Pueblo Half Marathon
I had a great time at this race. My doubts were plentiful going into it, with weather being at the top of the list. Forecasts called for 3-4 FEET of snow in the mountains, and generally cold and wet conditions for us down below. I debated about whether it would be worth getting up early and making a two hour drive just to run 13 miles in a cold and wet mess. I’m so glad I ended up going.
The longest road race I’ve done before this was a 10k back when I was 13 years old. Needless to say, this would be totally new territory for me. The biggest question on my mind was whether I could hold on to my pace for the whole distance, or would I go out too hard, crack, then fade. My dream goal was to finish under 1:40, knowing that would be right at the very edge of my road running ability. My more realistic prediction was a 7:45 pace, which would give me an overall time of 1:41:36. I had never run that far at that pace, it would be fun to see how it would go.
I got up at 5:15 and was on the road by 6. So far, the conditions looked fine. Pretty cold, but no snow or rain. It looked like a definite ‘go’. I arrived at the start about an hour early and got registered. I have to say, this was one of the most organized and best valued races I’ve ever done. The cost was only 20 bucks and included a really nice sweatshirt with just the race logo on it (not loaded with tons of commercial sponsor logos), food/drink, super fast computerized results, a race photographer, and a very well marked course with plenty of volunteers at the aid stations. A lot of half marathons charge as high as $75. Well done Southern Colorado Runners!
I got in a good warmup, including a few hundred yards at my target pace. Everything felt remarkably good. It seems like reducing my mileage a bit in the past few weeks has given all of my nagging injuries time to finally start healing up. Things aren’t perfect, but I’m happy with how everything’s feeling lately. My biggest decision would be what to wear. Sounds lame, I know, but the temp was in the mid 20s and I’m used to doing long runs at a steady pace – not going all out for an hour plus. I knew I should err on the cold side, but on the other hand, didn’t really feel like being cold. I ended up wearing tights, a long sleeve base layer, and a heavier long sleeve shirt. Then topped it off with a hat and gloves.
I lined up in the third row, repeating over and over in my mind – don’t start too fast! I am always very prone to going out quick and then paying for it later. I wanted to hit the first mile in 8 minutes and then go from there. The command was given and 350 of us started pounding pavement. The course consisted of 2 x 1 mile laps around the park we were in before it descended to a path along the Arkansas River for a 5+ mile out-and-back section. I checked my watch a few minutes after the start and was surprised to see I was running an even 7:00 pace. I wasn’t breathing hard at all, and my legs felt fine. For a second I considered keeping it up, but then I remembered my don’t start too fast phrase I had been repeating to myself all morning.
I slowed way down and was swarmed by a steady stream of runners flowing by me. It felt like I was going backwards until I reached my desired pace and started holding my ground a little more. I estimate I was back around 150-200th place before mile 2. Man, I was starting to have my doubts about holding back like I was, but I stuck to it. It seemed like a lot of the people passing me were breathing extremely hard, and I was surprised they would be pushing like that so early. Of course of lot of them had headphones on (some you could hear from 10 feet away!). I love running with my iPod, but you gotta listen to the body sometimes, too…
I was starting to pick up my level of effort just slightly and held it at the top end of my ‘comfort’ range. I welcomed the chance to get water at the 4 mile aid station, but between the volunteer mis-handling my cup and my inexperience drinking from one on the run it wasn’t a very satisfying event. I splashed it all over my face and the front of my shirt before getting a few sips down. Made me wish I was running with my hand-held bottle like I normally do.
Starting just after mile 4, we transitioned from a cement bike path onto dirt road. The thought of running on dirt really got me going and I couldn’t hold back any more. I took off like a rabbit up a small climb and started passing people like crazy. I was pushing hard, way above my comfort zone, and now would find out how long I could sustain that effort.
The wind was ripping down the river valley and really hit hard whenever we ventured into an exposed area. A check of WeatherUnderground after the race showed gusts in the 30-40mph range. There were some sweet tailwind sections on the way back, but overall it felt like the wind took more than it gave.
The road was pretty rough double track and I spent a lot of energy sprinting past people in the center section which was full of rocks and weeds. It was costing me big-time, but I was having a lot of fun doing it. After one more mighty blast of wind that I thought would stop me in my tracks, I made it to the turnaround. Time to hammer it home. Now I was contending with traffic coming the other way as well as trying to get around the runners ahead of me. Maybe holding back for so long wasn’t such a good idea? No matter, I was doing the best I could to run right at the edge of my capacity without going over – yet.
With about 3 miles to go, people were a lot more spread out. I had to work hard for every pass now. Most of the time, runners would stay with me for a while before I would leave them and continue up to the next one. I had a couple of moments where I thought about cracking and giving in, but they were short lived. I was constantly amazed at how I would catch someone and be dying just to hold their pace, but then eventually be able to work my way past them and move ahead. I was really digging deep now, and thankfully there was plenty there. I could tell all of my long runs were paying off now late in the race. I still felt strong and wasn’t fading.
We hit a real wall of a hill with half a mile to go and I charged up it picking off a couple more runners in the process. I thought I was going to start staggering when I came over the top because I had pushed so hard, but after a few steps I was right back into my rhythm and looking for the finish. I sprinted for all I was worth and ended a most satisfying race. I felt like I had several more miles in me, and (almost) didn’t want to see it end.
I finished with a 1:40:58 (7:42 pace) which was good for 52nd overall and 9th in my age group. I had passed somewhere between 100-150 people and was never passed by anyone after the 4 mile mark. It was just off my dream goal, but better than I predicted – with a 48 second negative split to boot. I was still very happy with the result. I know that on a little more open course with milder conditions, I’m right there. I think my biggest problem was the crazy weather. The wind made it tough in spots, but the temperature was out of control. It was 26 at the start, and I expected it to stay somewhere in the 30s for the duration of the race and dressed accordingly. The finishing temperature was 62 degrees! The wind was out of the southwest and dramatically warmed things up. I overheated big-time!! I thought about pulling my shirt off, but didn’t want to take the time to do it – so I just lived with it. I would have been a WHOLE lot happier in shorts and a t-shirt.
My splits were very even considering the conditions, and I kept increasing the effort all the way to the finish. Totally happy with the outcome, and I can’t wait to try it again!