Hasty Half 2011: Recap
I stayed up late Friday night drinking Alaskan IPA and dancing foolishly to live bluegrass – a standard Juneau weekend night for my age group. Afterward, I stopped at a friend’s house, ate a selfishly large pile of carrot cake and peanut butter M&Ms, guzzled down about three glacier’s worth of water, and ran home in the rain so that I was in bed by 3am Saturday morning.
I popped awake around 8:30 and drank another Nalgene’s worth of nuun-spiked water, figuring I’d lie around going braindead on the internet for awhile prior to heading out for a relaxing Saturday long run.
Oh, the best-laid plans…
At 9am, just as I was clicking feverishly through the Facebook wedding album of some friend of a friend’s acquaintance, a running buddy called and asked me whether I knew there was a half-marathon going on that morning at 10.
What! No. I hadn’t known.
I slammed my computer shut, dove into some running clothes and semi-sprinted the two miles from my apartment to the race registration area. The race, it turned out, had no entry fee aside from a donation (since it was a fundraiser), and was also untimed – you just use your own watch.
This was excellent news for my IPA-carrot-cake-peanut-M&M bloated and sleep-deprived self. My asshat half-marathon time would not have to be published on any race website or in any newspaper. Thank the good lord.
The half-marathon course was a point-to-point, starting from an area called False Outer Point and ending at the registration area at Sandy Beach. In other words, this is the second half of the Juneau Marathon course: one long road of gently rolling hills. (Oh yeah: I ran the Juneau Marathon; it was back in July. I actually wrote a race recap but never published it because, well, I got bored with posting for awhile. I’ll publish that race report in a few days. I might throw in a post about the Klondike Road Relay too, simply because it was an outstanding experience.)
But back to Saturday’s half-marathon. For a race with no official entry fee, the people putting it on took lovely care of us — that’s Juneau for you. They shuttled us out to the start, staffed smiling faces at well-stocked aid stations every three miles, and had even decorated the pavement with witty chalk messages at steady intervals along the route. I really can’t emphasize enough how much I adore the Juneau running community.
In any case.
There were perhaps 20 or 30 of us running the half-marathon, and after arriving via shuttle to the beginning of the course and collectively dashing into the woods to pee, our shuttle driver beeped his horn to signal the start of the run. I hit the start button on my watch as I crossed the line.
Due to my late night and lack of preparation, I figured this run would be a nice, uptempo medium-long jaunt. I was not planning on racing or posting a fast time. (Let’s be honest here: I never plan on posting fast times. I prefer to keep my expectations low, sandbag the shiz out of myself, and then be pleasantly surprised if I happen to have a good day. Yeah. It’s not a very diehard angle, but it works for me.) In fact, I’ve been afraid of racing a half-marathon – this was actually my first time running a “race” at the distance. There’s something about the combination of length and speed required that intimidates the heck out of me in a way marathons and 10Ks never have.
But, yeah, the race.
A high schooler shot out into the lead and I settled comfortably into second place as I took things out at what felt like 8:00 pace or so. In my head, a sub-1:45 training run sounded solid. I knew there would be mile markers spray-painted on the road left over from the marathon, so I could key off those if I wanted to, but I didn’t end up taking any splits aside from the halfway point.
Since the course is all on one road, I had several opportunities to see the first place guy – the high schooler – a long way ahead of me. I could only hope that he’d overestimated his abilities and would fade, but I was in no rush for this to happen: I figured I’d catch him by about mile seven or eight. And besides, I wasn’t there to race. Right?
So I settled in and cruised. Checking down at my watch on the mile markers, I saw that I was maintaining a pace comfortably under 8:00 through mile five, but I didn’t feel like doing the math and figuring out just how far below. It felt like “regular run” pace.
In terms of what was going on behind me, I turned my head to spit a few times and realized there was someone hanging on a hundred feet back. What the heck! I’d been sure I’d dropped everybody else, but this was false. This guy had been stalking me patiently the entire time, like a mountain lion moving in for the kill.
All the sudden, I was running scared. Like any runner, I don’t enjoy being passed. I pride myself on my conservative starts and strong finishes. Unexpectedly, I wasn’t hanging out on a Saturday morning leisure run anymore. This had turned solidly into a tempo run. I kicked things into another gear and decided to stop kidding myself: I wanted to cross the line before both the mountain lion behind me and the high schooler ahead of me. I also didn’t want to waste a lot of energy doing it, because, guys, I am not a badass racer. I am not hardcore. When it comes to running, the reality is that I am a lazy underachiever.
