Sunday, March 23, 2014

RACE REPORT: Savin Rock Half Marathon

March 22nd, 2014

Exactly one month from the day of the Colchester Half Marathon, I toed the line again for another half.  This time I wasn't sick and I just about executed the race perfectly!

The Savin Rock Half Marathon is put on by a local tri club, the Shoreline Sharks.  The race is in West Haven, CT and starts/ends right along the beach.  If you're a beach lover, you will love it!  Granted, it's not quite the time of year to hang out at the beach.  Not unless you have a winter jacket on at least.  The Sharks do a great job with the race.  There are police at every major intersection, volunteers at the minor intersections, five well stocked/run aid stations, cones just about everywhere (you certainly will not get lost), and a fairly challenging course.  I could easily see myself running this race again. 

The course itself is roughly four miles of flat, five miles of hills, and the final four miles are flat again.  The elevation profile is below.  The top is the mapmyrun profile versus my Garmin data below.  They're not THAT different, but the Garmin gives me 488 ft of elevation gain versus the 506 on mapmyrun.  However, I had to map this course myself to get that elevation on mapmyrun.  The course linked on the race website only states there is 207 ft. of elevation change.  Tricky!!

The day before was completely off of training and I used the time to run a number of errands.  In hindsight, I should have simply gone home and relaxed.  I spent way too much time on my feet.  Note for next month!!  

On race morning, I was up at 5:30a and had breakfast; three eggs over easy, a banana with peanut butter, and two pieces of toast.  I packed my bag and was out the door by 6am.  The race is 45 minutes south of where I live and I needed to arrive early for packet pick up.  However, in hindsight, everything is so central that I didn't need to leave myself that much time.  I arrived at the Savin Rock Conference Center at 6:45a; the place was a BREEZE to find.  I got my packet and got ready.  At 7am, I had a Picky Bar (All in Almond).  Around 7:40a, I went out and did a 10 minute warm up with a few striders thrown in and at 7:58a, I headed to the start line which is JUST outside of the conference center.

The race day weather was a low of 33, high of 58.  Being an 8am race, we wouldn't see any of the 50s.  haha  At race start, it was supposed to be 38 (feel like 31).  I opted to run in the same clothes I did Colchester in last month minus the hat.  It turned out to be perfect.

That's the beach we run along.  This is about mile 0.05 of the course.

The Race
Here's a quick run down of 'the plan.'  I wanted to run the first mile without looking at the data.  I had to run it comfortably and at a pace I could easily do another 12 miles at.  At mile 1, check your HR.  Where is it compared to threshold?  As long as it's within reason, how do you feel?; can you keep this up?  If so, go for it.  If not, ease up.  Then I would check in again around mile 8.  Am I holding my HR?, can I keep this pace?  If I can, try kicking it up a bit.  In the final miles, ignore threshold and just GO!  While I was going to let HR dictate the race, I secretly hoped for a sub-1:30 (6:52/mile). 

I stripped my Garmin of everything except one field with HR and a 2nd field with time of day.  Pace, averages, intensities, and all of that were off the table.  I set the auto lap every mile and that would be my pace indicator.

And we're off!!

Being pulled right along with the runners at the front, I took off.  However, I didn't push it.  I stayed comfortable for the first mile and tried to imagine how I'd feel at this pace for 13 miles.  I felt a slight push, but overall relaxed.  Good!  Mile one done!

Mile 1
6:29 / mile
166 bpm

I hit my watch to switch from time of day to HR.  I was at 170 bpm.  My threshold is 165.  Given that I haven't had a good test so far, 5 bpm was within reason.  However, I had an average 171 last month at Colchester and I had assumed it was high because I was sick.  So I was worried I was going to be dying in the final miles.  I started slowing down in an attempt to stay more relaxed.

We also turned off of the "boardwalk" and went from a constant breeze in our faces to nothing.  All of a sudden it started feeling a lot warmer.  

Mile 2
6:36 / mile
170 bpm

At mile 2, I had slowed a bit, but my HR was still around 170 bpm.  I felt much more relaxed and in a groove though.  I decided to take my first risk.  Let's stay here as long as I continue to feel relaxed.  As soon as I get uncomfortable, I'll back it off.

