City: Raleigh, NC Date: 09/20/2014
Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
Weather: Mid-60s at start, but warmed up to lower 70s quickly and fairly humid
Course: Lordy… I love the hilly races… I think you’ll see somethng of a theme for the races in the latter half of the year!
Summary: Awesome race!! I love this series…
I was in the midst of marathon training. By all conventional wisdom, I needed (*needed!!*) to do a half marathon before my full to test my mettle and make sure I was ready for that elusive sub-4-hour-as-close-to-BQ-time-as-possible goal I had set for myself. I volunteered for this group for the spring race in June (and had done the 10k the year before) and loved working with the group, so I thought I’d give this race a try. I’m glad I did. Although it didn’t do for me what I thought it would (spoilahs!), it was a great experience and fit in perfectly to my training schedule.
I must say, the marathon training for the Portland Marathon had been going fairly well at this point. I was making a lot more of the runs than I had been leading up to this point and I was getting faster. Much faster. It always freaks me out when I suddenly get faster because I don’t notice the incremental creeps in pace… it is sudden. Like, in a week, I’ll do 8:40, 8:40, 8:40, and then, out of nowhere, I’ll bust out an 8:10 and barely sweat… then, I’ll barely break 8:45 for days, and suddenly pop out an 8:04. It’s just weird like that for a bit during this transition to leveling up… and this is about where I was with “leveling up” in pace, so I had no idea what to expect. I knew the course, though, and I knew it was not a PR-able course – especially coming up Lassiter Mill… and that hill had kicked my ass before.
However… this was a local race, and a friend of mine I had met in June just, on a whim, decided to give the Half Marathon distance a try. I met him after I got my race packet and we talked about strategy and I gave him advice. He was so excited, and, for me, it was exciting to see a friend excited about their first half. I could also tell he was a bit nervous, but, he’s so not a type A personality like me, so I knew he’d do OK. Around dinner time, we said our good byes and good lucks and I went home to make myself a big bowl of Gluten Free Pasta. I got all my gear out and ready for the next morning, settled into bed and set my alarm. I was more excited (and nervous) about this race than I had been expecting I would be, especially for a training run.
I woke up on time – maybe a bit early – and I remember not sleeping well the night before. I had been in a cycle of not sleeping well, but I think this night was mostly due to excitement about the race and the opportunities I saw ahead of me… and the unknown about the outcome. What if I was over confident? What if I blow it here? Will that shake my confidence for Portland??? Shut-it and drink your coffee, kid, and make better use of your time than fretting about stuff like this. Sip.
I got all my things together, went to the bathroom one last time, made my UCan and was on my way at Dark-0-Thirty. I pulled into the parking deck at the North Hills shopping center just before 6 am (for a 7 am start) and got all my stuff sorted and packed… and headed to the bathroom line. Then… I had nerves to walk off, so I did giant loops around the shopping center. I could feel the anxiety creeping up on me – my palms sweating and my heart rate quickening… I was even gasping for breath a few times – something I only do when I’m really nervous. To this day – some three months later – I cannot explain why I was so worked up about this race at this point. But… quickly walking in giant loops around the parking lot seemed to soothe me for a bit, so I continued.
I saw all kinds of folks on this walk: the serious runners who were getting in their two (or more) mile warm up – or maybe they were marathon trainers who had extra miles to work in and would rather have done them before? That’s what I would have done if my plan had called for more… the first timers. You can always tell who they are because they are (1) over dressed and (2) flanked with dozens of people who (3) capture every single thing they do on their camera phones, specifically (4) with the race name in the background. I absolutely love seeing these folks and I’m glad I can recognize them now – it always makes me smile and think back to my first half marathon and I get excited all over again. I also saw a large contingent from Half Fanatics – I’m starting to see them all over the place now – and as I was walking determined that I may be able to join them this year… more on that later.
I returned to the bathroom line and looked for my friend to wish him luck in person, but never saw him and he usually doesn’t take his phone, so I didn’t have a way to contact him. Once I finished at the bathroom line, it was time to line up to start. This time, we were actually starting the Half first, and then the 10k, so it seemed a little less congested than the 10k I had done the year before. The chute filled up and the music blared – all kinds of dancey hits to make sure you’re either (1) awake (2) not bored and (3) pumped. Performance enhancing music, indeed. We did the National Anthem and then we were off.
About 10-20 feet from the start line is a huge curb and we were all instructed to step up when approaching it. I knew about the curb and, to be honest, I was mostly worried about either forgetting it was there or just tripping on it regardless. But, thankfully, I was reminded and I cleared the height of it with ease and grace, so I immediately started to feel better about my chances in this race. Another 20 feet or so beyond the curb was the entrance onto Lassiter Mill Road. ah… Lassiter Mill Road. I still call it Lassiter Hill subconsciously. I can’t help it…. it is a pretty steep hill and that mo fo is almost an entire mile long. So… at start, you go down this hill. And, thank God for that, because you feel like a million bucks flying down this hill at top speed. That first mile, my split was 7:24 and I swear, it did not feel like that. I didn’t even reach that speed in the Hatfield-McCoy Half while going down Blackberry Mountain.
