Thursday, January 7, 2016

Frozen Fingers Half Marathon Race Report

The Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon runs through downtown Scottsdale, which is a pleasant enough place, but not very exciting. The flatness of the course is an attraction because hills slow down my pace. I had my fastest time in a half marathon ever in this race. I thought that it would be a good idea to sign up for it, but I had not done an open half marathon in two years. This lapse of time had dulled the memory of how tedious it was to run 13.1 miles of flat terrain.

Normally, December is chilly in the Arizona deserts, but it warms up during the day. This year, it had suddenly gone from hot to miserably cold, with nothing in between. The usual intense warmth of the sun, which would always vanquish the cold, had turned into a blithering weakling. It couldn’t be counted on to do much at all. I hated even stepping outside because the nastiness of the air made me shudder.

Race day was no exception. It was 37 degrees. This was not a nice temperature. The cold was aggressive. People who live in cold climates might think it’s mild, but sweating through 110 degree summers destroys cold tolerance. Waiting around outside to start was difficult. They had a bag check for warm up clothes, but the tiny bag did not hold winter coats.

Normally, I get hot when I am running, so I don’t wear much. A short sleeved running shirt with arm warmers and shorts or capris is enough. The arm warmers come off as the run progresses.

If desperate enough, I will add cheap gloves to keep my hands warm. Most of the time my hands warm up quickly in a run.

Miles one to three: The temperature was a blazing 39 degrees at the start of the race. I ran conservatively for the first three miles on the theory that I could build speed. My core warmed up, but my hands did not, like they were disconnected from the rest of my body. I had gloves, but I did not want to wear them. The gels I fed myself for energy dripped on everything. Sticky fingers could be wiped off; my gloves would get crusted with it. As a result my painful fingers felt even colder with the gooey coating.

Should have worn these.
I half-hoped that since I had a personal best on this course, maybe it could happen again. The possibility was unlikely, since all year I had been coming back from a 2014 hamstring injury.   I wanted to run what I considered a good pace.

Miles three to ten: After three miles,  I tried to increase my effort, but I wasn’t going much faster, with fatigue setting in. My hands still hurt. I ran past a field basin that was covered in frost, a testament to the absurdity of the weather. The thought of running hard for more miles was daunting. 

The problem with a flat course is it’s boring. Some races break up the tedium with bands every mile. I wish I had music now. Or maybe guys in women’s clothing for a laugh. Suburban Scottsdale was not visually stimulating. A half marathon was a long way to run hard with nothing to distract me. I wasn’t going to sign up for another one anytime soon. The pace was a struggle to maintain. My hoped-for time goals vanished until just the last ditch ones were left. 

Miles eleven to finish: Please kill me now. A magical burst of energy at the end was not happening. The last few miles on the bike path had short hills that went up and down and even that was a lot of effort. They would have been nothing in an ordinary run, but now they were mountains. My hands still hurt. This flat course had become more difficult than five years ago. Old age is unforgiving and maybe I am falling apart. Still, my pace was faster per mile than the 5k I did in January of this year, which was a grudging sort of progress.

The finish line was a welcome sight. I could stop the pain. No matter how a race goes, at least I could say I completed the event, even if I couldn’t feel my fingers.