Apr 18, 2011

2011 Hook Mountain Half Marathon: 2:12:55 (PR)

On April 10th, I ran the Hook Mountain Half Marathon for the third time, and finished in a Personal Record time of 2:12:55. This was my fourth PR in as many weeks.

I really can't write about this year's race without referring to last year's. I've never worked in a race so hard as I did last year at this race. For some reason, that day I was able to dig deeper than I ever had and pull out the kind of performance that was more guts than training. My time, 2:17, was a dramatic PR and I was left tired for a couple of weeks afterward.

Going into this year's race, several factors were in play:
  • I was in better shape
  • I had just run a 50M the week prior, and another 50M three weeks prior
  • I could not afford to be tired for a week or two after this race, so..
  • .. I would not "kill myself" in this race.
Quick Synopsis
I went out feeling comfortable but was concerned about my pace which was very fast for me, especially on the hills from miles 4-6.  To compensate, I took walk breaks on a couple of the later hills, but it was too little too late and I had to get out of my comfort zone to maintain reasonably even splits for the balance of the race.

The course
This half marathon is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a trail run because of the hills and the fact that it's not all asphalt. This course is all roads. The hills are relatively steep for being roads, but not so much that your Honda would have a problem ascending them. If this were a real trail race, the steepest longest hill would be rather mild. And there is nothing remotely technical on any part of the course.

The Course
I break the course itself into three sections: The first section, which is four miles, are completely flat, and include most of a lap around Rockland Lake plus a mile on the auto road. The second section, miles four to nine, continue on the rolling hills of the auto road south and then east of the lake until going through a col and steeply descending down to the Hudson River. This Hudson River portion is the only non-paved part of the race, and includes 1.25 miles of completely flat dirt road ending with a not-so-subtle paved hill to a turnaround, where you return down the hill, back on the 1.25 miles of flat, and then steeply back up to the col. This steep hill is the race's namesake and it's what everyone talks about in the post-race tent. The third section descends the rolling hills with a couple of short but steep rollers back to the lake, where runners finish with two miles of completely flat asphalt again.

The course is thus about 60% flat, 40% hills, and 75% asphalt, 25% dirt. Most people don't consider it a PR course.

My race
My goal time for the race was simply to beat last year and run even splits. I knew I was in better shape and could match last year's time without exhausting myself. My goal was to thus set a new PR and figured the race would be a success if I could run even splits at the end as at the beginning.

Splits taken from my Garmin

Section 1 - too fast
There is a concurrent 5K run and walk that starts at the same time as the half. The start is thus very crowded and difficult to navigate. It spread out sufficiently after a mile, so I settled into a groove and tried to maintain 10 minutes per mile, which was easy - too easy. I was alarmed when, in my third mile, I found myself running sub-9:30. I tried to ease off the pace but still had a 9:39 split for that mile. Mile 4 was still a tad too fast at 9:50.

Section 2 - still too fast, paying for it
In mile 5 the hills started and I still went too fast on the harder terrain, getting a 9:45 split. I was concerned to find myself quickly passing people when going up hill. Because of the kind of training I've been doing lately, I expected to be strong on the hills, but not like this. I didn't expect to be so dramatically stronger than the flat-terrain sub-10 runners, and took it as a warning sign. Mile 6 is where we descend Hook Mountain, which is a half-mile long and very steep, so I wasn't surprised or concerned to do it in 9:16. My aggressive hill pace caught up to me on the flat section by the river, however, and found myself struggling to maintain a 10-minute per mile pace. In particular, the hill at the turn around nearly reduced me to a shuffle, but I managed to stay strong and run these three miles in 10:00, 10:06, and 9:50. But by the time I returned to the steep hill, I was ready for the walk break.

The hill at Hook Mountain can be broken up into two parts, divided by a caretaker's house. The lower portion has a hill that ascends sharply from the river but flattens out for a few hundred meters until getting to the house. The upper portion is just as steep as the lower but without any flat, so it can start to get real long towards the top. Feeling like I needed to pay the piper for the early-race speed, I took a walk break on the hill (but not the flat) of the lower portion, which allowed me to recover enough to run the entire upper portion, albeit slowly. I clicked off mile 10 right at the summit of the hill, having done it in 11:48.

