Monday, May 17, 2010

Avenue of the Vines Lodi Half Marathon - 5/16/10

As I drove to pick up my racing packet from Fleet Feet Sports, I remembered how much of shit hole Stockton is. Then when I drove to where I was staying in Lodi, I suddenly wished I was back in Stockton. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, the people were friendly enough, but neither Stockton nor Lodi would ever be somewhere I would consider a "nice place".

When I went to check in at the Quality Inn, the lady at the desk asked if I was here for Sinfest. I told her no, that I was here for a race the next morning. She looked at me quizzically and obviously had no idea what I was talking about. I asked her what Sinfest was. She said it was some event that was happening at Lodi Lake and then she preceded to tell me that they were short staffed and my room hadn't been cleaned yet so I was going to have to spend the next hour and half trying to find something to do in Lodi. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what went on at Sinfest, but curiousity got the best of me and when I got back in the car I looked it up. I searched for Sinfest in Lodi. Google asked me if I meant Zinfest. Zinfest! That sounded so much less raunchy than Sinfest. I considered going, but it turned out tickets were $55. No thanks.

I drove around for awhile, scoped out where the start of the race was, and then quickly realized there was nothing to do in Lodi. I drove by a trashy car dealership and had to laugh as I saw a life size, fake, white stallion that was obviously pulled out on a dolly everyday to the entrance. Ya, the giant fake horse is really going to bring in the sales. Ironically it was the second one I'd seen that day. The other was out by the race starting line, which I guess was more appropriately located in the middle of an actual horse ranch. I had to wonder what the real horses thought of the big, good looking one that never moved.

Another hour to kill. I figured I'd need to eat eventually so my mission was to track down food. This was not as easy as you might think. Unless I wanted to eat at a fast food place (they had them all including wienerschnitzel), or one of the many crappy diners, or from a scary looking taqueria, I was afraid I'd end up eating from the Chevron food mart. My dreams of finding a Whole Foods were long gone. At this point I couldn't even find a grocery store. Finally as I was about to give up, I passed one and was able to get water and a sandwich for later. Before heading back to the hotel, I found a Starbucks where I was able to kill whatever time I had left.

My room did have HBO which was great, so I watched The Hangover for the first time. It was then that I realized why my neck was so tight. I had whiplash courtesy of my soccer game earlier. Some girl took me out and I'm still not sure how it happened. I landed on my back and my neck snapped back whipping my head into the ground. My teammates told me they heard a very loud audible crack. Ouch, but at least it wouldn't stop me from running.

I was up at 6:30 for the second morning in a row and went through my usual pre-race process and then checked out. I decided not to eat this time though, it was too early and I just didn't feel like trying to stomach anything. The starting line was less then 5 minutes away at Woodbridge Winery by Robert Mondavi. I parked my car, walked to the start and got there just in time to hear the national anthem. Apparently no one in Lodi knows how to sing, because we listened to a recorded version of it. As soon as it was finished, 650 of us set off. Everyone seemed excited. It was their 4th annual half marathon, a Kaiser event, and the proceeds benefited the American Heart Association and the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. Last year $48,000 was raised for the American Heart Association.

I was running in brand new shoes. As much as I tried to deny it, I was beginning to get some pain areas. My hip flexors had been giving me trouble since my 18 mile run 3 weeks prior, and during my 20 mile run just a week prior, my left knee developed what I self diagnosed as runner's knee. I was convinced a big part of this was the fact that I'd been training in the same two pair of shoes for over a year. Not good. I immediately ordered some new ones and gave myself 4 days in a row of no running. While I knew running a half in brand new shoes wasn't ideal, it was better then running in shoes that were horribly worn out. Plus, it was the same style of shoe I'd run in for 2+ years, so I knew they'd work fine.

I spent the first half a mile running on the outside of the road passing the slower runners since I'd started in the back because I was one of the later arrivals. It was a beautiful day, the sun was already out and I was glad we started at 7a because I knew it was going to heat up fast. I was very happy to see the course went through the vineyards of Lodi which was a completely different world then downtown. It was quite pretty and very peaceful considering it was a lot of open land. Mixed in with the vineyards were houses with huge lots. We passed a few dairy farms. Lots of cows, and for awhile the smell of poop was overwhelming. It's now on my list of things I don't want to smell while running, along with hot tar and cigarette smoke.

Along the way we also passed a lot of real horses and every kind of dog you can imagine. After I almost stepped on a little dog, it decided to run next to me for the next 50 yards or so before it wore itself out. I also saw the occasional pig, and my favorites, about 5 llamas. Who owns llamas! The unfortunate part of the race was that my whiplash really prevented me from looking around too much. It was pretty much straight ahead or I'd have to twist my entire body around. You better believe I did for the llamas which were literally right next to us behind a fence as we ran by. I was sort of hoping one of them would spit at someone. Horrible I know, but talk about entertainment!

