griffith park half marathon

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January 24, 2016. Start: 7:00 am. Weather: 43 degrees- long sleeves and gloves. Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 6. My time: 1:36:21 (7:16). 14th place overall, second place* in my age group.

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I run four mornings a week in Griffith Park, and if I can claim a home course, this is it. During my longer training runs I followed most of the route and heading into to race day I felt well prepared. Three months earlier I ran 1:39:00 at the Tiburon Half Marathon and I wanted to beat my time by one to two minutes. My race pace needed to average in the 7:20s.

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The race starts and finishes on Crystal Springs Drive, at the center of the park. The first mile of the course follows Griffith Park Drive winding along the base of the Hollywood Hills.

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At mile two the first and only big hill presents itself, rising 300 feet and lasting one mile. I get to take it all back on the way down until the road levels onto Zoo Drive by Travel Town.

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The course remains flat- and fast- for five more miles crossing over the 5 freeway and heading south along the LA River.

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The last five miles double back onto Crystal Springs Drive. There is a slight rise but nothing like the first hill and the final stretch encourages negative splits.

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My race plan was straightforward. I would start at my goal pace of 7:25, take the hill running strong but avoid blowing out my legs and lungs. Whatever I lost on the way up I could surely make back on the way down. Then I would run the final 10 miles at a steady pace in the 7:20s. During training I ran my longer tempo runs close to a 7:00 clip and I ran the hill twice a week- I convinced myself that a PR was in sight.

The race started on time and I ran loose and relaxed during the first mile. I felt like I was running at my planned pace of 7:25 but my watch said 7:02- too fast. I figured that the hill, now imminent, would put me back on track.

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My hill strategy worked perfectly: 8:11 up and 6:40 down for a 7:25 average. The final 10 miles were going to be flat, and if I stayed loose and on pace I’d be fine. I ran the next 5 miles at about 7:10- too fast again. At each mile I told myself that I felt good so I decided to hold my faster pace. Unfortunately my body told me otherwise. I slowed to 7:25 during miles 9-12 and pulled myself together for a 7:00 finish.

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At mile 10 I wanted to stop but at the same time I realized if I could hang on I’d beat my goal time. The HM merged with the 5k runners and the road was crowded with joggers, walkers, and strollers. Instead of being an obstacle, it felt good to pass so many people and I focused on ‘roadkills’ for the final three miles.

When I saw the finish line in the distance, my watch said I was already at 13.1m (1:35:19), almost four minutes faster than my PR. I dug deep and ran the extra .1m as fast as I could. When it was over, I had run 13.2 miles in 1:36:19, a two minute and 40 second PR, or 3′ 40″ for the HM distance. I finished strong and was super happy with my time. Even better was when I checked the results: 14th overall and number one in my age group. I picked up my first ever gold medal and headed home, tired but on a post-race high.

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*Later, my results showed me finishing in second place. If I did come in second I feel bad for being awarded somebody else’s gold medal…but since I was competing against myself, I’ll take the PR and try to beat 1:35:19 next time. I told myself that if I set a new personal best it was time to level up and go for a marathon.

We’ll see…

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