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Sunday, April 27, 2014

La Jolla Half Race Recap

I never thought I'd say this, but second place never felt so disappointing. And not for the reason you'd expect, either.

I never had any illusions about winning this race. After looking at the course and the race times from last year, I honestly never even thought I'd place at all, outside of maybe an age group award. So placing second woman overall was, frankly, a huge surprise. It was such a surprise, in fact, that it upended my plan to hurry back to my hotel in order to get ready for my (already delayed) workday. But really, I had to stay. How many times do you get to accept an award in front of an audience? Not many.

The thing was, though, I'd have gladly traded my second place plaque for a PR. I went into this race with my sights set on breaking 1:28:00, and the bottom line is that I just didn't do it. I wasn't even very close. So second place woman or not, I was disappointed.

The one thing I can say, though, is that the lack of PR was not for lack of trying. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, so it's tempting to look back and say, "Oh, at mile 7 I should have just sucked it up and picked up the pace. I was probably just being a baby," or, "I should have taken it out slower, and maybe then I'd have had more energy for that outrageous hill at mile 5." But the fact of the matter is, I gave it everything I had.

My race started before the gun even went off. I got to the Del Mar Racetrack parking lot, did a bit of warmup jogging and drills, and realized that I definitely needed to hit the Port-a-Johns or there were going to be problems. So I got in line. Fifteen minutes later, the line had barely moved, and we were five minutes away starting the race. So I did the only thing I could do: I found a nice array of bushes, wedged myself between them and, well, that was that. Then there was the national anthem, the gun--which was actually just an announcer saying "Go!!!"--and we were off.

I took it out as close to tempo as I dared, aided by the fact that the very beginning of the course tilted a bit downhill. I was feeling pretty good by mile three, pretty confident that I could hold this pace. It was a lovely day, the breeze felt great, and I was closing in on a small cluster of girls in front of me. Then there was an uphill, and the 1:30 pacer passed me, which gave me a bit of a scare. But that was followed by a long downhill overlooking the Pacific where I just let my legs spin. That put me back in front of him again, where I belonged, which would have felt nice if I hadn't been staring straight ahead at the mountain that we were about to climb. And that's when the race got hard.

I am not a powerful runner. I never have been, and I while I might be someday, right now I have a really hard time sprinting up a hill, never mind a mountain. So I compensate by taking it slow going up and then I make up time coming back down. That was my plan of attack on this course, too, but I knew that to average 6:42s per mile, I couldn't slow down too drastically. Therefore, when the 1:30 pacer passed me (again!), I decided that the least I could do was keep him in my sights. That, surely, would be good enough. But then a woman passed me, charging up the hill like it was nothing, and I began to doubt how the rest of this race was going to go.

A mile and change later, I began repeating the mantra "shut up" to my brain, which was having a panic attack over the fact that I couldn't seem to get my pace back under 7:30/mi. I had averaged something like 8min/mi up that terrible hill, and now I couldn't get it back down, even though the course had flattened out. "You're never going to make up that time," my brain kept saying, "and your legs feel like they were just beaten by heavy wooden mallets. AND you're only halfway done. How are you going to even finish the next 6 miles? You're toast." Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutupshutup.

Around mile nine, when my brain had moved from doubting this race to doubting all distance races--"Maybe you don't have it in you anymore to run distance. Dropping time used to feel easy; you didn't even notice until you'd done it. Now you're running all this fancy extra stuff and what's it gotten you? One, maybe two minutes faster? Pathetic. You think you're going to PR in the Chicago Marathon? Dream on."--a tall shirtless guy appeared beside me. We'd already exchanged places a few times throughout the race, him passing me on the uphills and me blowing by him on the downhills, but now we were on the flat and and I was struggling to get my legs moving again. But no way this guy was faster than me. No way.

