Race Report: 2018 Anchorage Runfest – Skinny Raven Half Marathon

Race information

Goals

Finish< 2 hours
YesSo dang close

Background

Over the past couple years, I ran up to 3 miles a couple times a month. I almost never ran in the cold Alaskan winter months (October through March). In mid-June of this year, I started running regularly and got hooked. I attribute this, at least in part, to signing up for a Smashrun account. I kind of obsess over stats and was anxious to start filling it with data and earning badges. After a week or so of regular running, I set a goal to run a half marathon by the end of the year.

Training

I started with the Hal Higdon Novice 1 plan. About halfway through, I switched to the Novice 2 plan, essentially because it worked better with my schedule. I did jump ahead a little bit in my training, but I was careful to listen to my body to avoid injury. For example, I jumped from an 8-mile long run to a 10-mile long run, because I was just too excited to hit that milestone. I also did not crosstrain–I rode my kid’s bike a little here and there and went on walks, but nothing really structured.

The half marathon I was initially training for was schedule for September 30. Since I started my 12-week plan more than 12 weeks prior to that date, I was left with trying to decide to stretch out the training or find another race that fell in line with my training. I was fortunate to find a half marathon nearby (3 hour drive) from my home that lined up perfectly with my training.

Pre-race

Basically followed the same plan I did for all of my long runs. Wake up, eat some oatmeal, drink a cup of coffee, use the bathroom. I was careful to remain hydrated and get sleep during the days leading up to the race. I followed my race plan’s taper (I actually skipped the last 2 mile run and rested that day).

Race

The race didn’t have corrals. We were basically told to just organize ourselves according to our expected pace. I had two problems: being my first race I wasn’t sure what my pace was going to be (I wanted to start with 9:30 miles and evaluate midway), I had no way of knowing the pace of the people next to me. So, I just put myself somewhere in the middle.

The gun fired and we were off. There were over 700 of us sharing a narrow bike path for the first few miles. The first half mile was downhill, but there was no speed to take advantage of because of how tight we were packed. It was extremely difficult to pass anyone. The pace of the pack was slower than my goal by 15 to 30 seconds. After about 3 miles, things opened up a bit and I was able to find a comfortable pace with some space.

At 5 miles, I ate my first GU. The first half of the race was at a slight uphill, with a few steeper sections. Many people walked on the steeper sections, but I actually powered through them and used the flat parts to get my heart rate back down.

I hit the halfway turnaround and enjoyed the downhill for most of the remainder of the race. I somehow missed the Mile 7 beep on my watch and saw the one for Mile 8. I caught my second wind and started picking up my pace. Around Mile 10 I ate another GU.

I watched the race predictor on my watch tick down. Estimated finish of 2:07:00, then 2:05:00, down to 2:01:00. I was making up my time and set to hit my 2 hour goal.

Then I hit that hill at the last half mile. Halfway up, my legs started to feel like they were shutting down. My body felt really tight and I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I figured I’d just finish out the hill by walking up it, but that was even worse. My legs did not want to lift. I began to perform some sort of zombie shuffle to get to the top. Once the course was flat again, I didn’t have a problem getting back into my stride. I finished strong in good form through the finish line. ‚Äč

Post-race

I crossed the line. They put a medal around my neck. I saw my time. I was so happy to have finished the race, the extra 54 seconds beyond my 2-hour goal didn’t bother me. For me, that was close enough. My family greeted me and we took some pictures together.

Next

I’m going to run the half marathon I was initially training for at the end of September. I’m taking this week to do some lighter recovery runs and I’ll hop back into the program again next week. I’ll be adding a mile to two of the shorter runs and perhaps some other changes based on advice from other runners. Now I have an idea of what to use as a race pace, and I’ll be able to train more efficiently.

I’m excited to shave those 54 seconds off.

After that, well, there’s another half a couple weeks after the September one… I think I’m hooked.

And Then I Ran

In 2018, I became a runner.

I had run before. A few years ago, I trained using the Couch-To-5K training method. I had recently quit smoking cigarettes and it felt good to regain some lung function. I was elated when I completed my first three-mile run without walking. But after completing the program, I endeavored just a few three-mile runs before putting my running shoes away for the season. Without a goal, I lacked motivation to run and I certainly wasn’t interested in running during the cold, dark, Alaskan winter.

I went for a couple of runs last year: a whopping 29 miles during the entirety of 2017. 2018 was looking to end up the same way; by the time June rolled around, I had run a total of less than 20 miles.

I ran a few 3-4 mile runs the first week of June but I didn’t run again until the 13th. That’s when I discovered Smashrun.com, a website that aggregates data from your runs and serves up useful and interesting stats. I’m a stats nerd, and I wanted to see what Smashrun could do–but first I needed to feed it data. I ran again the next day, and then the next, and so on. I ran 5 days in a row before taking a break. I’d run blocks of consecutive days, rest, and then do it again. I began researching running, and became active in online running communities. Heeding the advice of experienced runners, I forced myself to take rest days (something that I ironically found to be torturous). I ran more than 50 miles in June. I was hooked.

Example of Smashrun data
Example of just some of the data Smashrun gives you. Sign up for your own free account.

My obsession only grew from there. I ran just over 79 miles in July, 89 in August, and 91 in September. Early on, I went out on my runs without a plan, aiming only to push myself a little more each week compared to the previous one. But then I decided I wanted to commit to a real challenge. I set a goal of running an organized half marathon race (13.1 miles) before the year ended. I researched some training plans and picked one that seemed both manageable and challenging.

I ran my first race at the end of June: a 10K run in Homer, Alaska that fit into my training plan. 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) would be the furthest I had ever run up to that point, but I felt ready. I completed it without an issue, perhaps even leaving a little too much gas in the tank (it helped that the entire course was slightly downhill). That race made me confident that I’d be able to run a half marathon this year. I decided that I would run it during the annual local Kenai River Marathon scheduled for September 30.

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I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan, with some modification. The plan has a couple of races built into it, but there wasn’t always a race available that lined up with my schedule. I ended up running an extra mile on those weeks, which essentially jumped me ahead a week in the program each time I did this.

Running training plans are designed to allow you to peak on race day. Since I had been using race weeks to skip ahead in the schedule, I was going to peak well before the September 30th half marathon. Fortunately, I found a half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska that fit perfectly with my schedule.

I registered for the August 19th race, the Anchorage Runfest Skinny Raven Half Marathon, and continued my training. I didn’t skip a single day of training. I discovered a sense of discipline that I never knew I harbored. I got up at 5am and ran before work. Wind, rain, fatigue… it didn’t matter; if I had a run scheduled that day, I ran it. Towards the end of my training, my plan looked something like this: Rest on Saturday and Sunday, run 5 miles on Monday, 4 miles on Tuesday, 5 miles on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, long run on Friday (I generally added one mile to my long run each week, peaking at a 12 mile long run the week before my half marathon).

Excitement built as race week approached. My plan called for a taper week before the race, where you run fewer miles than you had been in order to get your body in a rested state for the race.

August 19th arrived. My training was complete. Now it was just a matter of cashing-in my training for a good experience, a shirt, and a medal.

Up next: There are victories, but there’s also defeat.