Nevertheless, I steadily made up ground on the high schooler in first place, reeled him in and found myself matching him step for step by mile eight. The Mountain Lion came with me, maintaining his anxiety-inducing striking distance a hundred feet behind.
I figured that once I caught the high schooler, he’d be about ready to tank and I could commandeer the lead.
I caught up to him, and the first thing he did was throw down a nasty surge.
Mothereffing curses. Not this mind games garbage! I let him pull away, and then I reeled him back in again.
Another damn surge!
He pulled away again. Jeez, this kid was good. I reeled his punk ass in again. This sequence repeated several times. At first, I was immensely annoyed by all his surges and mental trifling, but I soon called upon the inner strength I have gained from my yoga practice, withdrew into myself, summoned my patience, and decided to rise above it… uh, SIKE, friends, Sweaty Kid is still a yoga-free zone. But I did elect to ignore the surges and just keep to my pace, thinking, go ahead, kid, waste your energy – I’m banking that you’ll run out of gas by mile 10.
Mountain Lion, however, presented a worrisome problem: Why was he still hanging back there so tirelessly, a hundred feet behind? Why hadn’t he faded or made a move? What cards had he yet to play? Was he going to serve me with a demoralizing kick and rip me to shreds once the finish line came into view?
At mile nine, I found myself shifting into another gear. It was time to stop lollygagging and commit to having a faster run than I’d planned. The high schooler was beginning to struggle next to me, and Mountain Lion was still locked squarely in position behind us.
As we approached mile 10, the high schooler was looking pretty rough. His breathing was labored and his feet were slapping the pavement desperately. It wouldn’t be long. I kept my foot to the pedal up a sneaky long hill and he bravely attempted to hang tough, but it was clear that his threat was over. A quarter mile later, he was roadkill.
To seal that deal, I ripped things into much higher gear. All by myself in the front, I was scared again. Front-running at all is uncomfortable territory for me, and front-running with a Mountain Lion at one’s back is even worse, so I decided that with two miles to go, I didn’t have any excuse to slack any more. Mountain Lion could come with me or not. His choice.
I pressed hard to mile 11, figuring that if there was any time to actively put some focused distance between myself and the Mountain Lion, this was it.
The last two miles of the course featured about a 1.5 mile gradual uphill and then a blissful half-mile downhill into the finish area. I scooted up the hill, turning my head and spitting every so often in order to see if I could get a location on the Mountain Lion runner. I couldn’t. But I ran past a pedestrian who warned me to be careful of a black bear in the yard next to the road.
I looked where he pointed. Oh yes, there’s the black bear, gamboling around on somebody’s lawn like a frickin golden retriever. Jesusmaryandjoseph. But I did not have time to be bothered with that, as I presently had more compelling megafauna to outrun.
With a mile to go, I realized that I had dropped Mountain Lion in a big way – it took a full crane of my neck to identify him far back in the distance, and the high schooler was nowhere to be seen. Ah, excellent. All alone, I instantly relaxed and eased off the accelerator considerably. I would later regret this when I saw my final time, but oh well: I bounded along, bombed down the final hill, and crossed the finish line in 1:32:15, wondering instantly if I could’ve broken 1:32 without my fit of sloth in the final mile.
I’d run the first half of the race in 47:45 (7:17/mi pace), and the second half in 44:30 (6:48/mi pace), for an overall pace of 7:02-ish. It was not the kind of performance I expected from myself that morning, and I am very pleased with it.
The cool temperatures and gentle rolling hills made for an incredibly comfortable racing experience, and, again, I think the fact of my low expectations helped me have a good run.
On Sunday, I was up like usual to meet running pals at 7:30 for the weekly “Geezer Run” (as they call it), and we ran on the Treadwell Ditch trail, dashed up an icy boardwalk, across a frozen muskeg meadow, and up a ridge to the top of Mount Troy where I pretended to be a character in Braveheart, and then down again to bushwhack through the forest back to the Ditch trail, all of which took us about four hours. I spent the entire run alternately suppressing an overwhelming urge to leap, sing and twirl around like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music because the scenery was so enthralling and muttering violently to myself like Gollum because scrambling down icy rocks and twisting your ankle seven hundred times is grating to the naviculars. I now have scratched limbs, a constellation of devil’s club thorns embedded in my palm, about 86 miles to my name for the week, and an ever-growing infatuation with Juneau, Alaska, where I could very well end up living indefinitely (just kidding, mom and dad… but not really.)