Youngstown Mill Creek Classic Half Marathon Race Report

What's that, a race?

Same question my legs were pondering as I warmed up Sunday for my first race since the Detroit Turkey Trot and Richmond Marathon in November.

While I had some great races in 08 the focus of my training was for Boston and Richmond and underachieving my goals at those races definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. A month or so of slackerdom and I finally got back at it and have been getting in some consistent mileage to get ready for Boston in hopes of finally achieving some of last years marathon goals. The speed and tempo workouts haven't been pretty so my original goal for Youngstown was to run the race at goal marathon pace to get a feel for it again. This fit with my cookie cutter Pfitzinger training plan, and I figured if anything this would be pretty tough given that Youngstown is a relentless half with rolling hills the entire way up through the final uphill finish.

Well my trusty SERC pals were having none of it. They recommended I race the half. Only 7 weeks to Boston and I need to get a long race in to get my race mojo back. After lots of poo pooing I gave into their logic and agreed it would be good for me to approach the race like a race. The past two marathons despite running great 10ks leading up to the race I have felt that something wasn't quite right, so maybe for me I need to race a slightly longer distance to prep mentally for racing the full marathon. With that in mind the goal was to try and average 7 minute miles for as long as I could. In an ideal flat world I would have targeted 6:50, but Youngstown is not that world :) Even if I ran target marathon pace it would have been a PR day for me. This was only my 10th half marathon ever, 4 of which were here the previous 4 years and which I have always treated like a training day, sand bagging and hammering the last few miles. So needless to say I was ready to clear my 1:36:56 from River Run (downhill!) in 2006 from my list of PRs and get a new reasonable PR for the half. The question was just how much would I be able to shave off?

DST had me off the couch early (slept at the inlaws downstairs as to not wake anyone) and on my way to Solon to carpool with Frank and BB to the race. This is always a nice part of the day chatting with my SERC peeps and wondering what horrible conditions we will have to run in next. Youngstown is not only famous for its hills but it it's notoriously crappy weather outside every year, lack of footing, sight etc is pretty normal. This year for a change it was not snowing, but raining and mid 40s. Others may have been chilly but to be quite honest I race well in these sort of conditions so I wasn't too worried. I'd definitely take the weather we had over the 60s and humid it was the day before, I am just not acclimated to that yet!

Out of the car and off to packet pick up it was a bit chilly. Bathroom stops, outfit assessment then it was off to warm up. I set out with BB to get in 2 easy miles before stripping down. I am so grateful I did a thorough warm up because initially I was pretty chilly but after a mile I realized I would be fine in a tank and shorts. Wasn't feeling to peppy on the hills in the warm up, but just hoped for some race day magic to occur once I hit the line.

Into my racing flats and a pair of cheap gloves and I was ready to toe the line with everyone else. Last year was unusual in that not many super fast chicks showed up. This year things were back to the norm with a few speedsters to keep you honest. I lined up near the front next to CG. I assumed she would be around my pace in this race, but obviously stronger on the hills since strength is not my forte.

Took it out at a good effort knowing that the first two miles would be fast since they are a net downhill. I knew a few of the guys around me would finish close to me and my effort felt good so I went with the flow. The ground was wet and it was rainy but my temperature felt good and I managed to avoid most of the major puddles. (6:29, 7:07)

Around mile 2 CG caught me on the uphill and went by as well as a second young chick. I held my effort knowing that I couldn't waste energy trying to race these gals up hills that I am not strong on. Each stretch of flat or downhill I would slowly close the gap only to lose it all back at the next set of inclines. I was pretty happy to keep the gap where it was and my pace was going well (6:43).

Mile 3 to 4 is where you hit the first significant hill. I definitely could feel it and watched as the group around me pulled away (7:24). My Garmin was a bit off from the markers but my average pace was just under 7 and after climbing "Bear" hill I was able to enjoy a few quick miles where there are only some false flats and a few rollers (7:04, 6:49, 6:51). Mile 6 was marked way short so I was definitely grateful for the Garmin since mile 7 was right on. In the past I have always had company during this stretch and have never realized how secluded it is. It is mostly a false flat winding section and if you lose your focus it would be easy to let the pace slip. Thankfully I was clipping along at my target pace still and was remembering why I love racing.

