Saturday, 10 March 2018

Hitting the Roads - Daisy Mountain Half Marathon

Do you ever do something and then wonder afterwards what on earth you were thinking about? That's what happened with the Daisy Mountain Half Marathon. Coach Adam had given me a 10 mile tempo run to do and having admitted that I struggle with the longer tempo runs on my own and prefer to do them under race conditions, I thought it would be a good idea to enter the half marathon to make it easier. I also thought it would be interesting to see how quickly I could run given that my last road race was San Diego Marathon almost a year ago whilst the last half marathon I had done was over 5 years ago at the Hypothermic Half on a freezing cold day in Calgary. Back then I just dipped under 90 mins - I've since slowed down even more, especially with my focus being on the longer distances and trail running these days, but I thought maybe if I could motivate myself enough, I might just be able to do it again.

Hypothermic Half Marathon, Calgary - a very cold day and the last
time I went sub 90 mins!

My PR for a half is a far cry from 90 mins - I ran 1 hour 20 in Amsterdam back in the good old days - so I felt no pressure about wanting to chase a PR, but there is no denying that I would love to have gone sub 90 just one more time. I was aware that the Daisy Mountain course probably wouldn't be ideal but what the heck - let's enter it anyway and see what happens.

So there I was this morning at the Boulder Creek High School in Anthem thinking why the hell did I register for this?! My legs had been feeling sluggish and a little achy all week and my glutes had been complaining on and off again, yet here I was on the start line of a flipping half marathon with the prospect of the next 90 minutes being alien and something I'm just not used to these days!

I'd arrived at the start far earlier than anticipated and spent 30 minutes sitting in the car feeling pretty calm and relaxed and not in the slightest bit nervous. I knew I could likely maintain 6.40 to 6.50 pace if the course and conditions were right, but I couldn't decide how to race. I also started wondering if it was possible to get lost on course and was hoping they'd flagged the route - seriously, flag a road race?! Bad news is there were no flags, but the good news is that they used cones instead and they even had the local sheriff and the police directing us across the road junctions and keeping us safe from the inattentive motorists. The biggest surprise though was getting out of my car with 20 minutes to go and doing a warm up, yes a warm up, to see how the legs were feeling and to get the body moving. What the .... ?!

In all seriousness, I had forgotten how to run a race on the roads. I had forgotten how easy everything is in terms of mile markers, arrows and large signs, bright orange cones, assistance crossing the roads, and how basic the aid stations were - not a slice of melon nor a pretzel in sight. I've become so accustomed to trail running that a road event seemed so easy. - except it wasn't easy.  It wasn't easy because it meant I had to stay focused on maintaining a pace for the entire time - that's the hard part, especially when all you can see is a straight road ahead of you. Trails give variety, you dodge rocks and tree roots, you are on high alert for wildlife, there can be mud or ice and snow, and sometimes you can be in the middle of the desert or high on a mountainside, completely exposed to the elements. The roads meanwhile are just, well .... boring .... and yet in my 35+ years of being a competitive runner, I spent probably 20 of those racing on the roads and calling myself a road runner. Yikes!

Daisy Mountain Half Marathon is organised by 4 Peaks Racing and it was a fabulous event. Everybody was extremely friendly and chatty (some road races can be very cut throat and serious!) and even on the start line, there was friendly banter as we waited to start. A speedy young lady I was chatting to noticed the my Aravaipa racing team logo on my singlet - she knew of Aravaipa and apparently attends their weekly group runs. Yay - another trail runner! I also saw a couple of Aravaipa race shirts out on course and it made me feel at home seeing that familiar logo :-)

The first mile was on the athletics track which actually wasn't that bad. Sure there was some weaving in and out as we lapped other competitors, but it was fine and I probably ended up running 200 metres more than I needed to, but hey, who's counting?

