Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gulf Beach Half Marathon

Saturday, Seth and I got up bright and early to travel to the Gulf Beach Half Marathon, along the shoreline, in Milford, Connecticut. We had driven down to my mother's house in Bethany Friday after work, so we only had a twenty-five minute drive to the race start.

We arrived at the Gulf Beach recreation area at around 7:15 a.m., 45 minutes before the race start. Registration was a breeze. I got a t-shirt and bag with some Clif Bar samples and ads for other races. Before the race was scheduled to start, I decided to join the line for the restroom. This part of the race was not well organized. They had very few restrooms and portable restrooms provided for the 800 person race. Lines were massive. I didn't have a problem, but I am sure others did. (They ended up delaying the race start by ten minutes because of the long lines for the bathroom.)

At around five minutes to the 8:00 a.m. race start, I lined up on the road in front of the rec area.

There were quite a few people. The weather was cool, in the mid-50s, but sunny and pleasant. A good day weather-wise for a run.

After brief announcements, we were off! The 13.1 mile course was an out and back along the Milford shore line. 

 Seth put together a nice video talking about the out and back course while he waited.

The course took us out of the Gulf Beach area and along Gulf Street past some amazing houses. We then wound our way through a few Milford neighborhoods along the shoreline. We headed towards what I believe to be the downtown area and over a bridge that crossed what seemed to be a popular fishing area.

We passed a marina and were once again running through some residential neighborhoods along the coast. The next part of the course was my favorite: a run along the Silver Sands State Park boardwalk. This was the most lovely mile or so of the run.

The race then transitioned back into a residential area along the coast. This neighborhood was dotted with local businesses. This was probably the most dull part of the run. You couldn't really see the beaches, and these houses were less exciting than the ones close to Gulf Beach. The half-way point of the race was located at the Audubon Society, where we were able to fill up on water and GU energy gels before heading back the way we came.

The race brought us all the way back to Gulf Beach, duplicating the route outward. The last 0.1 miles however were run on the sand of the beach. This might have been fun as a concept (finish a beach run on the actual beach), but after running for 13 miles, it was a bit rough on the legs and made a fast finish difficult. 

While I definitely enjoyed myself on this race, I did not have as strong of a performance as I had hoped. During training, I had the most amazing time and great performance on my long runs. I was hoping to PR this course with a time of 2:23, which would have beaten my time at Hogsback by 5 minutes. This seemed a reasonable goal. I consistently ran 10:59 miles during training and felt mentally strong. I also had given up the 4:1 run/walk strategy I used when training for Hogsback in favor of running straight through with breaks only to drink or take a gel.

I ended up finishing the Gulf Beach Half Marathon in 2:29, slightly over a minute slower than my time at Hogsback. Not terrible, but not the improvement I anticipated either.

The interesting truth about races is how you feel on race day can make or break a race. This is one of the reasons that, in some ways, I prefer training to racing. Success during training can take many shapes and you have many opportunities to get it right; there is only one race day. In a way, I race because I love to train. Even more so, I like to train with focus and preparing for a race gives me that focus.

I went into Saturday well prepared from my training, however, things didn't really come together on race day. I think there were a lot of factors here. One major factor was that Gulf Beach came on the heels of a very hectic and stressful week at work where I was working long and erratic hours. This definitely had an impact on my sleep schedule and my ability to focus.

I talked a lot in my previous post about how I had been mentally training for this half marathon. Keeping mentally focused during a long run of two plus hours is a lot of work -- it requires great effort. On Saturday, I was not able to stay as focused as I wanted. I kept disassociating in a way that wasn't helpful to hitting my goals. I wasn't able to make it to a place where I was really focused on breaking down my mileage to small chunks (not thinking about the whole 13 miles in one large bunch) and really enjoy running the mile I was in. As a result, I felt slightly more tired than I even think I was physically.

