Saturday, May 14, 2011

Palos Verdes Half Marathon 2.0

Since I resumed running back in 2007, I have yet to repeat an event ...until today.

The Palos Verdes half and full may be the closest marathons to my home (and one of the more reasonably priced), but I would never have guessed either would break the streak. I seriously did not want to experience another meltdown on the Peninsula as I did three years ago.

My attitude started to change less than a month ago when John, a video game industry colleague, told me that this year's event would feature a new, flatter course. He planned to run PV as his first half marathon and encouraged me to join him. How could I resist the developer of Resistance?

I checked out the course map on the official website. I realized that, with only a few exceptions, I had already run upon these roads many times before and, in some cases, within much longer workouts. Two weeks ago, I included the few remaining ascents and descents in a 13+ miler. The new route felt much more like a home course...and yet I still hesitated to register.

I had lost a lot of speed since I achieved my PR at the Surf City Marathon. I had not only taken a full week off for snowboarding in early March, but had also come home with a cold. My calves needed more time than expected to recover from a late March six miler that I ran in Five Fingers. I had spent all of April trying to resume my normal routine. For awhile, I averaged between 9 and 10 minutes per mile...far off my annual average for the past two years.

Even this past week, I have only averaged in the 8 to 9 minute range.

In other words, I do not expect this to be a fast race, but I do expect to best my previous performance. And, no matter what, my time will be a PR for this particular course. This certainly takes some pressure off.

As does living five minutes from the shuttle stop. I drive up to the Promenade, find a parking spot right away, and join a relatively short line of people waiting to get transportated to the starting line. Buses arrive frequently, so I am seated before I become too aware of this morning's cool damp weather.

The bus drops us at the staging area between the starting line and the all-important port-a-potties. This is almost too convenient. Though it was a tad damp earlier, the weather now seems perfect--cool, overcast, no wind. I take out my smartphone to capture some shots. I have time to kill.

I meet up with John. He introduces me to one of his Manhattan Beach neighbors who will be running the half marathon today. I also meet Ryan, an Insomniac coworker who is using this event as training for an Ironman Triathlon. Why are none of my close friends running today? Where's Valerie?

I plan a late pit stop to make sure I do not repeat a certain issue I experienced during Surf City. I time the line perfectly, giving myself just enough time to go, walk back to the starting area on Palos Verdes Drive South, snap a picture of the starting corral, and find John and Ryan in the crowd. I do feel a touch of pre-race angst, but this is definitely the most relaxed I have ever been before a race.

The horn sounds.

There may only be a few thousand running today, but it still takes time to reach the initial timing mat. I forget about John and Ryan and immediately start looking for opportunities to advance along the right side of the road. After making my way through the initial pack, I get up to speed quickly...perhaps too quickly. I am totally experiencing race day euphoria. I wish I could somehow harness this feeling on training days.

The route's first turn takes us down Calle Entradero. This initial descent encourages me to run faster. I glance at my watch as I pass the first mile marker. 7:53 is well ahead of my average pace over the past month. Considering I have only run a few miles within the 7-to-8 minute per mile range over the past week or two, I grow concerned I may have started too fast. Fortunately, the first climb provides a natural brake.

The route turns north on Palos Verdes Drive West. Despite my better judgement, I pick up the pace. The elevation change here is minimal to downward trending. I complete the second mile even faster...7:49.

I spot my dad as I approach Paseo Lunado. I had told him in advance that this intersection would be a great location for spectators because the route crosses this street three times. Thankfully he did not rely upon the time estimates I provided because he would have arrived here too late. He videotapes me as I run by and on to Paseo Lunado.

When I ran here two weeks ago to scope out the course, I was uncertain whether the course turns down an alley or Via Pacheco (the online map does not list all of the street names). I am glad to see I guessed correctly. Knowing that Via Pacheco has a slight incline that starts to steepen just before turning down an alley helps me pace myself accordingly. And yet I complete the third mile in 7:35!

The alley drops sharply on to Via Caleta, increasing my pace yet again...but I am not worried. If you think about it, running a 5K in 24 minutes is not that fast. I carry the speed on to Paseo del Mar, but let it bleed off as I continue towards my second encounter with Paseo Lunado...and my dad.

