because you've been waiting

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I guess I should tell you about the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half, which took place way back on May 7.

First of all, the race wasn't actually in Santa Barbara proper. It started off in Santa Ynez, went through Los Olivos (right past one of the tasting rooms I represent, in fact) and then ended in Solvang.

Ah, Solvang. California's "Danish town," where tourists take pictures of windmills and eat a lot of aebleskivers, which are like pancake balls.

But I digress. As I was saying before I was interrupted by spherical food covered in powdered sugar, the Santa Barbara race started in Santa Ynez. The weather was perfect -- 50s, overcast. And I had zero expectations because I had spent the week before riding camels and shaking red sand out of my shoes. I felt underprepared, and my goal was simply to enjoy a weekend trip with my running friends and not humiliate myself in public.

I started off slowly, running with Neveia and Sammy. There were a few small rollers as we left Santa Ynez. Sammy eventually dropped back, and I let Neveia go –- she seemed to be picking up speed, and I was worried about starting too fast.

Mile 1 10:09

As the course headed out of town, past Arabian horse ranches and meadows, something totally unexpected happened: It was like my legs just turned on and found their rhythm and I just stopped thinking about them. And before I knew it, I had upped the pace. The rolling hills felt great -- I tried to use gravity and momentum from each downhill to pull me up the uphills.

Mile 2 9:37
Mile 3 9:19

When I saw my Mile 3 split, I started worrying I was going too fast and was going to crash later on, so I slowed slightly.

Mile 4 9:39

Around this point I think I passed Neveia, but I’m not entirely sure where it happened. She said she saw me, but I didn’t see her. Anyway, I kept going. I felt good and suddenly it hit me: I might be able to PR.

I also realized this race was exceptionally quiet -- not a lot of spectators, and barely any talking among the runners. I actually kind of liked it -- it was nice not to have to listen to other people's conversations. I also really enjoyed the view -- this course was the absolute prettiest I've ever run: Green hills with terraced vineyards, yellow mustard flowers, an antique car here and there. It was like postcard after postcard.

Mile 5 9:12
Mile 6 9:19

I left Los Olivos and hit Corkscrew Hill. This is one of those hills where you look up and see runners zig-zagging to the top and wonder: Really? I’m really going to run up there?

And then somehow, you just do it. And you don’t stop. I passed Arvan on the way up. He had just run Avenue of the Giants the weekend before, so he was feeling tired. I tried to him to keep going, but he waved me on.

Mile 7 9:57

On the way down, I passed Lee Anne, who said she was having problems with her calves. I also saw some buffalo and longhorn cattle.

Mile 8 8:46
Mile 9 8:19

And so I started to pick people off. I knew I had a shot at sub-2, and I wanted it. First, there was the girl in the red sports bra and white shorts (I nicknamed her Marathon Barbie). Then there was the woman in a blue shirt and blue shorts (a.k.a. She Looks Kind of Like Someone I Know, But She's Not). And then the guy in the black T-shirt (who was yelling when everyone else was quiet). I targeted them all and ran them down.

Mile 10 8:25
Mile 11 8:31

Everything was going well until I hit a long gradual climb in the Chalk Hill neighborhood outside Solvang. I suddenly felt tired, and I had to will myself to get up the hill and keep going. I think if you had been running next to me, you would have heard me talking to myself. And possibly almost grunting.

Mile 12 9:21

Another short uphill through a neighborhood before a downhill to the finish in the heart of Solvang. I knew I was close, so I was giving it my all at this point.

Mile 13 8:27

And then there was the fake finish line. The race was using the Jaguar timing system, which meant chips were tagged by running through arches instead of over mats. There was an arch maybe 100 or 200 yards away from the actual finish line, and I thought it was the finish. I sprinted toward it and then slowed down and actually turned off my watch, only to realize the real finish line was still in front of me!

.21 miles 7:52 pace

Official: 13.1 miles at 2:00:28 / Garmin: 13.21 miles at 2:00:41

While I was happy and very surprised by how well I ran, I felt a little heartbroken at the same time. I was so close to a sub-2 finish. So close.

Anyway, we spent the rest of the weekend playing tourist and eating.

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