Saturday, July 28, 2007

Spearfish Canyon Half-marathon Report: A New PR!!

This report will be much shorter than my last couple marathon reports. I promise. After all, a half-marathon is, well, half a marathon so the report should be half as long too, right? We shall see…

The half-marathon is sort of a lost distance for me. I made the jump from racing a 10-miler, at the time the furthest I had ever run, to trying my first full marathon. I figured that running just 3.1 more miles wasn’t enough of a step up. Now that I’ve caught the marathon bug, it’s proven impossible for me to choose a half over a full when both are offered as part of one event. Because of this, I’ve only run one half-marathon: the Spearfish Canyon Half last year. The only other race offered at this event is a 5K. In my mind, 5K is simply metric for 3.1 miles of pain and misery. The half-marathon is much more suited to my abilities (endurance vs. speed). Plus, there are plenty of local opportunities to run 5Ks throughout the year, but Spearfish Canyon is the only option I have for a half-marathon, or at least the only local half that is not held in conjunction with a full.

I ran last year’s Spearfish Canyon Half as a tune-up race for the Montana Marathon in September. The tune-up went much better than the goal race and I finished in 1:33:51 (good for 2nd in my AG), a full 4 minutes faster than my goal time. This year, I was running Spearfish Canyon as a training run wedged in between the Missoula Marathon, which I ran two weeks ago, and the Lean Horse 50K, my first attempt at an ultra, which is coming up on August 25th. My goal going into this year’s race was pretty simple: run faster than last year. Realistically, I thought I’d be able to manage 7:00 miles which would result in a time just under 1:32. The course itself would be my biggest ally in achieving this goal…

Spearfish Canyon runs north-south through the northern Black Hills. A National Forest Scenic Byway parallels Spearfish Creek through the length of the canyon. Here comes another film reference: if you’ve seen “Dances with Wolves”, you’ve seen a little bit of Spearfish Canyon as some of the winter scenes were filmed there. The race starts just north of the town of Savoy (it’s really just a hotel and a restaurant) and follows the canyon to city of Spearfish, finishing at the city park. It’s downhill for the first 11 miles before emerging from the canyon before leveling off and going uphill slightly to the park.

I reported to the Spearfish city park with my wife and our two kids bright and early on Saturday morning. My wife was running the 5K while pushing the jogging stroller. After paying our dues and getting our shirts and bibs, I loaded up on the first bus heading up the canyon to the start line. After what seemed like a 30 mile drive (school buses don’t handle the curves of the canyon well) we finally arrived in Savoy. I jogged up the canyon a bit to get warmed up and to find a nice, quiet place to water some foliage as the four porta-potties at the start line were obviously insufficient for handling a large group of well-hydrated runners.

The race was supposed to start at 7:30, but the race director decided to be nice and let everyone who was waiting in line for the porta-potties get their turn. So, we didn’t toe the line until about 7:45. I couldn’t help but notice that the crowd looked much bigger than last year but I still found myself in the second row at the start as everyone seemed hesitant to move too far forward. Finally, the gun fired and we were off.

I knew that I would probably run the first mile fast as adrenaline and gravity teamed up and I was right. But I felt comfortable so I just kept on chugging. By mile three I had a kid (as in teenager) running along with me so I kept the pace up to try and shake him. He held on for a long time but I finally dropped him at around mile 9. By that time, I thought I was pretty secure in my position, approximately 11th or 12th but then, out of nowhere, a dude in orange shorts blew by me. The pace was taking its toll by this time. I did manage to catch and pass orange short dude once, but he quickly retaliated and ran away. In the process, we passed two other guys, so at least I ended up with a net gain in position. As I said earlier, my goal was to run 7:00 miles. As it turns out, my first 7:00 mile came at mile 10. By the time we left the canyon at mile 11, my quads were feeling the abuse and it actually felt good when we started running up a very gradual uphill. Orange shorts guy was still within striking distance, but I just didn’t have the juice to catch him as he wasn’t fading at all. With approximately a little more than a tenth of a mile left, I glanced at my watch and saw a 1:29:11. Thinking that if I turned it up the rest of the way, I might be able to break 1:30, I crammed it into overdrove (there was much grinding of gears) and sprinted toward the finish. Alas, there was either too far left or too little gas left in the tank and I finished in 1:30:12. Okay, pop quiz: How can you set a 3.5 minute PR and still be a little disappointed? When you come up 13 seconds short of breaking 1:30:00, that’s how. Actually, I’m fine with the results….I have something to shoot for next year. Here’re the splits:

1 – 6:43
2 – 6:53
3 – 6:44
4 – 6:46
5 – 6:56
6 – 6:52
7 – 6:48
8 – 6:56
9 – 6:47
10 – 7:01
11 – 7:00
12 – 7:05
13.1 – 7:36
Total – 1:30:12
Overall place - ??, probably around 10th -12th
Age Group place – 3rd, orange short dude was 2nd, the overall winner (1:09:xx) was 1st

That’s all, folks! Thanks for reading!

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