Monday, April 4, 2011

Race Report: My Third Half!

Sunday was the Bucks County Half Marathon!   
I set my alarm for 6:30.  I'm not gonna lie, I snoozed til almost 6:40.  I freshened up, got dressed, and threw a piece of wheat bread in the toaster oven.  I scampered around the apartment picking up all of my charged devices (well, just my mp3 player and Garmin).  I triple-checked my check list to make sure I had everything...water bottle, gu, music, Garmin, heart rate monitor, sunglasses...  I threw some peanut butter on my toast, grabbed a banana and was out the door by 7:05.

Oh! But first, I applied a temporary tattoo to my leg.  Yes, that's right.  One of the vendors at yesterday's expo was the ODDyssey half marathon (the May 22 half marathon I'm thinking about running).  They handed out a discount code for the registration fee and temporary tattoos.  If I wore  the temporary tattoo, took a picture of it on me, and posted it to the ODDyssey half marathon's facebook page, I'd get a chance at winning a gift certificate to a Philadelphia running store.  So, at the last minute, I decided to put the tattoo on my calf since my arms would be covered. Why not??

There's plenty of space on my calves, and it would be visible.  Maybe I should try to advertise on my calves more often...

Runners were supposed to show up at 7:30 even though the race didn't start til 8 and packet pick up was the day before.  I got there at about 7:33.  I sat in my car, where it was warm, until about 7:50, before walking over to the start line.

There were plenty of port-a-potties, and no lines - though I was all set in that department.  I re-tied and double knotted my shoes, then joined the group of people lined up on the paved path/road at the starting line.  I got in line somewhere in the back half as I didn't want to get in the way of the fast people.  A couple was staring at me, not very discreetly, and a minute later the woman approached me and asked if the tattoo on my leg was real (uhhhh, no).

It was 44F at the start of the race at 8am.  A little chilly standing around in shorts, but it was worth being cool at the beginning to not be hot later.  And I love my clothes too much to have any "throw away clothes" (This race was too small to have any kind of organized donation for those anyway).

I wasn't waiting for too long before the mumbling over the microphone told us to start.  I started my Garmin as I crossed the start line and ran under the metal gateway type thing that scans your chips.  Once I started moving, I hit play on my mp3 player.  It felt like a very slow shuffle at the start as there were so many people and the path was narrow.  After a quarter mile or so, I saw I was moving at an 11:00 pace.  While this was slow, I was ok with that because I have to try so hard to slow down at the beginning!

Well, by the time Mile 1 rolled around, it turned out I ran that first mile at a 10:04 pace...whoops. I tried to slow it down a bit. 

I gotta give credit to people who can remember mile-by-mile how their race went.  While I have a good memory for some things, I guess I zone out a little while running sometimes.  I'll mention what I DO remember.

Mile 2...I crossed a dam where there was a photographer and there were many people fishing.  Standing in the water in waders, fishing.  I remember seeing a boy to my right, close to the path, about to cast his fishing line, and wondered if the line would go flying over his shoulder and hit a runner.  Shortly after this point, I felt like a lot of people broke ahead of me, and felt like I was somewhat alone...but I don't like looking behind me either.

I started trying some mental math to think about what my overall time would be at various points based on a 10:30 pace (i.e. 2 miles = 21 min, 4 miles = 42 min, 8 miles = 84 min or 1 hr 24 min.  Then I started thinking about where in the course I'd be at 8 miles. That's the kind of math I entertain myself with when I zone out).

There was a decent climb over the course of mile ~2.5-3.6 and I felt like I caught up a bit with the group I had been running behind here.  I passed two girls who said the first 2.5 miles of this half was harder than some half they did before.  This incline was followed by a much appreciated, but short, slight downhill/flat stretch.

Mile 4.5 - crossed the dam again, started on Mint Chocolate Gu #1.  I ate it gradually until mile 4.8.

Mile 5.5 - 7:  MAJOR Hill #1.  After going back and forth with a small group of people that I had been with since the beginning, I maintained my effort (but not so much my pace) and  powered up this hill.  I never saw them again.  I felt strong on this hill!

