Saturday, May 19, 2012

Palos Verdes Half Marathon 2012

Palos Verdes organizers got off to a rocky start with this year's event long before race day.  First came news that they would be dropping the 26.2 mile race, second longest running marathon behind Boston.  Even though I did not want to run last year's two lap configuration, I had ramped up my training in anticipation of running a full...hoping to make this my first two marathon year.  I was further upset because I missed out on early bird pricing (I was in no rush to register because organizers had not previously upped the price as race day approached).  Adding insult, I completely missed news about being able to pick up my bib number and chip the Saturday before...and when I finally did arrive at Village Runner on the Friday before the race the volunteers appeared to be totally unprepared.  I waited at least ten minutes for one volunteer to find my bib because the box including my range of last names (G-J) was not with the others.  I had to wait perhaps five minutes longer for the guy to find my chip...and he had to look back at my bib number several times before he found the right one.

Race day starts a bit more smoothly.  I wake up with my alarm, have plenty of time to enjoy cereal, coffee, and to gear up for the race.  Sky is overcast and temperature is a perfect 58 degrees...warm enough to not need long sleeves, cool enough to leave the door open for another personal best.  There is no traffic between home and The Promenade on the Peninsula, parking is a breeze, there is no line at the shuttle stop, and the bus that is starting to depart as I arrive has room for three more.

I reach the staging area for the race 45 minutes before the official start time.  I grab a cup of water at a pre-race aid station, hit the restroom before a line forms, take some pictures, then start looking for Leo, a friend who plans to use me as a rabbit (though I suspect he would be more useful to me...my average pace has been falling over the past couple of years and, judging from his posts on Facebook, he is clearly faster).  He is quite tall, not a hard guy to find in a crowd.  We have a bit more trouble trying to locate Charlie.  Nerves start to set it, so we wisely hop into the queue for restrooms.  It is quite long, but moving fast.

As the scheduled 7am race time approaches, a bit of confusion ensues; no one appears certain where to queue up for the race.  Leo and I hover about what appears to be the start-finish line...occasionally breaking away for short sprints to keep our legs loose.  The time for an aerobic pre-race workout comes and goes without even an announcement.  I see someone moving the start sign, so I follow him up to Palos Verdes Drive South.  There are only a couple of runners up here warming up, but this is clearly where the start timing mats have been placed.  I wave to Leo to get him to join me on the street.

Leo continues to warm up as more runners start to show up.  The race is scheduled to start in three minutes, but, again, the majority of participants are still in the parking lot below.  Finally someone makes an official announcement.  The masses approach.  Leo and I have a sweet central spot just a couple of seconds from the timing mat.

Nearly five minutes after 7, the national anthem is sung.  A few minutes later and we are finally off to the races...heading east on Palos Verdes Drive South.  Last year's race started in the opposite direction, but I welcome this change.  During last night's pre-race carbo-load, Charlie explained that the alteration to stat and finish was made to better accommodate post-race traffic, but I see it as a huge mental boost for racers.  There is nothing quite as disheartening in a race than seeing the finish line long before you can actually cross it, made even worse because this particular stretch not only went by the finish line, but continued uphill for what seemed like an eternity given how late in the race it occurred.  Now we endure this climb with fresh legs, an incline that naturally keeps our pace within reason until we have fully loosened up.

As we approach the crest of this first hill, I noticed my Garmin watch has not recorded any distance.  Damn!  Somehow the GPS receiver switched off before I started the timer.  No GPS means I will have to wait until the mile markers and calculate the pace in my head.  I fiddle with my watch and manage to enable the GPS, but it has difficulty locking on to the satellites while moving.  Fortunately, I am running with Leo, so he keeps me informed of our pace.

The GPS kicks in just before the first mile marker, so I can now get immediate snapshots of my pace.  Still, I am REALLY disappointed that my lap markers will not correspond with mile markers and that I will not have complete track data.  I must not dwell upon this.  I have a race to run.  I am otherwise feeling great.

We kick up the pace as we descend to the turn around point near Wayfarer's Chapel and the climb before the return descent towards Terranea hardly slows us down.  Shortly after the U-turn, Leo and I spot Charlie approaching.  He certainly looks enthusiastic, but he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to catch us.  We complete the first two miles in roughly 7:30/mile.  We are targeting a pace of around 7:40 for the first half of the race, so we are off to a great start.

My laces on my right shoe feel loose, but the knot looks tight.  The padding must not be fully packed down.  This is one of the downsides of running in a relatively new pair of shoes (and one of the key reasons I always break in a new pair with at least one long run prior to racing in them).  As long as my foot does not slide during the hilly sections of the course, I should be fine.  I certainly do not want to have to deal with blisters this early into a race.

Leo and I still running with one another as we turn down Via Vicente to Calle Entradero, but, as we expected, I get a little ahead on the descent...and Leo passes me on the climb.  I have warned Leo not to waste too much energy on this hill because it is the steepest of the race.  I do not catch him again until we are around the intersection of Palos Verdes Drive West and Paseo Lunado.   As we pass the aid station at Mile 6, Leo mentions we are on track for a 45 minute 10K...our pace is still good.

