Race Report: VIA Half Marathon

This race was a long time coming for me! I hadn’t really raced a half since 2010. Back then, my PR was a 1:35. I signed up for several half marathons since 2013, but every time I’d sign up for one, I would get injured before I could even get to the start. I paced a few over the past few years, and I ran one in Central Park in 2014 (the Fred Lebow Half Marathon) with the intention of running a PR. Except it was something like 16 degrees and snowy at the start and in the middle of the polar vortex. I went out at 10K pace just to warm up (I was frozen solid) and was absolutely dying by the second half of the race. It was awful – the spilled water at the water stops made each of those sections like an ice skating rink. You practically had to walk them so you didn’t die. Needless to say, I was really overdue for a good half.

When I was coming up with my Hartford Marathon training plan, I scheduled the VIA Half as part of my training as a target race for a half PR. It’s a great course, but since I hadn’t raced the half distance in awhile, I added the super tough Perk Up Half as my first real try at this distance in years. The catch was that the race featured almost 1000′ of climbing and my main goal was to just run it hard – like a strength training workout. I didn’t taper for the race and logged something like 67 miles that week. PR if I could, maybe try for marathon pace since the course was so hard. I ran a PR there, but not by much (as expected) and I was just a little off of marathon pace.

For VIA, I also made the choice not to taper and logged 71 miles for the week. I knew it was risky but my end goal here is the marathon, not a half marathon. One day, I’ll run a half on fresh legs! I’m not going to lie, when I lined up at the start I wasn’t sure that I’d made the right choice about the lack of a taper. My legs were sore and fatigued. I’d done a 12 mile track workout and a 15 mile run in the days prior. With all of this in mind, I had a few goals:

  • Goal A: Break 1:30 (goal pace, sub-6:52)
  • Goal B: Run the race at marathon pace (7:00-7:04)
  • Goal C: PR (under 1:34, which I knew was doable on this course)
  • Goal D: Just finish!

It’s a local race, but with a super early start – 7:10am. The marathon and relay go off at the exact same time, but they begin in Allentown. The half begins in Bethlehem. They didn’t have race day packet pickup so I had gotten my packet the day before at ArtsQuest, on the south side of Bethlehem. I was up by 4:30 am, drank some coffee and ate a small plain bagel with almond butter. I gathered my gear and headed to downtown Bethlehem a little after 6 am for a quick warm up and the start of the race. It’s only about a 10 minute drive. I got there with plenty of time for the bathroom, a warm up, and to hang out with some friends. The students that play the bagpipes for Liberty High School was there playing, and before you knew it they were singing the national anthem and we were lining up at the start.

Miles 1-4

The first mile begins on Main Street in Bethlehem, and it’s downhill. It takes you onto the towpath, which is where the rest of the race is run. The half is part of a full marathon and a marathon relay, and the whole thing runs from Allentown to Easton. Bethlehem is halfway and makes the perfect starting location for the half, and it’s a convenient jump onto the towpath. I knew my goal was to try for a sub-1:30, but I didn’t know how possible it would be with my tired legs. I told myself that in no way should my first mile be faster than a 6:45. Ideally, I should do the first mile around 7:00 (or just under) and try to negative split from there. Well, I hit my first mile in 6:39. Crap. I was semi-chasing the girls in front of me, but I told my self I needed to chill out and run my own race, because that’s what’s been working for me lately. Besides, I knew this race was usually won in something like 1:22 and I knew for SURE I wasn’t running a 1:22 anytime soon. Once we hit the towpath, I noticed that the cinders felt really loose and slippery. It rained a lot the day before, so I was just glad that it wasn’t muddier than it was. I kept losing my footing and I was using a lot of energy just to keep moving forward. I just focused on keeping my pace steady and took a GU at mile 4.5. Miles 1-4: 6:39, 6:46, 6:42, 6:50. Right on pace.

Miles 5-8

This is where I struggled the most. The cinders were less slippery but I’d expended a lot of energy trying to keep my pace up in the beginning. I began to worry that the rest of my race would be a struggle. I took each mile one at a time, and told myself to just keep it under a 7 minute pace and not to focus on the sub-1:30. I knew the cinder path eventually changed to asphalt so I could reassess pace then and try to make up some time. I was still on track since I had a few seconds in the bank from miles 1 and 3. I started to perk up a little towards mile 8, but I think that’s because we got to a point on the course where we saw more people and it helped lift my spirits. Miles 5-8: 6:57, 6:55, 6:58, 6:52.

