Yesterday I ran my first official half marathon race. While I have covered the actual distance (13.1 miles) many times over due to my marathon training, I had never run a half marathon race up until yesterday. I had signed up for the Fa La La Half Marathon shortly after I finished the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in November. Little did I know how cold it would be this Saturday for the race, but I can already tell you that I really enjoyed the race yesterday even though it was just 3 degrees outside when the race started and not much warmer when I passed the Finish Line.
I drove up to Westminster and arrived about 45 minutes before the start of the race. The outside temperatures were not pretty. My car displayed 3 degrees as the current temperature and that’s how it felt like. Fortunately there was no wind at all and the sun even made a short appearance. I put on a warm jacket and checked out the start area and use the Porta Pottie on the way back. I got back into my car and turned on the heat again. My feet felt cold just from being outside for about 10 minutes. The mesh material of a normal Nike Pegasus 29 is not a good match for these type of weather conditions, but more about this later.
I put on my remaining race gear and attached the bib to my running tights. Then I just sat in the car and stayed warm. I left the car at around 8.45 AM and headed over to the start area where a group warm-up session was in progress. I used the Porta Pottie one more time and then did my own warm-up and pre-race stretching. To protect myself from the cold and possible wind I was wearing a plastic trash bag which made me look different as I apparently was the only at this race doing it, but hey – when it is that cold anything goes, right!? Then it was time to line-up for the start. The organizers of the race actually had us move onto the other side of the Start/Finish gate so that we were going to run into the right direction. Initially I had planned to bring a camera or phone, but with these temperatures I decided against it. I was afraid that getting in and out of the gloves during the race would be an issue (it was – more on that later). After playing the National Anthem the race director provided some more information about the course and then within a few moments we were on our way.
The course lead us through the Open Space area in Westminster near the US 36 highway. The course was a double out-and-back course made out of roughly 60% paved surface and 40% soft trail surface. However, it had snowed a few days ago and 95% of the course were covered by snow. Fortunately it was not slippery and my Nike Pegasus 29 had no issues finding good grip on the ground. When I was out running last Wednesday I had a few more problems in some areas here in Highlands Ranch, so I was happy with how things went up in Westminster. I did not keep track, but I think there were 5 aid stations with mainly water, but 2 or 3 had Gatorade and Gu Gels. Here was one of the biggest issues today – it was so cold that the water froze in a matter of moments. The first Gel that I grabbed barely came out of the pouch and I had to slow down/stop to be able to squeeze it out. I can see how the race organization had no way around this problem and overall they (and the volunteers) did everything they could to accommodate for the cold temperatures.
The course was fairly flat and the few hills actually were great to pass other people – they slowed down, I didn’t (thanks to my intensive marathon training with lots of long hills). I did start out conservatively to make sure my muscles were warming up correctly to reduce the risk of injury. I stayed behind a few people who seemed to run a good pace, but after the first mile I realized they were too slow and holding me back. I started to run a bit faster and passed a lot of people along the way. My pace came down to about 9:30 (average) and I felt good running at that pace. At around mile 6 I had a short moment where my legs felt tired, but I was able to shake off that feeling fairly quickly. I admit, when it is very cold outside I have to go (number 1) a bit more often and so I had to hit the Porta Potties at around mile 7.5. Due to the cold this stop took a bit longer than anticipated. Especially getting back into the 2 pairs of wet, sweaty gloves was a bit of a challenge due to the cold temperatures. When I was back on the course I felt strong and picked up my pace to get back to where I was before. I started passing people again that I had passed before and I would say that within a mile/mile and a half I was further ahead in the field of runners compared to before my bio break.
I kept going, but from mile 8 on the course was mainly uphill – not very steep, but when I checked later on what my GPS watch had recorded I got confirmation. From mile 9 I ran a bit faster and started passing more people. Around mile 10 I grabbed another GU Gel, warmed it up in my hand while running and used about half a mile later for a final boost. The field of runners started spreading a bit more thin. I wasn’t sure how many people were ahead of me at all and so I kept going faster and faster. My splits later confirmed this for me.
Mile 9 1.00mi 9:28 9’29″/mi
Mile 10 1.00mi 9:17 9’14″/mi
Mile 11 1.00mi 8:57 8’58″/mi
Mile 12 1.00mi 8:15 8’16″/mi
Mile 13 1.00mi 7:20 7’21″/mi
Finally I passed a sign saying “One more Mile” and it was a good feeling to see that. It was very cold and I knew that I was sweating a lot. Time to wrap up this thing and finish it. I increased my speed a bit more and passed more people, but it became more difficult to do so because at this point the distance between people was bigger than before. In the distance I saw the Finish area and I had only 3 runners visibly ahead of me. I was able to pass 2 of them, but I let #3 go for 2 reasons. For one I admit that I had given pretty much all I had and it was going to be a very close call and second the race organizers had photographers positioned at the finish line and I figured being alone on the final photo would not be a bad thing. I was happy with the outcome and so I slowed down a tiny little bit and enjoyed the moment having this half marathon finished.
I received my finisher’s medal and then walked through the post-race area where I grabbed some water, but the bottle was half way frozen (and so were all the others). I grabbed some (frozen) chocolate milk and a breakfast burrito as well. I overheard a conversation of a few other runners about their GPS watches and the distance they had recorded. I joined their conversation for a little bit, but then the group broke up after a short while. It was 40 minutes until the award ceremony would be held, but I started getting a bit cold and decided to wait it out in my car. I wasn’t sure if I would stay or not. Back at the car I turned on the engine to get some heat going and ate the burrito. Usually I cannot eat right after a long run, but the chocolate milk was totally frozen and I wanted to get some carbs and some protein going for refueling after this run. The car engine warmed up slowly and I able to get some hot air from the heating. I changed into some dry clothes (T-Shirt, Sweatshirt, and shoes and socks) and then made up my mind about staying or leaving. “Leaving” won and so I left the parking lot and drove home.
Later in the afternoon I received notification that the race results had been posted. I checked online and discovered that I came in as #69 of 288 runners. I was #13 in my age group (40-49) out of 25 and I was #42 out 103 men contestants. But for me really just the time counts and finishing this race officially in 2:02:01 made me very happy.
Fa La La Half Marathon Conclusion
The Fa La La Half Marathon was a good race. I liked the course and I was very happy with my time. I enjoyed course because it was pretty much completely away from street traffic and it was just Open Space area. The race was well organized and the organizers (All-Out Multisport Productions) simply had to deal with weather conditions that were not normal. I am not sure if they could have done anything different about the water stations and the water in the cups freezing almost immediately. In these temperatures water freezes in minutes and it was pretty much impossible to do anything about that. Even setting up tents and gas space heaters would have not done much difference in my opinion – so, definitely no blame from my side. So, the Fa La La Half Marathon was well executed and I will consider other races held and organized by this company for sure. The next race they do is in January, but I am also looking at another half marathon just one week after the Polar Prowl that All-Out Multisport Production is hosting. I am undecided as running both would be cool, but it gets expensive as I have to pay the race registration out of my own pocket.
The race pictures have not been published just yet and I will update this posting once the pictures are online. What I like about this race is that the organizers do not charge you for the photos.