I know everyone has their own opinions on the matter but I don't mind North Park races. If nothing else, running the familiar "lake loop" is a good gauge of fitness when you've done it enough to have a baseline to go off of. I also happen to enjoy the events Elite Runners and Walkers hosts. They've got a nice "local" feel, low frills while still providing a good service for good causes, and the people that work for the business always seem like they legitimately give a crap. Which is important to me.
I went into this race with a plan. Simply do my long run as written (see above) and be rewarded with a medal for it. This of course required running via heart rate, as I've been doing this whole training cycle. I made a last minute decision after my last blog post to go ahead and take my Amphipod bottle to try out "racing" with my own hydration. More on this later.
One thing that I expressed to my husband beforehand was that I did not want to get there too early. Gun time was 10 AM and the morning temps were 0 after a night of negative windchills. Seriously. I definitely didn't want to be hanging around outside freezing my tail off for longer than I had to. So, I pretty much wanted to get there in enough time to get a warmup mile in (so I could say I ran 200 miles in February as well as get the missing mile from the run as planned) and then get settled in just in time to start. I ended up sleeping until just after 8, and I got to North Park a little after 9:30. The timing was perfect for me. I got my warmup mile done and did some dynamic stretches. I also had a few minutes to hook up with Jennifer and Amanda and share strategies and commiserate over the brutal cold. It's always nice to see a familiar face or two at these events!
When we were called to line up I figured my easy first 3 miles would put me somewhere behind the 9:00 pace group. I lined up a bit behind them, just so I could keep them within my sight for reference. Something that I am aware of that happens when the temps are this low is my heart rate monitor often acts up until I'm sweating enough for it to kick in (until it does it spikes high and reads just ridiculous numbers). Yes, even if I wet it just before. A little online research has told me this is a fairly common issue, so I just prepare myself for it if should happen. This particular day proved to be one of "those days" and my monitor didn't kick in until right before the 2 mile marker. No biggie, by placing myself behind the 9:00 group (who were going a little faster than they should - mile 1 ticked off in 8:56 and mile 2 in 8:44) my heart rate was right in the low end of range when it picked up. Perfect.
From here, I just ran my own workout based on heart rate. I picked up the pace when I could and backed off when I had to. I still say the counterclockwise loop is easier than the opposite. I had passed by the 9:00 pace group before the first loop was over (I think around 2.5 - 3 miles in), and that first loop was just so incredibly easy. I did pick up my pace and move into my "race pace" heart rate range as intended after mile 3.
Right after I crossed the line to start another loop I found myself behind a guy and girl running together. I overheard him say to her - "Ok, I'm going to go and finish the rest of this at 8:15 average" and he forged ahead. I thought to myself I couldn't possibly be running that kind of pace, but I was on his tail running by heart rate and feeling really damn good. Eventually we were running side by side and we struck up a conversation. He was training for the London Marathon and trying for a BQ time. His BQ time is 3:40, which ironically enough is also mine (even though I'm not training for a BQ right now! no worries!). That was kind of funny so we got to chatting about other races and PRs and the typical runner things.
I always find it funny that when you get to talking with someone that the miles go by really fast and you don't even realize how fast you're going. I was still keeping an eyeball on my heart rate (ok, I was being extremely anal about it), but I was still keeping pace with this guy as we caught up to and passed the 8:30 pace group and headed into the homestretch of the second loop! As we were rounding Babcock, he asked if I intended to keep this pace the last loop (he was also doing 15 miles) and after analyzing how fast I'd been going I told him I'd probably slow down the last loop. We talked some more and then he seemed to charge ahead a bit - really, it was me slowing down via heart rate monitoring going up the hill. I was able to catch up to him again after the boathouse. Loop #2 - done. Still feeling pretty good - although really happy there was "only" 1 loop left!
At the next fluid station I caught up to (and actually passed for a moment) the guy I had been running with. He came up behind me and said "hey, you didn't slow down!" and I just laughed. I just kept on running by heart rate. I started to get a little tired the last two miles. I didn't really slow down (my last 5 miles were all between 8:06-8:11 on my Garmin) and my heart rate stayed steady, but I could just feel it. I lost my running pal going up that last hill but he was still in sight. I was half tempted to charge ahead but I figured why ruin a near perfect workout by going over heart rate limit? So I stuck with my plan. The downhill obviously let me pick up the pace again and as I ran into the parking lot, my youngest son Garrett jumped out and said "Hi!" to me. I rounded those road cones and then hauled in for the finish. Admittedly, I let my pace get down to 6:28 cruising across. Just call it a stride out. lol
My official finish time was 2:05:36. On my Garmin I ran 15.17 miles in 2:05:40. Yes, I still suck at tangents.
Overall I'm happy with this run. I didn't let myself go nuts, I stuck with the plan and I had a fun time. I got an automatic PR, put in my 200th mile for the month of February, and here's a fun fact: I ran my second fastest half marathon ever during this race (1:48:00 on the Garmin - beating even both of my Pittsburgh Half times - the fastest of those being 1:48:52). To say that I'm not completely over the moon with where my fitness level is right now would be a lie!
Oh, about the Amphipod: Loved it. It was awesome being able to just fly past the fluid stations and be able to drink when I wanted/needed to. I never felt dehydrated and I also didn't feel like the bottle was cumbersome to carry for this distance at this pace. I'll have to give it some more thought about using it during the marathon. Maybe I'll give it another try at JASR!
It was a good day!