fontana days 1/2 marathon '08
Several weeks ago I was searching around for a summer or early fall half marathon when I came across the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon which billed itself as “The World’s Fastest Half Marathon”. This sounded very cool but it was being held on June 7th which gave no time to train specifically for it. Since I just raced Boston about 6 weeks ago and it takes me at least 6 weeks of time after a hard marathon to feel recovered I wasn’t quite sure if I should do this one.
But the lure of a fast downhill Half was too great. I kept thinking about it during training runs and calculated the time improvement that I could gain from dropping 2,125 feet during 13.1 miles.
My stretch goal was a 1:14:23 (5:40 pace) which would give me a WAVA 90% score for my age. Of course it would be a PR with an * sort of like a PR at St. George but still, perhaps the only way to reach this goal any time soon.
Once the hook was set I kept running into snags. I ran a really poor 15 miler the week before where I totally bonked in the last few miles. Then I turned something in my ankle during a trail run 5 days before the event. I started to think these were signs that I should pass on my personal world record attempt. I kept icing the ankle and prolonging the decision. When Friday rolled around I did a little tread mill test and took it up to a 11 mph’s and the ankle felt o.k. so I decided it was a go.
Logistically, Fontana is about a one hour drive and due to the early morning signup and bus ride to the start, I had to wake up at 3:00 am.! Since it is a small race (I would guess 800 runners doing the half) it was easy to park close to the finish and sign up the day of. After waiting around for 40 minutes I jumped on one of the buses going to the start. Since the bus took course route to the start I was able to see what the course look like in reverse. What struck me at first was how flat the road coming into the finish was. Where was all this downhill that the elevation map showed? Once we got out of Fontana and started heading up in the foothills the elevation drop became more apparent. I thought I would need to bank some time in canyon if I was going to have a chance of hitting my goal.
Sitting around at the start for an hour and a half is a bit of a wait so I sat down next to Bill Wall who at 75 has run this race 13 times and has run the LA marathon 19 times. It was good strategy to talk to another runner who was 15 years older than me. Made me feel like a real youngster. Not that Bill is any slouch. He ran a 1:45 last year and as you can imagine, routinely wins his AG.
At about 30 minutes before the start, I took my warm ups off and packed the gear bag for the return trip by truck. Then I ran the first ½ mile of the course several times to get the legs warm.
At 5 minutes til start I joined the front line. Since it was a non-chip race I was especially eager to get a clean start and did not want to dodge other runners. After a brief pre-race talk from the RD and a blast from the air horn we were off.
The ¼ mile was a shake out with some people surging past and others falling back. There was definitely a fast dozen or so runners jumping out by that time and a bit hard to keep track of due to the twisty nature of the road. I was taking a lot of short steps at the beginning trying to get my legs warmed up without subjecting them to too much pounding.
At one point there was a black Labrador with a vest running with his master (I think the RD let them start several hundred yards down the road) When I passed them the dog decided he wanted to speed up and run with me and stayed by my side for a minute. I started to think it would be funny if the dog stayed with me for the whole way but eventually he dropped back.
As things settled out there were two high school runners that were sticking to me like glue. We passed each other back and forth during the first mile.
Mile 1 – 5:24 HR161 – 238 feet drop (4.5% grade)
The boys eventually got about 20 feet ahead of me which was fine by me as I needed to work on relaxing and getting into my own rhythm. I don’t recall anyone else passing here as everyone started fall into their pace and the distances between stretched out a bit.
Mile 2 – 5:32 HR167 – 248 ft descent (4.7% grade)
Somewhere in the second mile I caught up with the boys. Noticed that one of them had a shoe string untied. Now I had a moral dilemma. Should I tell him that his shoe is untied because it’s a safety risk or does he know/doesn’t care or will he think I’ll playing some kind of trick on him? After weighing the options for a split second I told him as I passed. Not sure what he did after that point because I didn’t see him or his buddy again.
Mile 3 – 5:35 HR169 – 188 ft descent (3.5% grade) 17:09 5K split
Around this time I started to pay some attention to my heart rate. I was hoping to hold a 167 or below in the early miles but I was seeing 169-171 when I would check. My concern was that I would blow up well before the end and so I tried to slow down just a bit to drop the HR. But it seemed hard to slow down at this point.
