The LaceUp running series came to Southern California this year, with four racing days in Ventura, Palos Verdes, Irvine, and Riverside, respectively. My friend, Michael John, was the lead ambassador to this series and asked me to join. This entailed a few free race entries, so I ran the Ventura half marathon (1:24 and change after a long bike the day before), paced (1:30) the Irvine race the weekend before, and opted to race the Riverside half marathon.
While this was my fourth half marathon in three months, it would be only my second seriously raced half marathon this year. Previously, I posted a 1:17 at the Sendai International Half Marathon in May. The Riverside half marathon was my last full-on effort of the year and it came after a few weeks of a challenging build period, so while I was somewhat tapered for the event I was still a bit sore. That said, it was only a half marathon so I wasn't sweating it too much.
The race started and ended in Fairmount Park and spent the bulk of the run on the Santa Ana River Trail (SART). I lined up at the start close to the front and a few skinny guys with short shorts stood next to me. This is usually a death sentence in long distance running. As we started about six or seven guys were in front of me (including a few in the 10K) but by about four minutes I was in the top five. We ran up a hill to begin, down the hill, along a short flat, then back up a hill, then hung a right on Mission Inn Avenue. This is a fairly long descent that would be fun running back up at mile 12. The guy with really short shorts who I suspected was going to win was way out in front by the time we hit the Santa Ana River Trail. My buddy, Michael John, stayed strong through the first two miles but had to drop back a bit after that so he wouldn't blow up.
By mile four or so we hung a left off of the trail and into a neighborhood. My average pace was around 5:45/mile, and around this time I passed the third placed guy who was fading fast. As I passed him I stayed wide and then surged for about 20 seconds to make sure I could drop him. I had been hoping to keep my heart rate around 169-170 beats per minute (as that is what I had averaged in Sendai). But by mile 4-5 my heart rate started to drop closer to 165-166 bpm. I just could not hold the higher pace, and the guy in front of me (second place) was starting to create some distance. My right achilles/calf was also still a bit tight and I was really struggling but by about mile six we came back onto the SART and I started to see runners making their way onto the neighborhood loop. This was very helpful as it helped my motivation.
Back on the SART, I got back into my rhythm -- although by this time my pace was averaging closer to 5:50 on my Garmin watch. As I passed the mile markers I started to realize that the distance did not quite meet my Garmin. That is, the mile markers said we were at eight miles but my watch said 7.9 miles. We wended along the trail that had some short inclines and declines and finally made the turnaround around 9 miles. This meant I just had to run four miles back along the way we came. The next two miles were made a bit easier by seeing runners coming the other way. I saw a few people I knew and we encouraged one another. The last two miles were basically just booking it along the flat trail then making the long, steep climb up Mission Inn Avenue. I started passing some of the slower 10K runners/walkers at this point as I really dug deep all the way to the finish. I came across in third place in 1:15:30 or thereabouts, just only about two minutes back from the winner.
Overall, it was a good, but challenging, race for me. The combination of the inclines (which was not crazy but still hard for a PR race), lack of crowds/fan support, and the fact that I was basically running alone for 3/4s of the race posed a unique challenge. But in the end, it was good fun, and afterwards I had a blast with some of my friends hanging out in the beer garden.
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.