Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pro Rata - The Scream Half Marathon

"You can't keep this up!" That's what I was thinking around mile 9 of The Scream Half Marathon as I hammered around yet another of the countless switchbacks snaking down the mountain. It was that time of the race. You know the one. When pain amplifies self doubt beyond reason. When doubts grow in your mind from small clouds to raging thunderheads. Like a tornado ripping through the tender, green fields of confidence in your brain, nothing is left but tattered hopes and damaged dreams.

Usually, I make some half-assed compromise with myself at this stage of a race. "Slow down just a bit, it won't make that much difference in the end," I promise myself. Or even worse, "You can't do it, just cruise in to the finish." Not today. Not after coming all the way back to The Scream just to see how fast I could run. I pushed on.

Performance Ratings
Recently I've been updating my performance ratings. Not because I'm some gifted runner (Ha! Sorry, that makes me truly laugh out loud.), but more because I'm finally coming to grips with the line between capability and self abuse. Everyone has their own line. It's the line that separates physical injury from maximum capability on the spectrum of exertion. The tricky thing about this line is that it moves from race to race, even from day to day. So, pushing to the edge of the line is always a tricky proposition. There's an element of luck involved with getting it just right. Or totally wrong. I've been on both sides.

Going into The Scream this year, I thought pushing to the edge of the line would yield a personal record in the half marathon. My best performance guess was a time somewhere in the 1:40 to 1:45 range. Of course, guesses have a way of setting expectations, so you have to be careful with this sort of thinking.

Perfect Races
If you came here for a description of The Scream itself, my apologies for the delay. The Scream is awesome! It's also hellish. After a quick couple miles of rolling paved road along the ridge line, the course dives down the mountain on a forest service gravel "road" for the next 9.5 miles. It's fun at first. The grades aren't that steep, and you have fresh legs so you can hold some pretty impressive paces without too much trouble. But the hill is just relentless. Slowly but surely it pounds your quads, glutes, and hips into so much useless hamburger. By mile 9, the hill has become Hell. And that's when the toughest section begins. My god, it's an awesome race!

Last year's profile, stolen from AC, but pretty
much the same as this year.
Like this, only it's really steeper than it looks.

Pro Rata

The definition of pro rata is "according to the calculation." I had calculated the paces I needed to maintain to achieve a personal record, but there was one small problem. The mile markers in the race were totally off. The race organizers had even warned us just prior to the start that the mile markers had been placed according to GPS and were therefore not "precise". But when I passed the first mile marker in 10:35 at what seemed like a full sprint, I knew I was in for trouble. Every mile marker that I passed resulted in an equally crazy mental pace calculation. Mile 3 calculations resulted in a 6:50 pace. Mile 8 calculations resulted in 9:00 pace. Eventually, I gave up on the calculations and just ran as hard as I could without a total physical crash.

After battling my mental demons to a stale mate around mile 9, I tried to turn off my brain and just run. For the most part, this worked, although it was difficult to know if I was keeping the same pace. Seeing the last small hill before the finish, I busted into a sprint, knowing I had less than 100 yards to the line. However, cresting the hill, I couldn't see the finish. It had been moved! I passed the spot where last year's finish had been, and saw the real finish line another 100 yards down the road. Now the guy I had just passed was breathing down my neck. And to make matters worse, he had lots of friends cheering him on to the finish. "Wooo! Go Paul!" one guy shouted. "Yeah Paul! Pass that guy in front of you! You got it!" shouted another. Crap. Time to push into the puke zone to keep "Paul" from passing me back.

It was really close, but I managed to hold off Paul and I even managed not to puke (well, maybe just a little in my mouth). But it was totally worth it. Personal Record: 1:42:09

I'll take it. And I'll see you again next year, The Scream.

The best part about the finish near the Mortimer campground,
is the ice cold stream where you can soak your feet,

because this crap hurts!