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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’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!