ilanarama: me in Escalante (yatta!)
[personal profile] ilanarama
The Canyonlands race in Moab, UT in March is one of my favorites, a beautiful course along the Colorado River, and I've done it every year since 2010. After running the 5-mile course last year due to injury, I was happy to get back to the half marathon at Canyonlands this year, even though I hadn't trained nearly as much as I would have liked. I paced well and felt good despite the windy, warm weather (not as windy as 2011 or 2012, though), and though this was one of my slower races, it is my "best slowest race" compared to others run on similarly low mileage and little specific training. I hope this means that if I can get back to the kind of miles and workouts I ran in 2012 and 2013, I will be able to get back to similar race times.


I should really put that in quotes, as I averaged all of 29mpw for the 12 weeks before the race, with an average pace (over everything) of 9:35. Almost all easy running, though I did hill sprints weekly up until about a month ago (they seemed to be aggravating my glute issues), strides once or twice a week, and short tempo runs (1-3 miles) once a week for the four weeks before the race.

And that's it. I ran double-digit runs exactly twice during the past 12 weeks, both around 10.4 miles. (Which goes up to THREE if I count back FIVE months!) Only my 7.5 total miles of tempo, and my strides (which add up to perhaps a half-mile total of faster running) were as fast or faster than my eventual race pace. All my other runs were between 9:15 and 10:20 pace. (Most of the slower runs were on snowy days or the day after a longer or faster run.)

This is actually more training than I did for the Thirsty Thirteen in August (race report here), which I ran in just under 1:45 - but I'm sure a lot of "credit" for that time goes to the very downhill course, and had it been flatter I think I would have come in closer to my initial 1:50 goal. For all but my first two half marathons (both around 2 hours) I ran more miles. I think that having all those past miles in my legs helped make up the endurance that I otherwise wouldn't have had.


I'm used to staging for this race in bitter cold. Even though start time is 10 am, the buses leave from town from 7:30 to 8:15, and the people I'm with usually want to take an early bus so that's lots of time spent in the shady canyon in the early morning chill. In 2010, my fastest year, I remember that I couldn't feel my toes before the start, even though I had on all my fleece sweats until the gear truck left. I definitely run better in the cold, so when I overheated just walking to take the bus, I started to get nervous.

It was cooler in the shade of the staging area, but not cold. I was comfortable in my sweats but I wasn't cold, and I didn't need my hat or gloves. It wasn't until I was talking with someone else that I realized why it was so warm: usually this race is the week after the change to DST, but this year it had been moved to the day before the change, and so essentially we were starting an hour later than usual. And on top of that, it was a relatively warm day. According to NOAA it was 61°F at race start, and about the same by the time I finished - which probably only sounds warm if you're a runner, but I prefer it to be about 20 degrees cooler!

This race can also be windy. The weather started out nice and still, but the wind magically (and annoyingly) picked up as soon as we started down the canyon. It wasn't nearly as bad as it was in 2011 and 2012, but NOAA says it was 8mph gusting to 17 in town, which is enough to make a noticeable headwind, with the occasional swirly blast around the canyon curves.

The race

I lined up about ten rows back from the start line, pretty much between the 1:40 pacer and the 1:50 pacer. My plan was to run comfortably fast on the first, very downhill, mile, and then for the next five miles aim to keep my pace around 7:55 or my HR between about 155 and 160, which is typical HR for me in the first part of a half (80-85% HRR - heart rate reserve, the distance between my resting HR and my max). After that I could let my HR go above 160 and my pace go faster - if possible. It sounds very structured, but really this was just a cross-check on my own pacing by feel, so I wouldn't push too hard or slack too much. I chatted with the other runners around me, who had similar time goals, until the gun went off.

Mile 1, 7:34 142 (70%) After looking at my other races, I'd expected I'd run the downhill first mile in about 7:40. Close enough; I knew this would be the fastest mile of my race. The runners began to spread out. I was happy to see my HRM was giving reasonable data. (The numbers after each mile here are pace, HR, and %HRR.)

Mile 2, 7:52 153 (79%) First aid station. They were every two miles and I hit each one, always grabbing two cups, one for my mouth and one to dump on my head. I was already feeling hot, so I tucked my shirt up around my sportsbra for belly ventilation.

Mile 3, 7:45 152 (79%) At the left curve just before the mile 2 marker the wind hit...and it was a tailwind! It was nice while it lasted...

