Monday, June 2, 2014

North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon

Ten years ago, we started this crazy distance running obsession.  Both K and I finished the NODM half marathon. I was hooked. I knew i wanted to run a marathon and two years later i did. This race has a lot of memories associated with it. I ran in the next year too. K did not as he was injured.  In 2007, both of us set our still standing personal record at this distance. Last year I attempted the full marathon at this course but bailed at the half as it was so dang warm on race day.

This was the year to go back. It was the right decision on many levels.  It's a great event. The whole area supports this race. These are little towns out on the Olympic Peninsula but i felt like there was better course support than many local races.  There are wonderful touches like some really nice finish area food, a really nice shirt and beautiful finisher's medal plus even with a ferry ride, it is easy to get out to the event. It's easy to stay very close to the start or finish (your choice) and there are easy shuttles to ride for this point to point race.

At the half start: bring a plastic bag to sit on.
Have I gushed enough?  If you add in the stunning beauty of the area, no race can touch this one. What are the cons?  It's not the easiest course. I think of it as overall flat but there are challenging and steep but very short hills. It's exposed for a lot of the marathon and chunks of the half marathon.  And the weather can be anything but that is true for any race.

My goals? I really thought i was in about 1:48 (8:15 overall pace) for a half.  This is slower than what I'd initially been aiming for earlier this year but with the (stupid) knee issue, I definitely lost some fitness.  I also really could not train any hills and that hurt me on this course.  I knew it would be warm race day but decided not to dial back goals.  I'd start at 8:10 and expect to slow a bit through the steep sections. There is a huge runnable downhill at mile 9 and then flat to the finish. If I were as strong as I thought, i figured i could push the pace here.

And that is basically what happened but the heat and my lack of hill training slowed me down.  What else hindered this goal? I tripped!  At about a half mile into the race, I was not looking at the (paved) trail and because of the dappled light and my sunglasses' polarization, i did not see a bump in the pavement. Down I went.  I scraped both knees (!!), lost my garmin watch and basically ended up on my side shocked.  A couple kind runners heard/saw the commotion and stopped to help. I got up fairly quick and started up again with knees throbbing but no other damage done. 

The half course is exposed and in a warm valley for the first 3.5 miles. I was so hot. Even though I carried water (more on this one in a future blog), I did grab water at the aid stations to dump onto my head/face/shirt and arms.  I hit the paces i wanted for the first 3 miles even with the fall.  8:02, 8:07, 8:12.

The first creek bed comes right at mile 3.  My heart rate spiked climbing out of the creek and i knew i needed to be careful and keep this easy so i backed off the pace. If I pushed too hard here, I'd not recover. I was feeling pretty crappy in here as it's uphill, i was still hot and basically annoyed with everything.  Just run smart is all I told myself.  Race day is what it is and I knew i had to be smart to finish strongly. I took a gel at mile 4 and that helped.  I took an electrolyte capsule at 6 and continued using aid stations for both a sip of water and for a cooling bath! 8:57, 8:39, 8:35, 9:36.

That last mile was the first mile I walked to both get in water and a gel (right before 8 mile marker).  The course is new this year.  Instead of an out and back in the first mile which was always sort of sucky and crowded, they've moved the out and back to mile 7. MUCH better! Highway 101 between Sequim and Port Angeles has been under construction for some years and this year it hit right around this mile marker. This meant there was horrible gravel for some short sections. I was not expecting this and could feel every chunk through my lighter shoes.  Ouch! I definitely slowed with that too.  Oh well.  Finally we hit the long sweeping downhill. I ran that like the trail runner that I am.  And yes, I passed a bunch of people. 8:25, 7:54

That boat! it dwarfs the usual ships we see in the Sound.
And then we were onto the waterfront trail and it was shaded with a nice ocean breeze. Yes! I felt so much better.  I made it my mission to just run. I focused on my goals of running with good form (using those glute muscles, keeping foot strike quick) and reminding myself that it was ok to be hurting at this point.  It was a race! At just about mile 10, I saw a bald eagle flying low towards me on the trail. It basically landed right above me on a tree branch so close i could see it's eyes.  I whooped with that and could hear the other runners behind me (that I'd been passing) also whooping and hollering. It was pretty thrilling and my pace reflects that.  I hit 11 miles and realized that i was very close to the sub 1:50 goal.  With this course along the water, you can see the finish area for a couple miles. I knew this and kept telling myself that the finish was at the HUMUNGOUS ship (Polar Discovery) instead of at the downtown Pier.  It didn't matter where I thought the finish was, i just needed to keep running hard. The other new section of the course is a new bridge over Ennis Creek.  This uphill although ridiculously small and short was so tough.8:11, 7:51, 8:03, 8:16
Smiling at the finish!

1:50:12 and 4th in AG.  I stopped running and realized my legs felt absolutely pounded.  There was no one in the med tent (yay!) yet as is was pretty early into the races so I decided to stop in there to have someone help me scrub out my knee scrapes.  The finish line had my favorite finish line food, salty ramen noodles and broth. I was just craving salt at that point and downed it in seconds.  I chatted with the 1:45 pacer who I've known online for some years and had fun hearing about the race from his perspective. 

This was also K's 10th anniversary half marathon race.  It was a tougher day for him as work has been very tough the past months. He did finish but that heat and those hills took their toll. 

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