Saturday, October 29, 2011

Race recap: Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

Last week Sunday, October 23rd, I ran my first ever half marathon! I know you've all been waiting in anticipation for a recap, or, maybe for any update to this poor blog at all. Anyway, here it is.

On Saturday my husband and I drove down from Ellensburg to Hood River, OR. It's about a three hour drive, but very pretty. We got to Hood River and went to pick up my race packet. It was really exciting to get my bag with my number, chip, and fancy hat. I also bought a race shirt, because we've got to have souvenirs!

After that was in order, we checked out a couple of used bookstores and, of course, a yarn shop. Knot Another Hat is a really cute yarn shop with a nice selection. I picked up a couple balls of superwash for Christmas knitting, and a hank of lovely souvenir sock yarn. Shalimar yarns Breathless - a washable merino/silk/cashmere sock yarn. Mmm.
New yarn

After those adventures, we checked into our hotel. We got a room with a river view, and what a great view.
Columbia River from our hotel room

It was even better when we got up early for breakfast.
Columbia River from our hotel room

We went down to breakfast. I ordered the cereal and banana, but only ended up eating a tiny amount. I'm used to running with very little in my belly and was not particularly hungry, so I just went with it. Back to the room and time to get dressed and pose for a "before" photo.
Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

I walked from the hotel to the finish line (nice! hotel super close to the race finish), where I immediately got into a port-a-potty line and then in the line to the buses that would take us up a huge hill to where the start line was. The last two years, I guess they started where they finished - I can't fathom tackling the hill we drove up first thing - it would be brutal!

As it is, the course has a net elevation gain of 1100' and a net elevation loss of about 1300'. There's not really any flat part of the course - you're either going up or going down. Since I had trained on mostly flat ground and averaged around 11:30-12:00 minute miles on my long runs, I was expecting to run around 2:38-2:45, factoring in the challenge of the hill. Mostly, I wanted to finish on two legs, but I had 2:30 in my head as a great time to achieve, though I knew it was unrealistic.

Anyway, the runners were being bused to the starting line and I got there in time to see the marathoners start - away they flew! We were scheduled to start 30 minutes later, but the start time got pushed back an extra 20 minutes while we waited for everyone to arrive on the buses. At least the weather was great - partly cloudy, high of about 60 predicted. Lining up, I tried to move to the back of the pack, but pretty much ended up in the middle, because the chute was relatively narrow and a bus was literally unloading as the final remarks were being made. It didn't really matter though, as I ended up having to dodge walkers, and faster runners ended up having to dodge me. Not a huge issue, I think, as this is not a PR friendly course.

I ran (uphill) for the first three miles, feeling amazing and joyful, being careful not to feel like I was working too hard, and enjoying the scenery. This race is billed as the most scenic in the country, and I believe it! You're on an old historic highway which runs above the Columbia River - there are jutting rocks, changing leaves, two tunnels, and at least one small waterfall. Truly gorgeous. I spent those miles just listening to the runners around me and feeling great.

After three miles, and grabbing some water from the first aid station, we started a descent. I turned on my music and embraced the downhill. Embracing that downhill led to two(!) sub-10 minute miles (amazing since I had only done that once before in my life). I was careful not to feel like I was putting out extra effort, but just enjoying the momentum. It was all downhill to the turn around at about 5.25 miles, where I waved to my husband and grabbed a water from the aid station. Pride kicked in, and my plan to eat my Clif Shot (mocha!), walk, and drink my water was passed by my desire to look awesome for the hubby. So I flew back past him and started up the enormous hill I had just enjoyed flying down. My plan to run quickly became a plan to run/walk, quickly became a plan to run when I could, but just keep hiking with the rest of the field around me. I must have done ok, because my longest split in that area was about a 13 minute mile, which I'll take.

Approaching the turn-around:
Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

I made it to the aid station at mile 7.5 where I finally had my Clif shot and some water. My right hip was beginning to tighten up and I figured that's what I get for flying down that first big hill. Luckily, the course is mostly downhill from mile 8 - not entirely, but mostly. So I was able to keep trucking at a pretty good pace, though I was starting to count the miles. We came off the historic highway, where I grabbed a small cup of gatorade at the last aid station, and began our descent into Hood River, OR. A steep, twisting road led down to the town - again, amazing views of the hills, the town, and the river. Stunning. Even though it was, literally, all downhill at this point, I ended up walking twice in the final mile. I was just spent. Letting pride get in the way of my fueling plan was a mistake. But I looked at my Garmin and saw that I could still finish in a time that I never had expected, so I picked it up and kept running the last half mile, giving it whatever I had left as I crossed the finish line.

Looking crazy, crossing the finish line:
Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

I finished in 2:29.19. I am thrilled! 2:30 was something I had hoped for, but never expected considering my training! I had a great time at the race and it seemed well organized, except for the late start. I would run this again some day, for sure.

The "after" photo - thrilled to be sitting down, thrilled to be done.
Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

Well, there we have it - did you make it through? Maybe I'll have some proper knit blogging on here someday. I'm working on a sweater vest out of cashmere. Very very soft.