Monday, March 31, 2014

Birch Bay 30K

Birch Bay Road Race, 30K
March 29, 2014
Birch Bay, Washington

Short version:
Finish time 3:02:45. 
I really enjoyed this race. :)

The story:
This is the fourth year I have gone to Birch Bay, having done the 15K in both 2011 and 2012 and the 5K last year. The race is beautifully located just south of the border, partly along the ocean bay and partially inland on the country roads. The distances are set to line up with spring marathon and half-marathon training plans, so many people like to do the 30K as part of marathon training.

This spring I have been training for Abbostford Run for Water Marathon using the Hanson Marathon program. Because this race is late in May, the Birch Bay Road Race comes about midway through the training and I planned to run the 15K distance. The Hanson program is very challenging, eventually building to 90-100K on six runs per week; one signature of the program is that it limits the long run to 26K at this mileage such that the long run does not become more than 30% of the total weekly mileage. Rob has done well on this program for a few marathon cycles, and I was excited to give it a try. 

Unfortunately, the marathon training has not been going as well as I had hoped. Things were actually going well in January and early February; I was a bit ahead of the plan because I was preparing for the First Half half-marathon in mid-February. That race was much harder than I expected; I had difficulty recovering, found out I was borderline iron-deficient, and lost a few critical weeks of training after the race. I started to have doubts about continuing the training: Had I jumped into marathon training too quickly after injury recovery? Would I be able to get back on track with the training or had I lost too much? How much would the iron deficiency affect me? Would it be better to switch to the half-marathon this spring? I decided to just keep going with the training as best as I could, but the whining and doubts and waffling continued. Then about a week into March I started to feel better and had a few really good weeks of training. After a strong 24K long run last Monday in the humidity of south Florida, I started to think that maybe I should try the 30K at Birch Bay. It was a bit late to be moving things around; if I had planned this properly beforehand, I certainly would not have done the 24K long run just five days before the race (and I may have been still feeling some fatigue from that run). And that 24K run was the longest I had done in over two years. So maybe switching to the 30K was not the smartest choice, but I decided to do it anyway, knowing I would have to hold myself to a very moderate pace. In a way maybe it was actually smarter than tempting myself to push it hard in the 15K. My race plan was to run the 30K at about the same pace as my last two long runs (just over 6:00/km). While a sub-3:00 finish time on paper would have been nice, I decided that was not as important as keeping strong through the race. So that is what I did.

Race day:
All week we heard of heavy rain forecasts for Saturday, but as often happens on the west coast, the storm held off for us. We did have some very light rain, but mostly very pleasant, somewhat windy weather with a mix of clouds and blue sky breaks. I mentally broke the race into three 10K sections, planning to run the first 10K at about 6:10-6:20/km, the next 10K no faster than 6:00/km, and the last 10K a bit faster if it felt good. Much of the race course was familiar to me, having run the 15K twice. Of course, those times I was running must faster, around 5:00/km. Not this year. The first 10K went as planned, and I finished in just under 1:02 (6:12/km). The 30K and 15K courses start together down a short hill to the ocean, then and out-and-back along water and into Birch Bay State Park. The turn-around point was at about 6K so I was able to see Rob on his way back (he was already about 2K ahead of me at this point) and Bryan and Mary on their way back a few minutes ahead of me. We had a bit of a headwind at the beginning with a tailwind helping a bit on the way back. I felt strong and it felt like a pace I could hold well for the 30K distance. I was running near a few women who helped me keep my pace under control; unfortunately they were all running the 15K which turned back toward the finish area just before 14K. At this point those us running the 30K continued north, off the bay and up a hill, with a turn-around at around 21K. I love out-and-back races in that you get to be a spectator in your own race; I knew that I would be seeing the leaders when I was at about 17K and Rob shortly after. It was easy to spot him since the race was pretty small, and there were only about 12 runners ahead of him.

I am glad I didn’t look carefully at the elevation profile for the race or I might have been scared off by the steady climb from about 14K up to the turnaround at 21K. Even after 16K I was starting to feel it. A guy passed me, and I said, “I hate uphills!” He said, “We just passed exactly 10 miles.” I said, “Awesome.” I reminded myself to just keep running strong and steady up the hill, and then it would be much easier after 21K. I really started to enjoy the whole experience at this point; in a way it is so liberating to not worry about a specific race goal. Still, I did want to hold onto about a 6:00 pace, and I finished the second 10K in just over an hour. That felt pretty strong considering the long steady hill.

On the way down the hill, we had a bit of a headwind which picked up more as we headed to the water. The tailwind had helped us up the hill, and now the headwind was holding us back a bit. I had finished my bottle of Gatorade by then so I was stopping every 3K at the aid stations. This also helped me break up the race mentally; I was taking gels every 6K, so I knew that after the 18K gel I would have only one more gel break. So gel break at 18K (just before which I saw Rob), 21K turnaround (with water stop), and then 24K last gel. At 24K I actually stopped to refill my bottle a bit so I would not have to stop again. From 24K to 27K it would be mostly downhill, and then I could just cruise into the finish. This wasn’t so bad! But the last two kilometres we were back along the water with a very strong headwind. I would have probably been able to pick it up to under 5:30/km at this point, but it was like running into a wall of air (my actual splits for those kilometres was just over 6:00). In the last few hundred metres we had to run back up the hill we came down (but on a different, steeper street). Mary and Bryan and their friends who had finished the 15K earlier were all waiting and watching and cheering at the top of the hill. It was awesome to see them, and Bryan ran a few metres with me after that. “You’ve got this, Jennifer, you’re looking strong,” he said. When I made the turn toward the finishing chute, I saw Rob waiting for me smiling. Official time was 3:02:45, and I could not have been happier.

So in the end, I am really happy I did this race and changed to the 30K. It is a 30K PB since I have never done 30K before. :) But what about the marathon? I am now confident that I can continue with marathon training; my training may not go perfectly as planned, but I can still do the race with some modified pace expectations. I am looking forward to it.

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