Sunday, I ran my goal race: Ojai half marathon. Rolling hills, with a nice scenery, that's what attracted us... but it also scared us. Finally, it was an interesting race and it went better than expected.
The days leading to the race, I was defeatist. Drop of energy and motivation, I was not in it anymore (training cycle too long?). I was scanning the race map, the hills, how many of them, how long, and I was thinking that, really, I didn't train enough for that. Concerning my goal, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't underestimate me, but knowing I never did an hilly race before, it was hard to know, in advance, how I will handle it. So, in my head, I saw things like that: more than 1h45, I am definitely bad at hills / less than 1h45, ok, but I have work to do / 1h40, great, I handled the race correctly. I didn't stress out. I was just disappointed, in advance, because I had the feeling I lost it and I made mistakes in my training. For the playboy, things were easier. He proclaimed he'll do the race as a nice "stroll". No stress, stops at each water station. Just run to enjoy the course, but no race mode.
My personal fuel: sugar cubes / energy chews (I tried the chews on my long runs, and was not particularly convinced about the greater efficiency compared to sugar... but, I preferred to have the option)
Sunday morning: 5am, wake up call - breakfast - usual preparation - car ride - 7am, Ojai, an hour before race time
I didn't sleep well and was anxious about this stupid "wonderful" idea to race an hilly half marathon. "It will be great and interesting!"... I didn't see it this way anymore. I could see the mountains around. It was beautiful, but not really reassuring.
The people there were friendly. It was a small race, but not as small as the 10K we did 2 weeks before. It was more formal. We had chip times. There was a real start/finish line. I had time to check the map and the aid stations on the course. I noticed there were lots of women. We noticed it because it's different from what we are used to in France.
30 minutes before race start, we went jogging to warm up. It helped me relax. I could feel my legs were light and fresh. I felt better. I was finally happy to be here.
Before the start, I tried to help the playboy: "On the first 5K, it's downhill, you can go fast. You'll gain time there. After that, there's the big hill, for more than a mile. You drink before the second hill, around mile 6." Actually, I think it was more for me than for him. He didn't really care. He was just going by feel. I took it more seriously and had my reminder on my arm.
1 minute before the start, we were asked to go to our corrals. The corrals were there to avoid congestion on the narrow bike path and were released at a 2 minutes time interval. I was not really at ease in the first one, but it was my pace range (7 min/mile range).
"Can anyone go in front of me, pleeeaaase?"
Photo credit: Mike Wrather - www.athletez.com
8am, race time. I launched my watch and checked, this time, it started. We were around 20 runners to go first. It started really fast in the front. We entered a bike path for 5K. I was going fast but feeling good and I knew it was downhill. No need to worry. I noticed a group of 3 girls with a great stride. They were peacefully talking about their week-end... at a pace faster than 7 min/mile. I was impressed. They certainly knew what they were doing. A woman passed me and passed the group of 3 girls. I could see her trying to pass the men in front, one by one. I was running fast but relaxed. Little by little, I ended up just behind the 3 girls. I was worried it was not a good idea to pass them, but I was doing great. I knew I was going to see them again, but, for now, I had to listen to myself and manage the race the way I felt it.
Race time for the first corral
Photo credit: Mike Wrather - www.athletez.com
Miles 1 - 2 - 3
Mile 3, we exited the bike path to run on a countryside road. Big downhill and then flat portion. I knew the BIG hill was just around the corner and tried to prepare. I could see, in front of me, a line of 4-5 runners including the woman who passed me and the 3 girls earlier.
After a right-turn, here it was: the hill. "Stay calm, breath through the belly, push to keep a decent pace but don't let your heart go too fast". That is the way I face the hills. I passed a man. I tried to relax looking at the beautiful scenery. I was closer and closer to the woman. She had slowed down. I passed her. I reached the top of the hill. We were near a lake. It was beautiful. I took advantage of it trying to breath normally again. I quickly sped up my pace because I didn't want to go easy. I knew a downhill was coming and I would use it to relax a little bit.
Before the hill around mile 6, I took a sugar cube. I tried to drink, as well, at an aid station, but there were water cups only and I don't know how to drink from a water cup while running. I almost drank through my nose but managed to sip a little bit of water.
