I’ve become a big fan of birthday races. Instead of the usual focus on time/results, I’m generally filled with gratitude about my good health, that I’m *able* to run at all. I ran my first “birthday race” 4 years ago, at the 2012 Healdsburg Half Marathon. It was then that I met Angela and Cathryn for the first time. I also scored a 5 minute personal best in the midst of CIM training, so you can see how Healdsburg occupies a special place in my heart.
Fast forward 4 years, and the idea of running Healdsburg again as a birthday race/training run for CIM came up. Cathryn signed up, Jess decided to book a flight to CA, and Angela realized that she too can make it. So the plan was set!
Jess flew in on Tuesday night before the race and we got many runs in together, which was awesome. On Saturday, Cat drove over to meet us and we three drove up to Healdsburg together. Packet pick-up was super easy and the expo consisted of one tent of merchandise from the Healdsburg Running Company, whose initials just happen to be the same as the Democratic nominee for president. But that’s neither here nor there. In a happy turn of events, we managed to meet up with Amanda and Matt who had done a metric century bike ride in Cloverdale that day.
After chatting and catching up, we realized that we were all hangry (after skipping lunch) and headed toward Safeway, where we met up with Angela. We stocked up on essentials (water, breakfast, coffee) and sampled some wine before heading to our AirBnB in Geyserville.
We chilled out (and inhaled sushi) before making our way over to Catelli’s for dinner. It was literally a 3 minute walk – so convenient!
Normally, I don’t drink alcohol before a race, but since this was: (A) a birthday race, (B) a training run, and (C) in WINE country, I decided to indulge in a glass of red wine. Angela picked out a bottle for the 4 of us to share. Even though I broke my no-alcohol rule, I was quite conservative about my entree choice: linguini with clams in white wine sauce. It was really good and the clams were plentiful, but I think on a normal occasion, I’d go with something heartier or spicier. We were all too full for dessert, so we ambled back to the AirBnB for a quiet night of silly movies on TBS (Pretty Woman, Maleficient), picking out race outfits, and chatting. Oh, and drinking just a bit more wine. By 10pm, we were all ready to go to bed.
Angela had 6.9 miles to run before the race, so she was already gone by the time my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Cat, Jess, and I got ready and were out the door by 6:15. They were being good sports about getting there early so that I could run 3 warm-up miles before the race. Our early bird prizes: a prime parking spot and clean porta potties.
My plan for the race had wavered between doing marathon goal pace (MGP) and some kind of a progression run. Since I was supposed to run a “thirds progression run” the week before, I decided to go for that. The structure of the run is to run the first third at easy pace without a time goal, the second third at MGP, and the last third faster than MGP. After discussing my plan with Jess (I was struggling with what paces to run), we decided I should break down the run like this:
- 3 mile warm-up at whatever pace
- Miles 1-3 of the race: 9:30/mile
- Miles 4-8: 9:15/mile
- Miles 9-13.1: 9:00/mile
I was a bit nervous about the last portion, since these would be the last 5 miles of a relatively speedy 40-mile week. But I figured that I would at least try my best and see how it went. As for the other ladies, Angela was also doing a progression long run, but her goal was to run 20 miles for the day. Cat was going for a PR. Jess wasn’t sure how she would do, as she just ran her first 50-miler(!!!) 3 weeks before.
Pre-race warm-up (3 miles, no pace goals; actual splits: 11:11, 10:34, 10:24)
I ran in the pre-dawn darkness around downtown Healdsburg, where the houses are adorable (and expensive!). These miles were easy and over before I knew it. I made it back to the race start and used the porta potties one more time before meeting up with Jess, Cat, and Angela. We took some silly selfies and then the race started!
Race miles 1-3 (Goal: 9:30/mile; actual splits: 9:50, 9:24, 9:23)
The first mile was a bit slow due to a small but gradual climb, and also congestion. I had to weave around a number of runners, but things were pretty spread out by the end of the first mile. It was much sunnier/clearer than in 2012, so I took in the views of the vineyards and the hills. I focused on staying relaxed, but also focused.
Miles 4-8 (Goal: 9:15/mile; actual splits: 9:19, 9:15, 9:15, 9:17, 9:11)
It was really hard to run an even pace during this section because of the rollers. I took a gel at the beginning of mile 4 and spent a couple of seconds walking through the aid station. It was at this point that Angela passed me, complaining about not being able to breathe. I was worried for her, but she seemed to be doing OK and sped on ahead. It was still nice and shady for a while, though I figured at some point soon we’d be in full sun. I felt OK about this section, but I was worried about having to pick up the pace in the last 5 miles.
