I felt rested. The morning was calm, cool and overcast. I was ready to race. Since I had run 20 the weekend before, my goal was to go fast and hard--do tempo for 13.1 miles. Plus, I had heard this half-marathon was hilly, hard and off-road. Perfect training for my upcoming hilly marathon in San Fran.
We started off conservatively towards the back. I weaved in and out of runners, gaining confidence. We quickly turned off the main road and onto a packed dirt path. Fun! I had never raced "off-road" before. The first mile was relatively flat and slightly downhill. I fell into a comfortable rhythm. Suddenly, a hill appeared before us, looming ominously. Ahh, this is why they call it the Heartbreak Ridge, I thought. Feeling a burst of energy, I hit it hard. I leaped up the hill, gasping for breath at the top. You're going too hard! It's 13.1 miles! I ignored the voice of reason in my head and kept on pushing. Reaching the downhill on the other side, I let my feet fly on the descent. Wicked fun. Mile 2 flew by almost unnoticed. Except for a few bumps in the path, most of the way out was slightly downhill to very downhill. This will be hard on the return, I warned myself. My turnover was very rapid, and I was concerned I wouldn't be able to hold the pace. But it was just a half. Just a half? Did I just say that?
I reached the turn-around, grabbing water at the aid station. I had already downed my 2 FuelBelt bottles. Wow! I've really increased the amount I eat and drink when I run! That's good. Very good. Bonk repellent. I had prepared myself mentally for the return trip--all uphill. I refused to back down. I would not slow my pace. No slowing allowed! I focused on maintaining a quick turnover, working diligently at eating away at the false flat. Mile 7 came and went. Is my watch lying? Was it my imagination or was I actually picking up the pace? I bounded up hill after hill. After hill. Each one was fairly short but steep. My legs were burning now. Hips aching. I ignored the pain and focused on good running form. Use the glutes, Luke. I eagerly zipped down the descents. However, not as quickly now. The downhills were beginning to hurt. Worse than the ascents.
At mile 10.5 the final big hill stood between me and the finish line. I ran up it as hard as I could, using everything I had. I was gasping at the top. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station and tried in vain to down it, pouring half of it on my shoes. Doh! Quickly recovering, I excitedly began the steep descent. I love downhill running, right? But it was now mile 11. And my legs were burning. And the downhill was steep. Very steep. As I descended, all I felt was pain. Searing pain in my hips and fatiguing quads. Then my knees. I am going to hurt myself, I thought. I tried to slow but this only resulted in more pain. Instinctively, I began zig-zagging down the hill, minimizing the steep incline. I tried to stay light on my feet, landing on my toes, quick, rapid turnover. The zig-zagging and intense focus on my running form helped immensely, and the pain subsided. I found my rhythm again.
I reached the road and began picking up speed for the final mile. I was exuberant at how much I had left in the tank. I felt like I could go forever! I zoomed across the finish line with a big grin on my face. That was tough! I was covered from my head to toe in dirt, grime, sweat, and dust. My eyelashes were coated in a fine layer of amber-colored silt. My legs were burning, and I felt wonderful. I got a great workout and had a ton of fun in the process. Trail running rocks! This race was a good test of my fitness. I was excited that I felt fresh enough to use it as a tempo run and go as hard as I could muster. A perfect milestone in my marathon training. Next week is my final long run before I start to taper down. I think I will be ready....
Time: 1:54 (8:46 min/mi)