A small climb before mile 8 then one more friendly mile before the second monster hill during mile 9. Around 8 I saw Frank pull over to the side and got my glimpse of some of the runners who had surged past me on the hills earlier. I couldn't tell what Frank was up to but assumed cramping and felt bad for him, but before I knew it he was zipping away past everyone again and was gone from my sight. I hadn't taken any aid on the course but after seeing Frank pull over I decided to take a bit of Gatorade at the next two stops.

The whole race I was behind CG who was wearing the Nike Lunar Trainers which have neon yellow bottoms. All I saw most of the day was these bright yellow feet grinding their way over the hills. Mile 9 I heard someone coming up on me fast and wondered what the heck was going on. I made a comment about sandbagging and the guy said he had been trying to catch me forever. He had been taking it easy and was ready to start taking names. I ran with him for a little bit until we got to the horrible hill before mile 10 where I watched him float away. (7:17, 6:58, 7:28)

After mile 10 there are two miles of mostly runnable terrain. In past years this is where I have upped the effort and started running people down. This year I was content to up the effort and try to hold onto pace. I finally reeled in two guys who had passed me around mile 4 and thought maybe I could close some of the gap on CG but the last miles rollers and finishing up hill were waiting to do me in. The only mile I don't think I ran as well was mile 12. This is where you start to see other runners behind you as they are heading towards mile 10. Got some encouragement from Berk and a gentleman who I slowly passed, but I mostly just watched the other runners and offered encouragement when I could. I probably got a little complacent here and could have pushed harder to take advantage of the flats (7:08, 6:56).

I thought I would be ready to tackle that last mile and maybe catch KM but it was apparent as I hit the first set of rollers that I was toast. My pace quickly dropped and despite my best efforts I just had to hold on through the (horrible uphill) finish (7:50) for a final time of 1:32:31 (7:04 pace). (4th female, 1st age group) As I walked through the chutes my quads and calves gave a not so quiet protest and I could tell that had I pushed any harder serious cramping would have occurred. Got in a quick 2 mile cool down (that initial downhill was quite painful!) and cheered on my SERC gals to their strong finishes before finally getting a change of clothes. Of course it started pouring after I changed and made my way to the post race party area so I was still a drowned rat and now that I was no longer racing I was cold! Two cups of coffee and post race chatting with friends seemed to help though.

I was super ecstatic to run a PR and get my soft Half marathon PR off the books for sure. I was also very pleased that my fitness level is where I want it to be. This was a great affirmation that my hard work is indeed paying off. Some days things just seem to click right where you expect and want them to be, and I am so glad that Sunday was one of those days. Hopefully with a proper taper and 6 weeks more training Boston will also be one of those days! (Maybe even a day that exceeds rather than just meets expectations! Wouldn't that be a nice bonus?)

Pre Race Carb Loading Paid Off!

Post Race Coffee and Apple!

SERC Chicks Rule!

Kurt edged me out by 6 seconds!

SERC Runners of the year after a great race!

Patriotic and Prideful!

Frank and BB Chatting by the fire

Berk and Daisy


Irene said...

That's a huge plate of food, but it looks so good! There's nothing quite like carb loading! Yum.

Congratulations on a new PR!

Curly Su said...

Great job, Liz. I remember that course well, and it is ridiculously hard. You're going to kick butt at Boston - you're in great shape.

Miss you!

I'll be in town the first weekend of April - you?

duchossois said...

Congrats on a great first real race of the 2009 season, and new PR on a tough course. When you saw me at mile 8, it wasn't cramps, that was the third time I had to stop and retie my shoes. ARRRGGGHHH! I'll save that story for my blog.

Thomas said...

Congratulations on a big new PR.

I always race my races. If I wanted to run at less than race intensity, I could do that any day on a training run.

Joann said...

Great race, congrats on the PR!

iliketoast said...

You are in a great position for Boston. Well done.

TriSaraTops said...

PRs rock! Congratulations on a great race! :)

solarsquirrel said...

2 words. You Rock!