Sunday, January 30, 2011

USA Half Marathon Championships Recap

place in top 80% of the field
goal 1: run faster than 1:20:17
goal 2: run 1:18:36 (6 min pace)

27th place out of 44 (37 finished, but 44 started)

As you can see outlined above, I did achieve over a 1 minute PR for the half marathon distance on a course that featured three 180-degree u-turns. However, I came away from this race much more disappointed than I had anticipated. Where to start....

When I arrived in Houston on Thursday night, Ruth and I met up outside the baggage claim and hopped into a shuttle with several other athletes who were competing in the Half Marathon Championships as well. One guy, Jason Orday, actually went to SIUC and we chatted about my hometown for a bit.

There is not much to report between my arrival and race day besides eating healthy and free meals and hanging out with Ruth and my roommate (Ann Alyanak), splitting our time between the Elite Hospitality Suite and our hotel rooms. The race directors set up a nice buffet style lunch and dinner that featured steamed veggies, brown rice, salad, chicken, pasta, and cookies. The food was definitely great, and the pre-race massage was just as enjoyable. I didn't have to pay a single penny for food the entire weekend because they kept the hospitality suite so well stocked with fluids and snack foods. I also met lots of amazing runners, including Jen Rhines, Zoila Gomez, Sally Meyerhoff, and Leah Thorvilson. The best part was realizing that many of these women are not too different from a runner like me, who runs almost 5-7 minutes slower than they do in a half marathon.

On race morning, I woke up at 5am to shower and eat some oatmeal. I headed to the Elite Hospitality Suite to get another gatorade before heading back to the hotel room to waste more time. Ruth stopped by and we headed over to the elite staging area in the GRB Convention Center, which was attached to the headquarters hotel and just outside of the start line. During my warmup, I couldn't help but think that this is the city where Garrett could play some day. It inspired me that I was running in the city of his baseball team!

After a short warmup around the Astros Stadium by myself, I considered my race plan. Originally, I wanted to shoot for sub 1:18:00, but I knew that my training had not been where I had expected it to be for the last six weeks. For instance, I had to drop some key workouts and I never hit 80 miles in a week due to my IT Band problems. Unlike my training leading up to Twin Cities, which left me feeling confident and in control of my goals, my training for this race left me doubting myself and like my goals were out my control. While that statement may sound depressing, I do believe that I was being realistic about how my training had gone over the past six weeks. In that respect, I reassesed my goal to run a PR and to try to hold 6 min pace as long as possible.

Soon, I headed back into the staging area to change into my Nike Zoom Marathoner racing flats. Before I knew it, we were being escorted to the start line with our plastic bags in hands. After a couple of strides and drills, I was ready to get rid of the pre-race jitters and get the show on the road! After Meagan took a cute picture of Ruth and me, we situated ourselves behind all of the really fast professional female runners.

The gun went off. I took off at my seemingly pedestrian pace compared to the front runners' pace. Ruth and I settled into a small pack of maybe 4 women. We tried to recruit people to our pack but the numbers were too thin for the back of the pack. Ruth and I led our small group through mile 3, and then Emily Potter took over the lead for less than half a mile. After the first water stop, we lost our small pack. Ruth and I ran side-by-side as we made our way back to the start line and through the 5 mile mark. I told her that I was glad she was there. Otherwise, it would have been a race completely solo for practically the entirety.

We alternated leads up until mile 8, when Ruth could feel my beginning to falter. She took off, and I fell off pace. At the water stop before mile 9, I accidentally knocked over someone else's water bottle. I didn't want to get disqualified so I stopped to pick it up. Ruth's lead on me went from 3 meters to 15 meters. That was a tough mile. After going through the first 9 miles around 6 min pace, I am most embarassed with how I executed the final 4.1 miles of the race. Instead of focusing all of my mental energy into my competition ahead of me, my thoughts began to slip out of the race. I wasn't looking up and my head was filled continuously with negative thoughts.

I gave up.

This is quite uncharacteristic of me, but I guess this is what happens to me when I'm stuck in no-mans-land and when I'm not that happy about how my training was leading up to a race. The key to success is calm confidence, and I was missing that key ingredient out there on the roads today. My last two miles were 6:11, which is the pace I ran my marathon at. In fact, I closed my last two miles of my marathon at an average pace of 6:04. Today, I was slower than that.

While I suffered, I also got to see Ruth (albeit from behind), race herself to a 2 min PR in the half - 1:18:29 - with almost exactly even splits. Had Ruth not been there, it could have been an uglier day out there for me, and I grateful that she made the trip down south, away from her kids and husband for a couple of days to participate in this championship race. It was also great to see the USA Olympic Trials course for the marathon in 2011. There will be SIX u-turns that are VERY tight. This is in an effort to mimic the Olympic marathon course in London. Why London thought it to be a good idea to make u-turns part of a world race beats me, but so goes it.

The most important thing to come away from this race is knowing what I could have done better and what I will change for next time. Fast is relative, depending on what level you are looking at it from. On a national level, I am nearly 8 minutes behind the champion, Jen Rhines, in a half marathon. That's a big difference. I finished almost fifth to last in a very competitive national race. In order for me to continue making strides in my development as a runner, I need to close that gap and get in the training that will allow me to do so. I need to stay focused during a race, even when I would much rather succomb to my body's tired whispers. Most importantly, I need to trust the work that I've done leading up to it, which is really only possible when you are completely injury free.

On a positive note, I did run a 1 minute PR on training that was not very consistent. Clearly my fitness level is higher than when I ran a half marathon in 2009 at the OBX. Also, I was very close to my 10 Mile PR on a course that was much slower than the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler course. I also was able to scope out the hotel and the course of the Olympic Trials. This will help me be better prepared for when the Trials do come! The race volunteers were also very friendly and helpful, so it is good to know that we will be in such good hands on January 14, 2012.

The plan is to now take a couple of days off, in hopes to get my IT band fully recovered and to make the transition into my next training cycle for the USA 25k Championships in May....

As a side note, some regular runners paid anywhere from $1000-$1500 to run in the Half Marathon Champs with us. Here is a great article about one man's experience.


Stephen Spada said...

Great race recap Caitlin! Seems to me you had a really enjoyable weekend! Looking forward to our next run...

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