2014-02-24

Cowtown Half Marathon

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the 2014 Cowtown Half Marathon. I wrote earlier that I was mostly unprepared for it. Did that impact my race? How was it?

The Cowtown Half Marathon
The race course itself is an interesting blend of Fort Worth site-seeing and necessary evils. 

One unstated purpose of marathons and half-marathons is tourism and promotion. What you'll often find at races like these is that the race organizers will make an effort to "show off" the most scenic local areas, presumably to make their city look like the most attractive city in the world. This tends to work better for attractive cities and worse for unattractive ones.

The City of Fort Worth falls somewhere in the middle. There are a number of very interesting tourist attractions. The city's downtown and uptown areas are vibrant and green, with parks, waterways, historical buildings, and everything else people tend to expect from "beautiful" cities. At the same time, Fort Worth is both a relatively small city and an extremely Texan city, which combines to add two additional elements: sparsely populated industrial zones and large spaces between attractive sites.

The impact this has on the race course is predictable: The racer get to pass by all the nice places in town, but in between each of those places are a few long, unattractive course legs. Predictably, the race spectators crowd around the pleasant spots, and are completely absent in the less pleasing parts of the course.

This makes the psychological game hard.

On the upside, the course is lined with some of the best local bands around. There was a particularly good metal band playing during mile 3 or so, and a truly fantastic Norteno band playing at around mile 5. I found the music invigorating, and it made the whole experience a lot of fun. And if you like running to the crowd, I don't think I've ever seen one touting as many rattling cowbells as I did yesterday.

The race course is also surprisingly difficult on the physical side of things, too. Take a look at the elevation change my Garmin watch captured as I ran:
There are two major uphill climbs during the race - one at the beginning of mile 4, and the other in the middle of mile 9 - and both of them are extremely steep relative to the rest of the course. While the course is generally as flat as you might expect in Texas, the first two thirds of the race is basically a gentle elevation descent. Then, just after mile 9, there is a long and difficult uphill climb along an empty patch of highway on the industrial side of town. You're running straight into the sunlight and trying not to hit the wall, climbing right up into the downtown core. It's a bear. Note also that the race finishes uphill. For my readers in more mountainous areas, I know it doesn't look like much, but trust me - once you've acclimatized to Texas elevations, this becomes pretty difficult to handle. I recommend that competitive racers do plenty of hill work.

My Race
Had I trained for this properly, I obviously would have run a much better race. Considering my low level of preparation, I ran as expected. For the first seven miles, I ran well under 6:30/mile pace, including one mile in 6:03. That is a brisk, but not Earth-shattering pace, exactly the sort of pace I would expect myself to run had I been adequately trained. Thereafter, I hit the wall falling to about 7:00/mile pace, with a couple of splits almost as slow as 7:30. I felt myself lose energy, and perhaps I could have hung on a little longer than I did. But my objective was not to win or to impress myself. My objective was merely to finish.

Keep in mind, this is my first ever formal half-marathon. I've run the distance many times, but this is the first time I've ever raced it. Also keep in mind that this is the longest race I've run since my type 1 diabetes diagnosis in 2009. To a large extent, what I really hoped to achieve with this race was to show myself that I could physically handle a race that long without experiencing some sort of bad blood sugar event. 

On that level, the race was a smashing success. I deliberately ran my blood sugar slightly high. At two separate hydration stations along the race, I took a few mouthfuls of Powerade, rather than water, to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. At the finish line, I ate half an orange, and when I got home about a half-hour after the race, I drank a protein shake and had a low-carb snack. I then tested my blood sugar: 86. Amazing! Right in the normal range.

Having had to deal with erratic post-race blood sugar in the past, I watched myself carefully all day long yesterday.. I was able to keep my blood sugar low and in-control with minimal effort. All that is to say, I've proven to myself that I can run half-marathons healthily. This was an important thing to prove to myself, and gives me hope that I might one day (soon) run a full marathon, too.

Conclusion
All said and done, the race was a lot of fun. The racers were friendly and supportive throughout, the race was well-organized, the course was challenging-but-fun, and my blood sugar was in control the whole time. What more could I ask for? 

I'll surely be running a few more half-marathons in the future. This was an excellent experience, and I'm looking forward to the next one. I hope to see you there, too.