That thought was enough to help me get moving again, at least to keep up with him, even as my breathing became more and more ragged. Miles nine and ten weren't nearly as terrible as the ones before had been, and when we hit another downhill, I closed in on the woman who had passed me on that mountain. "Third woman!" spectators kept shouting, holding up three fingers. Third? Really? Me? I wasn't even running very fast!

With another downhill, I caught the woman and trailed her halfway through mile eleven before I passed her . . . only to be passed by the 1:30 pacer again. "Shit!" I panted aloud. "Don't worry, I'm ahead," he shouted back over his shoulder. He'd better be, I thought, because if I finish over 1:30, I am going be super pissed. Things seemed to be going well now; I was pretty sure I'd dropped my pace back down and I could keep this up for the last mile . . . and then we hit another hill. All I could think, as I charged that hill with my arms pumping furiously, was She's right behind you. If you let her pass you on this hill, it's over. Are you really going to accept third when you have second right now?

As someone who's run a fair number of half marathons, when you're giving a race your all, that thirteenth mile feels endless. Where's godd*%$ the finish line? is all you're thinking as your legs scream and your chest feels like you're having an asthma attack and a heart attack all rolled into one. The race ended with a steep downhill, which I should have been happy except my legs felt so out of control that it was all I could do to keep them from flying out to the sides or buckling beneath me. But she hadn't passed me. The woman hadn't passed me. And now we were on a downhill. I was going to take second!

When I crossed the finish line, the clock read 1:30 and change. I was gasping; I could barely stay upright; I felt like this was the hardest half marathon I had ever run; and I hadn't even come close to the 1:28 goal I had set for myself. Awesome.

Winning 2nd definitely redeemed this run for me, because otherwise, there'd have been no silver lining. I started out feeling determined and excited, and ended feeling like crap. Still, whether it sounds crazy or not, I really do think I can break 1:28. Just not today, I guess. Next time.

La Jolla Half Marathon

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
(F25-29)
13.1 mi
1:29:08
6:48/mile
32 / 5,891
2 / 3,058
n/a* / 543

*Note: When you place in the top 3 for your gender, you are automatically removed from the age group rankings. It's my first time to be excluded!

4 comments:

Kristen @ two little runners said...

great race! you shouldn't be disappointed at all. the la jolla half is the san diego region's hardest half marathon. no one gets a pr on this one. in fact, i was about 5 minutes off my pr. and that's pretty typical based on runners i've talked to. so your 1:29 implies a 1:24. that would probably be a pr for ya! congrats on second place!

Allison Goldstein said...

Aw thank you Kristen! That does make me feel better. I cannot even imagine running 1:24--that would make my YEAR! But hey, something to shoot for now...!

Jason Dudley said...

Hey Allison,

I ran the La Jolla Half this year and I echo your comments regarding the climb to the summit of Torry Pines State Park. I can't remember the last time my legs hurt so bad! At one point, my goal was just not to walk!
I managed a 1:24:09, 13th overall and was thrilled because I gave it all I had and had nothing left at the end.
The way you described your negative thoughts during the race made me smirk, because it mirrors how I "talk" to myself during some races, haha!
I enjoyed your race recap, and super congrats on second overall! That is truly astonishing:) Such a great achievement; especially on a gritty and relentless course as La Jolla!
Best wishes in all your future races.

-Jason from Hanford

Jason Dudley said...

Hey Allison,

I ran the La Jolla Half this year and I echo your comments regarding the climb to the summit of Torry Pines State Park. I can't remember the last time my legs hurt so bad! At one point, my goal was just not to walk!
I managed a 1:24:09, 13th overall and was thrilled because I gave it all I had and had nothing left at the end.
The way you described your negative thoughts during the race made me smirk, because it mirrors how I "talk" to myself during some races, haha!
I enjoyed your race recap, and super congrats on second overall! That is truly astonishing:) Such a great achievement; especially on a gritty and relentless course as La Jolla!
Best wishes in all your future races.

-Jason from Hanford