Friday, June 22, 2012

Finally, a negative split - Capitola Half Marathon

After my self-proclaimed disaster of a test marathon in Napa, I finally got my head on straight at the inaugural Capitola Half Marathon. I know, I know, this race was back in May and now it's July. Suffice it to say that I have been buried with work and just couldn't prioritize writing this up so apologies if it sounds like old news. But to me, it is a very big deal to have finally - after 9 years of serious running - run a negative split in a race of this length.
Receiving the prize for 3rd in my age group

As many of you know my goal for 2012 is to see if a man of my age can actually improve his time in the marathon and more-so, take off nearly 17 minutes and break the 3-hour mark. I started this journey back in January of this year and have been making steady if slow progress towards this goal. I started the year in marathon shape and after adding in several weeks of speed work, thought I'd test my training with the El Paso Marathon in February and the Napa Marathon in March. In both cases, as is often my mode, I went out feeling great and thus went a bit too fast resulting in a much-declined pace by mile 25. For Napa, I was determined not to do this but ended up doing it anyway, ugh. Ok, so an old dog can learn new tricks. Or so I hoped that would be the case as I lined up at the start of the Capitola Half Marathon. I knew the course -- it was roughly the Wharf to Wharf course, (which I will be running in July) times two (out and back). the weather was good - sunny but cool. I had a plan - hold back and keep the pace above 7 minutes per mile until the turn around, then let it go. This would be the (psychologically) hardest thing I've ever done. 

This race was small and felt pretty informal as we all roughly gathered behind a small inflated starting line arc. To ensure I didn't take off like a banshee, I stayed well back from the arc and chatted with my friends Spencer and Kent all the way up to the gun. I then casually turned to the arc and started running. First mile: 7:01. Right on plan, I decided to pull back a bit more so I wouldn't be tempted at all to speed it up. This run has a fair amount of hill climbing so I figured that too would keep me from pushing it too much. What was working against me was that at this pace I was still passing a lot of people and the urge to chase down the leaders was rising in the back of my brain - because I could see them ahead.

Thankfully as the miles accumulated so did the lead they had and so I was able to surpress that desire. I stuck to the plan as we weaved our way from the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk and into the cute town of Capitola. The course was nearly the same as Wharf to Wharf except for one turn we didn't make which would made this course a bit shorter I thought. As we entered Capitola we passed right down the street where Reesa and I had taken her mom and step-dad several years ago for what would turn out to be his last vacation before succumbing to cancer. I immediately thought of our time there sitting on the beach watching the waves and waves of bikini-clad girls go buy, which always brought a smile to his face. 

We turned right toward the wharf in Capitola and off to our left were the leaders who had rounded the town square and were coming back. I started counting them just to see how many were ahead of me. Not that I could catch them, they had well over 5 minutes on me but just for fun. As I lost sight of them as I started to round the town, I had counted 15 runners ahead.

When I hit the straightaway climbing the beach road away from Capitola, I turned on the jets and pulled my pace well below 7 minutes per mile. when I hit the 8 mile marker I was running 6:25; too fast. I pulled it back but only a little, as I was feeling good and was quickly catching and passing runners in front of me. What a thrill!

I kept the pace up repeating a mantra to myself of "keep pushing" while remaining conscious of how I felt and ensuring I wasn't tipping into exhaustion which would ruin my finish. The speed work was paying off as I was able to stay below 6:50 as I hit mile marker 11. I had passed several people by this point and if my calculations were correct there couldn't be more than ten people ahead. This would be my first top ten finish in a half marathon. Amazing! I kept pushing and was reeling in the first-place woman I had seen fly by in Capitola. Within 200 yards I passed her, said "good job" and then realized it was fellow TNT alum Riya. 

Riya with the award for faster woman

I pushed on with the boardwalk now in sight and calculated when I should push the pace even more, for a strong finish. I wasn't sure if the finish was back through the same arc and we hadn't hit the 12 mile marker yet so wasn't sure. By the time we got to the boardwalk I couldn't see the finish in front of me, so figured it must be a bit further ahead, but couldn't be much more, so I put the hammer down. There was another runner ahead and I wanted to take him before the tape. 

We passed the boardwalk and I still couldn't see the finish. Had I pushed too early? Could I catch this last runner and stay ahead of him. I wasn't sure. then I started hearing the crowds and a volunteer directing traffic. It had to be close. I pushed the hammer down even more and flew past this last runner. The course turned to the beach (which explains why I couldn't see the finish) and just as it dropped to the sand it was over. 

Finisher results from Capitola Half Marathon. My first top 10 finish!
I had done it - a negative split. And I felt fantastic! i was definitely tired but couldn't have been happier with my plan. Turned out the course was a bit short of a full half marathon - 12.88 miles but I still had finished strong, landing a top ten finish and third in my age group. I was ecstatic. Now I know I can stick to a plan and overcome my own stupid brain. I could go out slower than I think and not suffer as a result. Now I just need to put it all together again at twice the distance. 

Next try: In August at the ET Midnight Marathon in Area 51. Now that should be fun.