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Posts Tagged ‘half marathon’

Imagine the satisfaction of completing your first half marathon. Then imagine the satisfaction of beating that finishing time and setting a new personal record. Then double all that satisfaction and you just might get to the level of satisfaction I felt as I watched my 14-year-old and my husband complete their first half marathons at the Fontana Days Run last weekend!

About five months ago I encouraged Mike and Shannon to start training for a half marathon. I chose the race, the Fontana Days Run, because it offered a gentle downhill profile, the timing was right with the race taking place on June 4 a week after Shannon graduated from 8th grade, it was inexpensive for a half marathon, it was just a 45-minute drive from our house, and we could pick up our race packets on race morning.

I wrote out a training plan for Mike and Shannon to incorporate into their busy tennis schedule. They play 10-15 hours of tennis per week, so I figured they could get by with three runs per week: two shorter runs of 4-5 miles (one easy, one with some hills or informal speed work) and one long run on the weekend that gradually built to a 13.1 mile training run and tapered to an 11.7-miler and a 6-miler in the two weeks before the race. Everything seemed to go well in training, although I had no idea what pace they should target for the race. Shannon set the pace for the long training runs, and that generally averaged out to about 11 minutes per mile. I knew Mike and Shannon wanted to break 2 hours for their finish time, and that would require a pace of about 9 minutes per mile. Could they really run two whole minutes per mile faster in the race than they ran in training? I encouraged them to go out at a comfortable pace and not let their legs fly too fast on the initial downhill (the race has a drop of 2,125 feet from start to finish).

Unfortunately, a heat wave hit Southern California in the week leading up to the race. The race day high was 100 degrees in Fontana. The temperature in the mountains at the 7:30 a.m. race start was about 68 degrees F and the temperature at the finish in Fontana at 9:30 a.m. was 82 degrees. That further muddied the waters as to what pace Shannon and Mike could be expected to run. Here’s a chart from Runner Academy that estimates the impact of hot weather on running pace:

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So I expected them to run about 30 seconds per mile slower in the heat than they could have if we’d had ideal race day temperatures.

 

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As you can see in this photo of me it was quite sunny at the start.

Without fanfare or much warning at all, really, the starting gun went off and Mike and Shannon set out at a comfortable pace. I carried my iPhone and used the MapMyRun app to keep track of our pace, but I kept the data pretty much to myself the whole race. The first few miles of the course run down the road through the San Bernardino National Forest and it’s simply gorgeous!

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After the first few miles though we were in full sun and by mile 5, I really started to feel it. There were adequate aid stations but some just had water and not Gatorade. Thank goodness I brought my own sports bottle and could refill it at the aid stations every 3-4 miles. Given the unusual heat that day, the volunteers drove around in a golf cart and handed out wet washcloths which I appreciated. I coached Shannon to run through the aid stations and just grab a cup of water and dump it on her head. Then I handed her my bottle of Gatorade to drink every mile or so. This worked very well.

 

Mike ran just slightly ahead of Shannon and me, and he seemed to have an internal, innate sense of pace. I mean, just look at the consistency of these splits!

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The course is downhill but it’s so gradual that it never feels taxing. The last seven miles are a straight shot into the town of Fontana, which means you don’t have to worry about running the tangents. It’s not the most scenic, but it’s fantastic for a PR attempt or a first-time race.

 

By about mile 10 I knew that Mike and Shannon could come in under 2 hours, and I started encouraging Shannon to keep up the pace and not let off. She had the best attitude the entire race and never complained. We caught up to Mike around mile 12 just as his calves started cramping due to not taking in enough Gatorade. I passed him my bottle and he was able to revive and keep running. Shannon sprinted to the finish to come in at 1:54:21. I was one second behind her with a huge grin on my face! Mike clocked 1:54:49.

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A happy Mike at the finish line (and some random guy’s rear end. My photography skills can use some work). 

I could not have been more proud of Mike and Shannon. They blew away my best hopes for them and did not seem at all affected by the heat. And for the icing on the race cake, Shannon came in first in her age group!

 

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Later in the week, I interviewed Mike and Shannon separately about their experiences. I probably should not have picked the day of their peak soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness peaks about two days after the race). They didn’t have much to say, but what they said warmed my heart.

Me: Are you glad you did the race?

Shannon: Uh-huh.

Mike: Yup.

Me: Did you meet your goals?

Shannon: Yeah.

Mike: Yes.

Me: Would you do another half marathon?

Shannon: Yup.

Mike:  Maybe.

Me: How did I do as your coach?

Shannon: [Thumbs-up.]

