July 20, 2013 by Amy B
Back in 2004, when I was in a failing marriage and an ultimate low point in my life, I was convinced by a friend to try running a marathon.
The idea hasn’t really occurred to me until that moment. I’d been running regularly, trying to get into shape and lose about 30 pounds I’d put on throughout the relationship. I was going to be 29 years old, and it seemed like a good goal to have before I turned thirty.
That marathon and the training that went into it saved me. And in the course of it all, I became hooked.
I’ve run a marathon every year since then, with exception of the fall following my daughter’s birth (I ran the 10 mile option that year). I love the marathon, even though the distance kind of kills me and I’ve posted slower times in the years following my first effort.
I’ve even gotten Scott to join in on the misery fun, and he’s been running one every year since 2006.
I’ve never signed up for many half marathons for a few reasons:
- There aren’t many offered in our area (if any)
- I always felt that I’d conquered something much bigger than a measly half; I’d done the full 26.2. A stupid way to think, but I did.
Being that there are not a lot of races held up here in Boondocks, MI, I do try to participate in as many as I can. In past years I’ve stayed away from races if they didn’t fit in my marathon schedule. This year I’ve made exceptions (trail weekend totally falling on a rollback week but doing it anyway); in the case of the Canal Run, I didn’t have to. I had 14 miles scheduled. A half marathon seemed like an acceptable substitute.
Friday night we picked up my bib at Finlandia Hall, also the location of the community pasta dinner and the kids race. Sophie has been bugging me “to go to the race” all week after I told her she could run a race. They really did it right – kids getting bibs? Most awesome thing ever!
The race was just a 50 yard dash across one of the parking lots, so I knew she (and her attention span) could probably handle it. The concept of staying behind the line until they said, “GO!” was tough, but somehow she managed.
I think in the end she stuck back near Scott at the back of the pack. This proved to be a good thing, as there was a collision involving multiple little boys right at the start. She successfully avoided not becoming a part of the carnage.
The kids got little dog tag type necklaces that had a winged foot on one side and “Kid’s Dash Finisher” on the other. She was very pleased.
I know she won’t remember moments like these, but I will. Always.
Moving on to Race Day:
I didn’t sleep well and woke up at 6:00. I live about 10 minutes from the start, so I’d arranged for my timing chip/band to be at the starting line so I could avoid the hour-long alternative of driving down to the finish, parking and taking a bus to the starting line. Win!
I’m a creature of habit when it comes to race and long run prep. I’m not one of those who go out without eating, but I can’t stomach dairy before long runs or intense efforts. It’s a waffle and nut butter/honey for me, usually. I’ll also go for toast or half a bagel if no waffles are available. I’ve been trying to be better about hydration and trying to drink about 8 oz of water or nuun water an hour before I go out, too.
I’m really bad lately at indecision when it comes to what to wear. It’s probably because I’ve added some cool pieces to my running repertoire. I’d purchased a Mio Mesh in anticipation that it was going to be sweltering for race day, but it turned out that the weather was supposed to hang in the 50s. I opted for the short sleeve shirt, a Brooks “Run Happy” shirt I have yet to break in. It’s pretty small for a medium (WTF, Brooks?) but I love everything else about it. (Time to get rid of that gut, sister.) Also: I needed to wear the Pro Compression Retros. I just did. The stripes made me feel happy. Shoes? Went for the Glycerins. I really want to get another pair of these. I love them. Sorry, Nimbus.
We piled half-asleep children in the car for the 10 minute ride to Koskela Road. I was shocked to see so many people were running the half. It turned out there were 125 runners present for the half and just over 800 people for all of the day’s events (half marathon, 10 mile run, 10 mile walk, 5 mile run, 5 mile walk).
I was able to catch up with two of my coworkers, including G, who was running his first half marathon.
He also signed up first so that he could have the first bib. Nerd. 🙂
No race would happen without volunteers, and two of my former co-workers were there to drink coffee and be encouraging. 🙂
I hadn’t done a ton of race prep in advance, so I wrote the aid station mile markers on my hand, just so I could figure out when to hydrate and ingest gel. I’m glad I did; my brain kind of turns to mush during races.
I decided to inaugurate my “Wings out” necklace for the race. I usually don’t run with jewelry, but I love this one.
I’ve run this route many times in training, so I knew what to expect. I also ran the 10 mile race back in 2010, which is the largest chunk of the half course – it just tacks 3.1 miles onto the head. The course also starts out with a nice downhill slope, which I can’t say I hate. Whenever I’d run this in training, this is the part of the course I particularly liked.
I felt pretty good at the start but wanted to pace myself. In my head, I figured a 10:00 min/mile pace was absolutely doable, and if this were just me going out for a long training run, this is what I’d aim for. I’d read a few days earlier in Runner’s World that a good strategy for the half is to go out 10-15 seconds slower than goal pace for the first third; goal pace for the middle third; and 10-15 seconds faster than goal for the last, if you felt up to it.
This is a concept completely foreign to me: having energy to finish the last part of the race FASTER than the beginning? I wasn’t really setting out to “race” this run, but kept that philosophy in my head as I started out.
I started in the back of the pack, which is what I usually do, since I don’t want to get trampled on by faster runners and figure anyone I pass is just a bonus. I found a rhythm and stayed with it, and when the garmin beeped, I looked down and saw:
and thought, damn. Slow down.
