Saturday, January 21, 2017

Race Report: Aloha Series, Day 3

Today I ran the third marathon in the Aloha Series.  We ran the same course for today’s race as we did yesterday.  As usual, we started at 4:30, which means it was dark for the first half of the race.  This time, however, I was already familiar with the course.

I got to bed early enough to get a reasonable amount of sleep.  My legs felt a little stiff, but no more than yesterday.

Today’s weather was a little bit cooler than the last two days.  We also got more rain.  The big story, however, was the wind.  There was a strong wind out of the north for the entire race.

Before the race, it was raining off and on.  It started raining again just before we started running.  Between the rain and the wind, I felt chilly, so I made a last-minute decision to start the race wearing a Tyvek jacket.  I wasn’t the only one.  About half the runners were starting the race with jackets.

For the first half of our out-and-back course, we were running into the wind.  When I turned around and started heading back, I could feel the wind pushing at my back.  With the wind at my back, I started to get hot, so I unzipped the front of my jacket.  By now, the rain had stopped, so I continued to get hot.

When I finished my first lap, I took off the jacket.  No sooner did I head out again than it started to rain again.  I quickly noticed a pattern.  Whenever I started a lap, the rain started.  When I reached the turnaround, the rain stopped.  By now, I was warmed up enough that I wasn’t worried about getting cold without my jacket.

In general, it’s easy to run this course in the dark, but there was one section with a few large puddles.  I tried to look for them, but my headlamp didn’t let me see them in time to go around them.  At least once per lap, I stepped into a puddle and got my shoes drenched.

The start/finish area was at a beach park, so we were close to the water.  The turnaround was at the top of a hill.  Going out there was a slight uphill trend, and coming back it was downhill.  When we were going uphill, we were also fighting a strong headwind.  Coming back, it was a tailwind.  Finally, it seemed like the on and off rain usually coincided with the direction I was running.

This made it seem like two different races.  Everything about the first half of the lap was difficult.  The wind in particular was wearing me down.  Coming back it was easy.  The wind pushed me to a faster pace.

It was also two different races in another way.  I had to run six laps in the dark, followed by six laps in daylight.  I didn’t like the combination of rain, wind, and running in the dark.  When I finished my third lap, I told myself I was half done with the “dark” laps.  I counted down the remaining laps until daylight.  I didn’t worry about the remaining six “daylight” laps.

As I reached the turnaround for the sixth time, there was just enough light to see the shoreline below us.  On my way back, I could finally see all the large puddles.  After that, I was able to avoid them.

When I finished that lap, I took off my headlamp.  I looked at my watch for the first time.  I was surprised to see that my time for the first half was only a minute slower than yesterday.   I expected to be much slower, because the wind was really wearing me down.

My goal at the start of the race was to run the first half at a slow steady pace and then take it one lap at a time.  Now it was time to start taking walking breaks.  I gave myself permission to walk as much as I needed going into the wind.  Coming back, I would run the whole way.

After walking most of the way to the turn in lap seven, my legs felt a bit stiff as I switched back to running.  Fortunately, having a strong wind at my back made running easier.  In subsequent laps, I decided to run at least halfway to the turnaround.  I only walked the section where the wind was strongest.  That tending to be the last half mile, as the course began climbing above the cliffs.

There were other runners who were still wearing jackets or rain ponchos.  Going into the wind, they would flap rapidly, like the wings of a hummingbird.

The last tenth mile before the turn went around a corner above the cliffs.  Here the wind was much stronger.  I started calling that last turn “Hurricane Point.”

Not that it was daylight, I could see the whole course clearly.  I finally got to see the big waves being whipped up by the wind.  I also got to see a few runners who weren’t there for the first two races.

As I finished my ninth lap, I tried to tell myself I was half done with the daytime half of the race.  That didn’t really work.  At this point, I was too tired to think beyond the current lap.  In each lap, I had to get through the first half with a fair amount of walking.  Then coming back was much easier.  Instead of counting down the remaining laps, I started to count down the number of times I had to fight the wind on the climb to “Hurricane Point.”  Even walking, it was more difficult going out than it was coming back.

In general, there was less rain in the second half, but in one lap, there was a short burst of heavy rain.  It was accompanied by stronger gusts of wind.  Naturally, this started just as I was climbing toward “Hurricane Point.”  The path got so slick that walking was more difficult than running.  I ran until the last tenth mile.  Then the wind forced me to walk.  The wind got so strong on that last turn that it was tough to make forward progress, even walking.  I could feel the wind pushing the skin on my cheeks.

As soon as I made the turnaround, the rain stopped, and the sun came out.  For the first time since taking off my jacket, I started to get hot.  At this point, I only had a lap and a half to go.  I knew I wouldn’t be hot on the half lap that was into the wind.

In the second half of the race, my lap times varied between 25 and 29 minutes, depending on how much walking I did.  With one lap to go, I checked my watch.  If I could run that lap in 26 minutes, I could break five hours.  I knew I could do it if I didn’t do too much walking, so I made an effort to run the entire lap.

Early in each lap, we crossed a bridge over a small channel.  On my last lap, I saw several people looking over one side of the bridge.  I stopped to see what they were looking at.  It was a dolphin.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me on this lap.

After stopping briefly to see the dolphin, I ran the entire lap.  As I began the tough section, I could see Tom Craven ahead of me.  I knew Tom expected to break five hours, so I tried to catch up to him.  I reached him just after the turnaround.

Running the whole way, it took me 12 minutes to reach the turn.  That gave me 14 minutes to run back.  I knew I could do that easily.  I got hot again, but running with the wind was always easier.  I finished in 4:56:08.

Today’s medal was a rooster.  I added the new medal to my chain.

If you don't know why a rooster is appropriate, visit the island of Kau'i sometime.  They're everywhere!

Breaking five hours meant I could once again get back to the hotel in time for breakfast.  French toast with coconut syrup is quickly becoming one of my favorite post-race foods.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:56:08
Average Pace:  11:18
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  326

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