April 22, 2007

Fastest Half Thus Far

Weather.com predicted rain. I was not excited about 2 hours or more in the rain, but with a large group of friends committed, it's hard to back out.

So, after a pre-race night of yoga and soup before bed at 10 PM (Woo Hoo Saturday PAR-TAY!), I woke at 5 AM and headed to Santa Cruz with B for the race. (FYI -- kimchee on the side and udon in miso broth with soy, sriracha, furikake, and hoisin is an excellent pre-race meal. Very hydrating with plenty of carbs. Plus all the sodium gets you ready to sweat and makes you thirsty so you'll drink lots of water.)

Before the start, we met up with E2, lucky_girl, and C (plus R, who was the awesome supporter, photographer). We ended up waiting 20 minutes past the start time (Santa Cruz time, baby) before the horn. Thankfully, E2 had done some crazy hippy anti-rain dance the day before, so we were safe from the falling water.

Finally, as the weather slowly improved to gorgeous blue skies over the ocean, we were off. E2 had decided to do the 10K 'cause she'd been sick lately. So, she, B and I headed off at a 10K pace for the first 3 miles. The pace was set, more or less, by B. She's FAST. But it was good. And 25 minutes later, my 5K split was the fastest 5K split I've ever run in a race, including 10Ks.

We said goodbye to E2 at her turn-around and settled into a nice 8:25-8:45 pace. Occasionally, B would speed up to sub-8 and I'd look down at the widget and try to slow her down. She'd laugh, apologize, and we'd stay at a good pace for a while. Then she'd speed up again. At one point, she told me, "I don't think I can maintain this pace the whole race. I'm gonna need to slow down." This was at approximately mile 5. I laughed because she was setting the pace, and said, "You can maintain this pace and more." I was amazed at how good of shape she was in. I was definitely struggling a bit to keep up.

As for the course, while the weather was excellent, the obstacles included horse manure and mud. Lots of mud. Thank goodness it didn't rain. The course would have been horrid in the rain. But with the sun, the ocean, the views, and no rain? It was fabulous.

Around mile 10, B started to take off with a monster kick. I briefly tried to maintain her pace, but it became clear that I did not have it in me. I relaxed back into an 8:40 pace, comfortable in the knowledge that this would be my fastest race yet and watched her pick off runner after runner as she put distance between us.

With 2 miles to go, I looked down and realized that all I had to do was keep around an 8:30 pace and I would beat my fastest time by a nice margin for an even PR. So, I dug deep and told myself with each step that the faster I ran, the sooner it would be over. It was physically demanding, but even though the last 3 miles hurt, they were nothing compared to the final few in the second-fastest half I ran in 2005.

Finally, I ran down the final hill and turned the corner to the finish line at a 6:30 pace. And then, *Wham* my feet hit the sand. A sand finish? What were they thinking? Those last 50 feet took forever! I think I must have crossed the actual finish line at a 10:00 pace or slower.

Quickly, I sought out some water and moved to the finish side-line to cheer on C and lucky_girl who came in right when they said they would.

So yeah, the sand finish is symbolic of the focus of this race. The pictures at any point along the course are gorgeous. The sand allowed the supporters to take more pictures of their loved ones at the end, in a picturesque setting. The views were wonderful. The art on the finisher's T-shirt is a unique rendering of the local beauty by a local artist.

But, in terms of race organization, for the actual runners, I was not overly impressed. Then again, I suppose if you're going with stereotypes, you might look to Santa Cruz for natural beauty and art, but you probably wouldn't look there for an industrial engineering solution of efficiency unless it related to pot, so I shouldn't be suprised.

The runner-related complaints were several. I heard grumblings that some of the aid stations ran out of liquid (thank you fuel belt!). In addition to the dangerous slippery mud and horse manure, much of the trail was too narrow to handle a loop of over 3,000 runners where the out-and-back of the winner put him past me and B around mile 5.5 (in other words, more than half of our race was two-lane traffic). Plus, the water at the finish line was from hose-filled plastic garbage bags inside garbage bins, available for you to dip your cup in and get yourself a drink. Not ideal, in terms of sanitary conditions, or speed of getting liquid to delirious dehydrated runners. But, when you're thirsty...

Anyways, lest it seem that I'm a big complainer, let me say I'm actually very pleased. It was a fabulous way to spend a gorgeous California day. Friends. Nature. Supporters. A physically demanding performance that bested my previous efforts. Gorging myself on post-race Mexican food with friends. Post-post-race visit to the buttery followed by wine with E2 on her porch. And, now I know. The 10K course is amazing. 6 of the miles of the race were manure and mud free with more than enough space for all of the participants. Next time...

My only true regret is that I somehow missed cheering on A at the finish despite waiting at the finish line 'til well over 30 minutes after she finished. I suspect I missed her because she finished around the same time as lucky_girl and C, but I was bummed none-the-less. Good job A!

Till next time!

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