Miles 9-13.1 (Goal: 9:00/mile; actual splits: 8:58, 8:56, 8:50, 8:58, 8:14, last 0.1 at 6:38/mile)
I took my second gel at the beginning of mile 9. For motivation, I decided to hitch my wagon to a woman ahead who was holding good form (I’ll call her Lulu-girl, because she was wearing head-to-toe Lululemon). To my surprise, I looked down at my watch and saw I was running 8:4x pace without too much effort. That was short lived, however, as we approached the biggest climb of the course. I remember walking this hill in 2012, and it was one of the main reasons I didn’t run a sub-2 hour half. I paced off Lulu-girl for a while, but dropped her somewhere on this climb. This is the part where I started hunting people down. I focused on catching the next person, passing them, and repeat. It was definitely motivating to look down and see my paces in the 8:50’s. Every time I started struggling, I focused on running the mile as an interval or mile repeat.
When I got to the last mile, I decided to give it all that I had. There was a small change to the course, which diverted runners to the bike path for the last 3/4 mile. I quite liked this change, because I recalled from the 2012 race, a small but steep hill right before the long downhill to the finish. There was no hill this year – just all downhill. I had a momentary freak out when I looked down and saw that 8:2x/mile pace and that I might actually be able to beat my time from 2012 (2:00:37). Not only that, but I could run a sub-2 hour half marathon. So I focused on getting to the finish line as fast as possible. The crazy thing is that I felt SO FRESH in this last mile. I was zooming along and it was amazing!
I saw the finish line ahead and kept charging forward. I ended up running a 6:38/mile pace for the last 0.1 miles — I don’t think I’ve *seen* a 6:xx pace EVER on my Garmin! It was really awesome. What’s not awesome: my finish line photos. But they are funny/amusing at least!
Garmin stats: 1:59:36 (13.12 miles; 9:07/mile pace); 295 feet elevation gain
Official race stats: 1:59:33 (9:08/mile); 24/77 AG, 105/467 F, 218/700 overall
We regrouped after the race – I was the last one to come in out of the 4 of us, though Cat was waiting for her two friends, Lisa and Gladys, to finish. Despite breathing problems, Angela managed to nail her 20-miler. Cat missed her PR, but had a very valiant attempt. And Jess finished a few minutes ahead of me, beyond her expectations. The funny thing is that Cat, Jess, and I all ran our third fastest half marathons.
The weather, though hot for racing, was perfect for hanging out after the race. I picked up my Healdsburg pint glass (we had a choice between a pint glass or a wine glass) and also got some rice, beans, chicken, and chips. Like last time, it didn’t sound appetizing, but ended up hitting the spot with just the right blend of salt, protein, and carbs.
We eventually made our way back to the AirBnB to shower up and pack up. For lunch, we went to Diavola’s. I made the good decision of ordering the bicletta (similar to a wine spritz), but the bad decision to order the braised tripe. It occurred to me afterwards that I’ve only ever eaten a couple of pieces of tripe at a time, usually in pho. This dish was a FULL BOWL of tripe. I should’ve ordered pizza, which is the house specialty. You win some, you lose some.
Well, because this was a training run for CIM, this wasn’t a “race-race” for me, so there’s not that much to analyze. I was pleased to be able to hit my target paces for the most part. It taught me to have more faith and confidence in myself; that I should trust my training and fitness and not be so afraid of pushing myself. And then there’s this list of personal accomplishments:
- Negative split
- 3rd fastest half marathon
- 3rd sub-2 hour half marathon
- Fastest mile split in a half marathon (and faster than 10K pace!)
- According to Strava, I ran a 10K in 54:54, which is my 4th fastest (recorded) 10K split
- Another great birthday race in the books!
About the race:
I’m going to pull the “lazy blogger card” and send you over to Angela’s race report, which has a very comprehensive section about the race details.
My own 2-cents about the race: I think it’s a really well-organized race, though I’m disappointed that it’s more expensive than it was 4 years ago. The course is gorgeous, though hilly. The two years I’ve run it, the weather has varied between cold and foggy, and warm and sunny. Obviously, the cold fog helps with running faster times, but then you don’t get the views. This is a fun race to do with friends. I highly recommend it!