In order to keep focused on how I FELT, I switched my watch back to time of day and locked the keys.  I chose not to look at the HR until after mile 4 and see where I was.

At mile 2.5, we had our first water stop.  There were roughly 8-10 people at each station, mostly kids, and they went perfectly.  I grabbed a water at each station and had a swig or two.  

Mile 3
6:44 / mile
171 bpm

Still feeling comfortable, but still slowing down a bit.

Mile 4
6:42 / mile
170 bpm

This was the last flat mile and I had stopped slowing down.  Awesome!!  Mentally, I figured I had found the pace I could hold.

We hit another aid station at 4.5 miles and just before it, my 30 minute alarm went off.  I pulled out my GU Mint Chocolate gel and took maybe a third of it (What do you call it?  I can't call it a sip or a bite, it's neither liquid nor solid).  Then I hit the station and took a swig of water.  Perfect!  

Time for hills!!  haha

I rarely ever attack a hill.  If I do, my HR skyrockets and I have to spend time to bring it back down.  I will charge them on a 5k or a sprint tri, or at the end of a race, but not at mile 5 of a half mary.  What I do is shorten my stride, take a big breath at the bottom and try to maintain my HR all the way up the hill.  Yes, I pretty much always get passed on a hill, but most of those people I can pass back once we get to the top or the flat/downhill afterwards.  I much prefer keeping my breathing in check and pushing over the hill than trying to push up it.  

Mile 5
6:58 / mile
170 bpm

I knew that was coming!  But in my head, I was still under 7:00 / mile, so my dream of a 6:52 average was still within reach.  My HR was staying within reason.  It would jump to low 170s on a hill, but dip into upper 160s on downhills.  I was doing well.

Mile 6
7:17 / mile
171 bpm

I knew that was bound to happen as well.  In my head, that extra 17 seconds over 7 cancelled out the 6:42 I had earlier.  I was still well below 7:00 pace.  Yes, I was keeping mental track of where I was pace wise, but I was dictating pace in the moment by how I felt.  I only knew how fast I had been running once per mile and the mental game of calculating pace helps to keep my mind occupied as well as check on how hard I'm pushing.  Once I'm unable to keep track of paces or calculate them, I'm pushing beyond my threshold.  So far, so good!

We hit another aid station and I took another swig of water.  

Mile 7
6:52 / mile
171 bpm

That was a mile with a little less of an elevation change, but I was glad to see I still had that pace in me at this intensity.

Then I passed THE coolest house of the day.  I was racing, so I don't have pictures and I didn't drive back to find it, so next best thing...  Google Earth!

That is an aerial view of the house.  You can tell there is certainly an oddly shaped addition to the house.

Just as we turned left onto Benham Hill Rd, there was a house on our left that had a lighthouse spire on the back of the house.  If anyone was watching me, they saw me run that entire hill with my head pointed straight at that house.  As I was running by I thought "That is so cool!"

Then you run by it and find there's half a boat behind the house built as a deck!  WOAH!!  What a way to keep me distracted while chugging up a hill.  haha 

Mile 8
7:22 / mile
171 bpm

This mile ended at the top of a hill and at the highest elevation of the day.  So naturally, it was my slowest mile.  Again, I mentally averaged it with my 6:29 at mile.  I figured I was still under 7:00 pace, but certainly not as much as earlier.  I figured I was close to the 6:52 I wanted.

As prescribed, I mentally checked in.  I still felt comfortable though my legs would have preferred to take a break.  haha  I had been ignoring my legs all day, so I continued to do so.  I focused on my breathing and I was good.  I didn't quite feel comfortable kicking it up right away, so I opted to stay here until mile 9 and then I'll start pushing it.

One thing I was completely unaware of was that my attempts to keep my HR level were about 99.9% successful.  If you notice, my average HR only bounced one bpm from mile 2 through 8.  Therefore, despite hills, water stops, eating gels, and the like, I maintained a damn SPOT ON level HR.  Personally, I am super proud of that.  I can find a groove and just SIT there!

We hit another aid station and I pulled out my 2nd gel.  I would only finish half of it before the end of the race, but I decided to keep the nutrition going in anyways.

