Last year, Neil Weintraub of the Northern Arizona Trail Runners and race director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon, teamed up with Eddie Carlin of Mountain Man Events to start the Flagstaff Feats of Fortitude Challenge. Both the half marathon and Mountain Man olympic distance and half iron distance triathlons take place on the same weekend, but different days, and the challenge is to do both (half marathon Saturday, triathlon Sunday). An added perk is that the fastest combined time for the half + half or half + olympic get free entry for the following year’s races. I won it for the half + olympic last year, so I was in again for this year because you cant beat free entry! It also has a good training effect and finishing the olympic on Sunday feels more like finishing a half iron.
I basically stuck to the same plan for the half marathon as last year, and that was to stay in control but not leave it all out there with the main focus on the tri the next day. I mainly wanted to stick to a heart rate of around 160bpm, and on flat terrain that puts me around 6:15 a mile at my current fitness level. I did want to place in the top 10 overall (I was 5th last year), so if it was a particularly competitive year, I was willing to go harder to stay in that top 10.
This is a very, very slow course – not many sections seem to be flat and there’s a ton of uphill in the first 7.5 – 8 miles. Then you throw in a minimum of 6,900′ of elevation! I wanted to minimize the damage from this race as much as possible, so I wore Skins A400 calf sleeves. I’ve been a compression skeptic for some time and while training so heavily, you become pretty receptive to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to recovery. I’ve consistently found that my lower legs always feel better the day after hard run workouts if that hard run was done wearing the calf sleeves, I assume from the minimized muscle vibration/shock.
Anywho, the first mile or so is gradual uphill, then you get onto the dirt at Thorpe Park where the real climbing begins. It’s one of those hills that seems to just get steeper and steeper as you go, and that mile was an 8:23 at an average HR of 161 already! After that, I settled into a more comfortable state, but it was noticeable that our recent and frequent rains made the terrain rather unpredictable. I’m definitely a rhythm type of runner and I was never really able to get into a groove because of how uneven all of the dried mud was. The hills don’t help either, of course. Throughout the middle of the race, I was seated firmly in the middle of the top 10 as well and I was completely alone for several miles. I occasionally caught glimpses of people up ahead. I caught one guy after the last uphill (finally) around 7.5 miles and very gradually caught up to another guy just before the descent off of the mesa near 11 miles. I came up next to him and it was nice to actually have someone to run with after being in no-man’s land for so long. As expected, he pulled ahead on the really steep downhill (I pranced down the hill trying to save my thighs haha) but I gradually reeled him in near 12.5 miles. Since I wasn’t fully racing up until this point, I did have gas left in the tank and I decided I would give it whatever it took to come in ahead of him. I upped the effort at 12.9 miles and brought it home hard (at least for someone training for Ironman distance…), covering the last .3mi* at 5min/mi pace. That did the trick, I came in ahead of that dude and I finished 4th overall and 1st in the 20-29 age group. Happy to finish one place better than last year!
Elevation, HR**, splits:
The rest of the day ended up being pretty busy but I tried to focus on recovery as much as possible. I did a cooldown jog, had recovery drink, and took an ice bath within an hour of finishing. I also tried to eat well. There was a short swim thrown in there to have my technique checked out; you gotta take advantage while your coach is in town!
*The course was long by .2mi according to the Garmin
**Ignore that early HR spike, bad reading