Sunday, December 10, 2017

Race Recap: The Kiawah Island Half Marathon

Sometime in September: I've been intrigued for months by the Nike Breaking 2 project and finally decide to buy the the Nike Zoom Fly shoes that were inspired by the project. At $150, they aren't cheap, but they are a steal compared to the $250-if-you-can-find-them Vaporfly 4% shoes that are the actual ones used for the sub-2-hour marathon attempt.

A little later in September: The Zoom Flys aren't working for me. I had thought they could be my Chicago Marathon shoes, and they definitely "feel" faster than my usual training shoes, but after 7 or 8 miles, my feet start to develop hot spots on the Achilles tendon and also on the ball of my foot. There's no way I want to run 26.2 miles in these shoes. I decide to go back to my backup shoes and run a lackluster Chicago Marathon in them. I mostly attribute this performance to the warm conditions on race day.

Mid-October: After posting about my problems in the Facebook "Running Shoe Geeks" group, I find that others who have had the same issues with the Zoom Flys find that the Vaporflys work great for them. I search online for the Vaporflys, only to find they are sold out everywhere. You can only find them on reseller sites for $300-350. Suddenly $250 is starting to look like a bargain.

10 Days Ago: Someone in Running Shoe Geeks posts a link to a store that's selling the Vaporflys at list price! And they have my size! Impulsively I click on "buy now" to purchase the most expensive running shoes I've ever bought. A bargain at $250! And there will be just enough time to test them out for a shakeout run before I race on them at the Kiawah Island Half Marathon.

Last Tuesday: They arrive! Just in time for a shakeout run the next morning.

All really expensive running shoes are required to look like clown shoes. It's a rule.
Last Wednesday: Danielle agrees to join me for a shakeout run with 2 miles at my "stretch" race pace -- 7:00/mile, which would be good for a sub-1:32 half marathon and a qualifying slot in the New York Marathon. My best half marathon since I was injured a few years back was 1:37 and change in Wrightsville Beach this spring, and I haven't recovered well since my disappointing race in Chicago two months ago. And I still haven't managed to shed those ten pounds I've been trying to lose since last August. A 1:32 marathon would be a real stretch indeed. But maybe the shoes will make up for my lack of actual running fitness. As we start off on our warm-up miles, the shoes really do feel fast. Perhaps even faster than the Zoom Fly, but much smoother and gentler on my feet. We clock off two easy 8-minute miles out Concord Road, the flattest road route in town, to match the flat conditions I'll face in Kiawah. Then we turn around and pick up the pace. A 7:00 pace seems much easier than I expect. But still, after a mile, I can tell it would be tough to keep this up for another 12+ miles. I make it through the second mile in 7:03 and I'm happy with the performance of the shoes but pretty sure I won't be able to sustain a 7:00 pace in the race. I settle on 7:15-7:20 as my goal pace, which should give me something like a 1:35 half-marathon if I can hang on. If I can do it, it would be my best half marathon in over 4 years.

Saturday, race day: After a fitful night's sleep listening to the rain fall on a beautiful home owned by a friend of a friend at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, I get up at 6 am and join my housemates Rob, Amber, Morgan, Kim, and Thomas as we get ready to race. At 7:00 we pile into Morgan's car and my wife Greta drives us to the start, where we find a nice indoor table at a cafe to await the 8 am start of the race.

Wearing throwaway Goodwill clothing like the pros do:
Rob, Kim, Morgan, Thomas, me, and Amber
7:45: We head for the start. At 41 degrees, the rain has stopped and it looks to be absolutely perfect race weather. I decide to check my throwaways so I can wear them post-race and walk to the start line wearing my tri shorts and a compression t-shirt, and of course the Vaporflys. I'm feeling strong. I have a water bottle, three GUs, and a caffeine tablet that I'll take before the race. Somehow I've lost Thomas, though, who was planning a similar pace to me. I see a few friends getting themselves ready for the race, fist-bumping Chad, who I had been randomly placed in a relay with a few years back. A couple people notice the shoes and ask me if they are really 4% faster. I say we'll find out today; this is only the second time I've worn them.