Section 3 - holding it together
Continuing to run after the top and after catching my breath on a brief downhill, I returned to the rollers of the auto road and just tried to stay as comfortable as possible. I didn't feel like I was going to be able to maintain 10 minute miles at this point. I was pretty tired, however, and never could get back into that easy groove I had early. I even took a brief walk break on one of the rollers, which again made me feel a lot better. Mile 11 was 10:20, the slowest mile of my day (not counting the Hook itself.)

Mile 12 is all either downhill or flat. I did it in 10:01. By now there didn't seem to be anything in between "Pushing The Pace" and a walk break. I would have liked to slow down to 10:30 or 11:00 but for some reason I wasn't able to. Mile 13 was more of the same, and I did it in 10:05. I would have liked to walk some of these last sections but, with the end so close, I figured I'd just keep going.

About to Finish with Caden and Joey. Photo by Carl Cox.
The first time I saw the finish line clock, it read 2:12:30. I pushed hard to the finish to get in under 2:13. According to my Garmin, my pace after mile 13 was sub-9:00.


This was a great race for me. I accomplished everything I wanted. I pushed hard and felt it the next day, but not so hard that I'll feel it in a week. I beat my time last year by about 5 minutes. I came home with a PR. And, every one of my miles (up and down Hook notwithstanding) were within 21 seconds of 10 minutes, which is about all I can ask for. I did pay for my early enthusiasm, but the numbers indicate that even the mile where I took a brief walk break was only 42 seconds slower than my fastest (again, not counting the Hook itself.) If I could change anything, I would try to keep the splits even more even. I wonder if I kept my pace in miles 3-6 at around 9:55, if I could have kept the pace after 10 at around that pace as well.

By the way

I had the pleasure of running this race with a few dozen of my coworkers. In fact my company paid our entry fee and gave a nice tech shirt to all of us. It also gave a decent-sized donation to the race's charity. The vast majority of my coworkers did the 5K, and a couple of them came in the top 20. Four of us did the half-marathon. It was great fun!

Apr 13, 2011

2011 Umstead 100 - 50 in 12:21 (PR)

The 2011 Umstead 100-miler, in which I took the 50-mile finish, was one of the more interesting races I have ever run.
Pre-race hanging out
One of the nice things about the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run is that the race director generously awards a 50-mile finish to anyone who goes at least that far. Umstead is the only race I know of with this policy - where one can enter a 100-mile race, go 75 miles, and not get a DNF. That's very friendly of the race organizers and frankly is consistent with the spirit of friendliness and hospitality that makes this race so wonderful.

Quick Synopsis

For the first 4 hours, I was running a 100-miler. Then, at about 20 miles in, I decided that I would not make it to 100. After nearlt dropping at mile 25, I convinced myself at mile 28 that I would not drop but go the last 22 miles and "Take the 50." Then, at about mile 38, I experienced a remarkable recovery which I used to both come from behind the 8-ball to attain a Personal Record at the 50 mile distance and at the same time consciously and intentionally sabotage any possibility that I could last 100 miles.

Detailed Report

Lap 1 (12.5 miles in 2:46), "Wow, look at everyone running away." Started like any other ultra for me. The first lap was uneventful. Spent a few miles with Meredith and Ethel and enjoyed the sunrise. Pre-dawn darkness seemed to have an unusually negative effect on me. Not much else to say.

