I ran the Mercer Island, WA half-marathon this weekend as a tune-up for the quickly approaching Boston Marathon in 4 weeks. Tune up indeed!
I was forewarned that the course was hilly and the competition stiff, and had set my expectations accordingly. Completely opposite from the pancake flat, lulling half in Phoenix in January, there was no single stretch of flat that simply allowed me to settle into a pace - instead, a continuous series of quick, undulating ups and downs as we circumnavigated Mercer Island. Good thing the island happens to have a circumference of 13 miles :)
The winding course also meant that it was necessary to run tangents and watch footing as the camber of the road changed constantly. Cut inside down through the turn, back outside up around the bend, over and over.
My race strategy was to see how I felt on race day and run accordingly. If I was feeling off, the plan was to run at marathon goal pace (4:45/km); "on" was anything faster than that. My heart rate skyrocketed from the get go, holding around 179, higher on the hills. Although I have not been tested for a couple years and my zones have probably changed, I tend to view 180 as a zone 3 "redline"...so was trying not to get too freaked out by the read out on the HRM. From the perspective of perceived exertion, I felt like I was around 80-85%. I took my first gel at 30 minutes because there was no electrolyte drink on the course and was feeling a little thirsty. At 10k, my watch said 44:00 and I decided to keep at 'er.
From 8k through 16k, the course wound upward, followed by a sharp downhill section at 18km. At this point I felt freaking fantastic and knew I was in PB territory. If I could hold a 4:30/km pace, I would be under 1:35....which was baffling because the course was so much harder than Arizona.
If there is one lesson I have learned from running marathons, however, it is that feeling "freaking fantastic" is fleeting at best. And sure enough..."freaking fantastic" lasted about 200 metres. Wham! At precisely 18.14k, some nasty race planner decided to insert a mother of a hill that rose 40 metres in elevation over the next 600 meters. I sucked wind and tried to focus on anything and everything to distract me from the hill and my spiking heart rate. 185bpm. Yikes.
At 19k we were rewarded with a sharp downhill. Aaah. I kept my turnover high and sped up. Back down to 176bpm. And then another uphill, followed abruptly by ANOTHER uphill to the finish line. Seriously....a three hill uphill finish. Gaaaasp. Ack. Despite knowing that the finish line was only a few hundred metres away, I seriously contemplated walking up the last hill. 1:34 on my watch. Big hill in front of me. So long PB.
As far as finishes go, I left everything out on the course on this day and could not have run another step. My watch was telling me 1:35-something and honestly, I didn't care. I was extremely proud of the effort and yet humbled by the hills. It was a good reminder that you can run a perfect 9/10ths of a race and watch it go in the toilet on the final 1/10th.
The running gods must have felt sorry for me on this day, however, because they managed to rewind the clock....or perhaps I was just moving quicker up that last hill than I felt? Final time: 1:35:01 and a skinny little 7 second PB.
Official finish time 1:35:01
Overall 179 / 2137
Category 5/ 193