It is a relief when the race day is over. I look at people that can be super calm about the race day and go on about having wine and a normal life, with jealousy, because I could never be them. I get super nervous the day before a race. I get scared to try anything new, or to just go for a walk just incase if I end up hurting my feet for some reason. Most entire day I spend imagining various pains escalating through my feet and calves and IT band. Back in April/May I thought it was just being the first time doing races, but more races I do, I get more nervous. Well, this particular blog post is not to go over how to be nervous in hundred different ways but to write about my Camarillo Harvest Half Marathon experience and my lessons and tips on how to chase a pacer!
Camarillo Harvest Half Marathon is a small race. So small that there were only like 4 porta potties. This is their 3rd year. The contact number on their website is literally the race director Bill’s cell phone. I wouldn’t have known about this race if its not for my Snail’s Pace Running group offering me with a free entry. They had some last minute course changes, so the half marathon ended up being a 3 loops of about 4.36mile course running in between streets and along the side of farm lands and an airport.
This is my first time doing a half marathon in a loop fashion and it had its interesting challenges.The repeat of scene and the same people, and the predictability of the route starts to bore you around the 2nd time. The course itself was flat. I followed most all my key pointers for race, well hydrated, 16oz water 2 hour before the race, and had the final sip of water right before the race started. Had a banana/half an apple/toast in my system with a packet of gu I ate 45 minutes before.
For some reason I feel its easier to fake my ability and speed in a 5k with a shorter distance(My 5k PR is 7:27), but with 13 miles to go, one really has to perform to his/her own authentic truth. If it is a 5k, I would try a 7:20 a mile pace just to see how much further my lungs and heart would help me get through, but with a half marathon, I know my ability – anything faster than 8:20, I am going to struggle.
For my first half marathon, that being my very first long distance run ever, I settled in on a 2 hr finish time, and looked for a 2:00 HR pacer, and followed them through 9 miles. Christopher Rosario – was the 2:00 HR pacer at Laguna Hills Memorial Half Marathon, and later he became a good mentor to me helping me with my training tips and other suggestions to improve my speed and running in general. Close to the end, when I felt like it was just 4 more miles, I broke free and ran a little faster, saving few extra minutes, and ended with 1:57 Hr. For America’s Finest City, they had no pacers, but I believed, I could do 8:30 per mile easily as that is the speed I have been running my 10k training runs with Snail’s Pace on Wednesdays. AFC had few downhills, that helped get under 8:00 per mile for few miles. That, added with the terrible last 2 hill miles + my leg cramps slowing me down to 9:30 pace close to the end, I ended up averaging 8:37 per mile for AFC with a 1:52 Hr finish. Deep inside, I knew, I was aiming for 1:50 and it was so close within my reach, but I couldn’t fight my leg cramps. So for this race, I really wanted to aim for 1:50 as my finish time, and I knew I could do it. Given if I don’t get the same leg cramps I had at the last 2 miles at AFC. So My strategy for Camarillo Harvest Half, was to find a 1:50 pacer, and try to keep up with them all the way through the last mile. If I felt better, and had it in me I would speed through last few miles and shave off few extra seconds to have a sub 1:50 finish.
Those of you that run races regularly are familiar with Pacers. Most races do provide pacers and for the half marathons I have been on, I have seen times starting with 1:30/1:40/1:50/2:00 and so on up to 3:00 hr finish time. I used to wish for a finish time I thought was nice – like 1:55 or 1:45, without understanding the speed it takes to get to that finish time. This chart, that I have been using has changed that. Christopher Rosario I mentioned earlier, told me once that I can always aim for my 10k speed I train with for my half marathon. (Not 10k race pace, but 10k training pace). To me that is in between 8:20 to 8:30, so I always go with 8:30 as my goal. You decide on your pace, and find a closest pacer time. For me its 1:51, so I go with a 1:50 pacer. My strategy in chasing a pacer is mixed. I like to chase them at the first part of the race, as that is when I make my mistakes of going out too fast, and end up crashing at the later miles. Once I feel like I got enough miles behind me with the pacer’s help, I will pick up my own speed and try to shave of few seconds a mile. This strategy has always worked for me. Except for one flaw, Last two races, for my last miles, I have ended up hurting my legs with cramps, so I run cautiously at the last few miles, as oppose to aggressive sprinting which is normal with most people. If you have been running for a while and have enough mileage in you, you could go for 4 miles with the pacer, and do your speed for another 4, and sprint and negative split at the final few miles. If you are doing your first race, stick with the pacer all the way through.
