Monday, March 24, 2014

Bainbridge Half Marathon: The Unknown

Google Maps may have perfected its omniscience over much of the world, but it has only a tenuous grasp over Bainbridge, Georgia.  It led us astray when we were trying to find my race's packet pickup, attempted to take us 14 miles out of the way on the five-minute drive to our hotel, and declared the name of the road to our dinner restaurant to be "unknown."

This was apt, because for me a half marathon was also a big unknown.  I had run only one previously and that was 8 years ago, well before I started doing any serious training.  I had no idea how fast I should try to run or what kind of heart rate I could maintain for that distance.  I eventually decided to run by heart rate rather than pace and to stick with a heart rate of 170, about 5 beats per minute higher than I'd run a marathon at.

This worked out perfectly.  I felt strong and comfortable nearly the entire race (miles 10 and 11 were on the rough side though!) and it was possibly the most evenly-paced race I've ever ran:  I averaged 6:57 miles in the first half and 6:58 miles in the second half, for a new PR of 1:31.  I felt like I wasn't a million miles away from being able to keep up a slightly slower pace for a full marathon, although I'd have to get better at eating and drinking on the run--I would have liked to have taken a Gu at some point during the half but I couldn't figure out how to do that without wasting way too much time, so I just had a few sips of the coke that Divesh met me with at miles 6.5 and 10.5.

One quirk of being so bad at short distances is that all my short distance paces are virtually identical; I don't seem to have a fast gear.  So during the course of the Bainbridge half, I actually got 3 PRs:  5k, 10k, and half marathon!  I was so tempted to try for a mile PR during the last mile, but I knew it was going to be slightly uphill with lots of turns and I just couldn't force myself to bring on that much pain for so little chance of success.  Of course, now I'm kicking myself for that...

The race itself was a good event.  It was a small local race, not the kind you would usually travel for but I really wanted to do a half on this particular date to fit with my training schedule, and this was the closest flat option.  It was pretty well organized and everyone was so friendly; this was one of the best parts of the race for me.  I also liked the no-nonsense approach to the race goody bags:  the entire contents consisted of a race number, four safety pins, and two packets of ibuprofen.  What more does any runner really want?


On the way home the next day, we went for a run at Providence Canyon State Park.  I had seen it advertised as the "little Grand Canyon of Georgia" so that sounded like something we just had to check out.  It was a bit of a letdown since 99% of it was just your standard wooded forest scenery, but 1% of it was like this:

I was also very pleased to discover that my legs felt completely fine on the run.  They were definitely getting tired on the uphills, but they didn't feel injured, dead, or sore.  Onwards with another hard training week then...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The verdict

Thanks for all the input on my race schedule dilemma.  I got some helpful comments on Facebook too, including:

----The AT section of JFK is a little crowded but not too bad.

----My friend Ed reeeeeaaally loves Telluride Mountain Run, maybe even as much as he loves pulling a sled though possibly not as much as he loves the beer mile.

I decided to go by process of elimination:

Maria said she would go out to Montana with me and do Run the Rut if I wait til next year, so that made it an easy choice to take that off the list for this year.

Le Grizz should, in theory, be a perfect option but I couldn't seem to get excited about it.  Also, I prefer my chances of surviving a race un-eaten by grizzly bears to be a bit closer to 100%.

I kind of want to run a road 100k next spring, which would be pretty similar to Door County in terms of distance/surface, so I eliminated Door County.

As Karen pointed out, TNF San Francisco can have major weather issues, and since that one is similar, in terms of what I want, to JFK, I'd put JFK slightly ahead of TNF on that basis. 

That left a seriously tough choice between Telluride, the Ultra Trail Serra de Montsant, and JFK.  While I was pretty tempted by Karen's suggestion of UTSM + winter road marathon, that would mean I'd have to commit to not doing a winter sled race...which would be tough.  I don't want to do Arrowhead next year but I'm still tempted by Susitna or maybe even White Mountains, if I could make it through the lottery.  

So, as much as I hate to leave the UTSM undone for yet another year, I think I'm going with JFK, assuming I can enter quickly enough to get in.  As an added bonus, two other GUTS runners might be interested in doing it too (one of them being a quietly super-fast previous JFK winner...).  Divesh took the news well that I had already volunteered him to crew for all three of us!

Since JFK isn't til November, I can maybe still fit in Telluride in August, although I would probably do it as more of a hard training run than a race so that the effect of racing at altitude doesn't take me out for too much of August training time.  It also leaves me time to try either a road marathon or the great local trail race Mystery Mountain Marathon in October.

Now I can get back to trying to get to grips with the Duncan Ridge Trail in time for Cruel Jewel...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Help me pick a race

After Arrowhead I have a little bit of a "now what?" feeling. My spring and early summer are set:  the Cruel Jewel 55 mile in mid May, the Bob Graham round on June 6, and the Peaks of the Balkans trail in mid June.
But after's wide open.  I have lots of possible plans and can't seem to definitively settle on anything.  Some of the races I'd like to do will fill up in the near future or have short entry windows coming up, so I need to make a choice.  Help me decide!  Any input on any of these races would be helpful.  Depending on the dates, I might be able to do more than one of them.  I'm also interested in doing a road marathon, so there's always the option to combine a road marathon (or a half) with training for one of the ultras.

The options:

  • Telluride Mountain Run.  August 9, 38 miles, Colorado.  Hard and scenic.  Pros:  I have friends doing it.  Cons:  it's at altitude.

  • Run the Rut.  September 13, 50k, Montana.  The course looks amazing--one of the only technical mountain runs in the US.  Pros:  I've never been to Montana, and I love the look of the course.  This one would for sure be at the top of the list if it weren't for the altitude.  Cons:  at altitude.  Weird hunting theme going on.  Could be expensive to get to Montana.

  • Le Grizz.  October 11, 50 miles, Montana.  Fast but scenic 50 mile course.  Could be good for trying a fast 50.  Pros:  another option to run in Montana.  Cons:  maybe not the most interesting course.  Also, grizzly bears??!

  • Ultra Trail Serra de Montsant.  October 18, 100k, Catalunya.  I was registered for this race last year but it ended up being too close after Sawtooth so I didn't do it.  Pros:  the course includes my very favorite running trails in the whole world, and it starts from the village I've stayed in so often for climbing (just out the front door of our rental apartment!).  Cons:  expensive plane ticket.  Right in the middle of the autumn so it could make it hard to do another race in combination with this one.

  • Door County Fall 50.  October 25, 50 miles, Wisconsin.  Road race.  Pros:  I'd like to see what kind of time I'd currently get in a long road race.  Cons:  it's a long road race!

  • JFK 50.  November 22, 50 miles, Maryland.  Pros:  it's a classic and really competitive.  Late enough in the season that I might have time to do a road marathon in late September and then train for this.  Cons:  it sounds like it gets a little crowded on the Appalachian Trail section, and I can't stand crowded trails.

  • North Face 50.  December 6, 50 miles, California.  Basically the same pros and cons as for JFK.

So that's the list...any and all thoughts appreciated, including suggestions for anything not on the list that should be!