Monday, March 19, 2012

Redmond Watershed Half Marathon (Trail) Race Review

The Hilton Head Half Marathon became the catalyst to change my original plan for this year, "just train, no racing." It took about 9 miles in South Carolina to figure out that racing requires two things to be successful, training and racing. That may seem like a lame, "trying to be philosophical" statement, but it's the simplicity of the statement that makes it philosophically functional. Too much training and you can't fully race. Too much racing and you can't fully train.

The week of the race had a great start and then a cold...thanks, SQ. Only true friends share, so I'm honored... Thursday through Saturday, I felt awful. Awful enough to not run.

Race Day,
At 6:30 AM my watch alarm started its annoying beep, vibrate pattern. I got up, turned on the computer to check out the radar, and was about to head for the coffee pot when I realized my mistake. <Thanks, Ben.> It was actually 7:30 AM. I glanced out the window and saw a stream of water.

This quickly changed my shoe selection. NB 101's out and SCOTT eGrip2's in. The shoe is a winner. I've put in a good number amount of hill repeats (Video 1, Video 2, Video 3) and ascents up Cougar Mtn. and Squak Mtn, so I know I feel comfortable running fast through rain, sleet, snow, and mud in them...they're kind of like the postal service, in a strange juxtaposition kind of way. Always on time, however.

I'm very pleased to report that the Redmond Watershed Preserve has fantastic bathrooms. Although, the horse stable theme is demoralizing. Ok, only one more critique about the place...if you don't allow pets in the preserve, why can people ride horses on the trails? Other than that, I'm very impressed with the place. The Douglas Firs stand ominously over the forest floor. It's a surreal feeling to be so small...okay, no short jokes following that sentence. I set it up perfectly, mind you. At 5'6'' on tall days, I'm fully aware that, yes, I am short.
Douglas Fir
Start line view

Beneath the Canopy...
<That should be a song title>

As everyone lined up at the start line we got some last minute directions from Eric Bone, race director, and we were off. I bolted out of the gates to get away from the crowd. No offense to anyone that raced. I hate racing in a pack on trails. I either want to be in the lead (or at least close) from the start or in the back and pick runners off one-by-one. Today, I went with the former. The only issue, with four races going on at one time, I had no idea of who I was racing. not an issue if you're running the shortest distance, but the half-marathon was firmly situated between the 5-mile, 10-mile, and Marathon.

Start/Finish line. High-tech, no. But it gets the point across.
Eric Bone, race director, and I after the race
Because it's not just about the race. High five, Northwest Trail Runs 
At the first right turn I asked the lady standing there, decorated in a very visible yellow jacket if this was the half-marathon course. She said, yes. I kept running. At this point I was 2nd overall (5mi,10mi, 13.1mi, 26.2mi...again I had no idea who I was racing) The 1st place guy turned around and yelled back asking if this was also a turn for the 5 mile race. Bingo. Now I knew at least one person in sight that I wasn't racing. As we started on the first "hill" I sped past and never looked back. One tip about racing, only look in the direction you want to go.
Mitch P. 2nd Overall

Photo courtesy:  Takao Suzuki 
As the first true 5mi/10mi & 13.1/26.2 split in the courses came-up I began to realize that I was feeling really good. That the three days of sickness and no running hadn't taken too much of a toll on me and that the warmer I got the better I felt. What a relief. My nose was running quite far still, but my chest was clear, no headache, and my legs eventually gave in to my mind. Forcing them to turn-over faster than they originally were willing.

I made the first U-turn (five total on the course) and checked my watch immediately. U-turns are like rear-view mirrors. In terms of racing, they allow easy checkpoints to check on the competition. 20 secs ahead. Some breathing room but nothing to ease up over.

Photo courtesy:  Takao Suzuki 
Back on to the 5mi/10mi course with a 20 second lead and I ran into my first dilemma. Where did all of these people come from? The trail narrowed and the crowds running the shorter distances had flooded the course. Passing people on the trail is stuff as it is, but passing people going much slower than you while you're racing is tedious. I didn't want to be rude, but I also realized that I only had 20 seconds of breathing room. I was Moses parting the Red Sea. Not a big task, especially because all of the other runners were aware of their surroundings, but by being the first through the sea I had to slow a bit. My worry was that when I passed someone they were going to make an effort to stay on the opposite side from where I passed creating an easy lane for my competition. That's part of the race, though. When I found gaps between the 5mi/10mi racers I made sure to speed up to hopefully make up any lost ground from passing others.

Photo courtesy:  Takao Suzuki 
As I approached the 2nd course split, I weaved my way through a wooden gate, dodging a puddle and was stoked for who I saw! My good friend Jamey was directing traffic. This gave me such a boost of confidence. He started hootin' and hollerin' and just really made me feel refreshed. I loved enthusiasm. I probably didn't show it on my face, but it meant a lot. His wife Heather was at the end of the U-turn working hard to have fresh nutrition for any runner that needed it. If you don't know already, their band Ravinwolf will rock your trail shoes off...maybe even some mud on your legs. Check 'em out at the bottom of this post, buy their CDs and support their musical talent:

After the 2nd U-turn I put in a 1 minute plus lead. Awesome. At the start/finish line U-turn a solid 3:24 gap. Two lap courses are great...when it's dry. The saturated ground was beat-up and the mud wasn't taking any prisoners. With the number of people on the course it was only getting worse and I still had another lap to run. I wanted to negative split, but it just wasn't possible with the footing. Nonetheless, I crossed the line in 1:26:53 and felt great. I can't wait to come back and, hopefully, improve my time on a much drier course.

Big congratulations to some friends that also raced that morning:
Daniel C., 2 half-marathons in 2 days. One on Saturday and one on Sunday...unbelievable!
Photo courtesy:  Takao Suzuki
Sheila F., Daniel's beautiful wife. Ran the 10-miler, smiling in every picture...awesome!
Photo by Louise Lakier Photography
Used with permission of Sheila F.  
Justin D. 2nd Overall for the 5-miler in a blazing time for a soggy course, great job!
Photo courtesy:  Takao Suzuki 
Danielle H. Smiling as well, and gave some great words of encouragement on my 2nd lap...thanks!
Photo courtesy:  Takao Suzuki