Sunday, July 17, 2011

Race Report: ZOOMA Women's Half Marathon

Wow, July is a hot month to race 13.1 miles in Colorado. I'll admit, when I woke up this morning, I had a fleeting thought that it would be much nicer NOT to run this race. I'm glad I didn't give in to that.

I'll start at the beginning!

I arrived in Colorado Springs in Friday night. Since I was a ZOOMA ambassador this year, I worked packet pickup on Saturday afternoon, and my awesome husband Dan agreed to take on the kids this weekend. (It helped that his mom and step-dad are staying with us--they are awesome, too. They made me a spicy spaghetti with tahini sesame sauce when I got home today--but I digress....) I found my hotel (the Hilton Antlers), checked in and found myself *alone* in a big quiet 12th floor room with a king sized bed.

I love hotels. I love how everything is right there for you--a bucket for ice, glasses for water, a throw to cuddle up with, seven or so pillows for your weary body, air conditioning to cool you off (we don't have that in our new house, one of its few drawbacks). I settled right in and proceeded to sleep for eight hours uninterrupted.

On Saturday I helped out with packet pickup, which was a fairly quiet affair. I bought a pretty copper "RUN" necklace with my twins' birthstone on it (turquoise for December) and met some nice runners from Denver and the Springs. One of them, Abby, works at Boulder Running Company in the Springs and is a nutritionist. She's young (early 20s) but self-possessed, and didn't take at all kindly to being quasi-flirted-with by the much-older dude manning the table next to us. He was tall, with his shirt unbuttoned to reveal just a bit too much chest hair (not something that's attractive in a guy at ANY age), and old enough to be her father (or even her grandfather). Why do guys like him always think girls like her want to talk to them?

I also met Sarah Bowen Shea, co-author of Run Like a Mother. I'd already met her co-author, Dimity McDowell, who lives in the Denver area, and I love their book, so it was nice to meet the other half of the duo. Sarah and I bonded over the fact that we have boy/girl twins and that both of our sons like to dress up in dresses sometimes.

The coolest thing about packet pickup itself was the way it assigned bib numbers. The runner walked up to a computer screen, typed in her name and then, when the system recognized her as registered, prompted the volunteer manning the table to scan a barcode on a bib. Voila! Number assigned, right there. And jumping ahead a bit, this race was the fastest at getting results back at the end that I've ever been a part of. The same screens used at packet pickup were set up at the finish party. You typed in your number and there was your time, pace, place, and age group place. Awesome!

Anyway, I got really sleepy toward the end of packet pickup, and since they had plenty of volunteers I headed back to my quiet room and took a nap. Bliss! Then I watched TWO movies on HBO (one lame--something with Jennifer Aniston--and one really good--The Kids are Alright). We also don't have cable at our house (by choice, unlike the air con issue--most TV just sucks and so it isn't worth shelling out the $$$ for it). But watching premium channels when we're in hotels is fun for both Dan and me. Sort of like eating too much junk food is fun sometimes.

Then I figured I'd better eat something, so I ventured out to a local coffee shop and drank some tea and did bridge problems (Dan and I are obsessed with learning how to play bridge--it does for my mind what running does for my body). Then I went to Old Chicago and ate a pizza with just crust and sauce (given my track record, cheese the night before a race would have been a bad idea). Then what could I do but sleep some more???

The next morning, with the start line literally right outside in the hotel's driveway, I had a leisurely time getting ready for the race. I showered, ate a breakfast of 1/2 a scrambled egg, some Honey Nut Cheerios, tea and ice water and welcomed my friend Kathy, who drove down with her running group and stashed her stuff in my room. Soon it was time for the 7:05 a.m. start.

I hate running in heat. And I knew this day was going to heat up fast. The temperature at the start was 72 degrees and 61% humidity (the latter very high for Colorado). With not a cloud in the sky, it had nowhere to go but up. So I kept my goals realistic:
A) Moonshot goal: beat 1:54 (I'd love to go under 1:50 but I knew that wasn't going to happen on this course; it's not as hard as the Boulder Half course, but there was a big hill toward the end and did I mention it was hot?)
B) Realistic step-forward goal: beat my PR from March (1:57:18)
C) Bad-day goal: finish under 2 hours

We took off, heading south for the first mile. I ran into Meg, a runner who used to work with Dan, and her friend Erin. We chatted about how this course looked much nicer than last year's ZOOMA (a beast, apparently) and then I pushed ahead a bit. I was trying to rein it in, but I felt pretty good. My legs at the start had this tingly, let's-run-now feeling, and a mile in I woke up to the fact that this was a great sign and maybe I could push my pace.

The first half of the course was beautiful. Shady downtown streets, an old-town neighborhood with bungalows and Victorians, a parkside path under tall trees...It made the slight uphill barely noticeable. I worked hard on not passing people here, though, as I knew things would shift as the sun rose higher and the course changed to feature less shade and more concrete. About four and a half miles in, we moved to a wide gravel trail with some interesting little ups and downs, and by the time we turned south again, and slightly downhill, we were on a major riverside trail and fully in the sun.