Shortly after the mile 5 marker, I approach the a hydration station. I figure this is as good a time as any to consume my first Cliff Shot. Unfortunately, a couple things go wrong at this station. The volunteers are not prepared with fluids, only fruit and other snacks that I am not interested in (especially not after consuming the Cliff Shot). As I approach the final volunteer, he turns around to grab fluids. I run past, but, realizing I need to water to chase down the gel, decide to turn around and collect a cup of fluid. To make matters worse, this station only has Gatorade...which does not go well with my shot. I kick it up a notch as I turn myself around, hoping to make up for lost time.

Fortunately, this next stretch of Paseo del Mar is very familiar territory. I include it on ten and eleven mile home orbits...one of my shortest "long" runs that I do on weekends. I usually detour on to a trail that runs along the cliffs, but don't mind sticking to the road for this race. The incline is a bit gentler...and seems easier than normal. I do not slow down nearly as much as I would have expected. Before I realize it, I have already turned south on to Palos Verdes Drive West...and my pace gradually increases yet again.

As I continue past Paseo Lunado on Palos Verdes Drive West, my dad catches up to me in his Prius and videotapes me with one hand while attempting to steer with the other. He is doing a fairly decent job of matching my pace, but I grow concerned he might be getting a bit too close to the curb. I tell him to watch where he is going. I shift my focus back to managing my pace.

After the 8th mile marker, I am surprised to see the course turns down Calle Entradero. I could have sworn the map shows us continuing straight on Palos Verdes Drive West. As the course flattens, I encounter a fairly strong headwind accompanied by light drizzle...and I start to worry that I will be facing this weather for the remainder of the race. As the road starts to turn back towards Palos Verdes Drive South, I face an additional unexpected challenge: the steepest incline of the entire race. I have run up far steeper and longer hills, but this one seems to be affecting me more...probably because I did not see it coming. I just hope I will be able to regain my pace once I reach the top!

I am relieved to be back on Palos Verdes Drive South. I can see the Starbucks at Golden Cove Plaza...coffee sounds really good right now.

The road straightens as I return to the start/finish line, but I still have three miles to run. Ahead I see what seems like a endless climb. It is not steep, but worrisome when combined with a headwind. As I run by Terranea, I realize I do not know exactly how far the course continues along Palos Verdes Drive South. The online map shows the route pass Wayfarer's Chapel, but does it reach the roller coaster ride known as Portuguese Bend?

I try to ease my present concerns by shifting my focus ahead. What goes up will come down. I think about how my legs will naturally accelerate over the long descent, how my heart rate will drop. The wind will be on my back. I tell myself I will finish strong. And then I realize I am running downhill again...meaning I will face at least one more incline before I finish.

Shortly after the turnaround point, John spots me from the opposite side. I cheer him on, happy to see that his race also appears to be going very well. Then it dawns on me. If I slow down on the final climb, he may catch me...so I attack the hill.

I feel my pace drop, but I continue to push taking comfort in what lies ahead. As soon as the hill crests, I kick in the afterburner. There's less than a mile to go!

I am flying down to Terranea. A quick glance at my watch shows my pace accelerating towards 6 minutes per mile. I can see the finish line. I start looking for my mom and Valerie. I just catch a glimpse of them and hear their cheers as I go running by. I turn toward the chute and spot my friend Pete just as he notices me. By the time he gets his camera ready, I have already passed him and crossed the finish line.

I remember to stop my watch when I reach the volunteers who are handing out the medals. My watch reads 1:42:06. I am shocked. I have beaten my half marathon PR by over three minutes! I also feel like I could keep running. I am not at all winded. Could I be experiencing runner's high? I meet up with mom, Valerie, and Pete. All mention having a hard time snapping my picture. What...was I supposed to slow down?

John comes down the chute shortly after, achieving an impressive 1:44:10 for his first half marathon. Took me five tries to break 1:45. He needs a moment to catch his breath and sits down.

Another runner I do not recognize approaches. He thanks me for maintaining such a strong pace and mentions that I probably did not notice him because he was drafting off me for much of the race. This is a first.

Results (official)
1:42:03 (7:47/mi)

77 / 1013 overall
15 / 78 male finishers age 35-39

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