Miles 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
The second hill was less steep and in different parts. I was doing fine while I heard people coming fast behind me. I went on the side of the road to let them pass me easily. It was 2 girls from the group of 3 I noticed on the bike path. They were running, easily, one right behind the other. It was almost like a train passed me. Impressive! And then, I heard someone else. It was the woman I passed on the first hill. She certainly tried to follow the girls. Instead of passing me quietly, she almost forced me to run on the dirt, next to the road, even if the road was wide and there was no car. She pushed to pass me, went just in front of me and slowed down. REALLY?! I tried to go on her left, but she immediately went in front of me. I was pissed of. What's the point? You pass me because you run faster than me. But, if you pass me only to be in front of me and then slow me down and block me, that is stupid. I am not an athlete, and she is certainly not one either. If she was one, she would have never been behind me at any point during the race. Anyways, it was the end of the hill and a water point was waiting for us. I slowed down in order to fully drink and to let the woman go. She could go play this little game alone.
After that, I remember managing my pace, enjoying the scenery and the beautiful sun. I know, at mile 8, I did the maths and knowing there were 5 miles to go felt hard. I can't really explain why I was feeling this way. When I look at my splits or at the elevation map, there is nothing to show. It didn't last long because the course was interesting, in the countryside. It reminded me of my hometown in the South West of France. Nobody by my side, but people in front at my reach. At each crossroads, a policeman to stop the cars if needed. The roads were not closed to traffic but there was no need for that.
At 8.5 miles in, there was a steep hill to go back to the bike path. I still could see Miss Athlete. During the way up, I came closer to her. I was running my race and had no interest to push only to pass her. I didn't mind about my overall position. I didn't know how many women or runners were in front and I didn't care. But, honestly, after how she acted when she passed me, I knew if I could pass her, I would happily do it.
Back on the bike path, we had to run an out and back portion before aiming for the finish line. The turn around point was at mile 11.5, and, until then, it was uphill... it was hard. I tried to convince myself I made a mistake reading the course map (as I noticed I did on some hills) and that the turn around was at mile 11 instead of 11.5... maybe... who knows... we can make it happen if we believe it hard enough, right? I was closer and closer to Miss Athlete. I went far on the left and passed her. I thought she would have tried to follow and speed up. But, she didn't. I had no intention to sprint right now, anyways.
Miles 8 - 9 - 10
My state of mind was simple: "It will never stop!". And, finally, I saw the first man running the opposite direction. So, at one point, the turn around would happen. 1st woman... impressive. It gave me a boost of energy. I pushed the pace. Running the other way would be downhill.
Finally, at 11.5 miles, turn-around! From there, I had to give it all I got. I didn't try to predict my time. Actually, I don't look at my watch so often during races. I only check to be sure the ratio pace/effort is ok. This time, I didn't even look at the total time before the turn around. I did and realized, with less than 2 miles to go, I had to maintain a 7 min/mile pace to beat my best time (1:36:23, half marathon in Reims, France, in October 2013). I could do that and I had to try my best to beat it the best I could.
Lost in my thoughts, I looked out of the corner of my eye, on the other side of the bike path. There was the woman pacing for the 1:45 goal. She was with a little group of women. And then, I heard "Allez!". It was the playboy, surrounded my girls. That one!
Until the end, my only goal was to go as fast as I could. I had a man with a grey T-shirt in front of me. I realized I was pushing him, but, my intention was not to pass him. I only wanted to beat my time the best I could.
Miles 11 - 12 - 13
We crossed the finish line one after the other. He immediately turned to me, laughing, and told me I pushed him at the end. If I helped him, that's great! I wanted my best time. I got it!
Photo credit : Mike Wrather - www.athletez.com
I finished the race in 1:33:37, 4th woman out of 136, 13th out of 249 runners, 1st in my age group.
I am really happy, of the race, of my time and of the way I handled the race. A race in the countryside is so much nicer! Nobody was cheering on us, but I didn't mind at all. And the hills? Well, I guess I was not trained so badly after all. I have to say I found it way more interesting than a flat race. We have to think about how to manage our pace during the whole course. We slow down but then speed up again. It is not boring. I had the idea it would be like that, but I was scared it would be too painful. I am even happier with my time on such a course. Anyways, I also know that it was not THAT much difficult. And compared to other races, these hills were nothing. You can laugh at me. It was the first time I ran a "hilly" course.
Finally, I have to tell you I am thinking about starting a new career: "small local races runner". People are nice and friendly. We spend a good time. If we are lucky, there is not so much competition. And, like that, we can win a little something. Look at my new bag. Classy, right?