Sunday, 23 January 2011

PCTR Pacifica 21k

View of Pacifica from 1/3 of the way up

Pacifica and San Francisco in the background

Really lucky today with amazing weather again for a PCTR race. No rain in the preceding week and bright sun with temperatures up to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit by the finish (in January! I knew there was a reason I came to California).

I opted for the half marathon, not sure how I'd feel after racing hard last weekend, and felt surprisingly good. It's a fairly tough course, with over a 1,600ft climb up Mt Montara, then back, followed by two smaller climbs of about 400ft and 800ft. There were also 30k, 50k and 9k (without the mountain) options, but the other courses basically involved duplicating parts of the 21k route, so I got to see everything

My aim was to try to avoid walking at all and to hammer the downhills, given I've had a chance to start hill training, but still have a long way to go. And I'd been challenged to a race by Will Gotthardt, so expected him to lead on each climb, then to play catch-up on each downhill.

Instead, I was in a pack of four (including Will and Leigh Schmitt, and Leigh was running the 50k) to the top of the mountain then ran on my own for the last bit of the climb and back down. There were dust-free views for miles out to see and towards San Francisco, although I was starting to feel the climb by the point these got really spectacular. Luckily, I have some photos from hiking there a few weeks ago.

After that I really went for it on the downhill and felt good on the funnelled single track which was still full of people on the way up. After that the track got wider for a really fast running surface and I went about as fast as I ever have, comfortably running sub 5-minute mile pace (never thought I'd be able to say that...even if it was downhill) and getting closer to 4:30s nearer the bottom. This made it hard on the thighs for the switchbacks given each involved braking completely to do a 180, but I didn't have 50k to pace for, so it was worth the effort.

Then the 400ft climb came along, which I'd expected to be easier, yet I ended up walking several times even though it wasn't steep. The first climb had sapped my uphill fitness. I cruised down the other side to catch my breath and dreaded the final ascent ahead.

Luckily I could see a fair way back on the course when I started that last hill and couldn't see Will, so I thought I'd be safe as long as I didn't walk too much. In the end I did jog most of it at a crawl, but still had to walk many times for short sections. Not because it was steep, just because climbing is still feeling very hard, but hopefully runs like this will change that soon.

The last two hills didn't have the vistas for miles and miles, but were still in pretty sections of parkland. And the final downhill was wide enough track to race at a high intensity (10 minutes for the last two miles...technically a PB, especially given the switchbacks taking pace off every now and then), passing 9k runners, some of whom I'm sure I scared the crap out of  (especially the ones with earphones).

I'd hoped to get somewhere close to the CR of 1:32, which would have required some sensational downhilling to make up for the time I lose on each climb. So 1:34:52 was a real confidence booster. Will came in in 1:40 and Leigh won the 50k (I think...but haven't seen confirmation), with fellow PCTR Team member Caren Spore breaking yet another CR in the 30k.

I think my flat and downhill running is better than ever, so if I can just sort out the uphill stuff with a few months of intensive training then I reckon I could be in for a great season. It'll also make these races so much more enjoyable - currently I'm struggling so much uphill that it feels much less fun than it should...or did last summer.

But overall a great day out in the Bay Area and lots of people to meet at the finish. Michael Popov (PCTR management) was there looking ridiculously fresh for 1 week after the HURT 100 in Hawaii and he had nothing but good things to say about that race. So it just confirmed that I want to enter the lottery for that beast for 2012. It'll even keep my wife happy to have an excuse to go to Hawaii again :)

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