8:00: Some confetti guns go off. This is the only notice we have that the race is starting. The crowd starts to move forward. I've purposely lined myself up a ways back from the start so I don't start out too fast. "Take it easy, Munger," I tell myself, "You've got 13 miles to go. Don't shoot your entire load in Mile 1."

Mile 1: In a rarity for me, I do manage a slow-ish start, 7:23. I've minimized the bobbing and weaving around traffic, and am running comfortably.

Mile 2: I run right past Thomas, who looks to be having an off day. I make up for my reasonable start by clocking off a 6:57. Whoah Nelly! This isn't going to be sustainable, Munger. Or is it?

Mile 3: 7:00 and feeling good. Could this be my day?

Mile 4: 7:10 and feeling okay. No this is not going to be your day. Just be reasonable and maybe you'll pull off that 1:35.

Mile 5: 7:08 and still feeling okay.

Mile 6: 7:11 and this is starting to feel not so okay. I'm less than halfway there. But it's not supposed to be easy, right? Just keep pushing, Munger.

Mile 7: I remember to eat my second GU before I get to the aid station at Mile 6.5. It's starting to feel like real work now. I slow to 7:21. That 7:15-7:20 pace is starting to seem less realistic now.

Mile 8: I'm in the pain zone now. Just trying to hang on, and it's seeming harder and harder to keep up the pace. I slow even more, to 7:36 per mile, 16 seconds slower than my planned pace. Can I really keep this up for 5 more miles?

Mile 9: The route takes us out a muddy gravel road pockmarked with puddles. We are briefly rewarded with a view of the ocean before taking another gravel road away from the coast. The universal opinion of the runners is that it is NOT WORTH it to run on this road in order to see the ocean for 30 seconds. I slow even more. 7:49. Really?

Mile 10: Somehow this mile is even worse than Mile 9. 7:52. Barely faster than recovery pace. Pick it up, Munger.

Mile 11: My legs hurt, my hamstrings are screaming at me, my breathing is...easy? Yes, my breathing IS easy. Perhaps because I'm running so damned slow. Sure my legs don't feel good, but they're not supposed to feel good. If I'm not breathing hard, I'm not trying hard enough. I pick up the pace. 7:36. Yes! Maybe I can salvage a sub-1:37 race.

Mile 12: With just over 2 miles to go, we are now running the same course as the marathon finish (though the marathoners haven't reached this point yet). It means we get a bonus mile marker for the marathoners 0.1 miles before we get to the half-marathon marker. I manage to pick up the pace a bit more: 7:26. Keep pushing!

Mile 13: There seem to be a lot of runners around my age near me. If I can hang on, is it possible that I could get an age group award? Just run, Munger. 7:30 for the mile. Not great, but I'm nearly done now.

THE FINISH! I run hard for the finish line and stop my watch as I cross. Somehow I have willed myself to pick up the pace after flagging in the later miles of the race. My official finish time is 1:36:53. It's not a 1:35 but it's still my best race in four years.

Soon I hear Amber's name called, just a minute behind me. She's set a 4-minute PR! Then Kim sprints furiously over the line. Thomas comes in with a bit of a disappointing time; he had been looking to PR but came several minutes short. Then we see Rob, who completes a strong sub-2-hour first half marathon, followed by Morgan, who is recovering from injury and happy with her effort. Here's a photo of the whole group near the finish line:

Celebrating the fact that we can all still lift one of our legs in the air
Amber and I have managed to earn age group awards: I ended up first in my 50-54 age group and she was fourth in her group!

Perhaps the shoes really do work!
I didn't quite make my goal pace of 7:15-7:20 but thanks to that fast start, I was close; officially I averaged 7:23 per mile. I also feel like I had a real mental breakthrough at Mile 11. I think if I can apply that lesson earlier in the race, I might be able to do even better. My next half is Houston in 5 weeks. I'm going to be a little more aggressive in that race; let's see where it will take me!

And what about the shoes? I think they helped me. My feet felt much better than they have in any half-marathon, and the shoes really do seem to launch you forward and make it easier to sustain higher speeds. Are they worth the $100+ premium over "normal" racing flats? I'm not sure. But I'm sure I'll be wearing them in my next half marathon, and probably even my next full marathon.

Details of my run are below.

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