Sunday, February 14, 2010

Race Day - San Dieguito Half Marathon 2010

Just ran the San Dieguito Half Marathon this morning. It was a very interesting experience (both the race and the day overall), and I hope to capture the details here, so I can look back at them later (something I put off doing right after AFC half, and never got back to it and now I've forgotten all the details... so, no slacking this time). But, first off, here's my performance:

Finish Time: 1:49:29
Avge. Pace: 8:18
Other Info : N/A
(NOTE: race did not feature, timing chips :(.. so, above time is, as recorder on my wrist watch's lap timer)

Although, I didn't meet the goal I had set for myself after I finished the AFC Half last year -- which was a "sub 1:45" finish, on the next half -- nonetheless, I am pretty happy overall, for two reasons:
1. This is my best time of the 4 half marathons I've run to date (PR yay!!)
2. I have reason to believe that the above numbers don't necessarily reflect my true performance on today's race, due to some major mistakes I made (keep reading to see if you agree!) (.. and let me know through comments ;-)

OK, so here are the details. Starting off from the night before... I got myself a nice meal and stayed up a little after that, to set up my iPod Playlist and figure out my mile splits. I finally crashed on the bed around 11:45 pm, shortly realizing I forgot to set my morning alarm, I quickly "resurfaced" and set my alarm clock in the dark for 6am (race start was 8am) and went back to sleep, reassured I was all set (or so I thought!). Felt like I barely closed my eyes and the alarm went off, showing 6am. I opened my eyes, peered out of the window right above my bed and noticed it was unusually dark for 6am... so, instead of getting straight to "businesss", I decided to check the main clock in the living room and sure enough, it was an awesome 3:55am!! (a quick mental recap made me realize, that I had advanced the actual time on my clock by a couple hours, while trying to set the alarm in he dark... dang!)... retreat back into the sack, reset the clock and shut eyes again... before I know it, the damn thing is going off again (and this time the correct 6am!).. I shut the alarm and decide to rest a little before waking up... and without realizing slip into a nap... and finally come to senses at 6:24am... from then on it's a race against time... I change... make a quick cup of tetley masala tea and head out, banana in one hand, red bull in another... get in the car, start moving, and the "reserve" light comes on (dang!)... quick pull into the gas station and it's 6:55am, when I actually start heading towards the race venue. I figured I was still in decent shape (but, no!)

Driving up the I-5 N, I notice a stream of red lights from Villa De La Valle (the exit 4.5mi before the exit, I was supposed to take!), on up... I keep telling myself, it's not what I think it is, but, deep down I know, I'm screwed. I sip on my red bull and hope that the endless line of cars in front of and behind me are all hopeful of actually making the race. I spend a good 40mins, going bumper to bumper at 5miles an hr (one of the rare moments where I feel like kicking myself for buying a sports coupe with a "manual" transmission :P)... finally make the exit and, guess what, now there's another line of cars (the champions that exited from the I-5 S) merging into our already endless line... awesome, just what we need. One signal down, I realize, staying in the car and trying to drive closer to the start isn't going to help... I decide to take the first right an park in the strip mall. I jump out of the car, ditch the jacket, the phone and the wallet and start running to the start line. Now, per the race brochure, I remember reading that the entrance, to San Dieguito County park (the start of the race) was the first 3-way stop after turning right from the exit. What it didn't say, is that, that 3-way stop, is a mile from exit and uphill!)... so, I quickly realize, I'm running a race, just to get to the start of my race. I finally come up to the San Dieguito county park entrance and guess what, there's no start line in sight... I see people walking down a trail. I assume that's the way... and soon enough, I'm going downhill for about a mile and half on a dirt trail (still unsure whether I'm actually heading to the start, or some place else, or I'm already running the half!). My watch at this time was a little past 8am, so, I knew I was late... I just didn't know how late. I finally see the yellow "start" banner and hear the guy say "folks starting now are 5 minutes and 20 seconds behind the official start"... aah, perfect!

So, I quickly make a decision to ditch the usual "stretching" ritual runners go through before any long run (oh, blasphemy!!)... just hit the lap timer on my trusted Timex (7 years old and going strong) and hope for the best. Now, a little comforted by the fact that I was finally in the race... I tried to block out the negative feelings of all the energy I wasted sprinting a quick 5K before my race and the fact that I was potentially going to run ~16miles without proper stretching. I come up to the 1st mile marker, check my stop watch, look at my mile split sheet (I staple it to my bib number, upside down, so I can read it at every mile) and am happy to see that I am on track. Alright, things are looking good, time to pull out the iPod headphones and get that custom playlist I set up the night before, going. Some cool new beats (like this one , I discovered a couple days ago) and I'm "cruising" along. The one thing that was bothersome was, that because I started at almost the end of the pack, I was faced with several "walls" of runners, running at a pace 2-3minutes, slower than mine. Which meant, I was constantly breaking, turning, running off trail... just to keep my overall pace in check. It almost felt like I passed half of all the runners on the race today!
I finally reached the point where you enter the "turn around loop" and noticed the first group of runners, returning. I took a quick peek at my watch and realized that a mojority of the first wave, was about 7-8 minutes in front of me at the half way point (which made me feel good, because, it meant, if I had started on time, I could easily be among the top 100 on this race!). I finally reach the turn around point (around 7.5miles) make my first water stop for the day, empty the single powerbar gel, I had carried, stretch a little, untie and tie my laces and continue on. Soon enough, I am at mile 8 and a quick check of my mile split sheet revealed,I was trailing my target by about 2mins (which meant, I was potentially looking at a 1:47 finish, as opposed to my planned 1:45). I kept at it, going up and down the rolling hills (the course is constant rolling hills, with only about 2 miles of flat running, on the whole course.. but, thankfully the gradient isn't too bad). Thanks to a couple of hills between mile 8 and 12, by mile 12, that gap had widened to about 5 minutes (oooh... veering dangerously close to 1:50 territory :( ). I realized at this point, that I had to finish the rest of the race in 8minutes, if I wanted to avoid ending into the 1:50s. Just as that thought goes through my head, I see the final hill of the race.. phew.. but, I kept telling myself that it was downhill after that all the way to the finish and finally crossed the finsh line with the "official time clock" showing 1:54: something)... I looked at my stop watch and it was 1:49:something.. which seemed to agree with the 5:20, delay at the start of the race.

It was a pleasant surprise to see two of my running buddies (Bharath and Chaitanya) drive up to meet me at the end of the race and made all the tiredness disappear as I met them and told them about all the excitement earlier in the day. It also made me realize how much difference it makes to see a familiar face at the end of a long race. So much that, I hereby make a resolution to try to attend any race that even one of my friends runs (no matter how long or short) as long as it is within commuting distance and I have the time to do so.

Overall a very unique experience!
Time to take that rare mid day nap now :)