Well, I woke up this morning to the expected rain and wind that had been forecasted. Woodinville, site of the race, is about a 30-minute drive and away from the foothills so I was hoping for better weather down there. Ummm...not so much. Pretty much rained the entire race. Not hard, but constant and enough to get pretty soaked from head to toe. The nice thing was that the temperture was perfect. 56-58 degrees and not a ray of sun in sight. The past few times I've run this race, it's been quite warm and muggy so the cooler temps were welcome even if it meant rain.
I despise this course but it's the PNTF Half Marathon championships so there is this kind of obligatory expectation that you run it. Plus, sadly, it's one of the few half marathons for the rest of the year so if you miss it, you're out of luck finding a competitive half until Spring. The course is fine until you hit Mile 6. After a big S-turn with one of those turns being a severe hairpin turn, you hit a monster hill that is probably only .1 mile in length but very steep. For those keep score, that's why my Mile 7 -- and everybody's -- is so slow. But I'm fine with a few hills here and there. Not everything, especially around here, can be flat, but miles 9 and 10 are ridiculous because you essentially wind through the UW Bothell campus four times with several very sharp turns. It's just silly. I figure this course surrenders 20 seconds or so just on completely ridiculous turns. We're talking the equivalent of five or six "turnarounds" where you basically have to come to a stop and start again, especially on wet roads like we had today. OK..I'm done whining about the course. I think.
Mile 1 is a gentle uphill, but uphill nevertheless. I would complain about that but I said I was done complaining. The worst part is that they still haven't figured out how to make the Mile 1 marker accurate. Seriously. How hard is it. Get on your freaking bike, use the Jones counter you used to certify the course and get it right. I was supposedly 5:00 at Mile 1. No way.
Mile 2 is basically flat and Mile 3 is a net downhill as you head into some park in Woodinville. The course itself is beautiful. However, they do this dumb half marathon walk thing that starts an hour ahead of the real race and by Miles 4 and 5, the faster runners start catching the walkers which makes for a lot of congestion on what is a fairly narrow bike path through the park. BTW...that was a complaint about race management not the course. :-)
Felt pretty good through Mile 5. I was still in 6th place and the lead pack had finally made it clear that I wasn't going to catch them as they were now out of sight. A teammate of mine, Brett Winegar, was the only person behind me who was close and he was about 75-100 meters back.
(As a sidenote, at CC Nationals in Spokane last December, I passed Brett about halfway through. He looked absolutely awful. Then with about 1/2 mile to go, he passed me as if he were Usain Bolt and he wound up beating me. Be assured that I had this replaying in my mind throughout today's race.)
At Mile 6 we enter the campus rat maze where I enocuntered hairpin turn #1. (Not complaining, just stating facts.) I am very familiar with the killer hill ahead and just like I do with the Veyo hill at SGM, I planned to take it slower up that hill on purpose. My theory is that on hills like this you can't win a race, but you sure can lose it. So Mile 7 was slow but within the range I expected.
After a mile or so jaunt through historic Woodinville (or whatever town it is) we were back at my favorite campus for some more a"maze"ing running experiences. A few hairpin turns later we were at Mile 9. I say we because by now Brett had caught me. I have a rule that once I pass someone, they never pass me back. So my rule had, at least for now, been broken.
Overall I was feeling fine but mentally, I wasn't really there. I was playing through my head the various scenarios of how the final 4 miles might play out. Josh Ricardi, another teammate, was 1/4 back but not closing. Brett and I were exchanging the lead back and forth. I didn't feel like I had a lot of fight in me at this point so while I wasn't going to give up on maintaining 6th place, i don't know that I had what it took to fend off a strong finish by Brett.
At the 11 Mile mark, we were both communicated our desire to break 70 minutes. So we bore down and really focused on nailing the two miles.
This ended up being the part of the race I was most proud of. The money only ran five deep and I was going to finish either 6th or 7th. So beat Brett or lose to Brett, I was out of the money. So a good part of me was just focused on running hard enough to break 70 minutes. It wasn't until Mile 12 where I got some fight back in me.
After an OK 5:18/5:19 set of miles, I really picked it up with 1.1 to go. As we hit the 13M marker, I felt really strong and threw everything I had at holding off Brett which I did finishing in 6th in a respectable time of 69:33, a course PR by 1:11 for me.
Running, or at least racing, is so mental. The mind is very capable of making the difference between a good race and a poor one. Obviously, the fitness has to be there, but there are a lot fo people with superior fitness who get edged out by people slightly less fit, but more mentally tough.
I'm still amazed at how good races can come of mediocre workouts. My final workout on Thursday of last week (4 miles @ 5:15 on perfectly flat pavement) was more tiring than my race today.
Below are the splits. The campus miles are Miles 7-10.