Well that was forgettable.
The First Half half marathon is always a highlight on the Vancouver race calendar. It’s like Groundhog Day for Lower Mainland road runners: the first big test after a winter break from racing which gives us a good idea whether we’re on pace for a good year or need to go back to sleep for six more weeks. If I didn’t have Western States to train for, after today’s race I’d be heading straight for bed.
I optimistically went in aiming for a sub-1:20, although in hindsight nothing about my training indicated that was realistic. A year ago I surprised myself with a big PB of 1:18:36 and while I figured another PB was out of the question this year, I did think I could go under 1:20 again. A 1:20 at the First Half earns male runners ‘Competitive Entry‘ status which allows us to register for the race any time from the opening of registration until mid-January, regardless of how fast it sells out (the Competitve Entry qualifying time for women is 1:30.) If a PB wasn’t possible, the fall-back goal was certainly to re-qualify — or re-Q — for Competitive Entry.
As usual I started off with Brian, surrounded by the usual crowd of familiar faces. We hit the first mile a few seconds over pace and everyone around us seemed convinced the marker was in the wrong spot. I was relieved to hear that at the time but it turned out that my split at mile 1 was almost exactly my average pace over the rest of the race. We continued to run together just above goal pace until Ceperley Park when I struck up a conversation with Sammy Lotfi-pour about training and injuries and getting older. Next thing I knew, we hit Lost Lagoon and Brian was about a hundred metres ahead. Behind us Mikey Ross commented that the pace couldn’t be too fast if we were able to talk so much. “More work, less talk,” I said to Sammy. Pretty soon he was gone too.
I watched Brian work his way up to a large pack which included a very fit John Atkinson in his now-familiar red toque. John was gunning for his first sub-1:20 and all reports out of the VFAC camp this year indicated he would have little trouble. With that in mind, as long as I could maintain contact with the group, I figured I might be able to ride some second half momentum back into re-Q contention.
Rounding Brockton Point, I could see Brian, John’s toque and the flowing silver mane of Jo Astoria well ahead, and using the 10k marker as a reference point I clocked the gap at about 16 seconds. I hit 10k in 38:38 and realized math was against my chances of a re-Q. I wondered if anyone ahead was panicking about how tight it might be to hit 1:20 and sure enough, after passing the halfway point as a tight-knit group, the pack exploded with Brian, then John, then Jo pulling away from the rest of the group. So much for me maintaining contact.
I hit the half in 40:46 and didn’t like my chances to claw back that much time over the second half since I hadn’t hit a single mile on pace let alone under pace. A year ago, Brian and I were on auto-pilot, breezing along the backside of the Seawall just under 6-minute mile pace and picking off runner after runner. This year, I was alone and struggling to hold a 6:15 pace. Soon after passing under the Lions Gate Bridge, Mikey Ross pulled alongside me and lamented not having a group to run with like the guys we were chasing. He seemed set on catching the stragglers falling off the back of that pack, and while I hadn’t completely conceded the race, Mikey’s suggestion did wake me up enough to keep pace with him.
I saw less and less of Brian and John as we wound our way around the bends of the west Seawall and it underscored the conclusion that I just didn’t have it today. I had some aches, but nothing was really sore; my legs weren’t completely dead, but they didn’t have much spring left in them either. I felt sloppy and out-of-sync as I went through the motions just trying to maintain the small gap behind Mikey and I felt as though I wasn’t breathing deeply enough to stoke the fire that should have had me two minutes or more ahead of where I was.
I eventually caught a couple of runners as we rounded Lost Lagoon, but I wasn’t sure what I’d have left toward the end if I found myself duking it out with Mikey. I did notice on the slight climb from Ceperley Park that I closed the gap behind Mikey very quickly… only to have him open it up once the path flattened out again next to Park Drive. I tucked that away for later and resumed the death march which had slowed about five seconds a mile through the Lagoon stretch.
I caught Mikey briefly as we both passed another runner on the rise through the Aquatic Centre parking lot but Mikey pulled ahead again on Beach. The final block-long climb under the Granville Bridge would be my last chance to use a hill to my advantage and by the time we reached it, there were a handful of other runners to pass and one-by-one I did, pulling clear of all of them by the time I turned onto Pacific for the downhill stretch to the finish. From there I put the hammer down — albeit a small, delicate hammer — and held on for dear life. I heard footsteps early on but they faded. I made the turn onto Drake in the clear and finished just as the clocked ticked 1:22. Yikes. At least it was done.
John had a huge final few miles to finish in 1:19:09 and Brian was the last guy to re-Q with a 1:19:51. Jo ran a 1:20:45 and Sammy 1:20:53.
I don’t know what to take from this year’s race. The was my first race as part of the Kintec Race Team so I’d hoped for a better result. My 1:21:58 is my slowest half since the 2008 First Half, and that’s not saying much since I was injured for that one. Even the first half of my Vancouver Marathon last year was faster and I certainly didn’t feel I had another half in me when I crossed the line today. I suppose I’m not peaking too early. At least I hope I’m not. Maybe streaking ain’t such a great idea. I went into the race tired and may have underestimated the effect that running at least two miles a day since January 3 can have on an old bod’ like mine. And although I told myself it was a taper week, dropping from 115k to 90k might not have done much to aid my recovery, especially after running the course at about race pace a week ago and doing a 50k a week before that.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a race bad enough to rattle me like this so I’ll consider it a good thing and use the experience to help me refocus. Once I stop feeling sorry for myself.
Complete results from the 2012 Pacific Road Runners First Half half marathon.
Sorry it wasn’t the result you were looking for, Dave. Sometimes a disappointing race is just that… don’t read too much into it until it becomes a disappointing season. 🙂 Start planning the next one and you’ll keep learning and growing as a runner.
Not bad considering the mileage you’ve been doing! And it’s early in the year and you have lots of big plans ahead of you that you will no doubt knock out of the park!
Thanks again for being gentle on me back on the 29th. :p
Thanks Ryne! Yeah, I feel like I’m back on track so I think I peaked four days too late. Looking forward to a big year!
Thanks again for setting up that little run on your birthday. That was a lot of fun slogging through the rain and mud with you, Adam and Meredith.