Mike: You were A+. It made it easy. It made it so we could not fail. We were going to meet our goals no matter what. I give you 99% credit.

 

Ahhhh! What a relief. They had a great race, came out of it uninjured, and were happy with the results. And for those wondering about whether or not it was a good idea for a 14-year-old girl to run a half marathon, I can say in our experience it was a very positive, safe, healthy experience for her. She had a checkup with her pediatrician this week including blood work done, and everything came back normal. And today, only 6 days after running the half marathon, Shannon won the Girls 14 and under division of the 18th Annual Laguna Niguel Junior Open Tennis Tournament!

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Today’s run was a special one! I got to accompany my husband Mike and our 14-year-old daughter on their longest run to date — a 13.1 mile training run! They had been building up their mileage for weeks now, and they were ready to cover the distance. It wasn’t easy, but they finished super strong (they had some kick left in them for a sprint at the end!) They ran it in 2 hours 24 minutes. A good 10 minutes of that was spent walking around a local high school trying to find an unlocked bathroom for a pit stop around mile 6. I should have turned my MapMyRun app off for that. And I probably should have mapped out a less hilly route for their unofficial half marathon debut.

MapMyRun elevation chart

Yes, that’s 879 feet of elevation gain and it felt as hilly as that MapMyRun chart makes it look. As I said, probably not the best training run for a race that has 2,125 feet of elevation drop from start to finish. But Mike and my daughter knocked it out like champs and I could not be more proud of them. I always enjoyed passing a new distance milestone myself, but it’s even more fun to watch them pass one. I hope it has given them confidence going into the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon, which is three weeks from today. Today’s run was a huge accomplishment, and I made sure to remind my daughter that there aren’t many 8th graders that can do what she has done.

What’s the longest distance you’ve run? If you’ve trained for a half marathon, what is the longest training run you do before race day? When I was training for my first half (the OC Half in 2012) the longest training run I did was 12 miles. I think that was enough to carry me through 13.1 on race day, but I do think it can be helpful to go 13.1 or longer before a half. I wouldn’t do more than 20-22 before a full marathon though!

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I crossed another item off my bucket list recently! It wasn’t a marathon, half marathon or any other goal race — it was volunteering at a race! On Sunday, September 20, 2015, my three girls and I got up at 5:45 a.m. to drive out to Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California to volunteer at the Girls on the Go Los Angeles Half Marathon, 10K, 5K and 1K races. What a fun morning in a gorgeous setting!

Not a bad place to spend a Sunday morning -- Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California

Not a bad place to spend a Sunday morning — Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California

In a stroke of good luck we got the best assignment in my opinion: handing out the medals at the finish line! But first we had to unwrap hundreds of individually plastic-wrapped medals. I had no idea the medals came that way. Of course it makes sense, you wouldn’t want those shiny medals clanking against each other and getting dinged up before race day, but I never gave it any thought before. Which is exactly why every runner should make the time to volunteer at a race — to better understand and appreciate all the volunteers who make it happen!

If you are looking to boost your mood and your sense of community, get out to a local race, volunteer your time, and watch a few finishers come in at the finish line.

Happy finisher at the Girls on the Go race

Happy finisher at the Girls on the Go race

The Girls on the Go race series is particularly fun because many of the runners come in costume — I even saw a man in a tutu (what a good sport!)

While we could normally expect pleasant weather in September in Southern California, the heat wave here continues and we all roasted. That didn’t diminish the joy of the runners though and if anything, it enhanced the sense of accomplishment. Besides, who wouldn’t smile at the finish line when they receive a medal from one of these three beauties (their mother is just a little biased, no apologies there):

My long-haired lovelies handing out medals at the finish line

My long-haired lovelies handing out medals at the finish line

As an unexpected side effect/reward for volunteering, my 13-year-old got inspired to sign up for her first half marathon. We’ll build up to it by running the Brea 8K in February, maybe the La Habra 10K in March, and then a half marathon (still to be decided — her dad needs to help choose the race for his first half marathon too!) in the spring.

Have you ever volunteered for a race?

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On a whim I decided to enter a contest for a free entry to the Shoreline Half Marathon from RaceGrader.com (a great place to check for reviews of Southern California races and to find registration discount codes for many popular local races). I’m always looking for someplace new to run and 13 miles along the beach sounded spectacular. Of course as soon as I typed in my email address and hit submit, I had second thoughts. How far exactly is Ventura from my house? Two hours. How early would I need to get up for the race? 4 a.m. Ugh, that seemed a little early for what would basically be a training run for the REVEL Canyon City Marathon in November. But what are the chances I’ll win anyway? Pretty darn good, apparently!