I use a race time predictor to understand my ability for longer runs. ( http://www.runnersworld.com/pace-calculators/race-times-predictor) . You key in your last race times for a 5k or whatever distance, it gives you a reasonable pace you can aim to achieve at longer /shorter distances. I do religiously follow this recommendation, as I have learnt to try to beat this time,and hurt myself in doing so in the past. So for a 23:10 finish time for 5k which is my personal best, I could reasonably expect to finish 1:46 finish time for a half, but with my lack of enough training, 1:50 is more achievable. That is how I came up with my half marathon pace time. if you are a new runner like me, use these charts and link to help find the pace you need to follow.
Back to the Camarillo Harvest Half, Alex was our 1:50 HR pacer. I said hi to him, as I knew I will be running next to him for another 13 miles. As the race started, I felt good, and kept up with Alex, who was running at 8:10 per mile pace at the first few miles. 8:10 is fast for me, but not too fast, so I kept up with him. As we tried to close down on the first loop, around mile 4, I had to take a read of my body. I was doing fine, but I didn’t think I would be able to sustain the 8:10 pace for another 9 more miles, so I decided to slow down, and run a good 8:20/8:30 pace. Its pretty common for Pacers to bank some time initially by running little faster, to balance out the other unknowns in the course. Personally for me, following a pacer, helps me push a little harder, but I listen to my body to know when its too hard, and start running my own pace. So I would recommend try to keep up with them, but know when to scale back down.
As I slowed down, I had to see Alex pass me by but still within my eye sight, where I could see his bright yellow Beast Pacing shirt. As the distance grew more and more between me and the pacer, instead of feeling bad about having to slow down, I thought I would run the loop 2 – as conservatively as possible. I wanted to run a pace where my body was happy and I could breath better. 8:20 to 8:30 pace is my happy place, and so I ran through the second loop, as happy as I can be. As each time my garmin beeped for the mile mark, I could tell my body was getting tired. This exhaustion and rut came out of nowhere at mile 8, where my speed was 8:35.
As I came down on my second loop ending at the slowest speed I was doing, my boy friend was on the side line, cheering me! Just to see his face and hear him calling my name, made me smile, and somehow gotten me some extra oxygen! Knowing it was the last loop I picked up speed, and got back to the 8:20 pace. but as I get into half the way through the loop, my legs were getting tired, and I was running mostly on my own, as the fast runners were far ahead of me, and the people that were running in the middle pack, at this time got settled in on their own pace, so there weren’t that many people to chase, or follow. I was trying to entertain myself, with mind games, and counting my footsteps, not to lose the speed. This runner David, spriting right behind me, joined me for a brief moment, I wanted to pace along with him but I was little scared of speeding and getting those leg cramps and not be able to finish the race, so I continued my speed without trying to sprint as fast as David. We did manage to have a small chat, and he told me it was his 10th half marathon and I told him this is my 3rd. We exchanged a smile, and his seasoned legs, were ready to sprint again, and after noticing I wasn’t speeding anymore, he sprinted away toward the 1:50 pacer Alex. At this point, it’s me, myself and I, but I was completely content with my speed and cadence, I checked my time,and I would still make the 1:50 mark.
