I didn't exactly leap out of bed this morning ready and eager to run the Cascade Half Marathon. The forecast was for rain and wind. Plus, I wasn't really prepared to run my best race. With my focus on the Eugene Marathon in 15 weeks (yeah, I'm counting!), I hadn't tapered or even adjusted my training to get ready for this one. I was feeling a little down about that. My vanity gets the better of me when it comes to racing: I always want to be in a position to get a PR, and knew that today that was not likely to be in the cards.
But I needed to run 13-15 miles and I really liked the Cascade Half when I did it a couple of years ago, and, truth be told, I just love to race. So I was out the door in the quiet dark of Sunday morning 7 a.m. for the 63-mile drive south from Portland.
And I'm sure glad I did it.
Turner is in the middle of the Willamette Valley, in the sticks about 10 miles southeast of Salem. The race has a great small-town feel, with number pickup and day-of-race reg taking place in a small, wood-paneled school gymnasium, where white-haired ladies smile, ask you your name, find the number that corresponds to it, write it down on a piece of paper and hand that to a white-haired fellow who retrieves a bag with your race bib and shirt (nice one, too). Watching that, my attitude improved.
And the weather wasn't bad at all. The roads were wet but hardly any rain was falling and the temperature was a comfortable 50 degrees. I wore a single layer—a long-sleeved technical shirt—and no hat, and felt great.
We got going right around 9 a.m. and I resisted the urge to chase the speedy dudes too intently in the opening miles, but still went out a little fast (6:27 and 6:36 splits). My half-marathon PR coming into the race was 1:28:53 but all I was really thinking about was sneaking under the 1:30 mark, a 6:52 pace. Those first few miles put some seconds in the bank, sure, but they also put a little hurt on me. I really felt this when the course turned into the wind for much of the next four miles, and I struggled with splits of 6:52, 6:55, 7:04 and 7:09.
Mostly I was running alone here, but after the turnaround—which I hit in 44:43—I at least had someone to chase: a tall guy in a blue shirt who was about 10 yards in front of me. His pace was just a little faster than what I had been running, so it was really helpful for me to try to maintain contact with him. This helped, too: The wind was now at our backs. I luvz me a tailwind, and miles 7-10 came in at 6:49, 6:53, 6:42 and 6:45. I was feeling pretty good, too, like I could run around 6:40 pace the rest of the way.
I passed Blue-Shirt Guy in the 11th mile, which I ran in 6:37. Not surprisingly, without him pulling me along, I immediately slipped to a 6:46 for mile 12. Luckily, a different dude eased passed me on the final mile and I gave chase. I knew if I ran fairly strongly over the 1.1 miles to the finish I might squeak out a PR. Down the final stretch I felt a little churlish racing past a group of three women who appeared to be wrapping up a fun 10K, but we all get to run our own race, right? It was hard to tell exactly where the finish line was, but I pressed stop on my Garmin at 1:28:49 (6:47/mile). I guess I was a little quick on the trigger, because the official results had me at 1:28:51*.
That's a PR, sure, but by two seconds. That strikes me as a little ridiculous, a two-second half-marathon PR. What's the point? But I'm happy about it for several reasons: It's still a PR; it reduces the embarrassingly high number of California-race PRs on my list (bad form for an Oregonian to be revealed as so California-oriented); it tells me that if I did point to and taper for a half marathon I might be able to run something in the 1:27s, which is the sort of fitness I definitely need if I want to make a serious go at three hours for the marathon; and, lastly, it was accomplished with a strong second half, a negative split of 44:43/44:09.
Some soup and excellent bread in the school cafeteria afterward got me in good shape for the drive home. It was raining steadily now, which was OK with me. My work was done.
*Organizers apparently revised the times and I became a second faster than I had posted earlier. So it's a PR by two seconds, not one.