2012/11/03: Snow Canyon HM (race report)

I intended for this to be a short report, but of course that didn’t actually happen. 😉

Short version: I ran the Snow Canyon Half Marathon today and broke 2 hours, which is completely insane to me.  My previous PR was 2:06:33.  My official time today was 1:56:49.

Since my focus is really on ultras (with some marathons thrown in for good measure, I rarely race shorter distances.  This weekend I was originally signed up to run the Really Big Free Marathon here in Las Vegas (just for fun).  However, after running a good race at the St George Marathon 3 weeks ago, I really wasn’t interested in doing this particular marathon.  My friend Patrick  told me about the Snow Canyon Half Marathon on the same day, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to set a HM PR.  Admittedly, my HM PR was soft as it was from the second half of the St George Marathon.  But I hadn’t legitimately all-out run a HM since early last year.

I know I’m in the best shape of my life, and I really looked forward to this race.  Then, 13 days prior to the race, while my husband and I were moving houses, I sprained my ankle while carrying a box of books.  I initially thought I would not be able to do this race.  However, after 9 days of zero running, I ran 4 miles at a pace that’s faster than I normally run, and it surprisingly felt good.  I guess the rest really refreshed me.  My second run back, 3 days ago, I ran a 5k in costume and set a new PR: 27:15 (even though the course was 3.17 miles).  I was cautiously optimistic, particularly since my ankle was still not 100%.  But strangely enough, my ankle felt better running than just walking or sitting around.

My PR going into this race was 2:06:33.  I hoped to improve upon it since that was after a “13-mile warmup.”  In an ideal world, prior to spraining my ankle, I felt I had a chance of running under 2 hours.  But this thought still sounded crazy to me.

Patrick was nice enough to pick up my packet yesterday since I woke up at 2:40 this morning to drive to his house and then to the race.  Several times over the last few weeks, he’d made references to me running a sub-2 which quite honestly really annoyed me because while it was my “ideal world” goal, I purposely didn’t tell anyone (besides my husband, running coach, and the lady next to me on the bus this morning).  I don’t like other people setting expectations for me, particularly when they’re borderline unrealistic.

Additionally, he tried to convince me that I should run 8:00-minute miles with him for as long as I could and then run-walk the rest after I blow up and that I should still PR due to the time I banked.  Gee, thanks, Patrick. 😉

Anyway, I digress.

This morning, I felt good, and my ankle felt okay in a brace, but I wasn’t sure how 13 miles would go.  The longest run I’d done in the past 13 days was a 6-miler.  I knew the course had a ridiculous amount of elevation loss, most of which was in the first half; the second half still had some downhill but there were some short uphill sections too.

I’ve gotten into the habit of starting races very conservatively and running negative splits, but I decided I wanted to not hold back so much early on.  I was going to run by feel, which I knew meant that my faster miles were going to be toward the beginning (primarily due to the course), but my goal was not to get ridiculously slower later on.

Once I crossed the start line, I almost immediately realized I had not used my inhaler.  Luckily I had it with me, so I was able to use it, but it was a slight hinder to my running.  Then, about a mile later, I realized I was too warm for my sweatshirt, so I had to take it off while running.  I hate messing with my clothes during a run because it throws off my run, but stopping or even walking didn’t sound like legitimate options.

The course was beautiful, with reddish colored rocks/hills all around; running through canyons is beautiful and just a neat experience.  I was surprised how quickly the miles seemed to be passing by.  I was amazed that I was running at a faster pace than I normally ever run and that I was doing it for so long.  It wasn’t until afterward that I realized it while talking to Patrick, but I definitely ran 10k faster than I ever had before (54:27 official PR compared to 53:05).  And I even ran 5k faster than I ever had before (27:15 official PR from 3 days ago compared to 25:59 today).  Also, during the race, it was so weird to look at my average pace after 7 miles and realize it was the same as my current 5k PR pace.  Freaky.

I hit 7 miles at barely over an hour (1:00:11) which was comforting to me as it meant I barely needed to keep under a 10-minute mile average for the rest of the race to break 2 hours.  However, the effort which had seemed easy got significantly more difficult.  I ran up a short but semi-steep incline and my breathing which had been okay to that point was somehow gone.  I literally felt like my breath was gone.  Since this was the beginning of some of the little uphill sections, I dialed back my pace a little bit so I could breathe.  There was only one hill that seemed to last a little too long and I considered walking for a few seconds before the more dominant part of my brain said, “NO!”

I had brought my 20-ounce Amphipod water bottle and even though I drank less than half of it in the cooler temps, it was a good idea in hindsight.  I didn’t need to utilize any aid stations for water (or gels as I’d brought my own).  I’d considered bringing my 12-ounce bottle instead, which would have worked, but I opted for the larger one just to be sure.

The race was pretty peaceful.  I really enjoyed myself, and I couldn’t believe the race was going by so quickly (but part of this I know is a matter of perspective… if my races normally last 4-24 hours, of course 13 miles is going to seem faster, regardless of the actual time).  This isn’t to say it was easy, though, particularly toward the end.  The highlight in the last few miles, somewhere between miles 11 and 12, I managed to puke up what tasted like orange gel and acid, which I immediately swallowed (the thought of which I think disgusted me even more).

I ran every single step of the race, which wasn’t a huge goal of mine, but it was fun to have done anyway.  If I hadn’t brought my own water, I would have walked through water stops as I’ve choked on water from cups one too many times to attempt drinking while running.

I had no finishing kick at the end like I normally do, but I sort of view this as a success in its own way.  While I love sprinting, I am thrilled that for a change, I didn’t have excess energy at the end to make me wonder if I could have run faster earlier on.

My official chip time was 1:56:49, which was just shy of a 10-minute PR.  Even just typing that is crazy to me.  I guess I should make a confession now: I’ve always been in awe of people who run under 2 hours in a HM.  I never understood how they could keep that pace for so long, and it seemed like a completely impossible aspiration for myself, so I never even considered it.  But now that I’ve done it, I can say it was more of a mental hurdle than anything (similar to how all I ever wanted from a marathon was to break 5 hours–I would have been totally satisfied running a single one in 4:59:59…I never dreamed I’d run a 4:17, which I did a few months ago).  It is still ridiculously surreal to me, though.

These are my splits from the race: 8:53, 9:01, 8:36, 8:29, 8:18, 8:22, 8:34, 9:30, 8:49, 9:05, 9:28, 9:34, 8:55, and 1:20 for the last .15.  I tried to run the tangents where possible, so even with weaving around people, I was happy with how my Garmin distance compared to the official course length.

Also, I’ll take this opportunity to give my running coach, Ian Sharman, a plug.  He’s been my coach for barely a year (since the end of October, 2011), and my improvements speak for themselves.  Below is a list of PRs prior to October 2011 and between then and now:

1M – 8:14 unofficial  à 7:37 unofficial
1.5M – 13:31 à 11:36
5k – 28:12 (short course) à 27:15 (long course)… 25:59 unofficial
10k – 1:04:23 à 54:27…53:05 unofficial
HM – 2:19:36 à 1:56:49
Marathon – 5:12:33 à 4:17:41
50k – 6:56:27 à 5:43:38 (for 51k)
Distance PR (in 24 hours) – 66 miles à 89 miles

I feel like I’m proof that people are capable of WAY more than they think they are. 😉

Here are a few photos from the race:
Snow Canyon HM2   Snow Canyon HM1

Here is a self-portrait I took by setting the timer after the race.  It’s definitely not one of my favorite photos, but I figured I’d share anyway:

Snow Canyon HM



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