Miles 9-10

I took another GU and just kept focusing on being sub-7 for each individual mile. Each mile I would tell myself to hold on for just one more, and that I could let up a little in the next mile if I had to. I didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t feel like I could go any faster at this point. Miles 9-10: 6:51, 6:56.

Miles 11-13

This is where it hit me about how close I would be to that sub-1:30 mark, and I thought about how pissed off I would be if I missed it by a few seconds. Also, I knew there were a few girls ahead of me, but around mile 11 some girl came trucking past me. She was in the zone and had a lot of energy left. She was the only girl that passed me during the whole race and it lit a fire. I didn’t end up catching her, but I could see another girl up ahead that I’d been chasing the whole race and began trying to close the gap between us. She was slowing down and I was gaining on her quickly. I focused on her and just kept running as fast as I could until I passed her. I didn’t see any other females ahead of me, so I just focused on whatever guy was in front of me at the moment and tried to pass them for the last 5K. When I hit somewhere around 12.5, I felt like I was flying and I knew I was going to do it. In hindsight, I wasn’t quite as safe as I thought (I’ll get to that) but I had a huge smile on my face and knew I was running my way to about a 4-5 minute PR and a sub-1:30 finish. Miles 11-13: 6:49, 6:46, 6:49. My first and last 5K were comparable in average pace but the difference is, I felt much better in the last 5K. If someone told me I had to run another 3-5 miles at that pace, I’m confident I would have been able to.

Mile 13.1- Finish

I turned the corner to the last stretch and expected to see 1:28:50-something on the clock. I thought I had about a minute in the bank. To my dismay, I saw 1:29:28. Ughhhh, shit! I knew could do it, but I needed to SPRINT to make this happen. I felt good. I still had energy. I was smiling and had tears in my eyes. I crossed the finish line in 1:29:47. It was a PR by about 4ish minutes, and finally under the 1:30 mark! I was ecstatic. Final .1: 5:44 pace.

Overall, I was extremely happy with how it all went:

  • Time: 1:29:47
  • Overall Place: 35/894
  • Gender Place: 8/542
  • Age Group (30-34) Place: 1/88

I won my age group! This is a big race and I didn’t think I had a shot of winning anything so once I stopped chasing the other girls in the first mile, I ran my own race and focused on my own pace. I was really shocked that I placed at all! Also, this is the first time I maintained sub-7 minute miles for a whole longer distance race (5-10Ks fine, but never for anything longer). I thought my paces were pretty consistent, other than the first mile – I’m pretty proud of that because I usually positive split most of my races.

imageIt’s funny, but reading my own post about this race reaffirms why I love the marathon distance. I’ve really been enjoying the shorter distance races over the past few months, but I warm up at mile 10. In this race, I felt like I came alive after mile 10. I’ve even said before that it takes me the first half of a marathon for me to actually be warmed up and ready to run – it’s so true. It’s weird, but true.

Besides the fact that running on tired legs is a good way to make you stronger (also probably a good way to get hurt, but we all know I make really dumb decisions when it comes to running), an additional benefit I’m realizing is learning to start more conservatively. I realize a 6:39 might not seem conservative. But had I been fresh, I bet that 6:39 would have been more like a 6:15 and I probably would have tried to maintain it, only to blow up by mile about 5. I also would have started chasing down lead females which I have no business doing at that race. With tired legs, I know I’m already at a disadvantage. I need to be better about being patient and using this philosophy when I run on fresh legs. This race was a great confidence booster, an excellent learning experience, and a perfect day!

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79 Replies to “Race Report: VIA Half Marathon”

  1. Amazing! Congratulations on your huge PR and your age group win! I’m always so impressed by your races. I hope to channel some of your awesomeness into my half marathon this coming weekend. Except instead of sub 7s, I’ll be aiming for sub 8s. And I’ll be taking it easy this week because I’m not quite as much of a bad ass as you.

