Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hilton Head Half-Marathon Review

Asphalt. Flat. Windy. Windy. Sunshine. 4th overall.

These words are all that need to be said about the Hilton Head Half-Marathon. Oh, yeah, and a 30+min. Porta-john line. Why didn't I just use the woods? Unlike the Pac-Northwest and it's perpetually moist ground, South Carolina has dry leaves that crumple like century old paper. Poor planing on my part to not snag some extra toilet paper from the hotel. Lesson learned.

The extended standing warranted a relieved digestive system, but only 3 minutes to put together a warm-up. Issues with short warm-ups: too high of a heart rate, labored breathing, and a shocked set of muscles. Mental anxiety, disappointment, and the annoying and unanticipated shot of the starting gun. -Okay, the first paragraphs make this race sound absolutely hideous. In truth, don't let the descriptions weigh too heavy on the mind. 4th overall isn't horribly bad, in fact, it's very good.-

I freaked out, basically. I sprinted off in search of comfort and fell uncharacteristically into the 'ouch, I think I started too fast' category. I hold myself to be a much smarter racer than this, yet it's tough to argue with such evidence. I was prepared for the race. My training wasn't the best it's ever been, but it was well structured and I understood completely that running uphill for miles on trail is not the ideal training grounds for a seemingly pancake flat race on old asphalt. I knew well enough that the increased pounding was going to show itself quite clearly to my legs, body, and mind at some point in the race and all I would be able to do was hold-on. I lacked the ability to predict where this demon would show itself, but my best guess was around mile 11.

The first three miles were fairly predictable, a group of five or six settling into a rhythmic pattern. The heavy breathing of the few in over their heads at the current pace began to resonate above the footsteps and slowly six turned into four. We passed the 5k mark just under 18 minutes. Perfect pacing...for a non-windy day.

Unfortunately, a constant, strong headwind plagued us like a parasite attached to its host. And lets be honest, distance runners don't really have enough to block the wind. I tucked in behind the eventual 2nd place runner in hopes of escaping the invisible wall to no avail.

As I rounded a 90-degree turn and headed up the steep bridge that crosses the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway I was greeted with a blinding sunshine, and the constant headwind turned into a 'right-side' wind. The wind gust forced a left-to-right swaying motion that resembled an intoxicated retreat from a bar at closing time. Seriously, I was running drunkenly while sober. Not as fun, I might add. As you can guess, after the turn around somewhere around mile 8 the wind became a 'left-side' wind...more drunk running while sober. Still not as fun.

Every footstep after this point is the same. I slowly began to feel more and more 'pain' and began to more and more cave-in. I crumpled at the thought of the flat asphalt, even if after mile 10 I'd have a great tailwind. I ran through mile 9 in between 54:00 and 55:00, still on pace. Unfortunately, my legs and mind had different ideas. My legs felt comfortable, my mind did not. A lack of 'pain tolerance' training was showing itself.

I'm hesitant to call the remaining 5k+ a bonk. sure it took about 20 minutes too long, but I was fine, I just wasn't able to handle the 'race' aspect of the pace. Mental race strength is something I'll be working on this season. It's important to have races expose weaknesses. I'm not at all disappointed in my performance. And I'm not just saying that because I didn't win, or run faster, or podium, or whatever else comes to fruition at the finish line. I didn't really race much at all last season and although I do come from a racing background, taking yourself out of the sport for 5+ years warrants some adjusting. Bottom line, I finished 4th, didn't race the first 9 miles as smart as I could have, and I caved when things got too far past my comfort zone. Sounds like a great race. It should never be handed to you on a silver platter, even if you do win.

Organizationally, the race gets a B. Increase the number of porta-johns. A 30 minute line is unacceptable. Move race day packet pick-up closer to the start line. And bring more beer to give away at the finish. Also, consider giving out coffee mugs, socks, hats...something usable instead of finisher medals and overall/age group medals. Aid stations were great. Even if the lady after the bridge pulled away the water cup I was reaching for. No harm, no foul. Sorry for screaming the F-word. It was not directed at you...not that you're reading this.