Another race that I signed up for that was out of my comfort zone, and I’d say it was a success! I considered not wearing a watch at all because this was not about pace…but I really wanted the Garmin data for the elevation. I went into this knowing that my chances for a PR were slim. The last time I actually raced a half marathon was in 2010, so my PR was a 1:35:25 and five years old. I thought I was capable of a PR, but the course was a wild card. I’d seen the elevation from MapMyRun, and it was ugly. That was part of the draw with this race. It was hillier than pretty much anything I’ve ever run (aside from Quadzilla) and I thought it would be a good training run. One local runner that’s a bit faster than me has won this half in the past with about a 1:31, and another girl that is similar in pace to me has run this race in 1:37. I figured if I could end up somewhere between 1:35-1:40, it would be a good indicator of how my training was going.
I chose not to taper for this race and ran on tired legs. It was a week after my triathlon, it wasn’t my long run (I did 18 earlier in the week), and it was the end of my highest mileage week yet (63 miles). I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
The race offered race day pickup and I only live 30 minutes from the start, so it was a treat to sleep until almost 5:30 on the day of a race. I made some coffee, threw my stuff in the car and hit the road by a little after 6am. I ate breakfast on the road. I got there and had my stuff before 7am, and the race start was 8am. I had some time to kill so I hung out in my car and hydrated. As it neared closer to 8am, I got out of my car and headed to the starting line.
I lined up towards the front, and there were two other women lined up near me. One of the girls was a bit younger (22) and was pretty nervous/excited. She was from London, here for some sort of camp over at Lehigh University and was a 10K runner. She asked me what I was shooting for, and I said hopefully something from 1:35-1:40. She said she was looking to run a 1:20, but this was her first half and she heard it was pretty hilly. Before we knew it, the gun went off and we were running.
As we begin the race, I found myself up front with the two other women from the start. One dropped off immediately and I never saw her again. Around the first mile, the 10K runner from London dropped me. I watched her go and normally would try to catch her, but I know that I’m in no shape to run a 1:20. It’s not even a goal that’s in my vocabulary right now. I’m glad she told me that was her goal so I didn’t follow her.
I knew the majority of the hills were going to be from miles 4-11. If you look at the picture above, the first real incline begins exactly at mile 4, they just keep coming after that. While it’s my goal to negative split my races (usually unsuccessfully – but it’s the thought that counts, right?), my goal was to make a conscious effort to do the opposite. I wanted to go out comfortably aggressive – at half marathon pace – and hold on until the hills so I could re-evaluate. I didn’t think I could hold onto half marathon pace once I hit the hills, so I was planning to relax and just run whatever felt comfortable. Once I hit the final downhill in mile 11, I hoped to run it in with everything I had left – maybe make up some time. I just didn’t know how bad that middle section was so I had no idea what to even try to plan for.
I took my first GU just before the first climb. The hill at mile 4 was the first of the big, long climbs and my pace suffered a little bit. I saw the London chick in the distance and I seemed to be gaining on her, but I refused to chase her. I was running my race, and if winning was in the cards today I needed to do it at my pace, not hers. My splits were 6:43, 6:39, 6:50, 7:11, 6:51. Other than the first climb, the sub 7 minute miles felt comfortable and doable. I was in second place, running my own race and I felt strong, comfortable and confident. I haven’t felt that good in a long time. Even the climb at mile 4 was tough, but I was still able to clock a decently aggressive pace for that mile.
I was feeling pretty confident after the climb at mile 4. I didn’t realize that the climb at mile 4 wasn’t the big one, so I thought the worst was over. HA! I hit that massive mountain and got a reality check – but I kept running. I passed men walking, but I wasn’t about to walk. Even if I was running at barely moving pace, I would keep running. It was on this steep ascent that I passed the London chick and took first place – she was really struggling. I didn’t know if she wasn’t used to the hills, went out too fast, or what the problem was but I just put my head down and kept running. I cruised at the top and tried to run the downhill hard, but not so hard that it burned out my quads. My pace was all over the place during this section and nowhere near my goal half marathon pace, just as I’d anticipated. It didn’t bother me because I felt great, was running on effort, and had taken the lead.
I found myself running almost completely alone. I took my second GU around mile 8.5 to help me push through the final miles. I could see two men in the distance up ahead, and one guy who kept passing me and then walking the hills where I’d pass him. The course was no joke, and it was almost completely in the sun. It was a hot day with 88% humidity, which didn’t make this difficult course any easier. My splits for these miles were 8:00 (that was the biggest climb), 7:23 (the rest of the steep climb), 6:56, 7:18, 7:30. Just when I thought I would make up some time, I’d hit another steep climb. By the last climb at mile 11, my legs felt like Jell-O. Wobbly and unsteady. I knew the last two miles were going to be about survival.
Mile 11 meant the last significant climb, and then I knew I had a steep descent and rolling hills with a net uphill through the finish. I was hoping to be able to resume half marathon pace for the last mile or two, but my quads were shot so I did whatever I could manage. I was thinking a lot about a 12 miler I ran at Babcock Lake two weeks ago and thanking myself for doing it, because though my quads were tired, I wasn’t tired. My energy level was good and everything else felt great (all things considering), so hopefully I’ll feel that good for my goal half marathon.
I was holding on to first place, and I had no idea how close 2nd place was to me. Once again, I put my head down and ran as hard as my trashed quads would allow. I turned a corner and could see the finish line and the crowd in the distance. As the finish came into view, I could see the clock. I crossed at 1:34:05 (7:11 pace) and it was good enough to be the 1st female and 7th overall finisher. It’s also a PR by 1:20 seconds! I am still so stoked! My splits for the end of the race: 7:50 (the final climb), 7:16, 7:23 and 6:20 for the last .1.
I came through the finish and once I chugged some water, a few of the guys who finished around the same time as me came over to say congratulations. One guy mentioned that he runs the race every year and he finds the course to be consistently around seven minutes slower than the other half marathons he’s run that year. Seven minutes sounds a bit excessive, but I could absolutely see how this is NOT a PR course! I did set a PR here but honestly, part of that was definitely due to the fact that I haven’t raced this distance in a long time. I wouldn’t expect another PR here if I choose to run the race next year.
London chick’s name was Steph, and she finished about 3 minutes behind me for 2nd place. She came through the finish, came over to me and we gave each other sweaty hugs even though we’d only exchanged a few words at the start. After surviving that course, I feel like we are all one big family. Everyone was so friendly and supportive and it was such a great dynamic. Steph told me that she went out around her 10K pace and thought she could hold on. Made sense, because I passed her around mile 6. A few minutes later, my friend Jory came through the finish. She ran 1:46 and won her age group!
Every finisher got a medal, and I received a trophy and some random gift cards (Applebees and Road ID) as my prize:
I’m beyond happy that I decided to run this race and I would absolutely sign up again next year. It was hot, sunny and hilly as HELL but such a good challenge. It gave me an awesome confidence booster for my upcoming fall races.
Ever add a challenging course to your race schedule to test your fitness?