Monday, April 11, 2016

Race Report: Hapalua Half Marathon

Sunday was the first time Pattie and I ran a race together. The logistics were trickier than when one of us does Sherpa duty but it was fun, even if "suffering together" sounds like a recipe for disaster.

When I started doing triathlon, and especially when I committed to doing Honu, I began reading up on the mental side of endurance sports. What is generally referred to as mental toughness. So far it seems that the advice I have gotten is directed at two themes, staying focused on the present, and being willing to suffer. Coach  Celeste St. Pierre was good at reminding me not to "time travel" before and during a swim. Thoughtful planning is a good thing. Worrying about how things will turn out is not, especially when we imagine a poor outcome. Recently I have been reading Matt Fitzgerald's "How Bad Do You Want It?" which is more about suffering. I confess I have not finished it, and I mean to. Maybe he will shed more light on my race experience.

For months now my run training has focused on long and slow. This goes back to my marathon prep, then the twelve week (Jan 4 - Mar 20) base period preceding the twelve week build to Honu. I scheduled the Great Aloha Run as a "C" race and the Hapalua Half Marathon as a "B" race. I knew that the Hapalua came a bit early to to be of much use for Honu but it would give me a chance to try test my race plans and to spend a long time out on the road in race conditions. Much different than a solo run even for a longer distance.

As the Hapalua approached I went on Training Peaks and looked at my past performances to get a reasonable estimate of what to expect. I turned up two distinctly different answers. Based on recent runs a reasonable expectation was an average pace of 16:00 min/mi for a time of 3:30. But the last time I ran the Hapalua, in 2014, I did it in 3:05:56 for an average pace of 14:07. That is a huge difference! Back in February I ran the GAR at an average pace of 14:30, but it is only nine miles and without the challenge of running up Monsarrat and around Diamond Head at the end.

What I decided to do was this. Start easy, to let the metabolism warm up nicely without jumping too deep into carbohydrate burning mode. Then settle into a sustainable but hard pace up at the top of HR zone 3. My lactate threshold is low zone 4, and I know I cannot sustain that for much more than hour, so to hold a good pace and not slow down before Monsarrat, and to be strong enough to run most of Diamond Head I would have to hold myself just below LTHR. Good old zone 3.

What I discovered was that I could hold 3.9Z for quite some time, but eventually my legs would start to burn and I would automatically drop down to 3.3Z. (The burn is not from lactic acid, as many believe. It is from free hydrogen leaking out of the muscles, a by-product of fuel burning, and normally carried away through respiration.) What seemed to work then was to back off a bit, recover, then take it up to 3.9 again. It during one of those recover bits that I was passed by a group that included Sonya Weiser Souza and I was pleasantly surprised to see them dangling just beyond my reach all the way back to Waikiki.

What I find interesting is that when I was running in the high 3's I got myself into a really nice, smooth, flowing kind of feeling. I really felt great. What bothered me was even then my pace was somewhere around 15:00, and to beat my PR I had to average 13:45 up until Monsarrat. So, way back on Kapiolani I knew I had no chance to better my 2014 time, but I was confident I would finish well under 3:30.

Everything was going great until I turned onto Kalakaua. First my heart rate zone dropped to one point something, which usually means my wet shirt is interfering with the signal pickup pads. I fiddled with it as much as possible without stopping but could not get it back. Eventually it went to zero and never returned. (On the way home I restarted my Garmin and it was fine. This is a common problem with Garmin HRM straps.) But I still had pace data and that was all I really needed.Then, almost as in reaction, I felt my right calf twitch, the unmistakable precursor of a full on cramp. I kept going, but it kept twitching, eventually so hard that I almost fell down. That was somewhere around the Moana Hotal. I thought there would be an aide station around there so I had emptied my water flask, but as it turned out the next one was after the Kapiolani Park parking lot. I had been taking Hammer Endurolyes at around one every thirty minutes, so low salt was not the problem, and I was not dehydrated, but just to be sure I took on extra water at the aide station and walked a bit more to let it take affect. Even then I could only run for about a minute before the cramps returned. At first I waited for the twinge, but after a few of those I decided it was better to stop running before the twinge. Anything to prevent a wholesale lockup, as that can really mess up your day.

As I passed KCC my average pace was 15:30 so I still had hopes of recovering enough to come in under 16:00. My calf would not cooperate. I ran as much as I could, but had to walk more than run around Diamond Head and slowly watched that 15:30 creep up to 16:13, for a finish time of 3:37.

My goal was to run hard, to push against my suffering threshold. After I finished I was dead dog tired, and I take that as a sign that I had accomplished my goal. What got in the way of a better result was a lack of physical endurance combined with a pace plan that was a bit too aggressive. After sitting a spell and downing a banana, a malasada, and a couple gallons of water I set off to meet up with Pattie in the finishing chute. As I walked slowly along Kalakaua I felt really, really tired, even a bit light headed and dizzy. I was not even sure I could make it back to Diamond Head, but I did. Another short sitting spell and there she was, in worse shape than me but still going strong. Again, I'll take the extreme fatigue that I felt as proof to myself that I really did run hard and left it all out on the course, even as slow as I was.

I still need to finish reading Fitzgerald, but I get the feeling that I am not limited by holding back nearly as much as I imagined. Neither is Pattie. She was struggling with cramps and dehydration enough to visit the medial tent by KCC. Even so she finished. It was not an arms in the air, smiles and high fives kind of finish, but she kept going. I think we are a lot alike in that regard. Once we get going we give it our all, no matter what happens. That evening we were watching Paris-Roubaix, albeit in a semiconscious state, and were reminded that even the pros can see their best plans go to pieces.

One thing I am going to change going forward is to replace most if not all of my strides workouts with tempo runs. I need the race pace endurance a lot more than I need fast feet.

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