Standing stock still at mile five, I knew I was in trouble. I’d already given up on the sub-8:00 min/mile pace I’d been training for the past few months. Now I was just trying to keep going. I inspected the neon pink headphones my sister foisted on me in the car on the way to the start-for letters, stuck the L in my left ear, the R in my right and continued on my way to the nearby water stop at mile six. As had been the case from the start of the race, the headphones wouldn’t stay put. Finally, frustrated, I stuck them in my bra and continued on my way with a new plan: complete, not compete. I’d broken one of the biggest rules in running: never try something new on race day. And I was paying for it. The stop cost me precious time and landed me my slowest mile. I had just exited a seemingly super long section of trail adjacent the Wenatchee River that turned out to be…a mere…mile. I was optimistic that running along the soon to be familiar part of the course we’d driven to the start along Icicle River Road would set my mind at ease. That wouldn’t be necessary had I done what I nearly always do: preview the course beyond organizer-provided map either by driving it or inputting the information into MapMyRun. The profile for both races combined shows 1,600 feet of descent during the first nine miles, then flatness. Turned out that the marathoners got gravity’s help, which seems only fair. Except when you aren’t prepared for it. The organizers had also promised, “you’ll likely see salmon spawning in the Wenatchee River and Icicle Creek.” I didn’t hold my breath.
Several months prior, with the promise from my swift-footed under-30-year-old runner friend Dani of a PR-friendly course, I’d agreed to train for and run the 2015 Leavenworth Half. Dani understands speed. She was a sprinter at WWU and a member of Ragnar Northwest Passage 2015’s Mixed Open Division winning team, with an overall pace during a race of nearly 200 miles of just under 7:00 min/mile. Her even speedier friend and Ragnar race captain convinced her, who convinced me-to follow Daniel’s Running Formula, which is all about VO2 max. According to runningforfitness.org, “VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min).” The DRF plan is similar to the FIRST Training program that I’d successfully used about 18 months prior, in the Vancouver, BC half marathon. DRF is more complicated and requires more total mileage than FIRST, which boasts only only three days of training per week: intervals, a tempo run and a long run, all at very specific paces. Jack Daniel’s requires similar speed work but has a larger variety of types of runs all based on a person’s goal VO2max.
Without the diversion of music, I had a lot of time to think during the race. I realized that all those slower training miles I’d completed (FIRST calls them “junk miles”) should have been run on roads instead of my preferred place: trails. I shouldn’t have assumed I could pick and choose the parts of the training plan I liked, modify the parts I didn’t, and expect to reap its rewards. I’d run some of my early race day miles at my goal pace, but couldn’t sustain it. Drat those training miles that I turned into junk miles by running on trails at a slower-than-beneficial pace.
As I reached mile seven along Icicle River Road, the familiarity helped distract me from the fact that my right foot felt numb, probably from an old injury and the fact that I tend to toe-strike. I tried to relax my foot and switch to midfoot-striking while dreading the two out-and-backs. Persons were exiting the main road and heading downward to the “out” which meant up to the “back”-ack! The turnaround point of the first was at mile eight, the second at mile nine.
What felt like an eternity but was actually fewer than twenty minutes later, we reached the fish hatchery grounds. A spectator said (someone always says)…”You’re almost there.” The gal I’d been running near much of the race and I commiserated about that unhelpful, untrue encouragement. She asked and I told her that we were only mile 10.6, at which point we returned to the trails and crossed a bridge that sent us out onto a long loop. Faster folks were already on their way back. And although I normally love unpaved paths, this trail was topped with a soft dusty powder, which was covered with patches of long pine needles, slippery with road shoes. I dreaded running away from the finish line because I knew I’d have to run back. What seemed like hours later, we recrossed the bridge, approached and crossed the finish. At the end of the chute, a cute little blonde girl handed me a medal and a second girl held out a bottle of water. I’d reached the best part of the race.
I continued beyond the chute and picked up my shirt, a Men’s Large. Another mistake: I’d waited until October to sign up, which meant an entry fee of a hundred bucks, 80% more than if I’d have signed up in February. Fortunately, it all goes to a good cause, cancer research. Signing up so late also meant that even if I was lucky enough to get a shirt, it wouldn’t be in my size. I went to the t-shirt exchange location in hopes of getting a traded-in-small. As I downed the water, I chatted with a gal named Maria who had the same plan. Maria grew up in Dryden, graduated from nearby Cascade High School and now lives in Seattle. We rehashed our race expectations and goals versus the reality of the course and our actual performances as finishers congregated in the post-race food area. I waited as long as I could, then went to find my ride. No matter. The shirts were actually kind of ugly.
In spite of my many mistakes: signing up late, under-training, not properly previewing the course and using untried headphones, I completed the race at a respectable for a 51-year-old pace. The weather was perfect, the race was well-organized, the volunteers were great, and the course was super scenic, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to participate in the event again. Best of the race outside of my mistakes: super scenic. Worst: the shirt.