So that’s how I found myself lined up at the start of the 2015 Shoreline Half Marathon on Sunday July 12. And what a gorgeous shoreline it was!

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

I had arrived at 7 a.m. and parked for $6 at the public parking structure next to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, an easy walk to pick up my race bib and nice grey technical shirt at Promenade Park. There were plenty of porta potties and also some public restrooms on the beach path (oh the luxury!)

The half marathon started promptly at 8. I loved how the race director asked people to self-seed in the corral by pace and sent us off in waves every two minutes. It’s an unusual way of doing it but it makes perfect sense to avoid a crowded mass start along the beach path and the chip time doesn’t begin until you cross the starting line.

I wore my Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS watch but vowed not to look at it for the entire race. Mike didn’t think I could run “naked” (he knows how I love my data!) but that made me all the more determined! I wanted to practice running by feel and not by the watch. I hoped to go out at a steady pace, slower than marathon or half marathon pace but not exactly an “easy” pace — just a pace I felt I could sustain comfortably for 13.1 miles. I guessed that would be in the low 9-minute mile range.

The first part of the course runs five miles north along the bike path and the wide shoulder of the 101 overlooking the ocean. As always in a race I felt grateful for the privilege of being there and being healthy and able to run. The course is nearly all flat with just a few dips here and there, less than 100 feet of elevation change. Around mile 4 I could see the leaders of the race coming back along the course after the turnaround at mile 5. It was fun to cheer them on and marvel at their speed! The north-and-back and south-and-back layout of the course meant that there was plenty of opportunity for people watching with the 664 participants in the half marathon and the people on the boardwalk. Somewhere in the first five miles I passed the 2:00 pacer so I knew my pace was faster than I had originally thought it would be.

Pace miles 1-5: 8:54, 8:37, 8:29, 8:32, 8:22

The course then runs the five miles back, past the start/finish line, a couple of miles out under the Ventura Pier and around Ventura State Beach Park, and back to the finish line along the promenade.

Around mile 8 the pace stopped feeling comfortable and started getting tougher. The 8 a.m. start time meant that we faced some serious heat on the course in the later miles (73 degrees and humid by the time I finished). I wore a visor and sunglasses and stopped at the aid stations every 1-1.5 miles for Gatorade and water. The volunteers were hustling and did a good job helping the runners.

Pace miles 6-10: 8:29, 8:38, 8:27, 8:26, 8:36

The last 5K of the race was a challenge. My training plan only called for 11 miles for my long run so when I passed the parking structure after mile 12 the temptation to call it good was strong! The plan also called for a “fast finish” though, so I picked it up for mile 13 and brought it home strong.

Pace miles 11-13.1: 8:24, 8:52, 8:30

Chip Finish Time: 1:52:15, 8:34 average pace overall

Females 40-49 age group: 9 of 113

Females overall: 33 of 408 (Interesting that there were more women than men in the race! Go ladies!)

All finishers: 94 of 664

I enjoyed the bananas, oranges and Gatorade at the finish line while I waited in line for the free tacos. There was free beer too but I wouldn’t have survived the drive home with that!

It was an interesting experience running the race “naked.” I ended up running faster than I would have had I been looking at my watch, and yet the pace felt easier. I found that when I run by effort, the pace feels more comfortable than if I try to “force” myself to hit a certain pace on the watch. Now would I pace a marathon goal race this way? Not likely. That would take a lot more practice for me and a lot better sense of how to run 26.2 by feel. Would I pace another half this way? Absolutely, especially if I wanted to use the race to gauge my current level of fitness. For not tapering (and for spending several hours the previous day cleaning and priming my daughter’s bedroom to paint), I was very happy with how the race went. I recommend the course for the views, the smaller size of the field, the ease of parking and same-day packet pick-up, the nice race t-shirt, finisher’s medal, and free tacos and beer at the finish. Just a few tips if you plan on going for a goal time on this course: place yourself toward the front of your wave at the start, be prepared to dodge a few runners and people on the boardwalk (which isn’t closed to the public), and dress for the heat. With early bird registration starting at $45 for the half and going up to $75 in the months before race day, it’s a great value for a well-run (no pun intended), gorgeous race!

Have you ever run a race “naked”? Do you find it easier to run by feel or by a GPS watch?

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The day started with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup call after about four hours of sleep. I wasn’t nervous about the race but I think I had a little too much salt at dinner and it kept me awake longer than I would have liked. Or maybe my body just wanted to test the theory that it’s not the sleep the night before the race that matters, but two nights before the race. Spoiler alert: the theory is true in my case! I had a great experience at the inaugural Revel Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon.

