I don't really recommend a half marathon training plan that includes lots of *thinking* about running, but which in fact involves No Actual Running...
Since deciding to withdraw from Ironman Canada in mid-July (after my disastrous swim at Lake Stevens 70.3), I've done nothing but ride my bike. A lot. A whole lot. More than 2,000 miles in ~ 2.5 months. But all that riding has meant near zero time in my run shoes and absolutely zero time in the pool.
And, for the most part, that's been just fine with me. It's been great to sleep in most mornings, and I don't miss smelling like chlorine all day. Plus, the weather has been so fantastic that all I wanted to do was ride in the warm sunshine.
But all these months, I've known that the Girlfriends Half Marathon was looming on the calendar. Every now and then, I'd idly think about going for a run, but most days it was easier to hit the snooze button instead. So, it was no big surprise at the start of last week that I was looking down the barrel of the gun that is this race, knowing the chamber was loaded and that I was about to get hurt. The real questions were 1) how much walking would I have to do to get through it and 2) how much permanent damage would the hurt produce.
I tried to sucker my friend Jill into suffering along with me, but she's too smart for that. Thus it was that I headed off alone into the early morning light on that Sunday morning, heading towards Vancouver, WA. Earlier in the week it looked like we were going to get dumped on for the duration of the run, but the forecast had improved and it was dry and in the upper 50s for race start. Perfect conditions, really.
After the obligatory three trips through the portapotty line, I found a place midpoint in the starting corral and we were off. This was my 4th time running the Girlfriend's Half. In previous years, I've spent the first mile or two darting around walkers and slower runners, trying to find clear space to run my own pace. But this year was different. This year I knew that if I wanted to survive, I would need to start slow and stay slow. With my music player set to shuffle, I settled into a slow steady shuffle of my own and simply trotted along. Linda caught up with me within the first mile. We chatted for a minute or two, but I knew she had lots more zip in her zoom than I, so I wished her well and watched her motor on and disappear into the crowd. I figured she would finish in 1:55-2:00, while I would be happy with anything less than 2:30 (My PR at Girlfriends is 2:05:53, but that wasn't going to happen this year!)
My game plan was to run for the first 30 minutes, then switch to a Run 4, Walk 1 strategy. My Garmin was set to vibrate at each of those intervals throughout the event. I also planned to eat a Gu (100 cals) every 30 minutes. I had 5 attached to my race belt, to be consumed at 30, 60, 90 &120 minutes, plus one "extra" just in case I went over 150 minutes (2.5 hrs.)
For the most part, this is a pretty run. Leaving the central business district in Vancouver Washington, it follows the multi-use path east along the Columbia River. The water is calm in the morning, and the low light over the river lights up everything with a gentle glow. Planes landing at nearby PDX seem to hover over the river as they make their slow descents, so close it feels like I can reach out and touch them as I slowly trot along.
So, along comes 30 minutes, and I'm feeling pretty good. I walk for 30 seconds while I suck back a Gu, then start jogging again. I decided to see if I could make it to an hour of running before swtiching to R4/W1.
Along comes an hour and I'm not feeling too bad. Heart rate is staying very low (mid to low 150s), my energy is high, and while my legs are starting to fatigue, it's not as bad as I expected. So I suck back another Gu while walking for 45 seconds, then trot away.
Heading through the short series of out-n-backs near the turnaround, I look for Linda & Cecil but don't spot either of them. Finally I'm heading back down the long stretch west towards the I5 bridge. Most of the oncoming athletes are run/walkers, and within a mile, the remaining oncomers are all walkers. So many women in groups of 3-4, taking on this challenge as a "team" with their girlfriends. Awesome.
I find myself glancing at my watch a bit more looking for the 1:30 mark to come up so that I can walk for a minute. I have another Gu and take an inventory. Lungs: good. Energy: good. Heartrate: Low. Legs: Hhmm, legs... Well, my calves are definitely starting to feel very fatigued. Hip flexors and quads are a little tired but overall not too bad. Glutes and hamstrings feel great. I use a full minute to consume my Gu and decide to see if I can gut it out for another 30 minutes of running.
I started doing some math. At 1:30 I was at the 8 mile mark. 5.1 miles to the finish should be totally doable in an hour, as that's almost 12 minutes per mile. If I could keep trotting, I should be able to make that 2:30 goal, even if I slowed down a bit. So, I soldiered on.
Soon, I encountered the overpass over Hwy 14 that takes runners into Fort Vancouver. Everyone around me (all of us running ~11:15-11:20 paces at this point) stopped running and proceeded to walk the overpass. But I kept running, slowly chugging up the incline. (I credit all the hill climbing I do on my bike.) The brief descent on the other side provide a respite for tired muscles.
On we ran, through Fort Vancouver and looped around the Fred Meyer shopping center on Hwy 14. I always hate this section because there's a short but nasty pitch (well, not really, but when you're tired everything looks steep!) through here. Fortunately my 120 minute walk break occurred just before the bottom of the hill. I slowed to a walk for 30 seconds and sucked down another gel. I contemplated walking the hill, but the way my muscles tightened up as soon as I started walking told me that was a bad idea. If I continued walking, I realized I wouldn't be able to run again. Checking my watch, I figured 2:27 might be possible, so, Gu consumed, I trotted up the nasty section and ran back towards Fort Vancouver and downtown beyond.
In the last 1.5 miles, there's a long gradual hill up through a park. Oh, how I wanted to walk, but chugged along instead. My legs really started to scream at this point, and for the first time, my HR went up over 170. Yup, getting a little more tired now, with not a whole lot left in my calves. Within 0.5 miles of the finish, the road slopes very gently downward towards downtown Vancouver. My legs were screaming at me to walk, just for a moment... please? But I kept going. Runners with gas still left in the tank started passing me, fueled by adrenaline. Me, not so much. While I had plenty of energy still in reserve, I realized my calves were right on the brink of cramping or seizing, and that any change of pace could be disastrous. Instead I just plodded forward. I rounded the last two corners and BAM! there was the finish line. Not a moment too soon.
2:25:42 was my official time. 11:07 per mile. Having not run more than 13 miles *total* in the past three months, I'm thrilled with that effort. Sure, it's 20 minutes slower than my time there two years ago, but hey, who cares! I made it. :-)
...But wait, there's more. Fast forward two days later and here I sit at my office desk. Holey moley, are my calves thrashed. Soooooooooo tight. Lots of stretching, but I'm still hobbling about like an old lady. Sheesh.