Yesterday I embarked on my first (competitive) half marathon through the trails. Before I go over what I reflected on first, if you have been a part of a race, it is a totally different feeling than going out at your usual pace. For starters, the people around you definitely influence your feet to move a bit quicker than usual. plus with all of the pre-race jitters, it can feel effortless at first to jump out of the gate with some extra pep in your step…but oh man does that catch up to you quickly.
Rookie Mistake, C’mon Sean
Yeah, I did that. But before I get shunned, let me explain! This has to be my biggest takeaway, so I’ll go into it first.
Don’t Underestimate a Course You Have Never Ran, Regardless of How it Appears
I think back to the hundreds of baseball games I played, the large majority being against teams I only saw once, if at all before that game. As much as you can sit on the sideline and assume how you will hit when it is time to bat or pitch to the toughest part of their lineup; it is just a theory, and in theory, everything always sounds peachy. The notorious, “We should have beat them” or “I can’t believe they played that well”, or other thoughts like that are your expectations not exactly lining up with the result or circumstances. As common as it is, it is still easy to paint a pretty scenario in your head.
Well, that was my top learning point from this race, and that is also what influenced my quick pace at the start of the race. When my friend John and I examined the race course and elevation map, the steep ascents were not nearly as large as some of the runs we hit on a weekly basis. In our usual 8-9 mile loop, we would have multiple, multi-hundred-foot climbs, so we felt prepared for some big challenges.
This was the elevation changes throughout the Hot Iron Half Marathon. I didn’t expect this race to be a cakewalk, but my eyes focused in on the fact that there were only 2 portions of climbing above 100ft; oh this is gonna good. But as the race unfolded, we realized how mistaken we were in trying to examine and digest this elevation guide.
Do you see all of the “tiny” 20-50 foot drops, climbs, rolling hills, and abrupt uphill/downhill ascents? Sure, those tiny little bumps might not look like much, and ahead of time, we thought the same thing. But once you are miles into a race, where adrenaline goes in waves, the mixture of fatigue and leaks in energy exposes weak spots in your armor, causing my naivety to rear its ugly head about 3/4 into the race…causing me to lose the 4th place position I held the entire race up until that point. With about 2 miles to go is where those small rolling hills were just enough elevation to cause my legs to cramp and lack ‘oomph’ when I tried to generate force through the ground. Today I learned a valuable lesson I plan to use as fuel for next years race here, but more importantly, as a reminder to not put the horse in front of the carriage with setting expectations against an unknown obstacle.
Some Other Race Takeaways/Stats
3 Positive Attributes
- I had the fastest ‘sprint to the finish’ time, and the final push was the most I had left
- I put 100% effort of what I could that day. Not the same as 100% capacity, but damn did I give all I could on the track
- Placed 11th out of 69 overall, and 3rd in my age group
3 Unfavorable Attributes
- Ran out of gas in the mile 10-11 range; inefficient on hills throughout the second leg of the race
- Underestimated the intensity of the reoccurring hill climbs (those tiny effing bumps) led to a hard battled journey
- I did not nearly consume enough calories within 24 hours of the race, and my pre-race meal that morning was too small (low energy reserves)
3 Trail Highlights
- First 4 miles were paced quite quick ~8:00/mile
- Maneuvered downhills efficiently and did not heel strike often, even under fatigue
- Good trail vision; I was able to scan ahead and have a good line of travel the entire race
3 Trail Low-Lights
- Miles 9,11, & 12 were my three slowest of the day…not exactly the “strong” final push you want to achieve in a race
- Heart Rate peaked too early (over-stimulation early on).
- Fell from 4th place to 11th within the last 2-3 miles
This was an amazing race, and am thankful for the Run On Hudson Valley for organizing it. I cannot wait to come back next year, but between now and then, I will have many more opportunities to come back stronger and smarter than before!
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