At Mile 5 and 6, I noticed my watch was only about .03 off from the chalk markings on the ground (i.e. 5.0 on my watch beeped a little before the chalk marking.  When I crossed the 5.0 marking, my watch read 5.03).  Somehow I maintained that .03 difference for the rest of the race.

Mile 7 and change: Some super fast guys passed me on the downhill, clearly on their second lap.

Mile 8: Garmin Time @7.99: 1:24:53 = 10:37 pace.  I grabbed some fresh cold water from one of the tables offering water + gatorade, and in trying to sip it, it splashed back up in my face, and into my eye.  This was at the finish line (had I been done running).  Seconds later, I realized I was passing a photographer...yeesh, if she got my picture, I'm going to have quite the wonky eye.

ETA: Around 8.4 miles, There was a spectator walking along the course ringing a cowbell.  I told him, "Nice job with the cowbell!"  He said, "Great job running!"

From a little after 8 until a little after mile 9, I was running next to the same person.  It was a comfortable pace, but still working, at 10:22 - to make up for some lost time on the hills.  I lost her when she stopped at the water stop shortly after mile 9.

Knowing that the massive hill was coming up again starting at about 10.5, I held off on Mint Chocolate Gu #2 until mile 9.3 so it would kick in closer to the bottom of the hill.

Mile 10.5 - 12 was KILLER.  I slowed to walk for about 15 seconds a couple times to sip down some water without choking or splashing it in my eyeball and to try to let my HR lower a little!  While my HR was higher than I would have liked, I didn't feel like I was going to die.

I remember trying to do the math at miles 10.1 and 11.1 to estimate what my overall time would be if I ran the remaining 3 and 2 miles at an 11:00 pace, which I had thought was doable, even taking the hill into consideration.

Mile 12 came near the top of that last big hill.  I knew it was downhill (mostly) from that point on.
At mile 12.1, I was at 2:09:29 on my Garmin, and looking at an estimated end time of 2:20, even if I was able to push it and pick up the pace.  I wanted to beat 2:20 though!  So I started on that last downhill, knowing I wanted to go faster  Based on feel, I tried to go fast, but not so fast that I would keel over half a mile from the finish line.  This part is a little bit of a blur.  I remember seeing a guy who was either wandering into the woods to pee, or he was not involved in the race and was running on the horse trails.  I really don't remember much else.

I think I held off on looking at my watch until about 12.75.  In my head I thought "only a quarter mile to go!"  Then remembered that extra .1.  A dude who had been running near me for a little bit began to walk.  Someone who had already finished was coming against race traffic and encouraged walking guy to keep it up, and told him the end wasn't much farther.

When Mile 13 beeped, I looked down and saw my 9:37 pace for that mile!!  I rounded the final corner and ran harder to the finish line. 9:11 pace for that final .13 of a mile!

I crossed the finish line, and slowed to a jog until I reached the person handing out medals.  THEN remembered I didn't stop my watch immediately upon crossing finish. Aw, man...  It was probably less than 10 seconds after I actually crossed the finish line.

I walked around a little, picked up some snacks (more water, a cup of gatorade, a banana, some Dole Real Fruit Bites, a bagel), and made it over to the tent with the results.  I waited for my bib number to come up only to see it showed 10:24:15...ugh, the TIME that I crossed the finish line.  like 10:24am.

Now for the whining - wahhhh.  I filled out a little slip to report the problem and stuck it in the drop box.  The guy manning the timing tent told me it happened to a couple people...something about there being so many people at the start (what?? that's never happened to me at a race before, and aren't chips designed to be used in large groups?).  He told me it would be fixed on the results page when it was posted online.

The race organizers sent out an email with the link to the results.  I eagerly checked it only to see...2:19:33.  I was confused because I was SURE my chip time was faster than my Garmin.  Well, it looks like they just put in the start according to the gun (8:04:42)  as my start.  Which was definitely not the case as I was in the back half of the starting group.  So, I wonder if that will ever get corrected.  Unfortunately, as this was my first race alone, I didn't start near anyone I knew - so I can't say "Hey I crossed the start line at the same time as #xxx."

