Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hellyer Half Marathon - 5/22/11


When I discovered one of my favorite trail race organizations was putting on an event on a Sunday (non-soccer day), and that there was essentially no elevation gain as it was on a paved path through Hellyer County Park in San Jose, it was an easy decision to run it. It was even easier to convince Annelyse she wanted to do it with me, which really only took me asking. While I'm excited to get back into true trail running, I'm just not there yet, so I knew this would be a perfect compromise until I'm ready to tackle the 2,000+ ft gains seen on most trail races.

After having to take it really easy on Saturday because I'd been feeling sick for the past two days, I was surprised to find myself feeling generally well on Sunday morning when I woke up. I was relieved, as the last thing I wanted to do was have to bow out of the race. Not only do I look forward to races, but it was also the first race Annelyse and I were running together. The medicine I took Sunday morning managed to clear up the slight congestion I still had left, so after morning coffee and a snack, Annelyse and I took the hour drive down to Hellyer County Park.


We arrived early enough to go through pre-race rituals - pick up the bib, go to the bathroom, get the GPS watches ready, and check the clothes. Not long after, if was my turn to start. I was running the half marathon, and Annelyse was running the 10k which started 10 minutes later. I lined up with the small field of 213 runners doing the half with me. After some general instructions on the course, we were off.

One of the things I really like about smaller races is you don't have to spend a lot of time trying to break away from the pack since it usually spreads out quickly, and this race was no exception. I went out a little faster than I'd like and ran my first two miles at around a 7:40 pace. This didn't completely surprise me as that's the pace I was doing my training runs at, but I had to remind myself that this wasn't my usual eight mile run, and that I needed to slow it down. The next two miles, I dropped my pace slightly, keeping it at around a 7:53 m/m.


I was feeling good at this point, and the residual pain I'd been feeling in my foot as a result of my surgery wasn't bothering me at all. The path we were running on was paved, but a good portion was bordered with dirt on the sides, which I tried to run on as much as possible since I knew it would be easier on my foot. The trail we were on was the Coyote Creek Parkway which had a decent amount of shading from the sun, and ran throughout the park alongside creeks, lakes, and open grass areas.


This was an out and back course, and it was at mile six that the leaders started to pass us heading back toward the finish. The person in first was actually a female runner who would later go on to finish in second place overall. While I like loop courses the best, I usually don't mind out and backs, and it does give me the opportunity to see what place I'm in. By the time I got to the turnaround point a half mile later, I counted seven females ahead of me. I had no idea if I was going to be able to hold this position or if I'd see a big slow down in my pace for the remaining half of the race. My training runs were topping of at eight miles, and the only time I'd run over that was the half marathon I did in mid-April, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

For miles five through eight, I held an eight minute pace consistently, but sure enough, mile nine is when my splits started to drop, though only about 20 seconds per mile. Despite the fact that I slowed down a bit, I felt pretty confident I was going to be able to stick with that pace despite seeing the girl I'd been following starting to push further ahead of me. And then, it must have been around mile 10, that the girl who had been trailing me finally caught me. Obviously she was able to hold her pace, and I couldn't. Ultimately, I was OK with being passed, I just wanted to finish in the top ten.

It's always at mile 10 that I start to do the math in my head to try to figure out what my time will be. While I knew I was running the race fairly fast, it didn't really dawn on me that I was on track to set a PR until then. I even had a bit of padding built in in case my pace dropped considerably. I finished the last four miles at an average pace of 8:20. As I rounded the corner to enter the area where the finish line was waiting about four tenths of a mile ahead, Annelyse, who had already finished her race, was there waiting for me. It's not often I have my very own fan cheering me on along the course, and it felt pretty awesome. I ran as fast as my tired legs would possibly carry me over the grass toward the finish.


I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:45:41, an average pace of 8:04. I couldn't believe it, but that was only 42 seconds off of my ultimate goal of breaking 1:45 (under an eight min/mile), which I was hoping to do in August of this year at the Giant Race. Annelyse told me I needed a new goal because I'm going to break it much sooner. I'm still not convinced, but it definitely seems like an attainable goal now. I was so focused on the 1:45 goal, that I partially forgot that I'd just set a PR, beating my last one by 2:36 minutes. I didn't set out to do any of this, which is probably why it happened and felt so good, and hopefully impressed Annelyse just a little along the way too.

Brazen races always have the best spread of food at the aid stations and at the finish. There were bagels, fruit, candy, sweet rolls, and one of my childhood favorites, It's-It ice cream sandwiches. Annelyse and I split a vanilla one while sitting out on the grass in the sun watching the rest of the finishers come in while we analyzed each of our races. Before we left, I checked the leader board to see if I'd placed. I knew I was the ninth female finisher, so I thought there was a chance. Turns out I placed third in my age division and received a special medal. It wasn't even 11am when we headed back to the car, yet I'd already had the ideal morning. I can't wait for more.


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