    1. Thank you!! OMG lady you are SO going to ROCK your race. I follow your training and I know you work so hard -you are WAYYY capable of sub 8s!! I’ll be sending you positive vibes on Sunday (assuming you have a Sunday race!). You are absolutely making the right move taking in easy this week. For me, I think it only helped because I started off more conservative than I normally would. After the race, my friend Cory actually told me “yeah, I couldn’t believe I could still see you in the first mile – you looked like you were taking it slow!” Which was a huge compliment – normally I bonk because I went out too hard!

  2. Awesome job and congrats on the PR and placing in your age group. I want to run the relay next year I think. I’ve never done one and I think it would be fun! This year, I lived vicariously through everyone’s photos on facebook 🙂

    1. Thanks! I’ve run the relay in the past, and it is SO FUN. I think that’s my favorite way to participate. I ran the marathon once, too. I am not a huge fan of running on the towpath so the course for the half and full is a little monotonous for me, but I know it’s a great course for PRs and BQs! That was my reason for targeting it as a half PR. I hope you are doing well!!!

    1. Thanks so much! I think I’m more excited about the consistency of my splits than I was about the actual PR! I’m usually too impatient at the start 🙂 It felt great to feel strong at the end of the race. Now if only I can feel that way at my marathon in October!!!

      1. You will. Sounds like training has been going really well. 70+ mile weeks in training? I could never do that. My body would break down before I ever got to the starting line. Maybe I’m just too old for that kind of mileage. 😉

  3. Ahh, this makes me so pumped to read! What a strong last 5k; and on dead legs! I do need to pick your brain about marathon pacing, now that I think about it since you’ve run a bajillion marathons and I’ve run like 5, haha…I’ll shoot you an email sometime this week if that is cool? Congrats again lady!

    1. Thanks so much! It was a great race!!! Definitely shoot me an e-mail, would love to help! I have this fun spreadsheet (I am such a computer nerd) where I come up with splits and mess with it before my races. I love that kind of stuff!!!

  4. Shit, Girl. You is FAST! I needed to read this today. You reminded me that tired legs are strong legs that just need a quick snooze. {She says as she rolls her legs at work and doesn’t even care.}

    1. Thanks, sister! When I try to run (more like drag a dead body around) today, that is so going to be my mantra. Tired legs are strong legs that need a quick snooze!!! That needs to be on an Instagram picture or something!!!

  5. Congratulations on the PR!! You worked hard for it and I’m so happy for you! 🙂 You’ve given me inspiration and motivation for my half on Oct. 18, thank you! I have confidence you’re gonna do great at the full marathon ! As always you’re awesome!

    1. Thank you so much!!! You will blow that October half out of the water. Seriously, you have been just blowing the miles out of the water – didn’t you run like 80 miles or something last week? You are so ready…and you are ALSO awesome!!

      1. You’re far too kind to say that but thank you!! I’m definitely starting to feel more confident in my running again 🙂 and your support has been so helpful!

  6. Ahh so fun to read about your experience, Allison!! Congrats again – you are amazing! You just averaged a pace that I can only pull off for ONE mile!!! hahahaha. You paced yourself so fantastically and I am so proud of all your success this season. You’ve been on point and I think it’s because you are just enjoying everything that you do. It’s fun to follow through all your experiences. You are going to kick ass at your next marathon! I so wish I could go up to Hartford to see you! If only my marathon wasn’t the very next day :/

    1. Awww thanks Charissa! I still don’t know how I pulled it off but I am so glad I did. I really think something you said is the reason for any PR I’ve run lately – just enjoying everything lately is a factor. I was really having a tough time for awhile throughout the spring and even when I could run, I wasn’t enjoying it. It just became stressful. I’m stoked for Hartford but half because it’s the same weekend as YOUR marathon, which you will ROCK! I want to come to Steamtown because I do have several friends running, and it’s just about an hour and change away. I’m going to see how beat up I am and then decide, but either way I am excited to track you!

  7. I’m really glad you had such an incredible race. I know this sets you up so well for your marathon and I definitely can’t wait to see how you improve there too! I was so excited to read this!

  8. Awwyayahhhh!! ALLISON!!! YOU DID IT! So so SO great. I knew you’d nail it. I love how you said that you could hold that pace for another few miles. This is such great news for a sub-3 marathon. You’ve got it in you.

