Tim Smashes his PR Amidst The Giant Redwoods

26 10 2009

Submitted by F4 athlete Tim Burcham

Race Report – Humboldt Redwoods Half Marathon

About 3 weeks out from the race, I was feeling good, but had 2 issues: I hadn’t done a time trial earlier in the season to get a dialed pace plan, and I had some mid-back tightness from running and work that just wouldn’t quit.  I also know that I typically have trouble with our longer taper plans, as I don’t ever taper well.

So, at 3 weeks out, I went and ran a 5k — ran a good race, a few seconds off PR, but didn’t really race all out.  Took the finish, plugged it into McMillan, and then did some estimates based on if I had run it all-out.  This got me to somewhere around a 7:25 pace, which I used as a target pace during our pacing workouts.  I noticed during the pacing workouts that I had some drift down to 7:15 or so, that didn’t feel completely sustainable, unless I was very, very warmed up.

For the back tightness, I waited until after the 5k, and started with both massage and some acupuncture courtesy of Tyler Stroebel.  I worked 2 massages and 2 acupuncture sessions in ahead of the race, and by the last few days, the back tightness was gone.  However, the taper ‘phantom pains’ really picked up the last few days before the race, and I had a fair amount of low back tightness even coming in to Eureka.

On top of all of this, I decided going to see the Rockies in 29 degree weather would be part of my pre-race strategy 🙂 — I have a hunch that this may have triggered the low back tightness.

Lots of hydration, deep breathing, eating well leading up to race day.  Shifted from 2:1 protein:carb to 1:2 in the last 2 weeks, as well.

Stephen, John and I all travelled together, and went out on the race course on Saturday.  Driving out on the course, it felt downhill for huge stretches on the way out.  I was worried about a sustained uphill on the way back.  We drove out, hit the visitor center, where we ran into some ‘sister’ fast-forward marathoners, who didn’t train with the group, but are well known.  We kept coming back on the course, and I kept checking the odometer for the ‘start’ of the hill, to get a sense for where it was — and it never happened.  In fact, it felt downhill on the way back, too.  We later learned from Scott that the trees create an optical illusion, and that, it indeed felt downhill both ways when he ran this race.

More rest, and a good time at ‘Peppers’ with the group — we had a waitress wondering if the group were marines, as we had Scott, Wayne L and Ron all sitting next to one another with shaved heads or short cuts, and a ‘Marine Corps’ shirt on Wayne.  🙂

Generally good sleep the night before the race — all gear setup ahead of time, and the timezone difference and late start helped get the right amount of sleep, rather than having to cut it short.

Morning comes, a quick getting dressed and a Starbucks, and we’re on our way.  I found Dr. Mark at the hotel breakfast, and made sure he could get a ride to the start.  We head out to the course, hoping to beat some traffic, and it works — we’re able to park about 1/4 mile from the start.  It’s also quite nice out, in the upper 40s, so a jacket and sweats suffice as we warm up.  Warmups, dynamics, and some strategically timed porta potty stops, and we’re all on the line for the race.

At the start, we’re under highway 101, and literally can hear nothing from the bullhorn.  We notice a huge amount of runners who look like they’ll be darn fast.  Indeed, we’ve learned that this race is the Northern California championships for the half marathon, and it shows in the field.

Gun goes off, and we start in with our run.  Stephen, John and I all plan to run around 7:30, with John running NYC in a few weeks, and Stephen running maratthon pace.  However, at mile 1, we’re at 7:15.  No big deal, just early mile jitters.  Mile 2, 7:15.  Mile 3, same thing.  Somewhere in there we get a good downhill, I get my form right, and cruise quick down the hill.  Now I’m worried – my Denver full marathon last year was too fast in the early miles, and I imploded later — I don’t want another race like that.  However, even at 7:15, breathing and effort feel relaxed.  We’re having conversations, breathing is fine, no effort in the legs.  We keep running.

An endurolyte at 20 in, a gel at about 45 — I stop for a moment to eat the gel and toss it.  Keep running, and the 7:15s keep coming.  The trees are amazing as we run through them, and it’s humid and not to warm or cold in the trees.  John and I talk to a local for a minute, who’s worried we’re marathoners passing him.  He points out ‘Joe’ up ahead — a 67 year old who can turn in a 1:30 half marathon, the local favorite for his age group.  We keep running.  A woman catchs up and asks about John’s Moab shirt, and we all chat through the turnaround.

Another endurolyte after the turnaround.  We keep running, but as we close on 9 miles, the pace is heating up.  I start to pull away, as John doesn’t want to lay it all out on today’s course.  I eat another gel somewhere around 9 or 10, stopping again for long enough to eat it.  Pick the pace back up, quick feet, quick feet.  The pain in the legs is starting to come, but my lungs are completely clear.  When the pain builds, I check my pace, and see that I’m well on track to blow a PR away.  I remind myself of grueling hill workouts, that this is nothing compared to those.  When my brain says it’s time to stop, I remind myself that I didn’t train all summer to walk on a half marathon — and I have the opportunity to crush my PR.

I take a lap at mile 12, and notice I’ve just dropped a 6:45 from 11-12.  That’s my 5k pace.  Wow.  I keep moving.  I have exactly one person pass me from 6.5 on, and he looks fantastic — beyond that, it’s me catching people, and passing them.  Short strides on the hills, recover on the top, pick it up on the bottom.

I come in to the finish, and pick up on the last stretch — nothing crazy, but nice and strong.  I cross the line, and I’ve just mowed my 1:39:15PR from Moab in the spring down, with a 1:35:15, a 4 minute improvement.

20 seconds later, ‘Joe’ the 67 year old crosses the line, too.  I congratulate him as well.  It turns out that a 1:35 in this race gets you 94th out of 450 or so — 1:09s have been turned in, there are 60 year olds running 1:28s, 82 year olds running sub-2 hours.  Just when you think Boulder is uber-competitive, you find another pocket of humbling, elite runners.

All in all, a well-executed race.  I feel that the training items that specifically helped were:
– ‘Overage’ miles — I felt like I was doing a ‘marathon-lite’ training for the half, and was bumping 15, 16 miles during the training.  This makes a huge difference for me for endurance.
– Tempo miles – Matt gave us some freedom on the longer runs to mix in faster miles, and I feel this also made a difference.
– Hills – I always appreciate the hills, and though i don’t appreciate it in the moment, any time we can do low-recovery, high-intensity hills, it helps me out.  We’ve had some sessions where we take our time in the recovery part of the interval — I’d like to see less of this, as the ‘drill sergeant’ approach hills makes a huge difference, IMO.
– Taking extra care in the 2 weeks prior to the race, and deliberately shortening my taper by ~ 1 week.  This made a huge difference for me.
– High altitude running — back at Labor Day, when I probably should’ve been using our recovery week, I instead went and ran about 26 miles in 3 days at 8000+ ft.  I followed it up a week later with an 8000 ft. 10k at half-marathon pace.  I feel like this made a huge difference, as well.   Perhaps we could find ways to mix higher altitude training in from time to time (meet at Magnolia, for example, on a Saturday)?

Thanks to all for another great season with FF!  I’ll see you again in the spring.





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