First race of the season, first race in Germany. Steinberger See is a
lake ('See' means lake in German) 1hr from Nuernberg and this half
marathon is a out and back course on a road side path connecting
Steinberger See and Murner See which is conveniently 10.6kms apart. It's
a very local race with only ~150 runners, mostly belonging to the
running clubs around here.
My race plan exchanged by email and discussed with Steve was for this
flat half-marathon to try, if at all possible, to beat my time on last
years half marathon time in Swavesey of 1hr43m38s which had already been
a PB. I compared both as I assumed that since this was ran between two
lakes was as flat as last years race which had a total ascent of
38meters. The plan was simple: 5min/km for the first 10kms, do a check
on how I feel and push from there.
Mentally I split the half marathon into 3 parts: beginning (km 1 - 9,
5mins/km, high zone 2), middle (km 10 - 16, 4:52mins/km, zone 3), push
(km 17 - km 21, 4:40mins/km, zone 4). If I felt too fatigued or
something went wrong I would stick to my HR zones and see how far that
would get me. After all I spent half of the week in Barcelona eating too
much, going to bed too late and arrived home the day before the race
close to midnight. Eleven hours after arriving from Barcelona I would be
doing the half-marathon, so I was not too confident about how I was
going to do it.
Fortunately, German races start late. This half marathon started at
11.00 so I could sleep a bit longer and leave only at 9.30am to the race
after my usual race breakfast of coffee and ReadyBrek with soy milk,
peanut butter, maple syrup and a banana.
I arrived and felt slightly intimidated. These Germans looked serious
about a race that to me was just the first race of the season. Top-notch
gear doing all kinds of warm up exercises and looking pretty fit. Right
there and then I started to get nervous and wondering if I was ready or
if I was going to make myself look like a fool, got my race number and
went for a short warm up run of a few hundred meters. Heard the race
organizer talk a little bit, even though I didn't understand a word and
then I put my HR belt. I noted to Jenny that my HR was starting at 71bpm
and went to the race start. Unfortunately the race start was packed and
I started pretty much towards the end.
And just like that we were off. I felt quite stiff and the legs didn't
feel like they wanted to run so I started to wish I hadn't indulged so
much the past week in Barcelona. When nothing else works, blame the
tapas! It didn't take long to understand this was not going to be a
normal half marathon. First off, everyone started at a record breaking
pace. Second, my HR after 500m was reporting 163bpm which I knew was not
correct. Third, this was not flat. From the first kilometer it should be
considered at least undulating.
Undulating courses present a problem... you cannot easily guide yourself
by pace since you can be doing 4:30min/km downhill followed by
5:20min/km uphill. Trying to keep the 5min/km goal would have been
foolish. I would need to guide myself by HR if, that is, my HR was
working. However I was still getting reports of around 160bpm after the
first 3 or 4kms.
Things got worse since this undulating turned out to be pretty hilly and
windy. By kilometer 3.5 we started an ascent with parts having grade 8%.
In 1.5km we climbed 60m. By kilometer 8 we had climbed close to 100m. As
a consequence the GPS report on my distance also started to fail given
GPS altitude corrections are sketchy at best so I was at this point
300meters further ahead than what my GPS was reporting. I knew then that
not only the pace values were correct, the distance was not correct and
the HR was still hovering on 160bpm which was not correct either. I was
literally for the first time in any race with absolutely no idea how I
was doing except that I knew I was under 160bpm, most likely 154 (high
zone 3 for me), and around 300meters ahead of what my watch reported. I
could readjust this offset each time I passed a kilometer marker. So,
for example, by kilometer 8 my watch was showing 7.7kms.
I had brought 2 gels, one hydro to have without water by km 12 and
another to have with water in the aid station by km 17. I broke one of
my rules and by kilometer 9 I had the hydro which I had brought for
later in the race. However my legs were faltering and I was wondering
what to do. Either I would push and break, or push and have a good time,
or not push and have an embarrassing result. After the turnaround point
my biggest concern was how I was going to deal with the long uphill,
which on the way to Murner See had been a long downhill. My legs were
starting to numb and it started to feel hard to go into a higher gear
with them. I had been running alone until now but at the turnaround
point I noticed a group of 4 runners running at a good pace in front of
me so I latched on to them. Behind them which covered me from the wind.
They mentioned a 4:35min/km pace which I thought was way to fast for me,
however if I lost them I would fall back and then have to climb the hill
by myself and against the wind. So I focused on one thing: follow the
green shoes. One of the runners in the pack had green shoes so I forgot
about everything and simply followed the shoes. At times I really
thought I couldn't do it anymore but one sore leg in front of the other
sore leg and soon I had climbed. I knew now that albeit undulating it
was mostly downhill. By kilometer 16 I had a steep downhill and then an
undulating part to the finish line. Once in the downhill bit the group
stayed together but were going downhill slower than I thought I could so
I overtook them and blasted downhill. I just kept going but by kilometer
marker 18 the downhill had finished, I was running alone and things got
harder to the point where depending on how I put my feet on the floor I
felt a cramp surging either on my calf or quad. By without ever
settling, managing this sudden cramp was doable even while running at a
good pace. I had about 500meters on what my watch was telling me and by
now my ability for arithmetic was gone since somehow I looked at my
watch at kilometer marker 18, saw my time was around 1h28m and had a
sudden rush of joy when I realized I might do under 1h40m. For 2 long
kilometers I deluded myself even though the calculations were making
sense in my head. Only when I saw kilometer marker 20 and looked at my
watch to see I was 1h37m in, I noticed my foolishness.
I kept a consistent, careful pace in order to ensure the cramps I had
been feeling wouldn't settle and so that I could at least break my last
years PB. For the last 500 meters I had Jenny running next to me and
screaming to run faster. It felt good to have her run next to me but the
legs didn't comply with running faster. Actually I just couldn't feel
them except for the sudden cramp onset which would go as quickly as it
came. I was just flowing to the finish line which I crossed in 1h41m38s.
I did not break 1h40m but I did break my previous PB on a course which
had 213m ascent instead of 38m (as it was last year). I made two
mistakes that would be easily avoided: not washing my HR belt for a
while (it was full of salt crystals which caused the HR readings issue)
and didn't actually ask what the profile of the route was assuming it
was flat because it was near a lake.
I am however happy, even if extremely sore. Mainly because I ran my
hardest half-marathon with practically no gadget support, managed to
latch on a group which took me through a hard bit of the race and pulled
the away afterwards ending up in a good time. Had the race been flat,
who knows which time I would have done... maybe break the 1h40m. Oh
well, next time!