Mile 4, 8:04 155 (81%) ...which was about a third of the way into mile 4, at which point the road curved back right and the wind became a headwind.

Mile 5, 8:02 158 (83%) Still a headwind. I tried to draft off other runners as much as I could.

Mile 6, 7:57 159 (84%) Picked up a vanilla (randomly) Clif Shot at the gel station in the middle of the road, ate most of it in time to get water at the aid station here. I usually don't fuel in half marathons but since this one would be on the slow side I thought it might be a good idea.

Mile 7, 7:50 160 (85%) And maybe I was able to increase my pace because of that gel? Well, okay, this was downhill.

Mile 8, 7:50 161 (86%) Feeling steady and strong. Just after the 8 mile marker (duh, .1 miles after) is the start line of the 5-mile race that had started at 9:30. (My husband had run it and would be waiting for me at the finish.) I noted my elapsed time when I crossed it, figured that I should be able to stay under an 8 minute mile to the end, so that's 40 minutes...hooray, I was on pace to finish in under 1:44, which was my nominal goal.

Mile 9, 7:41 161 (86%) This is a beautiful curve to the right under a towering wall of red sandstone. I was feeling really good here, maybe because the wind had slacked off, and I slowly overtook quite a few people, including a guy I know from my running club who called out, "Hey, I know you! Looking strong!" as I went by.

Mile 10, 7:48 163 (87%) There's a long uphill in this mile; not a steep one, but it can be dispiriting. I passed a few people who were walking, and just kept grinding through.

Mile 11, 8:01 162 (87%) This is usually the slowest mile on this course, as we cross over to the bike path coming out of the canyon, then zig-zag under the highway and up to its edge, so I wasn't surprised to see my pace drop below 8 minutes. Just before the mile marker I passed the 1:40 pacer, who looked miserable enough that I doubted he'd even make 1:50. (He came in around 1:46, according to my husband. Considering that the last time I'd run this race, the 1:40 pacer - not the same person - had passed me around mile 6 when I was on pace for 1:37, I would not recommend the pace teams at this race.)

Mile 12, 7:53 163 (88%) Along the highway, hot, headwind, not so fun. Slowly picking off people by getting up to them, drafting them, then making my move around them. Passed a woman with a huge fuel belt (three enormous flasks, still mostly full). Passed a guy with a manbun. Not enough fat people at this pace to draft off, bummer.

Mile 13, 8:01 164 (89%) At the mile 12 aid station we turn into town. I am hot. I am ready to be done. When we finally turn left toward the finish line I am more than ready to be done. I feel I'm slowing, hear runners, know they're going to pass me. Hope it's manbun and not beltwoman. It's a bunch of young guys, okay, whatever, am I there yet?

Last 0.18 by Garmin, 7:40 167 (91%) Pretty much dying here as I head toward the finish line watching the clock approaching 1:44. (I came in at 1:43:58 gun time.) I hear my husband and some friends hollering my name as I approach the finish. Later they told me I looked terrible. Not surprised. I got a couple of cups of water down me and then a couple of cups of beer, and felt much better.

Final stats

My chip time was 1:43:46 (one second less than on my watch which I must have started a little early) for the 13.18 miles I ran by my Garmin. Which means my work on running the tangents paid off, as usually this race comes in at 13.2-13.3. I was 2nd of 85 in AG 50-54F, just 15 seconds behind the winner - darn! - and actually, I also came in faster than every woman in 45-49 and all but one in 40-44, who won the Masters award - with a time over a minute slower than my best time on the course, which got me only a 3rd in AG in 2010! (I also beat all the girls under 20, but that's not as significant.) I was the 48th fastest woman out of 1083, and the 165th fastest person out of 1801. Despite all this, this was my second slowest time of five doing this race; but despite that, I feel good about it.

I do have to admit, though, that the placement is only so good because there were not many fast women running - or many at all. The race has shrunk over the six years I've been running it; in 2010 there was a lottery to get in, and over 3200 runners, but for the last several years all entrants have been welcomed and this year there were only 1800 runners. (According to a friend, the drop, which seems to have been most acute between 2014 and 2015, is because Moab hotels have become too expensive.) It's okay - I don't mind being a medium-big fish in a medium-small pond! Or a medium-fast fish, anyway...hoping to get faster!


ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

August 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


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