Friday, August 08, 2008

8/2/08 The Taco Man Half

That's Aunt Annie with me... Maniac Annie. Two fun things about Annie:

  • She won 6 marathons in about 2 1/2 months between April and June.

  • She was 3rd female at the White River 50. She finished in 8:29, over four hours faster than me. Four hours! She had time to run another marathon! She had time to drive from Seattle to Portland. And stop for an hour in the middle to eat pizza. She had time to watch Dances With Wolves. The extended version.

Various people handle the week after a 50 miler very differently. Me? I decided to run a half marathon. Halves are actually my favorite distance. Long enough to feel, well, long. Short enough to make for a fun morning with lots of time left to hang out or do other activities. The weekend after White River offered up two fine marathons, with accompanying halves: Juneau on Saturday and San Francisco on Sunday. I've done both races; I liked both.

However, Founding Maniac Tony, otherwise known as "The race director of the Tacoma Marathon", was starting up a brand new half marathon for this weekend: The Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon. The highlights of the new race would include running over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and running the warning track of Cheney Stadium, where the AAA Tacoma Rainiers play. Those are two great reasons to run it. Plus we'd get a pint glass! Just to make things more fun, I noticed that my brain kept wanting to process the website's url ( oddly: Taco Man Arrows. I dubbed the race "The Taco Man Half". And I had to run something called "the Taco Man Half". Heck, I thought briefly of coming up with a Taco Man costume for it. But I didn't. Maniac Annie did, however, convince me to register under a pseudonym. McLovin, the name I'm currently using on the Maniac calendar. It would be the first time I've ever run as McLovin.

I am McLovin. And this weekend, it was official.

The Taco Man's course was set up to be pretty cool: a point-to-point from the Gig Harbor side of the narrows to the same finish area as May's Tacoma Marathon in downtown Tacoma. After a couple miles of out-and-back, the course heads over the bridge. Then through neighborhoods. The last six miles of the course are essentially the last miles of the marathon course *except* for one nifty change: the full marathon runs near Cheney Stadium, but Taco Man takes a detour through the stadium. Then it's back onto the marathon course along the highway and into downtown. The course is moderately hilly, but not too terrible. Especially when compared to White River :-). And, as with the marathon, it has two miles of downhill to the finish. WOOSH!

Alas, "point-to-point" means "shuttle" and lots of the bus drivers got a little lost. Whoops. Luckily, a Gig Harbor local was riding the same bus as me, and when our driver missed the exit, the local runner was able to point out backroads to get us where we needed to be. Phew.

And so I arrived at the start line of the Taco Man half with plenty of time to spare. It was a blue sky morning, but kind of cold. I was bundled up in pants, 3 shirts, gloves, and a coat. The first weekend in August and here I was dressed for the final push up to the summit of Mt Rainier.

Being seven days removed from my glorious 12:30 in the mountains, I had no plans to actually race the Taco Man. I did need to get in some faster miles for the week, though. I could have used the race for a tempo run (2 miles warm-up, 6-8 miles fast, 3-5 miles easy). However, I knew the course had some long uphills and I just wasn't feeling mentally ready to charge up long hills. So I decided on unstructured running: fast when I wanted to be fast, not-so-fast when I needed a break.

Then there was my foot. I had lost the skin off most of my right heel at White River. I'd managed some 5-6 mile runs during the week with minimal pain. It seemed to be healing. I didn't want to reinjure it by pushing too hard in a race that wasn't a Big Deal Goal Race. So... "fast when I wanted to, not fast when I didn't want to" seemed pretty reasonable. That would mean 7:00-7:15-ish miles when in fast mode, and 7:45-8:30s when not. Okey doke.

The start was delayed for 15 minutes because a registration snafu/delay had led to long portapotty lines. People need to pee, and you can't rush nature! This gave me some extra time to consider my choice of attire. Island Boy does not like to be cold; I'm very much a wimp about it. I'll usually still be in multiple layers when everyone else is wearing singlets. But I need to work on that. It was a chilly 48 before Taco Man, but it was dry. And it wasn't that windy. And... the race was only 13 miles. Less than two hours (hopefully). Hmmm.

