Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Sunday, October 17, 2021

City of Lakes Half Marathon

Back in June, Erik declared he needed a race to provide some motivation. After debating some adventure and trail running races, we settled on the City of Lakes Half Marathon, which I argued could provide more specific goals than the unknowns that come with trail. 

Despite running the Loppet Trail Half Marathon a few times, a 26 km race around Lake Bemidji, and two marathons, this would be my first road half marathon. My pace for the 26 km race had been 7:56, so naturally I wanted to go for 7:50 for the half; however, that 26 km race may have been my best distance race ever and it was four years ago. After doing a couple threshold runs, 7:50 pace seemed too ambitious. Maybe a couple years of injuries and not doing much fast running has made me slow. I had some hopes that a week at altitude and Level 4 uphill running intervals would give me a boost but not so much luck. 

Finally the week before the half I did a new workout that I made up: 3 minutes and 30 seconds at 8:00 mile pace followed by 30 seconds of recovery jogging for an hour (15 reps total). The first 10 of these felt amazing, then #11 I increased my pace accidentally and the second half was uphill and by the end I was in Level 4. When I started #12 I was a bit dizzy but finished, possibly because then I was running downhill. #13 was another uphill and by half way through I was 2:1 breathing and my body was doing the thing where I feel like I needed to have explosive diarrhea (i.e. I was hitting my max). I stopped and walked, then rallied for numbers 14 and 15, hitting both at just under 8:00 pace. 

My heart rate for the 3:30 on 30 seconds off until I hit the wall (excuse the artifact at the beginning that always happens with my arm strap).

Looking back at my splits, I hit the wall after a few too many sub 8:00 paces in a row, so that told me I better aim higher than that for the marathon and decided to even go a bit conservative with 8:20 pace and then hopefully pick it up near the end. 

Race morning dawned moderate temp for September, cloudy, and maybe a touch humid (i.e. 60 degrees). The course, almost two laps around Lake Harriet and Bde Maka Ska, initially seemed a bit boring to me, but then I realized it doesn’t really matter much where I race and sometimes loops are nice. Erik’s training hadn’t gone particularly well after he got “dysentery” on our backpacking trip last month, and he was hoping to not get wified which meant he mostly planned to run with me. 

The race definitely has a large field. It felt a bit unnerving given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. I kept a mask on in the port-a-potty line and for awhile in the starting gate. Erik and I started relatively near the front but not too close. When the gun went off it was a bit of a traffic jam. Just chill, Elspeth. We’re probably going faster than I think. And every second I run slower now are seconds faster I will run later. 

Less than a half mile into the course it climbs a hill on the south side of Lake Harriet. This was good to string out the runners. As we made our way along the east side of Lake Harried the course was fairly packed.There was plenty of room for people to pass, but there were a good number of people around me. I tried to keep things in control and not go with anyone passing me. My splits were mostly on target. It was still easy. 

City of Lakes Half Marathon course per my Garmin. Note the start (green arrow) at Baird's Plaisance is not where it finishes (red square) at the Lake Harriet Bandshell- so it's not quite two loops.

I ran a bit fast up the hill between Lake Harriet and Bde Maka Ska but then reeled things in. There was another hill on the east side of Bde Maka Ska that I didn’t know about. We ran in a lane on Lake Street on the north side of Bde Maka Ska. A woman passed me wearing a tie-die t-shirt with wolves on it. I wondered if it was cotton. It wasn’t exactly form fitting but despite her shirt, this woman was cruising! It reminded me of a guy who had passed me early on wearing a singlet with a tree pattern- probably the prettiest singlet I’ve ever seen. It’s interesting how people wear different clothing and it doesn’t always match their speed. 

We got cross wind on the southwest side of Bde Maka Ska that became a headwind as we turned east. I ducked behind a couple guys to draft off them. It’s not something I usually do running but it worked. As we turned to go back towards Lake Harriet there was a two-way section and Erik and I were both a bit stunned by the fastest runners who were already heading back to Bde Maka Ska. Soon we were through the lap/finish and going back around Lake Harriet. 

As we climbed the hill on the south side of Lake Harriet I tried to keep things in check but couldn’t help noting the women in front of me that seemed to be slowing. Let’s race. It’s time to catch the women, I thought at mile 8. By now I was starting to breathe a little harder. I still felt good, but there were also still 5 miles left. I passed a couple of women and then we were back on the two-way section. The top runners were lapping a lot of runners. The woman I had been running with for the past couple miles pulled ahead of me along with another guy. I took a gel at the top of the hill on the east side of Bde Maka Ska, arguably as Erik would later say, a bit late in the race. 

Then we were down the hill, back on to the closed lane of Lake Street, going up the rise over the canal, then flat, zoning in on mile 11. My plan here had been to speed up if I felt good but I knew I was already running under pace and only had at max two sub-8 minute miles in me. All I could do was maintain. 

I came through mile 11. Let’s go hunting. Not many women in my sights though- not many men either. Everyone was really spread out. I didn’t feel like pushing much faster. I was working hard and the next mile flew by. One mile left. By now I was closing in on two women. It seemed it was taking forever to pass them. Erik moved in front of me. I stuck on him. Slowly we passed the women. The wind wasn’t as strong this lap around Bde Maka Ska. 

The last half mile droned on forever. I resisted the urge to look at my watch to see the tenths of a mile pass by. We turned onto the two-way between the lakes. I moved alongside Erik. Slower runners were coming in the opposite direction. I pushed hard up the hill. Erik and I were tied. There was a brief plateau, then more climbing. Elspeth, remember how you feel now, I’m giving this all I can. Then we were over the hump, made a sharp right turn, then gradual downhill to the finish. I pushed what I could and Erik and I crossed the finish line together. 

After finishing we walked towards the food tent. I got the chills and the feeling that I had to poop. It was brief but meant I’d finished hard. 

My time was 1:47:12 for 8:12 mile pace which was about the best I thought I could do based on my training. Obviously not the 7:50 pace I was initially hoping for, but still decent for me. I know I have a higher gear, but it didn’t come out to play and that’s OK. My average heart rate was 152 with a max of 167. And I finished 70th of 357 women! 

My nice heart rate graph, slowly increasing, for the half marathon.

For now I’ll go back to the ski training but next year I’ll set my sights on some more running and hopefully no injuries. 

Aside from the half marathon, my training this year has been woefully inadequate. Most weeks I’ve been averaging just under 12 hours, the amount I consider my baseline. After a backpacking trip in Yosemite at the end of September, I’m determined to average at least 12 hours/week of training for October and November, if not even more. My long Sunday rollerskis all need to be at least 2.5 hours. Time to start hill bounding!

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