Sunday, January 13, 2008

Race Report: Cascade Half Marathon
I’d raced 13.1 miles many times — but all in half-iron distance triathlons, never a standalone half marathon. So a couple of days ago when I saw the Cascade Half Marathon upcoming, it caught my eye.

The race is held near the town of Turner, five or six miles southeast of Salem. That’s an easy freeway hour from my house. And God bless the organizers, the race was set for the sane hour of 9:30 a.m., so I wouldn’t have to get up real early. And the clincher? A forecast calling for dry, cool and calm weather — perfect for running.

Of course, having come up so suddenly, there was no specific preparation or taper for this race. And that’s as it should be. It’s January and January is all about building the base—not going for PRs—for Ironman CDA. To that end, I’d been cranky out lots of 8-12 mile runs the past month, and riding the bike trainer four or five times a week for an hour or two a spell.

Up at 6:30, out the door by 7:15, into the gloom. This is what happens here when the rains stop in the winter: big-time fog. I was struggling and worried the first few miles of the drive, but then things got just enough better to make driving only slightly challenging, vs. frightfully difficult.

Race HQ was at Cascade High School, on the flat farmlands of the eastern Willamette Valley. When I arrived, it looked like the sun was popping out, but by race time the fog was back. I started with a long-sleeve technical shirt (Napa Valley Marathon 2007), a windbreaker zip vest and gloves, but ditched the windbreaker after about half a mile. It was chilly, maybe high-30s, but completely and utterly calm — couldn't beat it.

How hard to run, though, that was the question. I didn’t want to kill myself in this race. I knew I could run a lot faster than my triathlon halves — best of which was a 1:50:07 at Vineman in 2003 — but didn’t want to redline it to the point that I’d be trashed for a week or so. Heck, I need to do two or three 10-milers and a 15 this week.

So I went out at about 7:15 pace, tucked behind a group of guys, one of whom, it became apparent, is a high school track coach, and another who coaches at a college. Their conversation about the upcoming season and who might have scholarship potential kept my mind occupied for nearly the first two miles. Then I slowly cruised past them, feeling pretty good about that 7:15 pace, which, over the course of the 13.1, would bring me home in an hour 35.

With the fog, there wasn’t much to see on the run. We were cruising on mostly straight, flat country roads, headed out and back. At around five miles I hooked up with a lanky dude who didn’t seem offended when I said it wasn’t fair that I had to take two strides for every one of his. My pace had fallen off a bit on miles 3 and 4, so it was good to have someone to help keep me moving along pretty steadily, and he did, and we chatted from time to time.

There was a clock at the halfway turnaround and if I remember correctly it was just ticking past 48 minutes when I rounded the pylon. I was a little disappointed at the time, and also didn’t like the way the slow down, sharp turn, and speed up of the turnaround got me out of a rhythm. (Pretty whiney, eh?)

The next couple of miles were uneventful, but I got back into my rhythm and felt pretty comfortable. Then around the 8-mile mark I noticed how great I felt. I didn’t feel like I was working that hard. So I picked it up a little bit. James, the guy who’d been with me, stayed for a while, then fell off. For about three or four miles I felt amazingly strong. It occurred to me that I might be able to make up the time I had lost to my 7:15 goal pace — without killing myself. Clearly, I’m fitter than I have been, certainly fitter than I have been at this point in a season. Plus, I think the conditions helped a lot. The calm and cool was great, but the fog also made it easy to tune things out and run with great focus. I don’t know Zen meditation, but when I sink deep into a run, the world falls away. The running is everything, but at the same time it’s not even there. It’s weird.

Anyway, that didn’t last. Things started to ache — left calf a bit, left hip. The last mile and a half or so was work. I kept pushing, but stayed under control. I wanted to bust 1:35, and when I passed the 13-mile marker, I knew I would. On my Garmin, I ran 1:34:51. Officially, it was 1:34:52.5, good for 62nd out of 397 runners, and 8th among the 35 45-49 men. Especially gratifying was that I pulled off a negative split for perhaps the first time in a long race, coming in under 47 minutes on the second half.

The Garmin was a hundredth or two ahead pretty much each mile, but it had great receptivity the whole way and without many sharp turns, it’s figures are trustworthy. I figure the discrepancy is a result of my not running the shortest route (crossing from one side of the street to another to avoid an approaching car, etc.).

1 7:13
2 7:11
3 7:20
4 7:29
5 7:21
6 7:15
7 7:11
8 7:18
9 7:01
10 6:56
11 7:01
12 7:08
13 6:55
Last .1 1:15 (.23 miles on the Garmin; 6:13/mile pace)


Chris Snethen said...

What Garmin product do you use?

Pete said...

Hi Chris,
I use the 201. It's old! Been contemplating upgrading, but just haven't come up with the "budget" for it!