Sunday, April 06, 2008

Race Report: 26.2/2
I don't like races that start before the sun is up. That's not news. But I have to admit, it is kind of cool to be home and showered at 9:15 in the morning, a half-marathon in the books.

The Race for the Roses is a local affair, starting and finishing at the Oregon Convention Center, just a few Max stops west of my house. I love to race and the proximity of this one made it attractive. Otherwise, with Boston coming up in two weeks, it didn't make a lot of sense. (Of course, if being sensible was a key consideration, I wouldn’t have done the Hagg Lake 50K in February, and, come to think of it, would have bagged the whole Boston qualification and dedicated myself to a proper Coeur d'Alene training program all winter.)

OK, so, up at 5:30 after four and a half hours sleep for some coffee and an Odwalla Sweet ‘N’ Salty bar. Out the door at 6. There was one lone soul on the Max platform, a young woman in running gear. We chatted a bit, then around 6:10 the train pulled in and we got on, finding a couple more runners already aboard. We shared our hope for dry conditions on a quintessential early-spring Portland day: cool, cloudy and damp, with a forecast for occasional showers.

If you’ve ever driven through Portland on I-5, you know the Oregon Convention Center: it’s that building with two wacky glass spires that you see alongside the freeway after you cross over the Willamette. I had never been in the joint and for no good reason had assumed it was a bit of a dump, but it provided tons of nice, warm, clean space for registration, gear drop-off and all that jazz. And there seemed to be tons of volunteers to help with every need, a credit to the organizers and beneficiary, the Albertina Kerr Centers, a local organization that assists families in crisis.

Most folks were still hanging out inside the center 10 minutes before the scheduled 7 a.m. start, which was directly outside. I got out then and jogged for a couple of minutes, did a few short sprints, and found a spot in the 7-8 minute/mile pace area. One of the guys around me identified himself as being from Indiana. Turns out he was here in Oregon visiting his daughter, who runs for Nike’s Oregon Project. Her name is Amy Begley, and if she stays healthy, she could be a threat in the 5,000 or 10,000 at the Olympic Trials this summer. Good luck to her.

A couple minutes after 7 we crowded toward the start, to ensure that we would have to spread out once the race did get going, but whatever: with chip timing, not a big deal.

Beforehand, I hadn’t really arrived at a strategy for the race. As I crossed over the timing mat at the start line, I remained unsure. I figured I ought to be able to go faster than I had at the Champoeg 30K last month, when I ran a 7:08 pace. But with Boston just two weeks away, I didn’t want to kill myself to do that.

In the first mile we took the Broadway Bridge over the Willamette, then did a little loop around and headed south, into the occasional gust. It was mostly gray overhead, but not entirely, and didn’t look too threatening. The temperature was somewhere in the low to mid-40s. I wore shorts and two long-sleeved technical shirts and felt quite comfortable as far as that went. But the runner in me wasn’t pleased in the early going. I was struggling to find a rhythm. I had ridden my bike for two and a half hours the day before, and swum for the fourth day in a row. And on Thursday, I had done a 15-mile run. So there was no taper at all for this thing. Oh, well; I was OK with the idea that it just might not be fast day, though I hadn’t completely thrown in the towel.

I passed the first mile marker in 7:22, then picked up the pace for a 6:50 second mile as we headed south down Naito, a big boulevard that runs just west of the Willamette. Mile 3 had a little bit of climbing (7:08) and Mile 4 a lot (7:30). But what goes up gets to come down, and this course gave back the elevation in a wonderful, gentle fashion, and the next five miles came in at 6:56, 6:44, 6:43, 6:59 and 6:38. Not only did the boost from gravity improve my time, but because the downhills weren’t steep and stressful, they allowed me to relax and settle into a groove as we headed through the Pearl and into the industrial areas by the river north of downtown.

We turned around between Miles 9 and 10 and faced more than two miles of pretty stiff headwinds heading south again. The last turnaround came just before Mile 12 and it felt so good to have the wind at my back. I picked up the pace—just a mile to go—and was cruising nicely. Then came the approach to the Steel Bridge. Normally, pedestrians go on the lower level of the Steel, but for the race we had a full lane on the upper level. Which meant we had to get to the upper level. Man, that hurt! It was probably only a 50-foot elevation gain, maybe 75. But the timing was exquisitely evil, coming about a quarter mile from the finish.

Finally to the crest of the bridge, I gathered my composure and tried to cut loose with whatever energy remained. Around Mile 7, I had realized I was at 7 minutes/mile pace. I didn’t think I could maintain it, but felt good that even if I slowed a bit, I’d still finish with a reasonable time. By the Mile 9 marker, now under the 7-minute pace and feeling pretty good, I thought maybe I could indeed do it. So as I headed off the Steel, knowing I was right on the cusp of making this goal, I went hard. I felt a little silly—there was a pretty good crowd on hand, and I here I was, a 45-year-old slogger pretending like he was Pre or something. But after 13 miles of hard work, I figured I owed it to myself to finish the effort.

A half-marathon is commonly referred to as 13.1 miles, but here's something to impress your friends with: it is actually 13.109375 miles. Doing the math, my official finishing time of 1:31:49 translates to a ... 7:00 pace. Mission accomplished. What's cool, too, is that my time was more than three minutes faster than my previous best at the distance, so I'm definitely getting fitter. All in all, a fun morning outing.

A few final random thoughts, and then the numbers: The hilliness of the course surprised me, but might turn out to be good prep for Boston. And: We've had a couple of downpours this afternoon, so boy were we lucky to get our hoped-for break during the race!

My time: 1:31:49
Pace: 7:00/mile
Age group place/finishers: 8/78
Among men: 69/670
Overall: 81/1910

Mile splits: