I've really been trying to give it my all this cycle.
Since my long run this week was only 15 miles, I decided to look for a nearby half marathon on the weekend I was in town for my sister's wedding. And, I was in luck! We usually stay in Hurst (in between Ft. Worth and Dallas but slightly closer to Fort Worth), and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society had a small charity event scheduled for Sunday morning in Trinity Park, just 20 minutes from our hotel. There was a 10K, a half-marathon, and a 20-miler, so after double checking that it wouldn't interfere with any of the wedding events later that day, I signed up.
As I mentioned in last week's training log, my original plan was just to run 1.9 miles before the race, then run the half comfortably to get my 15 miles done for the day. Later, though, I realized that Friday's tempo run was actually a pretty big one, 14 miles with 10 at goal marathon pace, which I was not too keen to do on a treadmill. After some vacillating, I decided I'd rather do 15 easy miles on the treadmill and 14 with 10 at goal pace on an actual race course where I might be a little more motivated.
None of this worked out exactly as planned. Firstly, I just didn't end up having the time on Friday for 15 consecutive miles. I ended up fitting in 10, and even that was at a slightly faster pace than I should really be doing my "easy" runs. Knowing I had the harder workout early Sunday morning, I'd planned on just doing an easy 3-4 on Saturday, but instead I had the leftover 5 as well. So, 7.7 on Saturday it was. (Also later than I'd intended and faster than was probably smart. Oops.)
Le Race Morning
Anyhoo, I got up at 6:30am Sunday morning (so 4:30am Pacific Time), threw my stuff in a bag, grabbed a breakfast sandwich at the nearest Starbucks, & headed into Fort Worth. I got there a little later than I wanted, considering I knew nothing about the staging area or parking and still had to get my bib and run my extra 1.9 miles, and by the time I parked, got my bib, realized I had the wrong bib, and got that sorted out, I only had time for one mile before the race.
And let me tell you, that one mile did not inspire confidence.
First, it was not hot as Texas goes (maybe 75F at 8am), but it was about 80% humidity. The word that comes to mind in terms of the weather is 'swampy.' After just a few minutes of easy jogging I was practically dripping.
On top of this, my legs just felt heavy & didn't want to turn over. I ran that warm-up mile in maybe 10:14 and when I thought about the prospect of ratcheting down to 8:00-8:15 I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Warming up on the front of the course
On the other hand, my rallying cry these last few weeks has been "BRING THE ADVERSITY!" because, let's face it, if you can't figure out how to pick it up when you feel like crap, you might as well pack it in now because ain't no one gonna feel fresh and spunky at mile 22. So I just decided I'd put in the effort, work hard, and do the best I could, and if I couldn't get those low 8's happening today for 10 miles in a row, it wouldn't be for lack of trying.
"Maybe once the race starts you'll perk up," I kept telling myself. "Maybe you'll feel better once you're out on the course with everyone."
Lolololol. No. No I did not. In fact I spent most of those first three easy miles reflecting on how badly I wanted to be just about anywhere but out here doing this. Basically I lacked focus and my head was elsewhere, and I think that always makes things harder.
And then, of course, there was the gravel. I have definitely, definitely lost my shit before in races due to #surprisegravel, so I tried really hard to have a good attitude about it this time: "ADVERSITY! BRING THE ADVERSITY!" "Maybe it's only for a few miles..." etc. It wasn't the entire course, but it was a lot of it, and since there was literally nothing I could do I kind of just sighed inwardly & tried to make the best of it. (If I were to run this course again, I would definitely wear trail shoes because there were also some chewed up places on the concrete.)
- Mile 1 - 9:19
Mile 2 - 9:16
Mile 3 - 9:07
I'd already decided that when I hit mile four I wouldn't try to instantaneously jump to 8:00 miles but instead just gradually speed up and see how easy or hard it felt. Thankfully, for the first couple of miles, it didn't feel all that hard. Then again, my GPS had been acting kind of funny all morning, so I'd started doing manual laps rather than letting it auto-lap. Which means either the GPS went REALLY crazy or mile 4 was super short.