I think that the experience of doing some looping in training was a good preparation for the out and back course -- I was used to seeing the same scenery a couple of times during a run.  More of interest psychologically was something I didn't consider when running by myself -- the effect of seeing people returning from the mid-point of the run when you had not yet reached that point. At first it was inspiring to see the most elite running streaking past, but once the runners started to be more familiar -- people "like me" -- it was challenging to not wish you were where they were.

Another challenge during this run was how windy it was. The course was very very flat. I'm used to training on rolling hills, so I thought that I would have an advantage, however, running into the wind was almost as tiring as running up hill. It's hard to simulate blustery beach wind when you're training inland, like I do. In a way I would have preferred a slightly rolling course with less wind. The rolling hills would have served to break up the monotony of running on flat land, and have been more of what I was used to. This is definitely something I have to consider more for training. I know that in training you want to simulate race day as much as possible. I did do some flat running on the bike path, which was definitely a help, but wonder if there is someway I could have prepared myself for the breeze. Maybe just reminding myself that I will face windy conditions on a beach run will be good enough to prepare myself for next time. I definitely think that the wind had an impact on my speed.

All this said, I made it to the half way point, 6.55 miles, feeling more or less fine. I got some extra water and GU and began to head back. I wasn't going as fast as I had hoped, but I was still keeping up with my plan of running straight through (albeit at a pace closer to 11:20 than 10:59).

I have best luck taking my GU if I split them up. When I take an entire one all at once, it upsets my stomach; perhaps because I am so small. I had taken half a GU at mile 4 and finished it at mile 5, just like in training. I took another GU at mile 8 and then took the second half at mile 9. I must have not split up the GU too evenly because it made me feel a little overloaded and slightly nauseous. Mile 9 was a tough one.

Mile 10 went fine, but after that fatigue took over. I wasn't mentally as strong as I had hoped. I tried to focus my mind, saying, "Just three more miles," but had some difficulty. I brief chat with a fellow runner helped on mile 11, but mile 12 was the longest mile I could have imagined. I knew there was just one mile left, but somehow my mind couldn't make my body feel as motivated as I needed to be. I ended up taking a couple of unplanned walk breaks.

I pulled myself together for the last half mile. I could see the end was in sight and knew that Seth and my mom were waiting for me at the finish line. I pulled myself together and said, "Come on -- you can do this!" I pulled myself towards the end of the race. When I hit the sand, I knew I could make it. I heard my mom and Seth yelling encouragement. I pulled to the finish line closing out my race in just a minute over my last half marathon time.

After getting my finishers medal, I met up with Seth and Mom and thanked them for their congratulations. It was here, post-race, that I think the success of my training showed. (A bit late maybe, but at least it's something.) I felt completely wrecked after Hogsback -- tired, dizzy, and achy. In contrast, I felt okay after Gulf Beach. I walked around a bit, did some stretching, and ate a tiny bit. (I don't eat too much immediately after a race because it bothers my stomach -- I usually wait a half hour or so.) Both Saturday and today, I don't feel overly tired or sore, which goes to show what another season of regular running can do for preparing the muscles for the rigors of running 13.1 miles.

I definitely enjoyed the Gulf Beach Half Marathon. It was a beautiful day, the course had some really lovely sections -- especially Silver Sands State Park boardwalk -- and it was great to have Seth and my mom cheering me on at the finish line. 

Because the race didn't go exactly to plan, I'm considering a second half marathon for this fall. I want to continue to train with a goal in mind and have a chance at a really great race day. My fall schedule, mostly because of work, is very hectic, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to make this plan happen. Still I'm looking for something in the time frame of mid-October to mid-November. I only have one race scheduled for the fall at this point, the Cider Donut Run 10K in Amherst, on Sunday, November 3, a must-do because I loved last year's race so much. This leaves me a lot of free space on my race calendar; I'll have to see if my personal and work schedules can accommodate. Fingers crossed!

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