Monday, September 17, 2012

Sandpoint's Scenic Half

Jayne Anderson turned to me as Bryan Rowe drove us all to Sandpoint. “You know what? Forty weeks from today, we’ll be racing Ironman Coeur d’Alene.”

I sighed. Forty weeks. That’s it. Just over nine months to go and I’ll be bracing myself to conquer the biggest race of my life. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day of the fortieth week out, than with two great people heading up to one great town for one of the best half marathons this area has to offer. They don’t call it Sandpoint Scenic Half for nothing. A close second to Coeur d’Alene, it has to be one of my favorite towns to visit, even if most (if not all) of the times I’m in Sandpoint are because of a race or event I’ve entered.

Attempting to will my legs to run again after suffering through a humbling run in Vegas, and encouraging my body to recognize what normal temperatures feel like, my recovery week after Worlds has finally ended. My 6 weeks of marathon training have quickly begun. Last year on this weekend, Mother Nature shrouded Sandpoint in clouds and a cold drizzle. I remember driving up with Rene Guerrero, peering through the windows of my car, begging the rain to stop. By the speed of my windshield wipers, it soon sunk in that getting soaked would be inevitable.

This year, sunshine warmed our faces as Bryan, Jayne, and me walked over to packet pickup, a table surrounded by vendors with coffee, SunRype fruit strips, Clif bars, and Ruby’s Lube (for all your chafing quandaries). Volunteers readied the post-race food table, laden with an assortment of fruit, cheese, bagels, cookies, and pretzels. If this race’s scenic course doesn’t sell you out on a great event, then the food table certainly does!

A handful of familiar faces greeted me as Bryan and I waded into the crowd running the new half marathon course. The national anthem was sung (quite well, actually) and within two minutes, Eric Ewing from Milliseconds Timing had us off and running.

Photo by Sandpoint Scenic Half Marathon.
So here’s the deal. The goal for the day seemed simple enough: start the first four miles at 7:40 pace, ramp up the middle 4 miles to 7:30, and run the final 5 miles at top marathon goal pace of 7:20. Bryan and I—despite our aching bodies (his as a result of being 2 weeks post Ironman Canada and nursing a bruised lung)—did a stellar job of running the first four miles at a consistent 7:20min/mile pace. Well played, Meghan. Well played.

As you may imagine, the plan for the rest of the run changed slightly. Now, it was all about holding that pace, which ended up being a bit of a challenge as the race progressed. Bryan and I just passed mile marker 4 when the first guy flew by us on his way back to town. I can’t remember exactly what Bryan said, but I remember being incredibly surprised that what he did say didn’t include a swear word. What went through my head certainly did.

This was about where it hit me: I'm not even half way done
yet. Photo by Jenny Yoakum. 
Not 6 guys behind the leader, James Richman passed us on his way back, too. I thought it kind of early for people to be looping back so soon, as last year’s turnaround occurred exactly at the halfway mark. You can imagine my surprise when Bryan and I turned back toward Sandpoint just a little over 5 miles into the run. Either those volunteers misjudged the distance and we would be running a short half marathon, or they added something to the end that would make for a serious mental nightmare with 5k left to go. (More about this later.)

Jayne ran alongside Jenny Yoakum and Jessica Fitzpatrick, imparting smiles as Bryan and I busted our butts trying to keep our pace. My legs started screaming by mile 7, so I decided to resort to distractions and noticed the scenery this course is named for. Paved trail. Large, open fields. Grass. Red and yellow leaves. Fall. I was pulled out of my distractions when Bryan and I passed a guy, still on his way to the turnaround, who kindly noted I was 10th woman. Spurred by the comment, Bryan turned to me and said something I don’t remember. I did notice a getup in his stride. Nice comments bring out the girl in all of us, I suppose.

Photo by Jenny Yoakum. What you don't see are the white
caps. What you don't feel is the headwind.
We approached the bridge that spans the river we’d swam across for the Longbridge swim two months ago. The headwind that slowed our pace also did a number on the water. I suddenly felt incredibly grateful to be running across the bridge instead of trying to swim through the waves below it. We gutted out an entire mile (and then some) over the bridge, making a nice barrier for one gentleman who found refuge in our wake. Last year at this point, just one mile remained before the finish line. This year? We hadn’t even made it through 10 miles. And that’s when she passed me.

Craig Thorsen: “So what are you going to do when she passes you?”
Me: “Let her go. I’m not racing tomorrow. Tomorrow is all about training for a bigger day, for a bigger race in Tri Cities 6 weeks from now.”
Craig: “Good.”

I have decided Craig knows me all too well. He asks me all the right questions. He feeds me just enough detail. He imparts knowledge only a seasoned mentor could know. Yesterday, during our bike ride, the topic of the race came up. Of course he wondered how Miss Competitive would tolerate a girl passing me when the aim of this “race” was to serve more as a training “run”. Well, Craig? I let her pass me. I friggin’ let. her. pass. me.

We made that final turn toward the finish line, when volunteers smiled and cheered, only to motion us off to the left on some tangent that was to serve as our final 5k of torture before we could cross the finish line. They had no idea what a mental disaster they caused. Nonetheless, we did as were told and forged ahead on new trail. Again, I needed a diversion from the tiredness in my legs and tried to concentrate on the scenery. The water to my left looked like glass, and a green canoe with two occupants took advantage of the conditions to hang alongside the trail. James again passed us on his way to the finish line, having already made the turnaround. I started counting girls headed back my way. One wore all black, one skimmed along in a bright turquois tutu, and one…

Her. Just ahead. In pink. The girl who passed me at mile 9 ran just 10 yards ahead as I approached the turnaround. We rounded the turn together, and for some reason, I beat her out of it. I ran the same pace I’d approached the turnaround in, and I looked nowhere but forward as I finished that final mile before taking the left turn toward the finish line. Let’s just say she crossed the line after I did, even when I ran a controlled 7:24min/mile pace that final 3k. (All for you, Craig. All for you.)

Scenic, no? How Jenny was able to run and take pictures
totally eludes me, but thank you for capturing all the
scenery, Jenny!
Another Scenic Half Marathon rests in the books; another age group win to my credit. Bryan enthusiastically looks forward to racing the Tri Cities Marathon with me in 6 weeks after having successfully run 13.1 miles without succumbing to a broken lung. The post-race food tasted just as good as it looked before the race. Yet it was the water. I couldn’t take my eyes off the water table, covered by cup after endless cup. It took everything I had to keep myself from grabbing at every one, using several to douse me, drench me. Others I’d use to quench thirst I didn’t really have. Why aren’t people throwing water at me? I’ll never look at water and ice the same way again, not after what I remember from last Sunday, the wave of cool relief water and ice provided from the heat of Vegas. Yet a marathon beckons.

Let the speed work, the tempo runs, the 20-milers begin…

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