Sunday, March 27, 2016

RACE REPORT: Inaugural New South Half Marathon at the US National Whitewater Center 2016

I was really looking forward to this race.  It would be my first in Charlotte, and it would be at a cool place.  The US National Whitewater Center has an extensive trail system, on the outskirts of the city, and it's a great place for all kinds of adventures: SUP, whitewater rafting, ropes courses, zip lines, obstacle courses, kayaking, mountain biking, trail running, food, outdoor gear shopping, live music, and craft beer.

Goals and Expectations:
- I've been running about once or twice per week so far this year, due to a busy work schedule and travel.  That won't get you any good performances, but I do have some endurance left over from last season.
- Since this was my first race in Charlotte, I didn't know what the level of competition would be.  In general, larger cities would have more competition.  Especially in a place like the USNWC, there ended up being a lot of dedicated athletes of all levels. 
- This race is part of a 5-race Half Marathon series, where you are scored for your three best races, based on your placement.  The top person gets 15 points, second gets 14, etc, down to 1 for the 15th place finisher for the Mens' and Womens' sides.  I wanted to do well here, to set the stage for a chance at a series prize.

There was a Marathon option for this race.  Marathon options at smaller races tend to only cost a tiny bit more than the Half, but taking on a Marathon is no small feat, and it wasn't counted towards the series points.  The Marathoners started one hour before the Halfers.  There were about 85 brave people who set out that morning.

Packet pickup was quick and easy.  They offered a finisher's gift choice of either a logo towel, or a logo buff.  Both were very nice, and in addition to a 50/50 poly blend t-shirt.  I chose the towel, since I have an arsenal of buffs (which I love to use during the winter, for warmth) already, and I'm low on towels. 

I did some dynamic stretching, topped off on some carbs.  I had eaten a bunch of carbs and fats the previous day.  Not sure if it was my body intuitively wanting to get ready for the Half, or if it was because it was craving those foods after two weeks in Japan.

The Race:
The race start was split into 4 waves.  I'm guessing that awards were based on net time, but it was good to spread out the crowd, since a lot of the course was held on single track trails.  We began with a lap around the main Whitewater venue.  On road races, I usually start with the gas pedal on, and I keep it on the whole time.  I started at about HM road race pace, with some slowdown on the uphill part of that lap.  I was sitting at around 5th, after that loop.  We hit the trails, and I kept that kind of effort up, although my speed naturally slowed.

With trail races on single track, I always wonder about strategy.  It may be better to go out a bit fast, to get a good position on the single track, but then you risk over-expending yourself early on.  So, I was feeling good about my approach, at first.  As we wound through the trails, I started getting passed, though.  This was around mile 3.

The first water station came at around 3.8, and I was glad to have it.  We started running through a section of trails that I had practiced on, once before - East Main.  There was lots of winding around, and some of the hills were a bit more serious.  At around this time, a thought came into my mind (which I had also thought during the Spartan Sprint in Atlanta), that this was probably going to be more of an expensive workout than a race, for me.  I wasn't going to do very well, but it was a good excuse to push myself and hopefully get back into shape.  This was about pushing through and trying my best.  Got passed by some more people.  This was at about mile 6.  There was another water station.

I got passed by more people again, as we entered the last section of the race, where we went through pine forests. It was pretty, but we were all struggling together.  The same 3-or-so of us would take turns passing each other.  I walked up the hills, and I did a bit better on the downhills.  At the beginning of the race, I'm always sizing up the competition.  During the race, though, everyone is so encouraging to one another.  Road Races are about me vs. the clock, me vs. myself.  In trail races, it's us vs. the terrain, particularly in the later stages when everyone's tired. 

I knew I'd be able to finish, even if it was slowly, just slogging through.  Cold Powerade tastes so good during races, even though I'd never drink it in normal life.  There were quite a few hills in this section, although there were some good flat stretches, too.  I was breathing really hard, groaning with each step at the effort.  Everyone in a quarter mile radius could probably hear me.  At the 10 mile marker, I was so happy to see it.  I almost went to kiss the sign, before I saw that it looked wet with sweat, since other people had probably decided to high-five it.  I pushed the effort up a bit in the last mile, and especially the last 1/3 mile.

Happy to finish, and to have a good selection of food (oranges, bananas, quinoa and butternut squash wraps, ketlle-cooked chips, cookies) at the end.  I met some new friends.  I was surprised to get a 3rd place age group award.  They also had a game that was like an Easter Egg Hunt (a NoDa brewery t-shirt hunt), where you got to win the shirt and a beer.  My mom says that my Geocaching skills helped me, haha.  I stayed around for a while, watching and cheering on the Half and Full finishers, stretching, drinking the beer, and watching Whitewater rafters and kayakers.

My legs were pretty trashed, afterwards, because of the effort, and I guess because of the hills and the eccentric contractions.  13.1 in 2:22:48, 10:54 average.  The winning woman finished in 2:06:38.  

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