Mile 9
6:53 / mile
172 bpm

At this point, I checked back in.  I felt good.  I decided that I'd push it and see how I feel mile by mile. 

We had a nice long descent where I was able to open my stride again and let gravity do the work of finding myself a new groove.  I started reeling people back in as well.  I tried not to focus on them and over expend myself, but it's always fun passing people at the back half of a race.

I figured I was down to 6:40 at best.  My goal still was to hit the 6:52 average.  

Mile 10
6:26 / mile
173 bpm

WOAH!!  That was the fastest mile so far.  Granted, I had a nice little descent, but I double checked my HR wasn't skyrocketing and it wasn't; it was sitting in the low 170s.  That's exactly where I wanted to be.

I took sight of the next person I was reeling in and did my best to maintain my intensity.  We were back on flat ground as well.

Mile 11
6:34 / mile
176 bpm

I spent that entire mile closing the gap on this lady who was the 3rd female overall.  I had run 2-3 miles with her in the beginning and then she pulled away on the hills.  It was so satisfying to pass her back and pass her solidly; she wasn't coming back to get me.  Haha  I'm evil!

At this point, I also had stopped going by HR.  I looked at it out of interest, but I had unconsciously switched to completely going by feel.  Can I maintain this intensity?  Will I be able to hold it out?  Am I going to blow up?

I decided that I could hold it for two miles, or at least I was going to do my damnedest to try.  Having the beach right there also didn't help.  The beach doesn't feel like it passes by like houses or trees do.  You feel like you're going slower and distances take so much longer to pass.

Mile 12
6:31 / mile
177 bpm

Again, I only knew that my HR was high and that was evident enough from the fact that my breathing was audible, my arms were pumping hard to help maintain pace, and I was desperately looking for that next mile marker!

The final mile here was horrible!  I had increased the intensity back at mile 9 and held it well.  My body could certainly do it for another mile, but I tried to kick it up even more with one mile to go.  In part, I wanted to nail this race, but another part of me just wanted this horrible effort to be over with.

As I made the final turn back onto the paved path along the beach, I was so happy, but also mentally screaming "Where's the finish line?!?!?!?!"

Mile 13
6:23 / mile
179 bpm

Haha.  Well THAT explains it.  Not only was I negatively splitting a well executed half mary, I was running the fastest mile of the day.  Now I don't feel so bad for how loudly I was breathing.  And no, I did not look at the watch for that last mile split.  I was too busy trying to get air into my lungs.  Mental note: DO NOT FORGET the breathe right strips next time!!!

6:45 / mile
172 bpm

I did my best to smile for the camera, crossed the finish line, put my hands straight on my knees and stayed there for a half dozen breathes before I stood up, took my medal and a water bottle.  Thank GOD that wasn't a 14 mile race!!

Representing in PINK!

I finished and immediately changed my Garmin fields to show overall time and average HR.  The HR was 172, one bpm higher than the Colchester Half Mary was last month.  I was happy!  I was also only 70s off of my PR.  I guess I know what I should be getting next month.  The Chesire Half Mary is even flatter!

I hung out at the race site for a good while.  I changed into regular clothes, had a couple Subway veggie sandwiches (it was what they had for post-race food), watched the awards, and chatted with a friend who had come down to race.  We both nailed our race goals, so it was a good day all around.

Then I did the best thing I could do, I went to a local running store and tried on new shoes!!  haha  More to come on that later.

Overall, the race is GREAT!  This course is awesome.  I love having a few miles to settle into your groove, then the hills test everyone and spread them out, and the final miles are back to flat to let you just rip it out if you can.  The Shoreline Sharks put on a great race from all aspects.  The atmosphere was fun and low key, the safety was top notch!, the aid stations were great, the support on course was great!  I would definitely come back and race here again.


1.  What do you call eating a gel?  It's not a sip or bite; it's neither liquid nor solid.

2.  Have you ever felt that you've executed a race perfectly?

3.  Have you ever been worried during a race because of your metrics (HR, pace, speed, etc) and later discovered you were perfectly fine?
I was worried between mile 1 and 2.  Turns out I should trust my body to know how it feels.  

4.  What's the most distracting sight you've seen in a race?
The lighthouse/boat house was really cool!


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