About three hours before the race start, I had my usual banana, oatmeal and coffee with a splash of milk, plus 20 ounces of Gatorade. The 35-minute drive to Citrus College in Azusa was uneventful. There was a bit of a line to get into the parking lot, and I had to park in the far lot and walk back to the buses. No big deal but I was desperate to find a bathroom at that point. The race information said the gym bathrooms would be open, but by the time I made it to the buses at 5:30 and asked where the gym was, the gym was too far to get to in time to get on the last half marathon bus at 5:45. Fortunately, some of the buses were tour buses with a bathroom, so I finagled my way out of the school bus line and onto the tour bus. In a second stroke of good luck, the woman in front of me in line gave me a tissue from her pack when she discovered the bathroom didn’t have any toilet paper.

On the bus drive up the canyon, I sat next to a lovely woman who had just run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. We chatted on the half hour drive up Highway 39. I enjoyed getting to preview the course that way, seeing where there were uphills and downhills along the course and enjoying the scenery. When we arrived at the start about 10 miles up into the canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains (recently designated a national monument by President Obama), I put on the warm gloves we’d been given at the expo and made a beeline through the brisk mountain air for the porta potties. There were enough for the number of runners (888 finishers in the half marathon). By that time it was about 6:30 and we had half an hour until the start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Before I knew it, it was time to trade my sweats for the mylar blanket we’d also been given at the expo, and load my gear bag into the truck. After another fifteen minutes, we got treated to a beautiful, live version of the national anthem, and it was time to line up on the course, self-seeding ourselves by the pacers of our choice. I got up close to the front, behind the 1:40 pacer, as I planned to go for a 1:45.

That turned out to be the right spot for me and I quickly settled into a 7:45-8:00 minute pace without any runners to dodge in front of me. There are some rolling hills in the first few miles, nothing too challenging and still plenty of downhill to get your pace up. In fact I’d planned to go out a little slower at the start, an 8:15, but my first mile ended up at 7:45. I just felt great and I went the pace my legs wanted to go on the downhills as I repeated my downhill mantra “light, quick, light, quick” in time with each step (as opposed to my mantra on the flatter sections, which turned out to be “put the hammer down, stay strong.” I have no idea where that came from but it worked!)

I enjoyed the spectacular views down the canyon along the partially closed course. We stayed in the left lane while the right was open to traffic guided by police escorts. Only once, though, did I see one set of cars pass by on the first 10 miles of the course. No spectators were allowed there either, which didn’t bother me at all. It was just peaceful and beautiful, with a sprinkling of runners along the course and helpful aid station volunteers about every two miles.

When I hit the halfway point, I did a quick self-check. At that point I was ahead of my target pace and I was still feeling great. I decided to maintain my current pace and reassess at mile 10. Incredibly, I still felt really good at mile 10 too. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than the tempo runs I’d been performing in full marathon training (ah the miracle of taper and the wonder of what a little rest can do for the legs). I passed the first timing mat on the course at mile 10 in 1:18:19.2 for an average pace of 7:50. From that point on I looked at the race as a 5K to the finish, “only” 3.1 more miles to go. I tried my hardest to keep the pace around 7:45 without burning out before the finish. Much to my surprise, I got a surge of energy when I could hear the finish line announcer, and then could see the finish line arch. I ended up averaging a 7:38 pace for the last 3.1 miles, for a 5K split of 23:38.8, which happens to be a PR in the 5K! I guess I’d better get out there for a stand-alone 5K soon to see what I could do at that distance!

My final chip time was 1:41:58 for an average pace of 7:47 (which happens to be my 10K PR pace for my very hilly local La Habra 10K). I stopped by the timing tent and got a printout of my official results, only to find out that I had placed 3rd in my 40-44 age group out of 104 women! 27th female of 576 and 76th of all 888 finishers.

Huge finisher's medal on the left, "bronze" medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

Huge finisher’s medal on the left, “bronze” medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

I celebrated with a heavenly massage at the Massage Envy tent, then made my way to pick up my gear bag. The truck had been delayed on the course so instead I started the long walk back to my car in the parking lot. That took 15-20 minutes and while it made an effective recovery walk, I would have liked to be back in my dry clothes for that (and really, I would have liked a shuttle bus). I drove back to the gear pick-up just in time to see my bag being sorted by bib number.