Lap 1. Photo by Tammy Massie.
Lap 2 (3:02), "I feel horrible, I stepped in horse shit, and took a faceplant."  Suffice it to say that this lap went really badly. My condition deteriorated dramatically; much faster than it had in the 50-mile race I ran two weeks prior. I felt some lower-back pain and had a very negative disposition. It seemed far too early in the race to feel so bad, and that something must be wrong. I tried to convince myself to drop when the lap was over at mile 25. The negative disposition wasn't helped by the fact that, 9 miles into the lap, I stepped in horse shit. And, at the end of the lap, I tripped on something and took a very hard and painful fall, exacerbating my desire to drop. Had it not been for my wife's encouragement to continue, I may have done exactly that.
Lap 2. Photo by Ginette Portera
Lap 3 (3:35), "Let me go do the Airport Spur, and see if I feel better." The Airport Spur is a short out-and-back at the beginning of the loop. On the way back it comes within a half-mile of the start/finish area, which makes the idea of "just doing the airport spur" a rational strategy to assess my condition - figuring that if it doesn't improve I can just return after 3 miles. I used this same trick last year and it worked well. This year, it still worked, but in a different way. I didn't feel any better at the end of the spur, but I couldn't get myself to return either. So I made a deal with myself - don't DNF now, and just do the 50. It got me to continue.

I don't remember much more of this lap, except that many people passed me. By the numbers, this was my slowest lap by over a half-hour! At the end of it, I knew that I was about 30 minutes behind my PR pace for 50 miles. I told my wife I was stopping at 50. She agreed that it was probably a good idea to save myself for Miwok on May 7th, which is my primary "A" race this spring.

Lap 3
Lap 4 (2:55), "This is my last lap, so let's kill it." On the airport spur for this lap, I caught up to Meredith and Ethel, and spent about a half-mile walking and jogging with them. I felt great; in fact, a tremendous amount of energy was just begging to be released. So I started running ahead of them and felt really strong. For the rest of this lap, I tried to run as much as I could. Knowing this would be my last lap, I decided to Leave It All On The Course. Because I had just run 37.5 miles, I didn't think I could make up the half-hour required to get a PR, but I was going to run as hard as I could anyway. So I ran. I ran down hills hard. I ran up hills. I ran flats without walking breaks. I got in and out of the mid-lap aid station as fast as I could. In fact, it was at that aid station I realized that a PR was in reach, perhaps even 12:15, so I pushed even harder. I ran in the hilly Sawtooth Section. When I felt the pain I kept running. I caught a bunch of people who passed me in lap 3. I normally am not the one passing people, and it felt good.

Smiling because I'm about to finish lap 4. Photo by Tammie Massie.
When I finished the lap, there was little question in my mind that I was done. I had thoroughly exhausted myself in lap 4, and I felt not unlike what it feels like to run a half-marathon hard. I sat down and watched the people I had passed come in, many of whom were also stopping at 50. Being accustomed to having people watch me finish, this was a new experience. Being competitive by nature, I struggle with the fact that I am so slow, so sitting and watching for a half-hour was pretty satisfying.

Post-race thoughts

Do I regret not doing 100?

Unlike previous 100-mile attempts, this time the answer is an emphatic "no." I pretty damned happy with how I did, the main reason being I simply was not in the mood to be out all night - I had no desire to continue. this is in contrast to previous 100s where I was gung-ho about the night. This time, I was perfectly content with the idea of finishing before the sun went down and taking a PR in a shorter-than-planned race.

And that's why this race is so interesting to me. In the past I've always been overwhelmed by the pain and suffering, which caused me to drop, which in turn resulted in regret. That would have been the case had I dropped at 25. But this time I stopped at a point where I felt good and strong and in a positive mood. This has never been the case.

I am bothered that I still have yet to finish a traditional 100-mile race, but not as much as you'd expect. There will be other 100s I can run - including, of course, next year's Umstead.

On the Umstead 50

I started this post by saying that a nice thing about Umstead is that they'll gladly award you a 50 finish if you go that far. I will conclude by criticizing the policy. Despite my no-regret perspective on the 50 finish, having a 50-mile option that you can take mid-race makes it far too easy to quit, thus making a 100-mile finish more difficult. Rather than allowing people to choose the 50 mid-race, my suggestion would be to require participants to declare that they're in for just 50 before the race starts.  While this would most likely have resulted in a DNF for me personally (even though I might have declared myself for the 50 before the race had the option been available), it probably would have given me a little more drive to continue past 50.