- Mile 4 - 7:24
Mile 5 - 8:01
(FWIW GPS thinks "mile" 4 was actually .92, ie 8:06 pace, which makes more sense. I'm not great at pacing but generally I'm not THAT bad.)
Once I sped up to low 8's, I started passing a lot of people, but as I headed into that last mile before the turnaround the trail curved around and I found myself running into what must have been at least a 20mph headwind. Like, I nearly lost my hat and couldn't keep my eyes open and felt like I was barely moving forward. Suddenly I went from feeling mostly okay running low 8's to barely holding on to mid-8's. I tried telling myself, "Hey, that means you'll have an awesome tail wind once you turn around!" But it sure didn't feel like it, and I didn't feel any better. Suddenly my legs just felt completely fried and I had no idea how I was going to keep this up.
- Mile 6 - 8:15
Mile 7 - 8:29
Mile 8 - 7:59
Mile 9 - 8:18
After mile 8 I thought, "Woohoo, maybe I can still do this!," but then somewhere in mile 9 there was a very short but very, very steep uphill (there were a handful of these up and down along the course), and it was like somehow that just broke me. I powered up the hill as soon as I crested the top my legs turned to Jello. Cardiovascularly I didn't feel like I was working that hard (and my HR monitor agrees) but my legs felt D-O-N-E, which was depressing.
The rest of the trip back was more or less a slow implosion. It wasn't that hot but the humidity was so bad that I felt overheated. There was intermittent heavy wind ("Cooling wind!" I tried to tell myself. "A nice cooling wind!") and more and more I felt like I just couldn't move the thick heavy air in and out of my lungs effectively. In the last few miles I actually started to feel really light-headed and have trouble running in a straight line. I felt really hot but also like I was shivering, and once or twice nearly had a heart attack because for just a second I could swear I could see ostriches chasing me out of the corner of my eye.
(There were no ostriches. Which is good, because the only thing in a race worse than #surprisegravel is probably #surpriseostriches. Also HOLY TAN LINES BATMAN.)
- Mile 10 - 8:29
Mile 11 - 8:26
Mile 12 - 8:32
This is the first time in a while I can actively remember worrying about whether I would physically be able to finish a race. I remember feeling really relieved when I got within a couple of miles of the finish, because I knew that if I did pass out or something, someone would probably find me before something really terrible happened. In that last mile I felt completely, utterly awful in a way I only remember feeling at the end of my worst marathons. At one point I remember repeating to myself, "Just don't throw up, just don't throw up, just don't throw up." (I in fact did NOT throw up, so #smallvictories.)
And then, as I got closer and closer to the finish line, I realized that it was at the top of a VERY steep, not-all-that-short hill, like steep enough that I wasn't sure I could run it.
"oh fucking hell," I may have muttered to myself, weaving around the turn like a drunk giraffe. (But I did not walk it!)
- Mile 13 - 9:02
Mile .3 - 2:36 (8:40 pace)
The last tenth was actually .3 by my watch. I stumbled through the finish with barely enough hand-eye coordination intact to take my medal and a water bottle and then sort of half-slid, half-rolled my way down the very steep hill back to the staging area where I became quite vexed at the lack of seating areas or shade of any kind. On the plus side, they DID have plenty of ice-cold water bottles, and I am not kidding that I guzzled two and poured two more over every part of my body. God, I felt awful.
So, if you do all the math (going by my watch), I ran those last 10.12 miles at ~8:20 average pace. Not the pace I'd planned on, but not actually as far off as I'd thought at the time. According to all the pace calculators my marathon pace is "supposed" to be something like 7:50 or 7:55 and I do like the way 8:00 pace looks on my watch, but seeing as 26.2 is not my forte, I'll still be over the moon if I can run CIM at even ~8:10 pace.
I don't really know why I felt just SO awful and low 8's felt SO hard, but if I had to guess, some top candidates might be:
- I've run over 100 miles in the last 2 weeks.
- Crazy (ie normal for Texas) humidity
- Crazy wind in some stretches
- Gravel (NEMESIS die in a fire)
- General travel exhaustion/stress (not eating & sleeping normally, more time on my feet, etc.)