Like with every one of the half marathons I've run so far this year, with the exception of the Kaiser SF half, I set out with every intention to take it slow. No need to overdue it when these were all supposed to be just training runs. Well, apparently I just don't have the discipline to do that. I started off fast as usual figuring my pace would mellow out a few miles in. It didn't. I could definitely feel my knee, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't run through. By mile 8, I was going at a pace faster then I'd run any half before. I knew though that the last 5 miles is when your pace drops, often times substantially. The Provo half marathon I did 2 weeks earlier, my average pace was one minute slower the second half of the race than it was for the first. I could only imagine my pace would eventually begin to drop.

Mile 10 hit and I was still continuing on at a steady pace with very little fluctuation. I looked at my watch and knew even if I dropped to 10 minute miles, I would set a PR, even if by very little. I came up on a water station where they were handing out soaked sponges to the runners. I've never been in a race where they've done that and it was fantastic! There were 3 girls I could see ahead of me, but other then that I was surrounded by men. My goal was to catch those girls by the end of the race. That gave me some motivation to hold my pace. I was closing in on them at mile 11 when I realized that I could not only set a PR, but I could actually break a 1:50 time. It would be tough, I'd actually have to speed up a bit, not slow down like I really wanted to.

At mile 11.5, I felt someone coming up behind me. This little blond girl passed me up. I remember passing her back at mile 4 and thinking that she'd never be able to hold that pace. She had her long hair up in a big ponytail that was swinging all over the place and she was running with her hands out very prissy like. Boy, did she prove me wrong. She must have been right behind me the entire time. Not only did she pass me up, but she passed the 3 girls I was trying to catch. They all checked her out as she ran passed, you could tell some of them weren't to thrilled about it the way they stared her down.

It was right before mile 12 that I caught and passed the 3 girls. I had a little over one mile left. It was a straightaway to the finish. I could actually see the finish banner way down the road. I could still pull a sub-1:50 time, but I'd have to go even faster. I'd just passed up the last water station knowing that it would slow me down too much if I were to grab some water. I felt like I was literally sprinting the entire last mile. The finish line couldn't come fast enough. I was about a quarter of a mile away when the spectators starting lining the road cheering you on. The runners were trickling in, and people shouted encouragement of "finish strong", and "almost there" at me as I ran by. I then heard a man yelling at a runner that was obviously behind me, saying "Come on! You can catch her! Get her!". Um, he's talking about me. It was then I realized that runners at this pace are not only going for time, but they're also going for place. Like hell I'm letting anyone pass me at this point. I ran faster.

I crossed the finish line as they called out my name, even pronouncing it correctly, and saying that I was from San Francisco. The girl the guy was yelling for finished shortly after me. I couldn't believe it but my chip time was 1:49:52 (only 11 seconds slower then my GPS time). Wow, did I just do that?! That was an 8:23 pace. I later learned that the last two miles were the fastest ones I'd run over the course of race. I stayed pretty steady in the 8:18-8:27 range, but my second to last mile was 8:08, while my last mile was 8:02. When the race results were posted, I'd finished 13th out of 149 runners in my division. That's in the top 9%. I'm not sure if I'm more proud of that or of my time. A goal of mine for the fall was to finish a half in under 1:50, I didn't think it would happen so soon.

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good with the exception of my knee. Even my hip flexors weren't bothering me, but my knee problems were definitely due to something more then just old shoes. Being that the race was held and sponsored by Woodbridge winery, we were all treated to a commemorative race wine glass and wine tasting. I hung around awhile, had two tasters, one of moscato and another of pinot, and a veggie wrap while sitting in the sun stretching. They had Kaiser doctors there, so I went and talked to one about my knee who confirmed it was runner's knee and then offered to give me a free BMI test. Turns out I'm at a fitness level with less risk for medical problems. After all the running I do, I would have been pissed if it was anything else. I stayed and watched part of the award ceremony, and it turns out the overall female winner was a girl my dad coached soccer to when she was growing up.

Before heading home, I bought one of the commemorative "Avenue of the Vines" bottles of wine from Woodbridge that was made just for the race. I'm sure it will sit on top of my fridge with the rest of the wine I don't drink, but whatever, it was only $12. I then drove the 2 hours home with a smile on my face, singing along to every song I knew the words to.

I learned a few things from this trip. The people in Lodi like their fake horses, their yard sales, and all fast food chains. The part of Lodi where the vineyards are is actually somewhat nice; the other part is not. I have no discipline to take things slow on a race, and I now run much faster then I ever thought I could. And most importantly, I am susceptible to overuse injuries and need to give my body recovery time if I want to keep training at the level I am. First step of action and non-action, work on strengthening my inner quads and take 5-6 days off from running. I need to be ready for CDA in two weeks after all.

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