On my way back out of the parking lot, I spotted Andrea, a friend I hadn’t realized would be at the race as a spectator to cheer on Pavement Runner (and she hadn’t known until the last minute that I was running the race also — and when she heard she made a sign for me too!!) During the race I had heard people call out my name at mile 12 (a HUGE boost at that point because I was putting everything into staying at my pace by then) but I just marveled at the fact that these ladies could read my name on my bib. It never occurred to me that it was someone I knew!! I was so in the zone I just gave a double thumbs-up and kept my eyes on the road. So I was especially glad we connected after the race. It was particularly nice of her to be out at the race this morning when she is headed off to run Disney Avengers early tomorrow morning then hop on a plane to go run the Strip at Night in Vegas that evening!

I never imagined the day would turn out so well and that I would be celebrating a full 6-minute PR on my Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon time. Long-time readers can guess that the first thing I did when I got home was to plug 1:41:58 into the McMillan pace calculator to see that it predicts I could train to run the full marathon in 3:34:36. That would be a 10-minute PR for me for my fifth marathon, so I’m skeptical, but gosh darn it how much would I love to run that at the Phoenix Marathon in February?!

Overall I am very impressed by the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon and I would definitely recommend it to friends. (Note that the full marathon has a net loss of 5,134 feet compared to 933 for the half — I’m curious to see what people think of the full marathon and that serious downhill run).

What’s your next goal race and what is your goal for that race?

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My two younger girls and I hit the Revel Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon Expo today at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Monrovia. Here I am sporting my race t-shirt, which I kind of love for the style, long length, and bold color:

Hm, I think I need work on my sign skills. I guess that's why they call me Angela, not Vanna, White.

Hm, I think I need work on my sign skills. I guess that’s why they call me Angela, not Vanna, White.

As you can see from the photo, I’ll be running the half marathon tomorrow. I hope to beat my PR of 1:48:02 from the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon last May, but if all goes well I would love to get in the 1:45-1:46 range. You can track me at this tracking link. Because we are running down the canyon for the majority of the race, the tracker will only post times at the 10 mile and 13.1 mile marks. I hope to be hitting an 8:00 minutes per mile pace or less.

That’s all for now! It’s 9:30 p.m. and I should be in bed for my 3:45 wake-up call!

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Please excuse me when I get all dramatic up in here. I’m just being honest about how I felt when I didn’t make the cutoff for Boston. I didn’t exactly handle it with the grace I would like to have had. I felt very bitter. I kinda wanted to shout, “Fine then! I didn’t want to run your dumb old super-expensive race anyway! I already lived in Boston for two years. I don’t need to see it again! You just saved me the cost of airline tickets and a hotel room and now I don’t have to pull my kids out of school to fly across the country!” I thought of boycotting The Boston Marathon, of not even trying to qualify again.

Of course, then I calmed down and admitted that if I was so upset by not getting to go to Boston, it simply meant that I cared a lot about getting to go. And I promptly signed up for full marathon #5, the Phoenix Marathon (hence my oh-so-clever post title about the phoenix rising up from the ashes).

Phoenix Marathon logo

So that’s where I’ll be on February 28, 2015. Believe it or not, the 20-week competitive marathon training plan I chose from Smart Marathon Training starts next Sunday with a 10-mile long run. Today I knocked out an 8-mile tempo run at 8:00 per mile and that felt great, so I feel ready to tackle the plan.

I had the tiniest bit of buyer’s remorse (racer’s remorse?) after hitting the “register” key for Phoenix because it has a downhill profile with nearly 1,000 feet in elevation loss, similar to the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon where I bonked so hard. Downhill running can pound your quads and also trick you (and by you I mean me) into going out too fast and then bonking later in the race. So, I’m trying to learn from my past mistakes and I’m incorporating downhill training into my weekly runs. Most people would call it “hill repeats” and consider the uphill part the part that’s building strength and thus speed, but I’m more interested in the downhill part where I work on keeping my foot turnover light and quick! Last Wednesday I ran a warm-up mile to a perfect, steep 0.4-mile hill. I ran up (and down) that four times and then ran a cooldown mile back to my car. (I would have run more repeats but that was the amount of time I had in the 45 minutes my daughter is in gymnastics class).

To help allay my downhill race worries I’ve also signed up for a downhill half marathon that fits perfectly in my training plan. In place of a 16-mile long run on a Sunday, I’ll race 13.1 miles on a Saturday down Highway 39, a beautiful route through the forests and canyons of Angeles National Forest to the foothills of Azusa. It’s the inaugural REVEL Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon on November 15, 2014. (Tip: if you want to sign up for the race, make sure you go to RaceShed.com for a $5 off discount code, and also snag an extra $5 off for allowing REVEL to share your entry on Facebook). The half marathon has a net loss of 933 feet, close to the amount of the loss over the full marathon course in Phoenix.

So, here I go again! Does anyone have any thoughts or tips on downhill running?

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