- My expectations are just too high
Honestly, though, it's all speculation and who ever knows why you feel great one day & terrible the next. I could wring my hands about it and drive myself crazy trying to figure it out, but I feel like it's probably a lot more productive to just get on with the rest of training. It was what it was (a super tough workout!), and all I can do at CIM is run the best race I can on that day, whatever the circumstances turn out to be.
(Also: Two days later, I ran nearly 4 miles at 7:58ish pace between sets of 800m's with no trouble at all. So that was moderately reassuring.)
Three states down, 47 to go!
Location: Trinity Park, Ft. Worth, TX
Date: Mid-October (Oct 16, 2016 this year).
Price: From the website:
Deadlines/sellout factor: This was a small, local charity race run by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so selling out is probably not an issue. There was also race day registration.
Field Size: I'll update this part once they post results, but I don't think it could have been more than 50 people in each distance.
The Expo: I don't think there was an expo really, but there was packet pickup available 10:30am-6pm on both Friday and Saturday at Luke's Locker, a local running store in Ft. Worth. Since that wasn't an option for me I was super happy there was race day pickup.
The race was staged in Trinity Park roughly at the corner of W. 7th and Strayton Dr, basically at the Fort Worth Police & Firefighters Memorial (a nice brick building that provides a little shade). It was super easy to get to and there was plenty of parking along Strayton. (I think I had to walk less than a quarter mile from where I parked.)
Staging area down the hill. (You can see a crowd of people gathering at the start/finish for the 20 miler up on the ridge in the background.)
Bib & T-shirt pick up areas were set up in the shaded area of the memorial, and several port-a-potties were just a short distance a way. There were only five or six, but they seemed sufficient for the number of people present. The only downside was that the start/finish was up on a nearby ridge, so you had to climb up or down a very steep hill to go between the two. (This was fine before the race, but getting back down on post-race legs was, um, an adventure.)
Memorial where bib/shirt pickup was staged
The course started and finished on hard-packed dirt up on kind of a ridge. The dirt part was very brief and also very easy to run on. Most of the course followed a kind of bike/jogging trail through Trinity Park, which was roughly half pavement and half gravel. You can tell that it's almost completely flat, but because it alternated between up on a ridge and down below the ridge, there were a handful of very brief but quite steep ups and downs along the course getting between the two. I don't know whether this is always the case or not but it was VERY windy on this particular day when I was up on the ridge.
It wasn't crazy hot and sunny, but it is worth noting that the course is mostly exposed, so if it happens to be hot and sunny, things could get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly (Texas). On the other hand, I thought there were plenty of aid stations, all stocked with water and Gatorade and even gels at some, also with plenty of enthusiastic volunteers (which was nice as I became less and less mentally functional).
(Also, I can't not say it; that last .1/.3/whatever where you had to run back up the big hill to the start/finish was a BITCH.)
Logo T-shirt & finisher medal, plus post-race snacks. (As I've mentioned before I have a basement full of race shirts I don't need, and since I definitely did not need anything extra to take home in my luggage, I skipped the shirt.) I left the medal at my mom's house, but you can see it in the picture above. Also plenty of ice cold water and fruit at the finish.
If you decide to run:
- There is gravel and some chewed up pavement so personally I'd wear trail shoes (but that's also because my "normal" running shoes tend to be on the thinner, less cushioned side, so if yours have a nice thick skin maybe you'll be fine).
- The handful of short steep ups and downs are not a big deal but nice to know about in advance.
- Be prepared for strong winds on the portions that are up on the ridge.
- Parking was fine, but I would still try to arrive more than half an hour beforehand because otherwise you might be walking like half a mile.
- It's Texas in October so weather-wise, WHO KNOWS??? Though, maybe if I still lived there, the humidity would have bothered me less.
This was a well-organized event as far as my experience went with lots of enthusiastic volunteers in the staging area as well as out on the course. Personally, I don't think *I* would run it again because of the gravel on the course, but that's my personal issue. I was just grateful that this event was happening near me at all so that I didn't have to do this terrible horrible no-good workout on a hotel treadmill, so THANKS LLS!!