Friday, July 6, 2012

Semana Nautica 15K Race Report

Summer came to Santa Barbara right on schedule.  Toward the end of June, the gloom gave way to sunny, warm, dry mornings, and sleeping past 5:30 am with open curtains became a struggle as the bright radiation beckoned for the days in paradise to begin.  But with this welcomed change of season, came also a change in my running.  I am not a heat runner.  Thankfully there are not many hot days in my area, but on the occasions that they arrive, running begins to hurt.

In preparation for the Semana Nautica 15K, I ran the course a few times in the weeks prior.  Although I had never actually competed in this race before, I had grown quite accustomed to the course as I had helped a few ladies train for it last year.  I always race better when I know where I'm going and what to expect.  So in the heat and dryness of our new weather, I set out on my first course preview run.  The result was psychologically damaging.  I felt utterly wilted and out of shape.  My lungs struggled to get enough dry air into my body to keep myself in forward motion.  I felt every gentle slant of the road and longed for the slant to go the other way, just for a moment of recovery.  Foolishly I didn't carry water (but then I never do) and my thirst became completely mind consuming.  I had ample time to think and my prevailing thought was "what the heck is wrong with me."  After such a rough go, I decided to cut that first course preview short and finished after 6 1/2 miles. 

The next day I hit the course again, this time feeling only slightly better.  I have had many wonderful runs here of late but this was not one of them, and as I struggled through the warm, dry morning's 10 miler, again I found myself pondering why I was feeling so awful.  This time, with some difficulty, I finished the run and managed to keep my pace slightly under 7:00 per mile, but there was no ease to it.

One more time the following week I ran a final course preview, and again the sun beamed down through dry morning air.  This time the temperature was decent and I did feel ever so slightly better, but still not the greatest.  By this time I decided I did not like this course.  There isn't any real reason to dislike the course, but since it has now kicked my butt three times.  I decided not to like it.

The reality of the matter is that running in the heat takes adaptation.  It is much harder for the body to maintain a safe, healthy temperature while running in 80+ degrees.  The course was not the culprit, the summer weather was.  Therefore I began watching the weather reports and forecasts as the 4th of July race approached.  If only it could revert back to June gloom just for one more day.

Race day came and when John and I awoke that morning, my heart, mind and body sang joyfully ... "This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it."  It was June gloom all over the place.  Cloudy, foggy, marine layer hung over the mountain.  No sunshine, and even a bit of mist hovered and settled. 

With much relief and several layers of clothing, we arrived at the race and mingled with nervous runners.  So much of the dread I had been feeling evaporated and was replaced with a sense of peace.  I knew my race strategy and now felt like I could possibly do it some justice.  I set my goal sparingly with a wide range.  I needed to run at least a 6:20 pace, but that would have been the slow end of my satisfaction scale.  I would have loved to run a 6:10 pace, and would have settled with anything in between. 

Photo by Jarrett McFarland
A 15K, or as I looked at it, a 3 x 5K, is a nice distance.  After having run much shorter races lately, it was nice to take off in a relaxed pace and just sort of hang there for a while.  I planned on taking the first 5K a bit easier and really did a good job of disciplining my effort.  It helped to have a great group to run among.  They were steady and there was a mutual lightness to the effort that gave me confidence that holding back now would pay off in the end.  The first 5K was over in 19:41 and I was feeling fabulous.  It is hard to understand why running over this same stretch in the weeks prior at a pace that was at least a minute per mile slower, was near impossible, but now at a much quicker clip it felt almost effortless. 

As we made our way through the middle miles of the race, I was able to enjoy the gestures of the spectators.  I heard my name several times and although I don't usually show it during a race, I felt such gratitude.  I picked up the pace during these miles and saw my 6:20 pace start to slide down a bit.  There was a 6:10 mile mixed in among 6:14's and 6:12's and I was still running in the comfort zone.  I knew I had 3 females ahead of me and became anxious to see how the final miles would play out.  It wasn't long before I saw a blond pony tale bobbing around on a runner up ahead.  I could tell already that her pace was slowing while mine was remaining steady with still more in the tank.  By the time we began our final 5K I caught her.  She didn't want to let me pass, and tried to pick up her pace while at the same time cutting off my inside line along the bike path.  I love to see a runner fight for position but I didn't appreciate being cut off unnecessarily.  It didn't bother me for long as I passed her and left her in my wake.

As I had hoped, running conservatively at the beginning made the final miles of the race stronger.  I was able to pick it up yet again in the final miles, although at this point there was no longer any comfort to speak of.  The worst feeling in a race is to get to those final miles and literally die on your feet.  There was no dying for me today and I was able to push through the final two miles, not at a blazing pace, but at least a respectable pace that really put the frosting on the cake for me.

I hit the line in 58:43, well within my goal and felt satisfied.  It was a well planned and executed race. I met my hope and expectation, but didn't yet exceed my expectation.  Maybe next time.  I was just happy to be able to run, and to run without pain.  This was the 58th Annual Semana Nautica, held on the 4th of July.  I wore, for the first time, my USA Olympic uniform (since I missed the World Championships last year I never got to wear it), doing my best to represent the spirit of the holiday.  This race was also part of the USATF Southern California Association road race grand prix, so we had to contend with the LA crew who came up to grab points, and I think Santa Barbara runners represented well.  As a USATF member, I was myself going for those grand prix points ... and got them.  By age grade, I was listed as the first place overall finisher in the grand prix contention.

So it was a fun way to start a great day.  I love to watch runners at the finish line.  Everyone is in the greatest of moods, having just accomplished something amazing, while nibbling on yummy food and re-hydrating themselves.  There is really nothing quite like that post-race elation.  Now that the 15K is in the history books, it'd be fine with me if our sunshine returned again.  Thanks for a great race Wally, and so very many wonderful volunteers.  Thanks so all of you.

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