Sedona Half Marathon 2017 Race Report

Looking pretty comfortable but reigning havoc on #mindbodysoul

The tough Sedona Half Marathon is in the books. There was nothing flat about the course. Nothing. Either you were going up or you were going down. You can blame the gorgeous red mountains surrounding the course or simply blame gravity; either way you will be running hills and hills and more hills!

While this is the toughest half-marathon I have run, it is also easily the most spectacular. The race support, volunteers, organization, crowds, punctuality, efficiency, etc. are all superb. Sedona itself is one of the prettiest places I have ever been to; and it’s less than 2 hours from where we live! If you are looking for a beautiful place to run and don’t care about your race time or speed too much, the Sedona Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k and 5k is highly recommended.

6:00AM: As expected, I had a sleepless night. That’s normal, The first thing I did after I got out of bed was to check the outside temperature. 37 cold degrees. Brrrrr. Fortunately, it would be in the upper 40s by race-time with a slight headwind.

I showered to get warm, drank half-a-cup of coffee, ate a Soleil bar and got dressed. From top to bottom, I decided to wear a shocking pink Headsweats visor, Rudy sunglasses, a generic blue neck-protector, a warm Ironman blue skin shirt with an Underarmour white tech t-shirt, my blue Lululemon shorts, Zensah orange calf sleeves, Asics performance socks and Saucony Kinvara shoes (nicknamed Arigato). I thought of Simi and Missy as I wore my blue neck-protector. It is from their wardrobe. RIP my pups. I miss you guys.

8:00AM: Binita drove me to the race start. The last half-mile of the drive was also part of the last half-mile of the course. It was straight up. I dreaded the thought of running all the Sedona hills. Ugh! I can’t stand hills. I would be cold and exhausted and hated the thought of running this race. I exhaled loudly at the thought of my imminent self-induced-torture.

8:30AM: I love the small-race atmosphere. It is not too crowded and people are generally friendlier. The red rocks surrounding us and the warmth of the sunshine lifted my spirits. It would be a tough race but I was up for the challenge. The announcer made random announcements about all the races (marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5k). At around 8:50, I removed my outer-layer and checked in my gear. I was ready. At 9AM, the marathoners were flagged off. A minute later, around 1,500 of us filled the narrow corral. I could see pace groups ahead of me. Somehow I managed to squeeze my way to towards the front but was still stuck behind the 2:00 hour pace group.

I had no real expectations from the race today. If I could do anything below 1:50, I’d be happy. With the hills and elevation (Sedona sits at 4,300+ ft above sea level), I would be ecstatic to finish anywhere around an 8-minute pace.

9:10AM: We were off. It was an out-and-back course.

Mile 1
The first half-a-mile was straight downhill. As expected, I started fast. Also as expected, there were tons of runners who were not actually running. I fail to understand why these walkers have to start in the front of the pack. I weaved my way through them and found a rhythm. As we reached the half-mile mark, we took a left turn on Dry Creek Road for our first uphill. My pace slowed. A few runners passed me. A girl in blue, another girl in blue, a guy in green, an old guy in gray, a girl in an Ironman Oiselle light-green outfit (Note to #Oiselle: please consider making men’s clothes). I lost count of how many passed me. I wanted to manage my heart-rate in the upper 140s and not pay too much attention to speed for the first 3 miles. So far, I was doing a good job with managing my heart-rate. I managed running the first mile at a 7:40 pace; faster than expected.

Mile 2
The second mile is straight uphill. My pace was slow but steady. My heart-rate was creeping into the low 150s now as more runners passed me. I was feeling the effects of elevation too. This would be a tough race. I already knew it. My thoughts wandered momentarily to the red rocks surrounding me only to return to my breath. I looked at my Garmin as it buzzed for the second mile only to find that my second-mile pace was 8:59. Ouch!

Mile 3
The 3rd mile has undulating hills. I looked around and saw how beautiful it was. It was a calm sunny day. I had already crossed the 5k turn-around and was now running smoothly. On the downhills, I was catching up to and passing runners only to have them catch me back on the uphills. I had to be patient with this ping-pong action. I was becoming familiar with a small group of runners. Two women in navy blue, an old guy in gray, the girl in the Oiselle outfit, a guy in a taxi outfit (black and yellow) and a girl in a red-and-black with some kind of Athletics logo. The last portion of mile 3 starts a steep downhill. I was happy to see that my pace even with the few hills for mile 3 was a pretty satisfying 7:46, but my heart-rate had crept up steadily into the 150s.

Mile Splits – Sedona Half Marathon 2017

Mile 4
The first half-a-mile is a solid steep downhill. I passed my whole running pack and was running with much faster runners now. It felt good to run downhill. My pace for a while was sub-6. Oh how I loved gravity! I concentrated on my stride and my arm movement efficiency. I visualized light foot-strike coordinated with smooth arm-movement. At the 3.5-mile mark, the course takes a left turn on Long Canyon to start a mini climb before another downhill section to finish the 4th mile. My pace: 7:37.

Mile 5
Soon after the start of mile 5, we took another left turn as the course began its second significant climb. It climbed gently at first and then got steeper and steeper. Ouch! Hello girls in blue, hello guy in gray, hello Oiselle. They all passed me. Oh how I hated gravity! For the first time, I saw runners walking. Obviously they had no idea how to pace and had already blown up; we had not even run 5 miles yet. I felt for them and said an encouraging word or two as I ran past them slowly and laboriously. I envied the Oiselle girl. She looked so smooth going uphill. I was straining. My 5th mile pace was a slow 8:41.