    1. Ahhh sub-3 is the goal for sure!! I think it’s going to take the right course and the right day – all the stars need to be aligned! For this fall I just want to get close to my PR – 3:06 (almost twins except mine is closer to that 3:07 mark, heheh!!!) and see how it goes! Someday, sub-3 would be ahhhhmahhhhzinnng! You are my inspiration, sister!

  9. WOW!!! You’re a fast bad ass!!!! That is so so awesome, great job! Reading race recaps like this make me want to go back down to the shorter distances….. i love ultras, but dang it’d be fun to be finished with a race in under 5 hours hahaha

  10. Dynamite performance, and incredibly consistent. You are within gleeking distance of my own half PR (1:29:42), and the only way I was able to sneak in under 1:30 was with a fast 13th mile. I also realized, like you, that I had to gun it or miss that threshold.

    Did the Via organizers have a ton of timing mats this year? After the whole Mike Rossi thing, I’m guessing they don’t want anyone else allegedly cheating their way to a superfast time without any stats to back it up.

  11. Congrats on a PR, sub-1:30, and an AG win! Your splits are seriously impressive – I need to learn how to pace like that. You’re definitely going to run an amazing time at Hartford, especially if you felt you could have kept that pace up!

  12. Oh wow!!! This is awesome! Congrats on everything you accomplished. I love to read stuff like this to encourage me. It’s funny because this is almost opposite of my race recap from the weekend – I’ve declared that I dislike running marathons!! 😉

    1. Thank you!!! I started to read yours earlier and got interrupted by work stuff. I am on my way back over to finish reading it now! It’s funny though – I read your first paragraph and yours is the opposite of my last paragraph, haha!!

  13. Wow Ali congratulations on a STRONG race on it’s own, let alone on tired legs! You won your AG, that is so cool! You are going to blow your marathon out of the water. I can’t even imagine what you will do at the half with a proper taper. I hope to break a 1:30 in the half some day! My PR now is a 1:38 but I think I have a little more in me. Maybe the next time I aim to PR I will aim for a sub 1:35. It’s weird how just 3 minutes seems like a lot when it’s only a half!

  14. Congratulations on your PR and age group win :). I am not surprised at all by how you train and how your last half went, good luck with recovery this week and getting back into training for Hartford.

  15. This is totally awesome. Congrats! I think I mentioned to you that I have never really trained for a half and am considering it. Seeing your great progress has me further inspired. Totally awesome!

  16. i LOVED this recap!! Reading about the finish, i could feel my adernaline start to pick up!! Its like i was there watching you finish! CONGRATS on winning your age group! You inspire me!

  17. You KILLED IT! & after such a high mileage week – just phenomenal!! *high five*
    Props for running your own race too, clearly it worked out in the best way possible. It’s hard to just let people go sometimes, but it usually works out better in the end 🙂
    I loved reading your thoughts between miles 5-10. I have a really hard time not letting how my body feels affect my mind negatively. I start looking for reasons to slow down thinking “I blew it already”. I try to remember the “stay in the mile your in thing” but it hard! It’s inspiring to see someone else work through it though, and run such an incredible race.
    Congrats again! =)

    1. Thanks, Amber!! I am still in shock and on cloud nine! I really was unsure of what to expect because my legs have felt pretty fatigued the past few weeks since I’m at my peak mileage. I never used to be one to chase down the lead runners – I don’t know why that started but it was over the last year and it’s been pretty harmful to me! This summer, I got a little better at going back to running my own race. I think if my legs were fresh, my thoughts in miles 5-10 would have been very different. They probably would have been something like what you mentioned – “I blew it already”or something along those lines!! I’m hoping I can remember those miles in future races when I have fresh legs, because the feeling passed after I just started focusing on one mile at a time! Thanks again, it was such a fun race!

  18. Just been catching up with reading everyone’s blogs – so sorry I missed this post! A massive CONGRATS to you!!! I knew you would be able to get sub 1:30 – you must be SO pleased 🙂 What’s next on your horizon?

    1. Ahhhhh THANK YOU! I am still on cloud nine! I have the Hartford Marathon on Saturday, eeek! Then, the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in early November, then REST! How about you???? What’s next??? I have some catching up to do myself today!

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