As my speed started to slow down to 8:32, I heard a voice of an angel calling me to keep going. Gloria – as I learnt her name after a bit, started to catch up to me as she was trying to pick speed. After noticing that she wanted to help get me moving, she and I agreed to pace each other. You figure, you get two runners that are slowing down terribly, but put them next to each other, we run faster! We picked up our speed. We were sprinting at 8:14, which is not a bad pace, for me, especially being the last miles. Gloria mentioned about the smell of Cilantros and that was the first time I even noticed I had been running next to a cilantro field all this time. Both of us got into a steady pace of about 8:14 or so, and I see the distance between Alex the 1:50 pacer and me closing down. At Mile 12, I joined Alex and David.
It was the last mile, and I wanted to continue the speed I had been on, because I knew I could sustain it without risking leg cramps. So we ran. Gloria, Alex, David and I.
As we got little closer to the finish line, Gloria looked at me for the runner’s nod, to let your running buddy speed ahead of you, I said ‘go’ to her, and she sprinted ahead of us! We just ran a mile together, but this is why I love the running community.Runners look out for each other. I never had someone pass me, without saying keep going! Alex, our 1:50 pacer, told us to go ahead and sprint so we could finish faster and ahead of him and shine. Alex didn’t want to out run us. David and I were sprinting, but this lady came right behind us screaming to go faster! She wouldn’t stop screaming until we picked up a pace of 5:00 or so faster(mind we were running 8:00 at this point). David told me that was his wife, and David and I both ran one of our fastest sprint to the finish line. My strava will tell you it was a 2:22 pace. I never ran that fast to a finish line before. I crossed the finish line at 1:48, David right behind me, and and I looked back. Alex, is marching through the finish line as the clock ticked to 1:49. I walked up and gave him a hug. He congratulated me, and in him I saw a true athlete, a true pacer – that was happy to see his crew cross the finish line – a brother’s keeper. I know its another day’s work for Alex but when he got me through that 1:48 finish line, its another moment, that would forever change my outlook on my personal self.
I texted my coworker friend Lynn who wanted to make sure I would be at work for her meeting Monday, that I just finished my race and I did it with 1:48 finish time. She responded back with a text ‘is that a good time?’. It always is. Every finish and mile I have ever crossed with whatever time, had always been a good time! When my last mile is done, at the end of the day I am grateful for the people I share the miles with with people and fellow runners like Alex, David and Gloria!
Both Alex and my Laguna Hills pacer Chris work for Beast Pacing. I really like this group, and they pace most every races here. I follow them on facebook.(You should too – https://www.facebook.com/beastpacing ). You can see the races they pace. Beast Pacing has some hard working dedicated athletes and fastest runners that just love and enjoy helping to push other runners like me a little bit and get us to the finish line and help make our PRs! If you are a beginner like me, or doing your first race, do try to run with a pacer, it makes a world of difference!
My complete time:
(Follow me on Strava: https://www.strava.com/athletes/10027912)
Lessons for myself from this race:
- In case of long distance runs, know your pace going into the race. You could get some better times, but to the most extend you want to stick to your ability, and try not to crash midway.
- Chasing a pacer is always a good idea, but know when to chase them and when to be on your own. Sometimes, Pacers go out little too quick, but its not bad to go quick, but listen to your body and scale down your speed if you cant keep up. Remember 13 miles is a lot of miles to go!
- I always break my half marathons into 3 parts, the first 4, where I am happy, fresh legs, food and fuel in my body – so I let my legs take me as fast they can, without going too fast. So If I try for a 8:30 pace, I wouldn’t mind if my pace is 8:10. banking extra time will help balance out the mid run rut slowness.
- If you see downhills, do run fast, and shave those extra few seconds. This will help make up for future slow miles if you have uphills.
- Always listen to your heart and lungs. If you are pushing harder than you can , you will know and its not worth it if you are a beginner runner like me!
- For me personally, I have to run conservatively for the last 3 miles, because my body is still getting used to long distance. But at some point, I am hoping I will be able to do 5k speed at the end of the race, until that time, I will run my speed conservatively through the last mile!
- Water is everything. At Least for me. I am running for my personal best time, and not for place. I stop and drink water at every water stop I see. I am still a beginner, and lack of water does drain me and make me tired. So every chance I get I drink water. I know I am losing time, but its better than crashing hard.