Last year the folks at Loco Running put on an indoor half marathon at the Hampshire Dome. I thought they were nuts and the runners who signed up even nuttier. Jump forward to this year and I start seeing the ads for the Smuttynose Palooza Indoor Half Marathon (results). This time it intrigued me. It must have been the name change (kudos to the marketing guys). In a year that I'm looking to branch out and try some new things, I decided why not. From the start I figured this was more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. I was mostly right.
Since the track is so small, the race was broken up into two 50-person heats, one at 2pm and one at 4pm. I was in the 4pm heat (as a side note, this might be the only race I've ever done at 4pm). Chip timing was a must (and even that wasn't foolproof). The RD had the track wheel measured this year and determined we had to run 68 full laps plus a little more for the 13.1 miles. Last year they ran 66.5 laps for the same race (more on that later). They also had a flat screen TV setup which displayed the runners lap time and # of laps run. In addition, Andy Schachat was there announcing names, lap times and laps run throughout the race. Thankfully he would do this sparingly and not on every lap.
To me, the best way to run this race would be to figure out my goal pace, convert it to lap time and then run every lap at that pace. I looked at some race reports from last year, and even last years website and found several references to the track being 317 meters. As it turns out, 66.5 laps * 317m = 13.1 miles. Apparently this is what they used last year. So my goal was to run around 6:30 to 6:35 min/mile pace or 1:17 to 1:18 lap times. Unfortunately, I forgot what lap time I was supposed to run by the time I got to the Dome. I thought it was 1:15 laps but couldn't remember. I guess I would have to run on how it felt instead. We were told we'd record 69 laps on the monitor (the first lap recorded was only a few feet based on where we started on the track). Andy would announce when we had a few laps to go so we'd know when we were finished. Seemed pretty straightforward.
Since there was a race going on before our 4pm start, we couldn't warm up on the track (and I wasn't dressed to run outside). I had zero warmup. When we finally lined up a little after 4pm, I went from resting to half marathon pace in one lap and stayed that way for nearly 1 1/2hrs.
It took a few laps to figure out a comfortable pace. It was pretty clear 1:15 laps weren't going to happen so I backed off ever so slightly and targeted 1:17 laps instead. The race itself was pretty uneventful. I would only get passed by one person (Jason Porter). He would lap me every 4 laps or so. Every once in a while Andy would call out my splits and tell me how many laps I'd run, counting down the last 3-4 laps as I got close to 69 laps. I picked up the pace near the end hoping to finish strong and crossed the line in 1:28:48. What? That doesn't sound right. Oh well, I grabbed a beer and a slice of pizza (no cool down run either), relaxed for a few minutes and eventually went home. Later that evening when the results were posted my time was changed to 1:27:37. Better but still not what I expected.
So what are my thoughts on running an indoor half marathon on a 311m track?
- Although the weather was better than outdoors, the air is stagnant. A little warm and no breeze. Not awful, just different. Hard to explain.
- There are 272 turns. Unlike an outdoor track, the corners are square so you notice the turns more. The banked turns helped but the turns do a number on your feet. My feet were constantly sliding in my shoes on the turns and friction created numerous blisters on the bottoms of my feet and between a few of my toes.
- 50 people running on an indoor 311m track is crowded. Traffic rules were in effect, runners were instructed to stay on the inside lane unless passing. Unfortunately, people don't follow rules. Every lap was spent weaving in and out of people, sometimes even running off the track entirely because of the crowds of runners.
- I bet I passed nearly 1000 runners throughout the race. That would never happen outdoors.
- I ran alone the entire race.
- Here's the deal on the track length. Last year they called it 317m. This year they called it 311m. That's a difference of nearly 3 laps when running 13.1 miles. So which is correct? Both, sort of. The 311m is the measurement of the inside of lane 1. The 317m is the measurement of the inside of lane 2. If you run just outside of lane 2 it's 325m around. It doesn't sound like much but when 5 laps make up a mile, the extra distance starts to add up.
- They had signs scattered around the track indicating the various mile markers along with how many laps made up each mile. In my opinion, the mile markers were not helpful. It was very hard to keep track what lap you were on (even with a TV monitor and announcer).
- The TV monitor displayed your lap time and recorded how many laps you had run. However, the distance between the timing mat and the monitor was just a tad too close. The purpose of the monitor was so you could see your lap time and # of laps run. However, as I ran by, my name would show up just as I was running by and I couldn't see my lap time or laps run. Thankfully Andy would call out this info once in a while.
- I thought miles 5-10 were the hardest. The fun of running on the track had worn off and you didn't have enough laps done to know the end was near.
- The discrepancy of my initial finishing time to the posted time was because I actually ran 70 laps (instead of the 69 required). It seems the TV monitor was hooked up to a different timing mat then the official timing mat. The TV mat said I ran 69, but the official mat said I ran 70. Not a huge deal since they corrected it but it did affect the last couple of laps. In fact, it negated my fastest lap of the day, which turned out to be my 70th.
- Running a consistent pace is definitely the way to run this race.
- I don't think running indoors is faster than running an outdoor half. Sure it's flat, but sometimes hills are good. They force you to use different muscles and work harder and they also have downhills which allow you to run faster.
- You cannot run the tangents indoors.
- I spent most of the time running in lane 2 (or further out) so there's no doubt I ran further than 13.1 miles. I'm pretty sure my pace was closer to 6:30-6:35 pace, as opposed to my official pace of 6:42. This is not a complaint. I'm ok with the official time. They measured the track correctly (this time). But if you're looking to run a PR, indoor is not the place to do it.
- It is truly a mentally tough race. I had fun. I'm glad I did it....once. I probably would not do another indoor half marathon though.