As we left the high school grounds and hit the pathways through Anthem Park, I was already leading the ladies race and I was feeling fabulous! The legs were feeling strong and despite the slight incline that would last for a couple of miles, I was moving well and sticking to pace. One of the guys got into a bit of battle with me less than two miles in - I caught up with him, he speeded up, I caught up with him, he speeded up again, I caught up with him, and again he speeded up - I got fed up and passed him. Seriously dude, run your own race and don't be upset if a woman passes you!

Heading through the park :)
Anyways, I'd now moved into 4th overall and was running well but other than me trying to keep the pace going, there really is nothing else to tell. The aid station volunteers were wonderful although they gave me a bemused look when I spoke, a few of them shouting after me that they loved my accent which made me smile. But other than that, I spent the entire race running on my own with nobody nearby whilst ahead of me was a long, straight road heading off into the distance.

I'd studied the route over the past couple of days and was expecting a turn at around 6 miles where there would be an out and back section. I hadn't realised that it was actually the same road and that just curved, and boy did that road go on and on and on. I glanced up at Daisy Mountain and thought about my friend Marisa who was up there right now doing hill repeats - much as I hate hill repeats, I was quite envious that she was up there and was able to admire the views and look into the distance across the valley.

Shortly afterwards, the leading man started coming towards me and the chap on the lead bike told me that the turnaround was about a mile ahead. I was so relieved as by now my mind had started wandering, my pace was dropping, and I was getting distracted watching the rabbits playing in the bushes along the edge of the sidewalk. I kept thinking how cute they were and wondering what they were up to, trying to keep my mind busy so that I didn't think too much of the road ahead and the inevitable boredom that was now setting in. It wasn't that the course was boring - I actually think it was quite a nice course for a fan of road running, but for me personally, I was missing jumping over the rocks, ducking and diving under tree branches, and generally having to keep my mind alert and active rather than switching off and just going through the motions.

I reached the turnaround - 8 or 9 miles in and well over half way, but as I started back up the hill (not really a hill but it was a climb!), my motivation for running another 2 miles along this same road was waning. I knew we turned off again higher up, I also knew that it was pretty much a downhill finish, but boy did I struggle for the next couple of miles. Can you believe I stopped and walked and then scolded myself - it's a bloody road race you idiot, get moving! The quicker you move, the quicker you finish. 

It didn't get any easier over those last few miles but I knew that there were 4 ladies just 2 or 3 minutes behind me. I may not break 90 minutes today but I wasn't about to let the win pass me by too. I walked a couple more times after that - not for long, but enough for me to get annoyed at myself. If I'd actually kept running, I would likely have ran a couple of minutes faster, but I didn't care so long as I could hold on to the win.

A couple more little climbs, and a couple more ponderings as to why I had even entered a road race after all this time, and then there it was - the finish line was just ahead. I completed the race in 1 hour 34 mins give or take which averaged out as around 7.07 minute miling - a little slower than I had intended, but I'm still very happy that after all these years, I can still run that kind of time for a half and be competitive - the 2nd and 3rd ladies were around 3 or 4 minutes back.

The presentation was extremely slick and by 9am I was heading back home, ready for a pile of pancakes at IHOP. It had been a wonderful morning and I was very happy with how it had turned out. The event was extremely well organised and yes, I would do it again. The problem is more to do with my state of mind when doing road races these days and I find it hard pushing and pushing and pushing. Of course you push in a trail race, but it's a very different kind of push. It's not about maintaining pace and chasing a time, it's about maintaining the effort, being aware of your surroundings and battling with nature and the elements.

Next week it's back to my kind of thing as I take on the Mesquite Canyon 50km at the White Tank Mountains. I'm back on familiar turf as it's an Aravaipa event which means familiar faces, familiar terrain and the more accustomed sense of excitement and anticipation. Don't get me wrong, I will still do road running as I think it's important to mix things up and I have to say that road running has helped to increase my leg speed which transfers to the trails, but in case there was ever any doubt, I can firmly say that I really am a trail runner and the trails are where I belong :-)

Daisy Mountain Half Marathon - no Andy so post race selfie :-)

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