Monday, November 09, 2015

Monumental Half Marathon recap: Missing gears

I decided to run the Monumental Half Marathon back in the late summer, after I was accepted into the Flying Monkey Marathon via lottery. If I hadn't made it into Flying Monkey, I think I probably would have opted for the Tunnel Hill 50-miler, or else the OPSF 50K or 50-miler. But with the entry into FMM, I didn't want another long race in the fall, so instead I thought, with training going so well, maybe I could snag a half marathon PR. Monumental it was.

A brief history
I've run Monumental, either the full or the half, four times before.

November 1, 2008: marathon 3:57:01
November 6, 2010: half marathon 1:58:19
November 3, 2012: marathon 3:53:31
November 2, 2013: half marathon 1:52:02

For various reasons, I've never had a really good race at Monumental. In 2008, I was coming off a spring marathon in 3:50 and thought I was ready for a 3:40 BQ. I went out too fast and struggled in the second half, with lots of walk breaks. In 2010, I was only a year out from PRs of 3:36 in the full and 1:37 in the half, but I had also been injured earlier in the year and was struggling with burnout. In 2012, I briefly got excited about running again, but still struggled with motivation and inconsistent training. It was my first full marathon since running Boston in 2010. Things like firm goals and training plans shut me down mentally, so I just kinda made things up as I went. Still, that at least gave me a positive experience, even though I felt like I was impossibly far away from getting back to my old self. I ran too fast for my current fitness in the beginning, had to walk some in the 16-18 range, but started to turn a mental corner and ran through the pain. And 2013 was more of the same, except I failed to make it into a positive experience: after a spring of summer of good training, I fell into a horrible mental funk and barely ran at all for weeks. I switched from the full to the half and ended up a few minutes slower than I'd run at the Mill Race half weeks earlier. That was depressing!

This year, I was ready to break the cycle and finally put the pieces together: arrive at the starting line fit, pace intelligently, and, I hoped, PR. I've always loved Monumental--good time of year, relatively reliable weather, flat course, and medium-sized with not too many people, but enough that there's always someone around to run with. I liked knowing exactly where the start and finish lines were, and important mile markers, and other landmarks.

Not off to a great start
Although I haven't run the race every year, I think I've been there to cheer others on every year except last year. And in that time, the race has changed a lot. It's grown considerably, and they changed the start and finish line locations. I was completely unprepared (my fault).

My period started the night before because OF COURSE IT DID. Then we got off to a late start in the morning. I had plans to meet Alicia, who had picked up my packet for me the day before (thank youuuuuu Alicia!!). We were going to park nearby each other so she could hand off my packet, but it took us so long to get into our usual parking spot that she had already left. Then we agreed to meet at the finish line. I left Mark with the dogs to wait while I ran over to get it, but when I got there, no finish line. Actual flash of panic. I didn't realize it had moved. Plan C--meet at the Westin hotel. I ran back over to Mark to let him know, then ran back to the Westin. Alicia had to get to the start to warm up in the elite corral (eeeee!!!), so she handed off the packet to our friend Tim (thank youuuuu Tim!).

So I finally got my bib, but realized I'd left my gels in the car. AHHHHH. It wasn't far, but I had to run back over there and get them, then to the bathroom line, then to the start, which was now farther away than it used to be. I think I must have run a good mile and a half, but at least I got warmed up!?! When I FINALLY arrived at the start ready to go, my corral was so jam packed that I couldn't even get in. It was a seeded corral, but that didn't appear to make a difference to the approximately five million people with unseeded bibs in the way. I wasn't flustered, but I was frustrated and annoyed. I tried to just breathe and let it go.

Finally, let's run!
When the gun went off, I slowly squeezed into the corral. I watched the 3:25 pace group sail by, then the 3:30. I got to the starting line, still at a walk. I was trapped behind masses of people for the first two miles, which were 7:50 and 7:31. (I had planned on going out in 7:30 and then gradually working my way down to 7:15-7:20.) But even the first mile at nearly 8 minutes felt hard. I tried to run steady, hoping I would warm up and feel better. The third mile was 7:04 (?!), which I think was some kind of glitch. I ran even effort the whole time and the following mile was 7:29. After the fourth mile I tried to pick it up, even though it was taking more effort than I wanted. Although I wasn't feeling great, I at least had to give it a shot. But the next two miles were 7:28 and 7:29. That was discouraging. I knew I might not be having a great day, but that early in the race, I should have been able to run a little faster with as much effort as I was expending!

