Optimism Following a Decent Performance at Yesterday's Ventura Habitat Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran my first half marathon in about 15 months, the Ventura Habitat Half Marathon. My last half was the Marla Runyan Half Marathon in October 2012.

The course is run almost entirely on the Ventura River Trail from Ventura to Foster Park and back. My target was a time in the 1:27 range, a time that equates to a 3:03, or 7 minute per mile pace marathon. I managed to achieve a better than expected time of 1:24:12, good for 5th place overall and 1st master. I was particularly happy just to finish solidly, without any hamstring issues. Using my 2.1 rule of thumb (2.1 x half marathon time = projected marathon time), this time indicates potential for a 2:57 marathon...if I can get one or two 18 to 20 milers done in the next few weeks.

As with most races in recent years, I didn't take this one particularly seriously. But I did do one thing. I didn't run the day before. Yes, a mini taper. I take that back, slightly. I did run/jog/walk with the dog for 3 miles, but nothing intense.

The race started at 8 am. I set my alarm for 6 am and snoozed a bit more until 6:15. After readying myself for the cold I did a little warm up jog to help empty my system. I hopped in the car, stopped by the local donut shop for a warm blueberry muffin and cup of coffee. I figured a blueberry muffin is a step above a donut.

Josh Spiker of Vendurance Sports does a really nice job in his local races focusing on the things that really impact runners. He starts his races on time. His courses clearly marked, with clear mile markers. And he has plenty of porta-johns at the start of the race. As a highly competitive runner himself, he knows oh so well the things that really matter the most on race day. And it is well appreciated by folks like me that want to focus on running and not get sidetracked with logistics issues.

One thing Josh mentioned before the start of the race is that the 2nd half of the race should be roughly 20 seconds per mile faster than the 1st half, given the gentle climb to the halfway point. I took off at a pace that felt decent to me, which was roughly a 6:40 or so pace. It was cold out and I had gloves and a long sleeve shirt on, but after a mile I pulled off the gloves and later rolled up the sleeves on the shirt. And after scooting by a couple folks about a mile in, I ran alone the entire remainder of the race.

The beauty of an out and back course is that you get a better view of those in front of you and in back of you. It's a good way to measure how much distance you have on your competitors. I felt pretty confident at the halfway point that my placing in the race would be challenged, not that that would really matter, leaving me free to focus on how my body felt.

There was a song clearly in my head that kept me on pace the entire race. But a day later I can't remember it. It was an 80s song that I believe they were playing on the loudspeaker before the race. I felt my right lower shin twinge every now and then and I was afraid my right hamstring, problematic in recent years, would give out. That beat in my head kept me moving through my doubts.

I didn't track my splits during the race but the math in my head indicated I was somewhere in between 6 and 7 minute pace, well below 7 minute pace in fact, which gave me confidence that I was on track for a decent performance. It wasn't until mile 10, when my watch showed 1:05, clearly a 6:30 pace, that I felt clearly confident that, barring a sudden problem, I was having a good day.

In fact, the final 5K of the race I ran at a 6:12 pace and it didn't even feel that fast. I was starting to hurt while pushing it a bit over the last 2 miles, but with plenty of targets ahead (walkers start the race an hour before runners), I had something else to focus on.

Today is Monday I'm quite sore. Hoping with a bit of luck that my body will recover for a slow 20 miler this coming weekend, four weeks out from the LA Marathon.

Congratulations to overall winner, 30 year old Matthew Russell, who finished over 3 minutes before anyone else in 1:13:50. Yes, I could run that time at age 30. But not at age 50 :) Russell runs for Sketchers Go Run team and boy, he knows how to run. He actually wrote about the race himself at www.mattrusselltri.com. According to his profile, Matt is one of the top American athletes at the half ironman/Ironman distance. In 2011 he competed in his first Ironman World Championships as the third overall American in a time of 8:43. Six weeks later he competed at Ironman Arizona finishing as the first American in a personal best of 8:29 (subsequently improved to 8:19 in 2013).

The overall female was 42 year old Anissa Faulkner, who was right on my tail at 1:26:06.