Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Catharine Valley Half Marathon (Race Report)

A day after my 7 hour, 39 minute suffer-fest on the sadistically wonderful Call of the Wilds Mountain Marathon (RACE REPORT) course, on sore legs and limited sleep I joined my sister for the Catharine Valley Half Marathon in Watkins Glen NY to pace her through her first 13.1

The Catharine Valley Trail in the Finger Lakes of New York is no Central Pa, but its a relatively scenic, flat, fast, low-key, close to home location for runners to challenge themselves. Ann Marie was looking to notch her first Half Marathon finish and I volunteered to help her out. I figured she could break 2 hours, and that was the goal for her I set out with as I set the pace. In addition to being her first half marathon it would also be her longest (distance) run to date, and longest race, following a successful 15k finish back in July.

Other Valley Running Club members were on hand for the race, including fellow Green Monster 50K (Race Report) alumni Matt, Jeff (hail to the V) who frequents our group runs, and Curtis (not pictured above) who was looking to improve on his recent Half Marathon finish at the Pa. Grand Canyon.


Conditions were great at the 8:30AM start for the 300 to 400 runners in attendance, cloudy, cool, and a few sprinkles in the air. The gun went off right on time and we got to work.

The first thing I noticed as the race began was how much my ribs hurt. My legs were tired, but i'm used to running on tired legs. But each step was like multiple knives in my ribs, no doubt resulting from the relentless downhills on Saturday. But like a good little brother I sucked it up and the pain eventually subsided as we clicked away the miles.

The course is a simple out and back with a 100 meter track finish tacked on to make each runner feel like a rockstar. The early going was a bit crowded. In single track running we're all familar with calling out "on your left" or "on your right," but this crowd of mostly road runners didn't seem to get the idea. 400 runners on a ten foot wide path is going to be crowded, no matter what you do, but some people thought they could run shoulder to shoulder chatting with their friends with no care for those behind seeking to move up the field. It took 3 or 4 miles for things to clear out reasonably well. When we hit the 5 mile mark we passed the race leader coming back, this at least, would force out bound runners to keep right, leaving the left for the leaders.

When I surged to pass runners, Ann Marie seemed to have little trouble responding with her own surge, and before she knew it we were at the end of the (slightly uphill - 400ft total) out bound half the course, making the turn to head back to the finish.

Most of the run back to the school is slightly downhill, the rest is flat. The downhill, though barely perceptible, is enough, but when you’re clicking off miles at a steady, metronomic effort level it is very easy to go too hard without even known it, and then suffering closer to the finish as a result. The next three miles were likely our fastest.

Slight downhill eventually gives way to a quarter mile or so of paved street. When we hit the streets Ann Marie was still doing great, but I found myself suffering. We hit the trail again with just under three miles to go, but I knew I was reaching the end of my ability to maintain the pace. A 9:18 average on flat ground is easy for me, under normal circumstances but with an eight hour race under my belt and no food in my stomach I was starting to bonk.

My watch read 1:45 with a mile and a half ago, putting a sub 2 hour finish within her reach, but perhaps not mine.

“You can get in under 2 hours if you go hard alone now,” I said. She didn’t want to leave me, but did not argue. I had done what any good rabbit should do. Go hard, tap out, and catapult their runner to the finish. I was still running in the 9:30’s and 9:40’s, but she could go sub 9:30 without me.

With a little help from Curtis who came back out on the course after his own sub 1 hour, 40 minute finish, she was able to tear down the track in 1:59 and change. I followed about 50 seconds later.


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