We were starting to level out into flat territory, a long stretch before the state park entrance (and where the 10 milers were starting) which is usually a stretch I loathe. But when I am normally running this route, by this time I’m sitting at 10 miles in, so I’m potentially feeling lousy at this point.
My second and third miles felt more realistic. I felt like I could keep this pace up for awhile.
As I passed the park entrance I heard the gun go off, sending the 10 milers on the road. Really? I thought. I waited for the masses to descend, and they did. Hundreds of fresh lycra-clad legs swarmed the roadway, making it difficult to stick with my current pace without trying to pace the other runners to keep up. They haven’t been running for 3 miles like you have, so SLOW THE HELL DOWN.
I then heard someone call my name and turned to see Renè, a friend/former-coworker. It was nice to see a friendly face and I decided to try to stick with her for as long as I could. From memory, she’s a slightly faster runner than I am, so I thought if I could pace with her for awhile, that would be quite an accomplishment.
9:52, 9:25, 9:42
At the 6 mile mark I had to slow down to grab some water. I bid Renè farewell; I wasn’t sure I could’ve kept up with her anyway. I grabbed a powerade and a water, filling my hydrapouch with the water, chugging the powerade, an s-cap and half a gel.
Side note: I love the hydrapouch; it allows me to dump the water into it and not stop to walk through the aid station (if I don’t want to). My only complaint is that it’s really tough to run with it and not slosh the entire contents out while you’re moving. I wish it had some sort of bracing to keep it shut at the top – kind of like a coin purse – so that I could cover the opening with my thumb while I run and sip the contents as I go. It’s super light and not a problem or bother to carry at all. I find the clip kind of useless; it bounces too much.
A few minutes later I heard my name again and ran for a few miles alongside a familiar face (from softball league and the local youth hockey league). I wasn’t sure what her pace was, but she seemed fairly consistent with what I was trying to keep. I decided to stick with her for awhile; I could still see Renè about 30 yards ahead of me.
9:35, 9:48, 9:57
Somewhere in here I started to feel pretty damn good. Was it the gel? The s-cap? My second wind? Were we running downhill? I don’t remember at this point. I remembered the tentative plan to pick things up in the final third and decided to push it a little more. I passed a gaggle of twenty-something girls who were hogging up most of the road (pet peeve, urgh). The course photographer was coming up on the left. I tried to look strong and in control as he snapped a few shots. We travelled up a slight hill and then I tried picking it up.
I saw a sign that said there was 5K left to go. Even though it’s still a long way to go, my brain can totally handle 5K. I remembered when I saw the “5K left” sign during last weekend’s trail race from hell and thought, damn. You can totally do this.
I caught up to Renè. “You’re kicking it in,” she said. “I dunno, we’ll see,” I replied. It’s true. I really didn’t know if I had it in me. I considered staying with her but decided to take off.
The last large uphill started at about 11.6 mi, and by this time I’d caught up with the bulk of the walkers from the 10 and 5 mile races. I’m not sure if passing all the walkers kept me going or slowed me down, but I powered up the hill like I’ve never done before; in the past, I’ve had to walk up that fucker. But just when you think you’ve gotten to the top and it levels out, you realize it’s a slight uphill grade all the way back into downtown. It’s deceptive; people burn out too quickly. I feared this was happening to me. I choked down half a gel and grabbed a cup of water from the 12 mile aid station, hoping it would give me a little kick at the end.
My garmin indicated that I’d finish in less than 2:10 if I kept up a steady pace.
On the final approach to the finish line I saw racers walking toward me with their medals and remembered that we were getting them. When I could see the finish line flags I picked it up a little more. I saw a hockey teammate on the sidelines and screamed her name as I ran past (or as much as I could manage a scream. Her husband had flown by me earlier and gotten some ridiculous place finish in the 5 mile race.). I tried to see if I could find Scott and the kids. I zoned in on the timing mats. I stopped my watch. I heard my name over the loudspeaker and someone placed a medal around my neck.
My Garmin had a time of 2:05:01 (I didn’t stop on the course) and the timing chip had me at 2:05:14; there’s no starting mat, so it’s a matter of using walkie talkies at the start. I finished 43rd of 63 women, 6th of 8 in age group, and 89th/125 overall. I’m totally cool with this; I started out at the back and passed 35 people? Not too shabby. I think my only other “official” half marathon time was back in 2005, a 2:15? Let’s call this a PR, or at least a great place to start.
Scott and the kids arrived at the finish a few minutes after I did; I guess I finished a little sooner than anticipated.
Earlier this week I’d considered trying to go for a sub-two hour time, which would have been crazy coming off the weekend I’d had. Since this was a training run, should I have run it more slowly? Maybe. I don’t feel like I gave it EVERYTHING I had but also don’t feel like I sauntered through. I felt like I put forth a good, hard effort. And in the end, I was still able to walk the rest of the weekend (another plus).
I hope I’ll have more chances to race this distance. I like it a lot. It takes training and prep yet isn’t the ball-busting effort of the full marathon. You still feel extremely accomplished when it’s over.
This race is possibly the premier racing event of Houghton County (in my opinion) and every year they get a little better at the organization and execution. I’m really happy they decided to get the half marathoners medals to commemorate such an accomplishment. The kids’ race was a blast. Hundreds of community members volunteer their time to make it a stellar day for everyone. This is a race I’ll always love to participate in for as long as my legs will carry me across the finish line.