Mile 6
The uphill continued. Running got more and more painful. The course undulated up and then down and then tortuously back up again. I was still playing ping-pong with the small group of runners. More people were walking on the uphills now. The vistas were stunning. A few runners had stopped to take pictures of the long stream of runners ahead of us slowly chugging up the next hill. It was perfectly organized orderly chaos. I was feeling the elevation, the gravity, the hills. Another half-a-mile to the turnaround, I told myself as mile 6 came to an end. My pace; 9:10.

Mile 7
By the end of mile 6, I was beginning to feel significant signs of fatigue. My uphill pace was slowing. My mental state was weakening. I started to feel a strain in my right thigh as I began the descent to the the turnaround point. I dreaded the thought that every downhill I had sped up on would now be an uphill struggle, only to take some consolation that every uphill coming in would be a breeze. At the turnaround point, I began to think about when I would take in my nutrition. I was carrying 4 Gatorade gels with me and was planning to eat them between the 7 and 8-mile marks. I climbed back up the same hill I had run down to finish the 7th mile at a pace of 8:27.

Mile 8
I was still going uphill at the start of the 9th mile. My heart-rate was well into the upper 150s on the uphills. I was struggling but knew that some energy would kick in about a mile after I ate my gels. As the course flattened out and started a gradual downhill march, I decided to stop at a water-station and down all 4 gels. I was running with a small crowd of runners as the downhill started. After a tough 3-mile stretch, it was finally time to enjoy running. My 8th mile pace recorded at 7:50.

Mile 9
The 9th mile was solidly downhill. On this stretch, it was time to cruise for a while and catch up to and pass a few runners. My pace quickened. I was running again at a brisk pace. I knew energy would kick in from the gels soon. The course flattened out but was still gently downhill. I still had a small hill and a large hill to go before the tough finishing half-mile-hill. On this downhill stretch of the 9th mile, my heart-rate came down a tad to the mid 150s. I finished the 9th mile in 7:42.

Mile 10
At the beginning of mile 10, a tough 2-mile stretch began. The second round of torture had begun with a steep uphill. This course had taken its toll on me and it was not quite done yet. I used my hands to enable a smoother cadence. I don’t think it worked very well, but I kept trying. The Oiselle girl passed me followed by the girl in the black-and-red Athletics uniform followed by a few more runners. The steep uphill was followed by a steep downhill and then another uphill portion. Mile 10 was done at an 8:48 pace.

Mile 11
The torture intensified as the uphill got steeper.  I was fading. My thigh muscles hurt. “Relax and flow” my mantra came up empty as I kept adding “my ass” to the end of it. My mind was playing games. I sucked in air and ran on albeit slowly. My heart-rate was skyrocketing into the 160s and yet my pace was just under 10-minute-per-mile. I took consolation in the thought that right after I was done climbing this bloody hill, I would have a smooth downhill portion for the next mile-and-a-half. I saw the Oiselle girl far ahead of me and the Athletics girl just ahead of me. I finally finished mile 11 at a slow 9:30 pace.

Mile 12
Strength is not just about the body, it is about the mind too. I needed to finish strong. On this downhill stretch, tt was finally time to pick up the pace as I could see runners far ahead, and far below me. It was a psychological boost. I could still see the Oiselle girl up in the distance and the Athletics girl just ahead of me. The others in the group had either crashed and burned or were too far ahead. The Athletics girl was my key now. I ran behind her and next to her for half-a-mile. We were running at the same speed. I finally got my second wind and picked up my pace. I ran past her and was closing in on the Oiselle girl. I didn’t care about my heart-rate any more. My Garmin buzzed to show me 7:24 for the 12th mile.

Mile 13
The downhill continued. After more than 5 miles of running behind her, I finally caught up to and passed the Oiselle girl. I knew that she would probably pass me on the final uphill climb but I enjoyed passing her for now. At the base of the hill, we took a sharp right turn to go back uphill for the final time. Spectators were everywhere now cheering us on. There were dozens of walkers finishing up the 5k and 10k races. I high-fived a few spectators. I thought of my pups. How cool would it be if they were waiting for me at the finish line with Binita? It was a heartwarming thought.

As expected, the Oiselle girl passed me easily; I did not even attempt to keep up with her. After zigzagging right and then left, I finally saw the finish line. Mile 13 pace; 7:58.

The Finish
Hundreds of spectators were lined up at the finish line. The panoramic views of Sedona welcomed us home. A funny-looking dinosaur was chasing some runners. I crept up behind and passed a few more runners at the finish line. I was spent. Completely. The thin Sedona air compounded by the steep Sedona hills were tough on my body and my mind and possibly my soul. In the end, I finished with a not-so-fast official time of 1:48:34.

There you have it. Another half-marathon in the books; this one was the toughest one so far. It was a good training run for the Tokyo Marathon. I finished 5th in my age group. Needless to say, all times were slower than normal. It was now time to enjoy the scenery, hospitality and food of Sedona.

I’m home as I write this, waiting for the pictures from the Sedona Half Marathon to be posted. My concentration now shifts to the Tokyo Marathon.

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