Strangely, the sun didn't bother me. I was comfy in my hat and sunglasses (dumping water on my neck and back at water stops helped too!). Instead, I concentrated on trying to pass people. I found myself following another runner in a skirt and black hat quite closely. Her pace, averaging about 8:40, suited me, so I stuck with her for three or so miles. She surged a couple of times, but I always reeled her in again, and when after a water stop near mile eight she seemed to be faltering I picked up the pace and left her behind for good.

The course got more and more urban, snaking along the interstate and some busy city boulevards and through warehouses and trainyards. Finally, we burst off the trail and onto a wide street. The sounds of the traffic surprised me after the relative quiet of the trail. I had turned my music on just before the halfway point, though, so soon I was able to tune the noise out again.

Just in time for the hill at the 10-mile mark.

I knew the hill would be about two miles long, so I shortened my stride, ate the last of two Gu chomps and attacked it. The first stretch was fine. I even passed several runners (including a few guys, among them Andy Baldwin of "Bachelor" fame, founder of the race's official charity, the Got Your Back network, who had given a pep talk at the start but was now *walking* the hill! nothing against Andy--his charity is a great thing--but it was sort of fun to pass a reality TV person).

The second stretch of the hill, however, looked like one of those crazy climbs in San Francisco. I shortened my stride even more and huffed it upward. My splits slowed to well above 9 minute miles for numbers 11 and 12, and I fretted inwardly about not breaking 2 hours.

But at the 12 mile mark I experienced a shift. And I knew I still had something left. So I sped up. And up. And you know what? It felt great! I passed several more people coming into the finish line (the last 1000 meters was a dramatic downhill--such a relief at that point!). It was like I just needed a gear shift.

The official result? 1:56:32--not a stellar time, but a 40 second PR and good for 6th out of 47 in the 35-39 female age group (the winner of our group ran 1:42:30), 35th out of 266 women and 47th out of 292 people. The temperature at the finish time? 86 degrees, 33% humidity.

Here (copied from the Garmin data) are my splits--they're all over the place but you can see the hill slowing me significantly at miles 11 and 12 and then me taking off at the beginning of mile 13--my fastest mile!

1 00:08:57 1.00 08:57 (chatting w/ Meg and Erin)
2 00:09:20 1.00 09:20 (turned back uphill; I think I overdid trying to go slow here)
3 00:08:55 1.00 08:55
4 00:09:00 1.00 09:00
5 00:08:44 1.00 08:44 (the next three miles drafting off of black hat girl)
6 00:08:54 1.00 08:54
7 00:08:37 1.00 08:37
8 00:08:51 1.00 08:51
9 00:08:20 1.00 08:20 (surging ahead of black hat girl)
10 00:08:36 1.00 08:36 (last flat-to-downhill mile)
11 00:09:21 1.00 09:21 (slowed way down, but I passed the Bachelor)
12 00:09:00 1.00 09:00 (getting it back a bit...)
13 00:08:17 1.00 08:17 (pushing the pedal down!)
14 00:01:57 0.30 06:37 (nice little downhill to the finish!)

You know what else was great about this? My stomach gave me NO TROUBLE in the least in this race. I'll have a post later on what I think helped. For now, I'll just say, it was so fun to run uninterrupted by GI distress.

Final thought: taken at face value, my time in this race indicates I am not ready to qualify for Boston. And the splits above show I have a lot of work to do on pacing. But I think given the heat and the course, running a PR and feeling good literally the whole way was the best I could hope for. My training is making me stronger. I'm excited about the next eight weeks of marathon prep. Bring on Top of Utah!!


  1. Nice job on the race!! That's a GREAT time considering the conditions. The heat totally takes it out of me and I lose at least a minute per mile.

    I love staying in a hotel too! It's so relaxing. I know not everyone feels that way, but I love it!

    Glad you enjoyed your time!

  2. Great job, yay for a PR. I love that you passed a reality star, that makes for a fun story. I hear you on the hotel thing, always so nice to stay in.

  3. Holy hotness 86?!? You did great in those tough conditions and I'm thrilled your tummy behaved. Congrats on the PR!
    I think I may do the Great Lakes Zooma half in October.

  4. Congratulations on a a PR - in that heat, that is a huge achievement and I think in cooler temps and a fairly dowhill course that TofU is, you have a fighting chance at BQing so don't rule it out :).

    Glad you had some great quality time with the hotel - I couldn't agree with you more on the comforts a hotel can bring - so relaxing! I remember a couple hotel beds and mega pillows post marathons and it was just heaven on earth!

    I didn't know SBS was in town, she paced me the last few miles when I did the Portland Marathon. Very cool you got to meet her! Her twin stories always crack me up.

    Hope you're home now and enjoying that 1/2 victory!!! :)

  5. great job Terzah! You ran a really really good race. And a PR is always something to celebrate!! Congrats! :)

  6. So great that you PR'd in a summer race, got right in between your top two goals and felt great, too! Congrats!

  7. Girrrllll nice job! A 40 second PR in heat is pretty darn good.
    I think your "love hotels because it's all there" is totally spoken like a busy mom :).

  8. AWESOME!!!! Way to show that hill who's boss and love that you passed up the bachelor! :)

    I can totally sympathies with you on the lack of A/C, I don't have any either. Luckily it only seems to bother me a few days out of the year...I believe we are in the midst of those few days right now. :)

  9. YEAH!! Great job! And a PR! Woot! Very cool!

  10. Great job, Terzah! I'd wilt in that heat!