I gritted my teeth and took off the layers. Today, Island Boy would run in a singlet. 48. In a singlet. Me. Well, technically, I was hiding as McLovin, but still. Brrr. I stood at the starting line shaking. Brrrrrr.

And we were off. I tried to hold back some. Had I been racing, I would have done some warm-up laps before the start. This was my warm up. The race had started in the parking lot of a golf facility. We left the lot and turned down a road away from the highway. This was the out-and-back, and we were headed towards a bike trail. Along the way, we passed a house with a husky tied up out front. This was some dog. He (she?) had his (her?) head tilted all the way back and was in full-on wolf howl mode:

Ah-wooooooooooooo!! Ah! Ah! Woooooooooooooooooooooo!

How cool! I declared something like, "Look! An animatronic dog!" but everyone around me seemed to be racing. As my Spanish friends might say in English, "Is ok".

Out to the turnaround and then back the other way. I seemed to be towards the front of the pack. Interesting, but I wasn't going to push it. Then it was back by the non-animatronic husky, through M2, and off we went towards the bridge.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is LONG. Including the approach, it's also a whole lotta uphill. But the views were totally worth it. Between this and the sights at White River, I'm constantly reminded why this area is such a nice place to live. When it isn't gray and cold. And not factoring in the traffic. Or the costs of food, housing, and gas. Earthquakes. But boy is it pretty here. The bridge also made for some nice photos. Here I am steaming down the Tacoma side.

And "steaming" is pretty accurate. Because guess what? Island Boy in his singlet actually warmed up. It didn't stay 48 very long, especially on the Tacoma side, but it was still in the 50s. I should have been wearing two shirts!

M5. Into a neighborhood, and then back out to the highway. And then it was suddenly M8 and time for Cheney Stadium! I thought we'd just kind of run around the warning track. When I got there, however, we entered at the first base-side dugout. Then up the foul line, all the way around the warning track, and out at the 3rd base-side foul pole. There were no spectators in the stadium, but they had the audio cranked and the scoreboard lit up. "Welcome Runners!" For some reason, it made me think about the Astros scoreboard welcoming the Bears towards the end of Bad News Bears Breaking Training. As I was rounding the track, the Rocky theme started. Always good for motivation, and I like it a lot more than Eye of the Tiger.

Out of the stadium and back to the highway. The miles were ticking down. The gentle downhill started at M10 as the course zigzagged through an industrial area. At M11, the downhill wasn't so gentle.

You know, I really sucked on White River's downhills. A lot. It was depressing. As Ricky Bobby's car says: I WANNA GO FAST. So I tried.

M12 was my fastest mile of the race (7:04).

Until M13. That became my fastest mile of the race (7:02). Slower than my 5k pace, but way faster than White River.

I was hoping that McLovin would get announced at the finish. However, the race didn't seem to have an announcer, at least when I went through the chute. "Is ok."

I said hello and offered up encouragement to lots of people during the race, but I didn't get into any involved conversations. Most of the people around me seemed to be really focused on running. After the race, I talked and I talked. :-)

Oh. I ran a 1:37:15. 48 seconds slower than my PR. Huh. I wasn't trying to race. Looking back, I am 100% sure that I could have PRed. 7 days out from White River. And my heel held up too. So it's reasonable that I could have PRed without hurting myself in the process. Ah well. I had a groovy experience. And no pressure!

One of my stated goals for this year is to run a 1:30 marathon. I haven't done that, and I don't think I could have run that much of a PR at Taco Man. I think I'm pretty close to being ready for an attempt, though.

Halves sure are fun. Taco Man was extra fun - well organized, great course. And at the end, I got my promised pint glass.

Next up: The Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon on Sunday. It will be the first time I've tried this race without having run Crater Lake (my vote for "Hardest Road Marathon in the US") the day before. Another one of my stated goals is to run a 4:15 at Haulin Aspen, which would be 18 minutes off my previous time there. That's a lot. Haulin Aspen is 12 miles up, 12 miles down, 2 miles flat. Those 12 miles down are mostly technical trail. Downhill on a trail. My favorite thing! It's one of several reasons why my Haulin Aspen times are 45-60 minutes slower than my regular marathon time. Check back Real Soon Now to see what happened!

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