Race Report: 2009 Westchester Half

Short report since work is nuts, I have lots of training logs to catch up on, and I have to run 90 miles this week (eek).

Like the Whale Half in South Africa two weeks ago, I came into this race with an open mind and no real expectations. But unlike that race, the conditions were near perfect, with a starting temperature of around 48 degrees and almost no wind until the last few miles. True, the course is hilly, but not as bad as what I faced in South Africa. Plus I was familiar with the course, so I could come up with something resembling a pacing strategy.

I tried three new things in this race. I know you’re never supposed to try new things in a race, but this wasn’t an important race for me, so what the hell. The three experiments were:

  • Shoes: I wore my new pair of Adidas Adizero Ace’s (with only 8 miles on them), just to see how they compare to the Saucony Fastwitch 3′s for racing. They were great racing shoes and I’ll wear them again in my next few races. I’m not sure how they’d hold up over the marathon distance, but I plan to try them on a 22 miler this Sunday in Central Park to see.
  • Warmup: I tried a new warmup routine, a modified version of what’s discussed in this online article in Running Times. While I didn’t follow it to the letter (it was for a 5K anyway), I used the principles: a solid block of very easy running, followed by some active stretching and skipping, topped off with some short intervals at close to race pace.
  • Mental approach: I dumped the data, at least during the race. Meaning I decided not to look at my watch and run completely by feel. Although I was 3.5 minutes off my PB for the half, this was a very successful race and I suspect that this data-free approach had a lot to do with that.

Why was I 3.5 minutes off my best? I chalk it up to several factors:

  • Course: My best half was run on the nearly pancake flat Long Branch Half Marathon course. The Westchester course has significant hills throughout the race.
  • Training cycle: I’m in the middle of a marathon training cycle. When I ran my best in NJ, I’d had over a month of rest after a good full marathon race.
  • Jetlag/stress: I got home on Wednesday afternoon after close to 30 hours of travel on two flights. On subsequent nights I was sleep-deprived. We also had to deal with the burglary/rental car damage in the last few days of the trip and that caused a lot of mental stress.
  • Terrible nutrition: I’d spent the past 2+ weeks eating garbage and drinking like a fish.
  • Weight: I gained about three pounds while on vacation. So I guess I was literally hauling ass during this race.
  • Lack of recovery: Thursday featured a run that was supposed to be 8 miles at 70% MHR with four 2:00 repeats at 91-92% and 2:00 rests. Instead, I ran an average effort well into the low 80% range and only did 1:00 rests between repeats. Not until I got home did I realize my error. So my legs were still somewhat tired going into Sunday.

All things considered, this was another good race. Unfortunately, as with the Whale Half late last month, lots of factors conspired to obscure the quality of my performance. But I feel good about both races.

The Westchester course featured a steady climb in the first mile, and two other notable hills in subsequent miles, but the first half is a net downhill drop. That means the way back is uphill. So I reserved energy in the first half and ran at a manageable pace.

During the first half, some people passed me and I passed other people. I was cruising along and not really worrying about what other people were doing. The pace was hard, but comfortable, a full breath every three steps. About a mile before the turnaround I spotted the leaders and was happy to see Jonathan in sixth. He held that position to the finish. Then I started counting boobs and by the time I hit the turnaround had figured out that I was in ninth. Suddenly, I cared more about this race.

So I made a deal that I would do my best to work my way up to fifth, but exercise enough control that I wouldn’t kill myself in the next few miles only to fade in the last two. I easily passed the first woman in my sights, who was fading fast anyway. The next one was tougher, although I surged by her as she slowed at a water stop and that seemed to work. I spotted the next just beyond the 9 mile mark, right before a big hill. She was holding her pace on the hill so I thought it would be foolish to try to pass her then (especially since I’ve done no hill training). As we crested the hill, a friend of hers on the sideline yelled, “Go, Mary! There’s someone right behind you.”

I wanted to ask her friend, “How old is Mary?” but I didn’t. Instead, I felt slightly annoyed that my cover had been blown. But it was a great motivator. So I followed Mary down the hill and recovered over the next few hundred yards. Then I decided to try a longer surge on the flat bit that was coming up. So I passed her “decisively” (as they say in strategy articles) and held a pace of about 20 seconds per mile faster than she was running for a good quarter mile, then picked up the pace again on subsequent downhills. She came in a minute behind me, so I guess this was the right thing to do.

After that, the only other woman I saw was blowing her Wheaties just past mile 11 (isn’t racing fun?). I thought she was the leader at the time, but now I realize she wasn’t. She may have been a quarter marathon runner (we bumped into them on the way back), but I don’t know. But for a good couple of miles I was convinced I had fifth place, and it was a good feeling to know I did everything I could to move up. [Updated: it turns out I did get fifth.]

The penultimate mile ends with a huge hill and I felt done at the time. But I managed to rally in the last mile and ran that one the fastest, a good 20+ seconds faster than the overall average pace for the race. This makes me wonder if I should have run the whole thing slightly faster if I had that much left.

I ended up with sixth fifth overall and first in the 40-49F age group, with a net time of 1:37:35. The woman I passed, Mary Fenton (2nd in our AG), came up and congratulated me, which I appreciated. The other funny thing was seeing a young woman win an age group award and go completely batshit with excitement. It was very endearing and a good reminder that I need to remember how hard it was to win awards until very recently. Jonathan won the 50-59M age group. We have matching ugly trophies, New Balance gift certificates and enough powdered Heed drink mix to poison a small cult.

Did I say this would be a short post?

6 Responses

  1. What a fantastic race report!! Congrats on the 1st AG and you really were smart the way you got it. I laughed out loud at the entire Mary saga, “How old is Mary?” LOL!!! Totally agree with you about not being tapered for this race as well as it being in the thick of marathon training. Even so, you kicked ass. Great job!

  2. Mary has an honest friend. My friends tell me there’s someone right behind me when there isn’t. Great race, and congrats on the AG win.

  3. It’s tough to write a short race report. They always grow on me too. Sounds like you had a really solid run. I like how you pinpointed all the possible things that could have caused you to be off your best time. That’s a very rational level-headed approach… I should try it sometime instead of just throwing temper tantrums. :-)

  4. Long race report posts are always good. I smiled at you thinking about asking for Mary’s age during the race.

    The travel alone would be worth a couple of minutes, so you did pretty well really. Congrats to Jonathan too – very speedy!

  5. Congrats on winning your AG! You ran a great race and got rewarded accordingly. I hope to be able to write a report like that some day…

    Don’t worry about the long race report. Mine are always way too long!

  6. NICE. RACE. You have motivated me to crank out a race report.

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