I'll start by saying that I love this race! I don't know if it was the weather, the location, my general lack of expectations, or a combination, but this is probably my favorite race that I have run to date.
On Friday I headed to the Expo at the Madonna Inn to pick up my bib. I figured that given my general hatred of crowds, I should go while all the locals were still at work. Getting there was easy, the signage was great, and there was plenty of parking. My only complaint about the parking is that it is in a giant field with no markings so it's really hard to find your car again. I picked up my bib, made a quick trip through the Expo (scored a pair of Pro Compression socks for $35 instead of the usual $50), got my race shirt, and left. There were probably 50 other people there total. It was wonderful.
On Sunday morning, my alarm went off at 4:15am. Not ideal, but it definitely could have been worse. I got dressed and then choked down some breakfast. Why is eating before a race never easy? I get up around the same time for work and have never had a problem eating breakfast then. I don't get it! Anyway, I ate a bit of breakfast and had a few gulps of coffee, made sure my dad was up, double checked my bag for all the essentials, and was out the door by 5:05am. There was very little traffic so the drive was super easy (we were in Morro Bay, which is about 15 miles North of San Luis Obispo). I got dropped off at the designated drop off point and walked the four-ish blocks to the high school where the race started. I got there at about 5:30, and they were just starting to call for the people running the full marathon to get into the corrals. After the marathon started, a few minutes before 6, I got all my things together, dropped my bag, used the bathroom, ate a Gu, and had a drink of water. At that point it was time for the half runners to get into the corrals.
I decided I would start in the 2:30 corral just to make sure I didn't get excited and go out too fast. I figured since it was a hilly course and the amount of running I had done since the Princess half left something to be desired, 2:30 was a totally reasonable place to be. After everyone was corralled, we squished up to e starting line and were off!
I stuck with the 2:30 pacers for approximately 3 minutes before I decided that they were going to be just a bit too slow for me. The night before, I decided to set my watch to display my average pace instead of my lap pace in an effort not to obsess about my mile splits. I have a really bad habit of feeling great until I look at my watch and see a mile split of 9:xx or 8:xx and then immediately feeling like I'm not going to make it another step at said pace. This was a completely genius idea on my part. I kept my average pace between 10:25 and 10:35 the entire time, which is right where I felt comfortable on the flats and slight uphills. Having average pace instead of lap pace also helped me not cry about how slow I was going uphill.
The first few miles of the race weave through downtown SLO, it was nice and flat and easy to just cruise. At one point we were going up a street that was a very gradual incline and I started to feel my legs burn. I had all sorts of terrible thoughts about how if this tiny incline was too much, how would I ever make it up the giant hills that were still to come?! Then we went around a corner and I forgot about that and just kept running.
The first real hill came just before 5k, I decided to just run up it until I had to stop, and then I could walk. Except I got to the top of the hill before that happened. The best part was after the top of the hill...was a downhill! So I just let my legs ride the downhill, and got a little rest while gravity did most of the work. After another mile or so there was another uphill and it had a downhill on the other side too!!
As I was running, I kept waiting for the hills to get unmanageable for me, but they never did. Before I knew it I was past the halfway point and to the turnaround (I think it was just past mile 7). My watch said 1:16 at that point, so I figured I'd be done somewhere in the realm of 2:25. I had seen the 2:15 pace group go by about 10 minutes before I turned around and the 2:30 pace group was somewhere just behind me. By then I knew the hills weren't so bad and I knew I'd make it back without too much trouble.
The way back was a little more challenging due to the intense headwind that was blowing at times. Fortunately, it was not constant. At that point my strategy was much the same, run the uphills until you can't anymore, and ride the downhills. I probably walked a total of 100m, most of which occurred at the very tops of a few of the longer hills. At the marker for mile 10, I looked at my watch and say that it said 1:44, at which point I realized that it was entirely possible for me to PR on this course. I can run 3.1 miles in under 30 minutes, especially since at that point we were back in town and relatively hill free. After I calmed myself down and had some more energy chews, I realized that it wasn't quite going to happen as I was starting to get extremely tired. So I just kept plodding along and passing all the people that started out too fast and were half dead at that point. I felt sorry for them, but was also secretly please with myself for not falling for that ploy! Everything was going great until just after mile 11. At that point we were on a bike path next to some train tracks. Turns out the finish was on the other side of the tracks and we had to go over a pedestrian overpass to get there. At that point the three switchbacks on the way up, the bouncy bridge, and the three switchbacks on the way down were too much for my tired legs and brain to handle. I walked. After that was over and I was back on the street, I had a drink of water and kept on going. Then just before mile 13, we had to run up another hill. I ended up walking up part of that one too (I think my watch was at 1:14 at that point and I had kissed a PR goodbye). I managed to run up the last few feet of the hill just as I caught a bit of breeze (it was pretty toasty at that point and I was starting to just be over the whole running a race thing). At the top of the hill was a nice gradual downhill straight to the finish. I let gravity do most of the work and coasted into the finish.
Overall I am extremely pleased with my time of 2:19:07. That is my second fastest half time, and just three minutes off my PR. I'll take that, considering my PR happened on a completely flat course, and this course was the hilliest I have run yet. I feel really good about the way this race went and I am looking forward to running it again next year. The course is awesome, the race was really well organized, and all of the volunteers were amazing. It was also great to see people sitting out on their front lawns cheering and watching as we ran through neighborhoods.
Now...marathon training has officially started!