Mile 4 – 5:37 HR170 – 145 ft descent (2.8% grade)
During the next mile I got passed by a guy in his 20’s without a shirt. He passed me cleanly but was pumping his arms a bit and I thought he was putting too much effort into it. Still, he got ahead of me by about 50 yards and I could see a few other runners up ahead as the road started to straighten out. Those couple of runners were a 1/4 mile + distance though.
Mile 5 – 5:38 HR171 – 176 ft descent (4.0% grade) (27:48 5 Mile split)
By now I was having some doubts about my ‘out fast’ strategy. The high HR along with a general feeling of ‘how can I possibly keep up this pace’ had me wondering if I was setting myself up for a big crash. But I tried to stay in the moment and in the moment my legs and everything else felt really good. It was a bit of a push to hold the pace but the downhill was helping to keep me from going over the edge. I didn’t want to go faster but I didn’t want to slow down either.
Mile 6 – 5:40 HR 171 129 ft descent (2.4% grade) (34:40 10K split)
The road was really straightening out here and I could see the highway overpass in the distance. There were mile markers with usually one volunteer calling out splits. Problem was, the splits were wrong, between 30 seconds to a minute off. I reeled in the shirtless runner (or rather he slowed) and as I passed he said, “good job!”. I said something like, “you too!”. It was pretty lonely out there.
Mile 7- 5:42 HR 171 148 ft descent (2.8% grade)
Started to feel hotter around here. There were aid stations every two miles but I had opted to carry a 20 oz. bottle with strap (amphipod brand) and by pass the stations. This strategy came in handy now as having a little sip every 5 minutes or so felt good. Right after the overpass there was a small uphill. It actually felt good to use some slightly different muscles but was focused not to drop the pace much.
Mile 8 – 5:49 HR 171 157 ft descent (3.0% grade)
Have you ever been driving or biking along in the desert and it appears like you are going up a hill yet you are actually going downhill or visa versa? This definitely was one of those moments. The course felt flat even though the data says it was downhill. Maybe I was getting tired and delirious.
Mile 9 – 5:50 HR 170 185 ft descent (3.5% grade) (52:45 15K split)
Jeezz this was a tough and boring part. Just trying to hold on and get to 10 miles, see my splits and have only a 5K to go. At the same time, I was feeling a little better now. I had slowed, maintained my HR and felt less on the edge. My confidence in actually finishing this with a good time was climbing and this was a good sign.
Mile 10 – 5:58 HR 167 118 ft descent (2.2% grade) – (56:49 10 mile split)
There was some mental relief to make it to 10 miles and I was slowly catching the runner ahead of me. He was in Monrovia HS track colors and moving along but I could see him getting larger. Just the thing to focus on for the time being.
Mile 11 – 5:52 HR 171 118 ft descent (2.2% grade)
Somewhere around here I passed the HS runner. I gave him a ‘good job’ but he wasn’t in the mood to chat but I could understand where he was coming from. I did give a shout out to the occasional police person manning the intersections. Some were even cheering for us which was cool.
Mile 12 – 6:01 HR 171 109 ft descent (2.0% grade)
This turned out to be my slowest mile. I was just going through the motions, trying not to loose too much time and make it to the finish.
Mile 13 – 5:55 HR 172 81 ft descent (1.5% grade)
There were some huge balloons in the distance marking the finish line. Boy they seemed close. No they seemed far away. Whatever, just keep the legs moving and they will get closer. Maybe I can catch that guy in front of me? But as I started to pour it on in the last ¼ mile, he did too.
Mile .1 – 5:31 HR 174 0 ft descent (0% grade)
Official Time 1:15:16 (5:44 ave pace, 169 ave HR)
Cross the finish line, hit the stop button (which I usually forget to do) and try to keep moving through the chute. Wheww .. that was tough and I’m feeling a little light headed but the 1:15:16 on my watch is pretty sweet!
I placed 11th overall and second in my AG. The winner in the 50-54 AG won in 1:12:57 and there was a 49 year old from BC who placed 4th overall with a 1:10:45. Wow!
So I didn’t hit my stretch goal but I did score a 88.96% PLP. Is this the World’s fastest course? I’ll leave that up to the Guinness Book people but would recommend this race to anyone who wants to set a half marathon PR.
Speaking of Guinness .. my post race recovery drink was great!