Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mastering the Art of Sleep-Running: The South Shore Half-Marathon

You wouldn't think it would be possible to race a half-marathon on only an hour of sleep the night before. You might not even think it would be possible to easy-jog a half-marathon on one hour of sleep. Well, my friends, you would be wrong.

I arrived in Milwaukee early Friday afternoon, intent on being able to settle into my hotel room, eat an early dinner, and enjoy a good night's sleep before running the South Shore Half-Marathon the next morning. I did all of those things except get a good night's sleep. Why? Because of the damn seagulls.

I don't typically sleep well the night before a race anyway, but throw noisy seagulls into the equation, and you've got a recipe for serious insomnia. At first, I didn't know what the ruckus was. I couldn't tell if it was rowdy people on the street below (even though I was 10 stories up), or some strange city noise I wasn't familiar with, or what. But when I finally got frustrated enough to get out of bed and look out the window, I was greeted by the sight of a dozen or so seagulls flying around outside my window, squawking merrily. I was tempted to open my window and hurl those little bottles of hotel shampoo and mouthwash at them.

And so I spent the whole night tossing and turning and wishing for sleep. I finally dozed off, and five minutes later (or so it seemed), my alarm went off. I stumbled out of bed, fumbled with the in-room coffee maker so I could get some Elixir of Life, and choked down a granola bar. I was beyond exhausted, could hardly eat, and felt like I had been hit by a bus. There was just no way I was going to run a good race.

I drove to the race start in a complete daze. I vaguely remember filling out the registration form, and paying my $15 entry (yes, this no-frills half-marathon costs only $15), and pinning on my race number.

The race organizers promise all entrants a "pair of really colorful running gloves". I don't know if I'd call the gloves we received "really colorful", but they weren't black like all my other gloves, and they were warm. Interestingly enough, warm gloves were not needed this day. The temperature was surprisingly comfortable for this time of year along Lake Michigan. The course for this race is an out-and-back stretch along the Oak Leaf Bike Trail, which runs right along the lake. It begins and ends at South Shore Park.

After milling around the park for a while, it was time to line up for the start. I barely heard the "gun" (which wasn't actually a gun), but everyone had started moving, so I guess that meant it was time to run. The air was cool, the sky was cloudy, and there was very little wind. It was the perfect day for a half-marathon. If only I had gotten a little more sleep!

I started out very conservatively, so I could gradually warm up and settle into my goal pace (about 9:45). I wasn't sure I would be able to hang on to my goal pace for very long, but I wanted to at least try. The first three miles were all over 10:00. They were also somewhat hilly miles. I wouldn't call the course hilly so much as I'd call it gently rolling, but I definitely felt the elevation changes. After the third mile, I started stepping up my pace, intent on sticking with goal pace for as long as possible.

By the 5th mile, I realized I actually felt really good. I was pleasantly surprised. I settled in behind a couple of guys who seemed to be running about the pace I wanted to run. I figured I'd draft off of them for a while and see how I felt in a couple miles. By the time I reached the turnaround point, I had passed the two guys and was gaining speed.

Near the halfway mark: feeling good at goal pace. Although I kinda look like I'm sleeping. Maybe I was. And what's the guy behind me wearing??? Let's look closer...

Manpris. He's wearing manpris. I actually own that same pair of capris. I bought them in the women's department.

I was pretty sure the out portion of the course was a net uphill. At least it sure felt like I climbed more than I descended. So I was optimistic that the back portion of the course would be a net downhill, and I'd be able to step up my pace even more.

I was correct. You can see from my Garmin data below that the second half of the race was indeed a net downhill. I really kicked into overdrive at this point, and all of my miles after the turnaround were faster than goal pace. My final three miles were sub-9:00, even.

I had no idea what my finish time would be. I wasn't really paying that much attention to my total time, and pretty much just pacing by feel, occasionally glancing at my mile splits when my Garmin auto-lapped. I knew I would be happy with any PR (which would be anything under 2:13:20). And I knew I would be ecstatic with a time under 2:10. But as I approached the finish line and what felt like breakneck speed (final 0.1 mile - 7:06 pace), and I saw the race clock hit 2:05:00, I was stunned. I crossed the finish a few seconds later and was pretty sure I was either going to pass out or throw up, or quite possibly both. It did not help that I had to come to a dead stop while they pulled the tags off of everyone's bibs. Fortunately for everyone in the vicinity, the nausea was fleeting, and shortly after that, I was enjoying the post-race beer. I later found out my official time was 2:04:45, which far exceeded my expectations. That's over 8 minutes off my previous PR. Ecstatic doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about that!

Garmin data - click to see it full-screen

So what about the race itself? It was a steal at $15. There's no fancy swag, no t-shirt, no shiny medals, no rock bands stationed at every mile. But that's not why we run races anyway. This pure-and-simple race was well-organized (by the Badgerland Striders), with a scenic and enjoyable course, plenty of aid stations (3 or 4, I think, which we got to hit twice, since it was an out-and-back course), chip timing, and plenty of post-race beer and snacks.

Negatives? Well, the narrow bike path does get crowded, especially once the faster runners have passed the halfway point and are heading back. Having runners going in both directions on a narrow path leads to quite a bit of congestion. There were several times when I found myself stuck behind a slower runner but it took me a while to find a good way to get around them. I don't know that it slowed me down too much overall - I am sure I made up time somewhere else. It was just a minor nuisance.

So the moral of this story is... Don't write off a race before you even start. I almost did. But I'm really glad I didn't this time. It's just a shame I don't have a shiny medal to commemorate the occasion. Y'all know how much I love shiny medals.

Peace. Love. Train.

No comments:

Post a Comment