Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2011 Standard Chartered Half Marathon – Race Report

2011 Standard Chartered Half Marathon – Race Report

Distance: Half Marathon (21.3 Kilometers)
Start Time: 05:45
Weather: 13°C, 77% Relative Humidity
Terrain: Predominately flat with moderate rolling hills over the final 6 Kilometers.
Bib #: 55495

One would think that after the countless races I have joined over the last two years that I would have pre-race logistics and general preparation down to a science.  Last year I took every race very seriously and began planning everything days in advance (kit, nutrition, recovery bag contents, travel, etc.).  Since this year I down graded from the full to half marathon, I didn’t bother doing much in the way of planning. Mistake.  The night before the race I laid out my kit and stuffed some gels and cash for the taxi ride home in my race belt.  I decided to skip checking in a bag at the start so I get could sleep in an extra thirty minutes.

At 4:00am the alarm went of and I went straight for the coffee machine.  2 cups later, right on schedule, I shuffled into the restroom to lose 2 pounds.  I forgot to set out socks so I had to do a bit of digging around in the dark to find a pair.  Next I was searching for my number bib everywhere but finally remembered that I left it in the car. I was out of the door by 4:45.

I reached the race start at about 5:20 in Tsim Sha Tsui.  The place was buzzing with excitement and I noticed that runners were already beginning to queue at the start line.  I was wearing an old pair of sweat pants / top that never quite fit right and had planned to ditch them at the road side a couple of minutes before the start.  Despite the cold temperature I felt pretty warm standing among thousands of other runners so I stripped of the sweats and chucked them to the side of the road.  I think when I pulled down my sweatpants my race belt (containing gels and taxi cash), unbeknown to me at the time, went with them.

The Run

Following tradition, the countdown to the start was in Cantonese.  Sap! Gau! Baat! Chat! Luk! Ng! Sei! Saam! Yi! Yat! Then the horn blasted and we were off.  I was about 20 or so meters back from the front so it took 30 seconds or so before I reached the Champion Chip timing mat.  By the way, why do people try to start “running” before reaching the start line?  Basic physics or common sense would tell us that it should take a bit of time to spew thousands of queued runners out onto a relatively narrow course.  It reminds me of driving on a congested freeway.  There are always motorists that are somehow “special” or in more of a hurry than anyone else and try to cut-in and lane-swap their way forward.  This can only result in increased congestion and reduced net speed overall—for everyone on the road.  It only takes a handful of “special people” or let’s just call them manufacturers of inefficiency, to create an utter mess.  Keep in mind that I am only ranting about what happens before crossing the starting line. Naturally, everything that happens after that is a race.  Perhaps next time I will consider starting the race wearing a gas mask while double-fisting pepper spray—but then that would make me one of the special people wouldn’t it?  Damn.

My target for the race was to run a PR at sub 1:43 (set in Nottingham Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham, UK).  I didn't really have an aggressive plan of how to beat this time and just figured that I would know by the halfway point if I was feeling strong enough to go for it.  I would need to run an average of 4:50 splits to get there.  I decided to up the tempo just slightly so that I could be close to a 4:50/K average by the halfway point but not so much that I would blow up too early.

Kilometers 1 - 5 cumulative average split: 05:06

Somewhere around 8 or 9K I saw Thomas Kiprotich zoom by the on the opposite side of the road in the lead.  He looked relaxed and graceful holding onto a lead of around a minute.  Gi Ka Man (紀嘉文) came by in second but was visibly laboring in his pursuit of Thomas.  It must be a mixture of frustration and fortune for local Chinese runners to have to regularly compete with a super fast Kenyan that hangs his hat in Hong Kong.

At the 11K mark I was still holding on to a good pace and roughly calculated that I was on schedule for a PR.  The final   6K after emerging from the Western Cross Harbour Tunnel would be the deciding factor.  I would need to have significant fuel in the tank to power over a series  of rolling hills.  I felt the onset of stomach cramps but used the old trick of switching my inhale breath to sync with the opposite foot.  After a few minutes the cramps were gone.  It also helped to have the distraction of seeing the leading pack of Kenyan runners float by on the opposite side of the road for the full marathon.  It looked like a group of 10 or so runners all in a tight bunch so as to control any surges or breakaways.

At 12K I reached down for a Gu but to my surprise my race belt was not there.  I spent the next kilometer cursing myself for my stupidity after finally figuring out that I left it at the start line with my sweat pants.  I knew that there was nothing to be gained by dwelling on the mistake.  I had an important decision to make very quickly.  I could either decide that the lack of Gu already cost me a chance at a PR and just ease up on the pace or I could stay focused and improvise by taking on more of the Watsons Iso-tone energy drink that was available at each aid station.  I'm glad that I chose the latter--despite additional adverse consequences that we will get to later.

When I reached the entrance of the Western Tunnel I recalled how miserable I was at this same spot during the full marathon a year earlier.  That brief reflection gave me a bit of a boost and I charged through the tunnel.  The tunnel is about 2 kilometers long.  The first half is downhill and the second is up.  I lost satellite connection on my Garmin 310XT so I didn't know my splits (and still can't figure them out).

Kilometers 6 - 13 cumulative average split: 4:54
Kilometers 1 - 13 cumulative average split: 5:00

I didn't have all of this math figured out while on the run but this clearly indicates the importance of running even splits!  A 0:0:12/K pace increase after the slow first 5K only resulted in 0:0:06 improvement of net average pace.  To get a PR, I would have needed to run the final 8K to the finish at an average pace of 4:30/K.  Its entertaining considering this now as it is clear that there is no way I could have pulled off that pace; however, I didn't know that at the time and still had high hopes as I emerged from the Western Tunnel.

Not long after the tunnel the rolling hills made their appearance.  My legs were not responding and I started to struggle with some GI issues probably connected to the Is-tone stuff.  Within the span of nearly a kilometer I realized that today was not a PR day.  I didn't drop the ball entirely though.  I kept the legs turning over and ran through Central, Wanchai and finally into the finishing district of Causeway Bay.  Once in Causeway Bay it is a much easier to run with your chin up as the streets are lined with supporters cheering and chanting every runner passing by.

The last kilometers passed in a blink and I crossed the finish with a reaction-less expression.  I thought to myself, "Well, at least this was a decent Sunday long run in the bank."

Despite having IM France as my "A" race for 2011, I'd still like to think that I can improve my PRs over various running distances while I am at it.  I don't think I can safely cling to that as a goal though.  If it happens then great but nothing is more critical to me than building the fitness necessary to finish in France.

Run Time: 1:47:18 (18 seconds slower than the HKDRC Half marathon I ran 4 months earlier--which is a much more challenging course. )

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