My watch was already WAY off the mile markers because of all the weaving and wide turns I'd been taking. I went through 10K by my watch at 46:04, but the official 10K split was 47:40. It was at least 0.2 off already! At that point I gave up on any time goal and just decided to hang on to 7:30s as long as I could. It was still very crowded, but easier to run normally. Luckily right around here I saw my friend Wendy who was spectating and cheering! I badly needed the pick-me-up!

It was only mile 7 but I felt like it was the end of the race. I forced myself to relax and break it down into chunks. I told myself to just get to mile 10, just get to mile 10. 7:32, 7:37, 7:35. It felt HARD. I just tried to stay focused. In mile 10, I developed a really painful side stitch, which was so discouraging that I almost stopped. I clutched at it and tried to stretch it out while moving, but I was forced to slow down, and that mile was the slowest of the race at 7:56. I got out my other gel (I had taken the first at mile 5) and gulped it down, then drank some water from an aid station. That helped, but what really seemed to clear it away was a little baby hill, the only noticeable hill on the entire route. Just the slight change seemed to reset everything and I was able to pick it up again.

Miles 11 and 12 have no turns, so I centered the Soldiers and Sailors Monument up ahead in my sights and put everything I had left into running toward it. These passed in 7:35 and 7:32. The last mile has some turns, including skirting the monument. Seriously suffering, now! Mile 13 was 7:37. I didn't manage much of a sprint to the finish, partly because I just didn't have anything left and partly because there was no time incentive to reach, but I did speed up a bit to run the last 0.3 at 7:10 pace. I finished in 1:40:35, which is officially 7:41 pace, and 7:33 pace if you account for the extra distance I recorded.

The good and the bad
Although I'm discouraged by the fact that I couldn't even touch my goal pace, I'm mostly succeeding in concentrating on the positive. 1:40 is a really good half marathon time for me. It might as well be tied for third best half time ever (I ran 1:40:23 and 1:40:25 in 2009). My Strava half marathon effort was 1:38:52, which is faster than the effort from my April half of 1:39:21. According to the official race splits, I ran the last 6.9 miles slightly faster than the first 10K. I think I ran the best I could on that day.

Early on in the race, maybe mile 2 or so, I remember thinking that I probably won't be running Monumental again. That is not at all a knock on Monumental, or on folks who like to run larger races. I just mean that it's grown into the kind of race that I don't really enjoy anymore. Monumental is a top-notch event. The organizers clearly care about what they are doing, and they care about the experience the runners have. The issues I had on race morning were purely my own fault. Crowded starts are a problem for any big race, and if I wanted a better position, well, I should have gotten there earlier. I wasn't mentally prepared for how much it had grown, but even if I had been, the crowding and noise would have been a major turn-off. Monumental certainly won't miss me, I know--I trust the race will keep growing. It's great for the city to have such a successful marathon.

The marathon changed at the same time I changed. It's been quite a while since I ran a race this size. Thinking about the whole process of multiple-day expos, leaving hours early to park, needing a map to navigate vast start/finish areas, starting corrals...just the whole shebang...it's just so stressful. Not everyone is bothered by those things--plenty of people love that! Being part of a huge event can be a great communal feeling. But to put it in perspective, I spent the rest of the day volunteering at the OPSF ultramarathon out in the woods, where you can park within sight of the start/finish, pick up your bib and pin it on, and just go. That's not for everyone; you certainly won't have a lot of outside motivation to keep going, and you might not see any other runners the whole time. But that's where my heart is. If I'm going to undertake that kind of thing again, it better be for something very special, like Boston. The nice thing about running is that it has room for lots of different kinds of runners, and race choices to appeal to them.

Next up is the Flying Monkey Marathon, which I think I'm going to enjoy very much. It's a road race, but it's intentionally the opposite of most big road races in every way--it's capped at 300 runners, it's not certified, it's as hilly as they can make it, it has no crowds, and it's in the woods. No time goal, no expectations, just a fun run in the woods. Ahhhhhh.
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