Once you are at the bottom of Lassiter Mill, though, you are directed through a neighborhood and then to a greenway that comes out around Shelley Lake. In the neighborhood, I saw a friend of mine as a course monitor and cheering for folks, and it really uplifted me!! She called out my name when I was expecting to see anybody, so it was a nice treat! In addition to seeing someone I know, this was my favorite part of the race because it is shaded and just pretty back there. I really like the Shelley Lake Loop and I don’t do it often, except in races that go back there, so it is a nice change of scenery for me. It reminds me a lot of the Lake Johnson loop I did a lot in college. I think I also liked it the most because it was mostly shady. It was a relatively humid day, and at that time of the morning, you could see the humidity around the lake just sitting there in the air – it made for very pretty lighting and I so wanted to take photos… but I didn’t stop. I think I was listening to my pace and some music, but I had tuned it out by this point because I was in awe of the scenery.
After leaving Shelley Lake, we go back down the greenway, through the neighborhood (I see my friend again who now informs me that I’m not really that far behind the 1:50 pace group!!) and cross Lassiter Mill to another part of the Raleigh Greenway system. There is a conveniently located water stop (I have to say, all the water stops were awesome!) that was manned by the Nog Run Group, so I saw a few more friends who were cheering me on – which is something I felt like I really needed at this point. I was spent already and I was only at mile 9 or so. It felt heavy and daunting that I had 4 more miles left and I was starting to regret that fast stuff at the beginning of the race… but my friends cheered loudly, patted me on the back and told me I wasn’t “too far behind the 1:50 pace group!!” again – I had to catch that rabbit!
With renewed energy, I set out to catch the 1:50 pace group. Up to this point, my PR was a 1:49:55, so I now made it my mission to see how close I could come to that again. I hadn’t planned on doing that until I got to mile 10, so it was a pretty dumb strategy in hindsight. Nevertheless, I was fueled by knowing I was getting closer to finish and that I would be “not to far behind the 1:50 pace group”. Admittedly, though, once I set off down the greenway, I struggled to keep the pace required for 1:50, and, if I closed the gap at all, I opened it back up just as quickly. I also decided to officially stop at all water stops at this point because I needed the break. At a point in this part of the route, we had a turn around and came back. I’m not sure why, but I got kind of confused as I was going down the greenway as to who it was coming back – how’d they get there? This dumb question made me think I was starting to get dehydrated and that I needed to back off the pace quite a bit because I still had Lassiter Hill to go.
I figured out the out and back (and felt quite stupid once I did) and got a grip on myself. Only 2 miles left, one of which was the dreaded Lassiter Hill. I mustered up the energy I needed to get through this last segment on the greenway, only to hear my name again – no waterstop… it was another runner – my friend who was doing his first! I was really excited to see he was so close to me and that gave me the energy I needed to finish strong. I plowed down the rest of the greenway, stopping to walk just a bit as needed, and got back to the waterstop staffed by my friends from the Nog Run group. I stopped to take water and then started up Lassiter Hill. I looked down at my feet at the start of this part because I didn’t want to think about the climb – I just knew it was going to make me upset if I did. But… I couldn’t help myself at one point – I just wanted to know how far I had to go – and unfortunately for me, it was farther than I wanted or expected. Dang. I couldn’t help it – I had to walk. I told myself this was for the greater good – if I didn’t walk, I risked injury, and two weeks from a full, that’s just foolish. I don’t need a PR now – there is plenty of time for that in November.
I walk-ran the remainder of Lassiter Hill. I set little goals for myself for when to run and when to walk and I made sure I kept a decent pace at both. Once I got to the bridge that crossed I-440, I knew I was close – I could hear the music and the announcers and I could feel my pace pick up, even when going up the hill. I was ready to be done, but was still terrified of tripping on that curb to cross finish. Once I crested the hill, I could see the curb and in an almost cartoon-like manner, stepped up on the curb to insure I didn’t trip on it with tired legs. I crossed the finish line at a net time of 1:50:57, securing a spot as 2nd in age group, only the second time I’ve ever placed in a half marathon.
I walked through the chute to wait for my friend, who was only about 90 seconds behind me – I congratulated him and found other friends to stand with to watch the others finish until they started the announcements for the winners.
I loved this race – the guys who run this series – in my experience – do a wonderful job and are very passionate about this series. It is growing to all over the Southeast now, and I highly recommend doing one of these races, especially if you happen to be in Raleigh. This course is challenging. It is very hilly throughout, but it is a pretty course and a small race. Also… I learned that there are some races you are supposed to do just for fun – the half marathon you do two weeks before a full is one of those races. I mean, I had a temp time goal (which I did make – my overall pace was better than what I needed for a sub-3:45 full). Maybe, I can actually convert that into a sub-3:45 full one day.