As we start the steep drop from Via Alvarado to Paseo del Mar, I hear Leo say something about this being my turn.  I really accelerate quickly on such drops.  Leo complains the whole way down and loses some ground to me, but my lead does not last long.  Leo passes me as the road bends back towards Paseo Lunado.  I try to stay with him, especially when I spot my dad, video camera in hand, standing at the intersection.

My race starts to unravel as we approach the mile 8 marker.  At the aid station, I spot a volunteer handing out Cliff Shots, but I knock the package out of his hands as I run by.  I make the split decision to turn back and pick it up.  Last year I made a similar u-turn to grab water to chase down a Shot, but the added process of bending down to reach a packet on the ground may have taken more energy.  I decide to pocket the energy gel and consume it with water from the next aid station. I have lost enough time here.  Leo now has a good lead.  I try to chase him down.

Making matters worse, my right shoe now feels really loose.  Sustaining momentum is in my best interest as I have just started the climb back towards Palos Verdes Drive West, but it looks as though my laces have come undone.  Why did I not think to check my laces when I stopped for the Cliff Shot?  I must stop to tighten the laces now.  Blisters are no longer my only concern...I could lose my timing chip!  Leo continues to build his lead as I address this issue.

When I turn the corner on to Palos Verdes Drive West, I can no longer see Leo.  He is long gone.  Last night, Leo told me his strategy was to assess how he feels at mile 9 and decide if he can finish this race in under 1:40.  I never planned on going that fast, so I will make no further effort to catch him.  That said, the descent along PV Drive definitely gives me a pace boost.  As far as I can tell, I am still on track to beat my personal record.

I am feeling a bit less enthusiastic when I pass by my dad again at Paseo Lunado.  The slight incline has started to take its toll.  I also start thinking ahead to the climb up Via Vicente...which I imagine will feel even worse than last year given how late it occurs in the course.

On the bright side, the return to Calle Entradero does not suffer from last year's combination of headwind and mist.  And, knowing that we do not have to run past Terranea means I have no reason to conserve energy on the climb up Via Vicente.  I attack the hill.  I have been behind a short girl wearing a maroon shirt for most of this race.  Though she continues to maintain a strong pace, I finally start to catch her.  We encounter traffic...5K walkers appear to be struggling to make it up the hill.  She goes right and cuts the corner on to Palos Verdes Drive South.  I swing wide to the left, so she increases her lead.

I am amused that this girl starts jumping and waving to people at Golden Cove Plaza.  She certainly has a lot of energy.  I left a lot of mine back on that hill.  Fortunately, this final stretch is downhill trending.  I pass her as we reach the Point Vicente Lighthouse.  She manages to get by me shortly thereafter.  I surge ahead of her shortly after I spot the finish line, but she reclaims the lead just before I spot Valerie in the crowd...and hangs on to finish less than two seconds ahead of me.

I regroup with friends and family as soon as I clear the finish chute.  Those of us who ran the 5K are already done.  Leo has managed his goal, finishing the half marathon in under 1:40.  I also achieved mine, crossing the mat with 1:41:06 on the clock (exactly one minute ahead of last year's gun time).  My watch reads 1:40:55, so I am extremely curious to see if my chip time places me under 1:41.  We work our way over to the results.  The first batch of half marathon times are in, but neither of us are on the page yet.

We hang around the finish line until Charlie finishes.  He completes the half in 1:55:03, also an expected result given how little he has trained since running the L.A. Marathon a couple of months ago.

Once again, we head over to check the race results.  Leo finds his tag time: 1:39:27.4, 2.4 seconds faster than his gun time.  I look for my name, but cannot find it.  It should appear somewhere near the middle of this page.  I cannot even locate my bib number.

The disappointment continues when I head down hill to collect my post-race snacks.   There are no bagels, the watermelon is kind of tasteless, the oranges are not very sweet, the energy bar is coconut something-or-another.  Fortunately the bag of kettle corn is good.  I am also happy to receive my finisher's shirt...first year Palos Verdes has offered a technical shirt.

I return to the finish area to see if the results have been updated.  My name or bib number still do not appear upon any page.  I head over to the timing tent and ask the timing crew to investigate what may have happened.  They cannot find a result, but do have handwritten record of my bib number's gun time.  They ask to see my bib.  Upon closer examination, they discover that the electronically printed label lists my name, but with a different bib number.  According to the label, I should have been issued bib and chip number 1622.  I am wearing 1609.  Someone screwed up big time!  The timing crew says the best they can do now is enter my gun time AS my official time.  Not ideal, but better than nothing.

With last year's long wait firmly in mind, Valerie encourages us to line up for the shuttle ahead of the crowd.  This turns out to be a really wise move.  The line is relatively short when we arrive.  As we wait, the line grows quickly behind us.  I estimate that we are not waiting for more than twenty minutes before the next bus arrives...and we manage to squeeze on board (I do not mind standing).

From what I hear, some people waited over an hour for the shuttle.

If PV does not get their act together, I may rethink my plan to run this race every year.

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