Additionally, my reported time on the results page at mile 8 mile was about a minute slower than on my watch...which I think reflects the incorrect start time as well.  Oh well... I will hope that it gets updated.  Otherwise, I will know that 2:19:33 is STILL better than last year's best time of 2:21:10 on a flat course.  And that 2:19:07, on my Garmin, is probably a closer estimate of my actual time.

Regardless: A new half marathon PR Despite an insanely hilly course!!

The course included some "rolling hills."  Once again, the course elevation:

And my Splits:

After I stuck around a little bit to clap/cheer for the people still finishing the race, but didn't stick around for the awards ceremony. Once I left the park, I hunted down a Starbucks for a nonfat Double Shot on Ice for the whopping 20 minute drive home.

And I waited until I got home to get an everything wheat bagel with egg and cheese from the awesome bagel shop near my apartment (eh, that bagel at the race was a little dry anyway, I only took a couple nibbles).

This morning I received an email from the timing company:

At the start of a race like yesterday's, a small number (less than 1%) of chip reads are usually missed simply because of the density of people and the resulting interference. This is the nature of all chip timing systems, and we try to be honest about it (unlike some timers who make up random chip start times so they don't have to communicate with runners like you, who have very real concerns).

Unfortunately, you were one of the 3-4 runners whose chips were not read at the start so we had no recourse except to use the gun time. At the finish, we have a secondary finish arch that is 5 feet narrower than the primary arch, which would have cause an unsafe bottle neck had we used it at the start.

I'm sorry there's nothing more I can do, we're just pushing the limits of technology on dense starts like this. For comparison, it's been reported that the Broad Street Run missed times for over 2,000 entries last year. I wish there was something more that I could do, but unfortunately there isn't.

If you are looking for comparsons with other people, there is an overall finish for all runners based on gun start toward the bottom of the results and the gun time was for the entire measured distance.

So, it looks like all I will have is my gun time - 2:19:33.
Or, I can choose to (personally) acknowledge my Garmin time - 2:19:07 - as my PR.

Time to let my muscles relax for a couple days!


  1. I'm going to go with your Garmin time. What an unfortunate situation- but still- even your official time beat your goal!

    Thanks for the detailed description. I am heading into my *first (since 2003, so I am counting it as first) half marathon on April 30, and scared to death. This gave me some inspiration and an idea of what to expect :-)

    Congratulations on a great race!


  2. That's a tough looking elevation chart. Great job on finishing strong

  3. great run! go with your garmin time! You rocked it!

  4. Those are some crazy hills. I'm sorry the chip time didn't work out, but YOU know how well you did.

    I can never remember what happened during the race once it's done. I need a friend with a perfect memory that I can dictate blog posts too, while I run.


  5. Congrats! You did awesome. I would totally go by garmin time!

  6. 2 minutes off your time from a flat course to a hilly one is still amazing! I would probably cry and curse the race organizers for awhile before deciding my Garmin time was the official time. All that training paid off! It seems like you have a pretty good memory of the race to me! Starbucks is generally my first stop after a race too. Great job, now time to celebrate!

  7. Sounds like you really rocked it, hopefully the chip situation doesn't put a damper on your accomplishment. Congrats!

  8. Great job!!! Those hills look crazy...I despise hills!

  9. Thank you, thank you everyone! That's 4 definite votes for the Garmin time :)

    Sarah- I've done a few races in the last couple years, and I still had race-day jitters on Sunday! I also have a hard time turning off my brain so I can go to bed early the night before.

    Rose & Alyssa- I had to look back at my Garmin data to jog my memory.

    Becky- It's annoying, but I'm trying not to let it get me down too much.

  10. Aahhh i always comment but i think i forget to put the verification code in, loL!
    I totally say Garmin data and CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  11. I should consider renting calf space, too - I have big enough calves.

    Congratulations on the PR on a hilly and challenging course. You go, girl!

  12. Congrats! I would absolutely, positively go with your Garmin time!

  13. Good finishing time. Those calves definitely did come in handy to give you the extra push to the finish.


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