I have ran the Dirty Half once before in 2006 - my first race experience longer than a 10K. I recall struggling in the last 3-4 miles of that race and crossing the finish line in 2:09. I had been very happy with my performance. In Eugene last year, I finished the half-marathon course in 1:49... my PR. I submitted my PR on the race registration form and was thereby seeded in the 2nd of 3 starting times.
As the runners walked to the starting line from the finish area (where packet pick-up/parking were staged), I talked briefly with another runner. He was seeded in the first wave. I told him I was in the 2nd group, "I'm a middle-of-the-pack girl." He said, "Ah. You are racing yourself, then?" My reply was, "I don't even think I'll be doing that today. I am just here to enjoy myself." He agreed it was a beautiful day for that and we wished one another luck.
The race course of the Dirty Half is almost entirely single-track trail, bordered by Sage, Manzanita and Bitterbrush. The terrain, swirvy cut-backs, rocks and exposed roots deceptively hidden in the shade of the Ponderosa Pines makes footing and the possibility of passing difficult. The race begins on an open road way, but then bottlenecks onto the trail within the first 800-1200m. The route includes a 1,000 foot elevation gain - not much really, but it comes at you right away.
As per my race strategy, I went out a little faster than race pace, intending on getting ahead of the slower runners. In '06, I went out slow and got caught behind a group of very giggly, desperate housewives (or so it seemed) who were more interested in catching up with the latest gossip than running the race. I wasn't able to pass them for several miles. I didn't want to experience that again. When the course merged onto the trail, the Garmin reported a pace of 7:54... I best slow down. Easily done as I settled into my spot within the 'ant trail'.
Mile 1 - 8:42
Mile 2 - 9:38
Mile 3 - 10:22
On the third mile, I started experiencing severe side cramps/stitch just as I had the last few miles of the Eugene Marathon. I pulled over and stretched a little... repeating Kenny Moore's advice, "Start Slowly. Finish Strongly." I had been drafting behind a woman that my friend (see part 1) had introduced to me at the starting line. She was wearing a red shirt and strapped around her waist were 3 bottles of some sort of fluid... we'll call her Green Gu Girl. I recall that she had asked each of us what our goal finish time was and that she was hoping for a 1:45ish finish despite not having run more than 6 miles. When I stepped off the trail to let the runners behind proceed, I told myself that I would catch her. I would finish strongly.
When I jumped onto the trail again, I fell behind 3 ladies running in a little pack. They leaped frogged one another for a mile and then settled into their places. The one in the back was wearing this years race t-shirt and coordinated green shorts. As the front two began to pull away and as I could no longer see Green Gu Girl ahead of us, I set a new goal for myself, to beat this one! We'll call her Lucky #7 (the race logo for the 7th running of the Dirty Half).
Mile 4 - 9:39
Mile 5 - 9:38
Mile 6 - 9:35
I settled into a comfortable pace. As I approached the water station just before mile 6, I started having more side stitches. I need to get a handle on this - I'm going to do some research later. Perhaps it's the Immodium (I took one before the race today and before the Eugene Marathon)... as I haven't experienced this any other time? I walked through the water station and Lucky #7 eventually gained enough ground that I couldn't see her anymore.
Mile 7 - 8:46
Mile 8 - 9:02
Mile 9 - 8:48
Mile 10 - 8:59
Just as I began to accept that these women would indeed finish before me, I caught a glimpse of Green Gu Girl about 400m ahead. I knew if I held on and stayed focused I could in fact catch her. I began to slowly diminish the distance between us. There were just a few miles left and I knew the worst was behind us.
I think others must have had the same idea for several people started to pick up the pace and start passing people. Most were men so I let them go without a fuss, but when another young woman with short pigtails passed me, I declared her prey as well. I drafted off her for a mile or two, hoping to wear her down a little. She picked up the pace and pulled ahead, but never more than a 100m.
Mile 11 - 9:31
Mile 12 - 8:45
We passed Green Gu Girl. We passed a few others. We got behind Lucky #7. At the first opportunity to pass, I jumped. I had to hurdle a couple bushes of Sagebrush but I managed to get past both Pig Tails and Lucky #7.
The last mile was the hardest. I was fatigued but I knew Pigtails was right behind me. She passed me with 3/4 mile to go... "Oh no you don't!" I thought to myself and I surged ahead of her again. "Just 1/2 mile. Stay strong." We rounded the restroom and headed down the last stretch to the finish.
Mile 13 - 8:48
I looked up and saw DH and the kiddos cheering, "Go Mommy!" I gave them our traditional sign, "I love you!" as I tried to stay the course. I could hear Pigtails behind me... or so I thought. The picture DH took shows a guy (from the 3rd wave) on my heels, not the girl. Hmm?
I can see the finish. To my right, a woman lifts up her camera and yells, "Go Lindsay!" It comes to me in a flash... Lindsay is 'Pigtails'. I remember both women from the running group I had run with once last year - the last time I was on this exact trail - the time I fell and broke my wrist! I remember them both beating me in the Horse Butte 10 miler in April of last year.Not this time! I cross the finish line and the clock reads 2:00:23. Lindsay finishes in 2:00:27.
I pick up the coveted mug - I'm enjoying my morning coffee with it now - rendezvous with the family and we proceed home. It has been a good morning.