2015 Race Reports: Novo Nordisk New Jersey Half Marathon – Long Branch, NJ

Race: Novo Nordisk New Jersey Half Marathon

City: Long Branch, NJ  Date: 4/26/2015

Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

Weather: Mid-50s at start; upper 60s at finish

Course:  Mostly flat for a New England coastline race.

Summary:  Not fast, but I loved it and had a great time!!

Prologue

My mother was from New Jersey.

Yes… she was a Jersey Girl… from the Jersey Shore even, before that became a part of the national lexicon because of that reality show. Unfortunately for me, she passed away far too young and too early in my life for me to really know all that much about where she was from. I picked up bits and pieces over the years from things she’d say and some of the items I found that she left behind, and I even saw the town once, but just as we were passing through. I never really got to *see* where my mom was from, and I thought it was important for my kids to understand things about the grandmother they’d never meet that were a factor in how they are being raised today. Because, really, when you are raised by a Jersey Shore girl, there are some parts of Jersey that gets transferred to your kid, even if she’s raised in the south – which explains a *lot* about how I fit in here 🙂

For that reason, I saved this state so I could visit her family and see where she was from. I timed it so I could bring my kids to meet that side of the family because none have met my kids – and I’ve not met theirs. I looked for a race as close to the town she grew up in (which, at the time I knew only as Red Bank) and tried to get it as close to where my cousins currently live as possible. What I found was so much better than I even imagined – a re-connection with a family I’d lost touch with a long time ago. Plus, along the way, I got to experience things with my boys for the first time: seeing Washington DC, New York City, and Hershey, PA, in addition to meeting and visiting family they’d not known. The icing on the cake was that they were perfect travelers for this trip – very excited, sweet and flexible and had a great time. That meant more to me than the race.

Pre-Race

As I mentioned in the Prologue, I decided to take my boys on this trip. This is something I’ve been trying to do when I have support and someone to care for them while I race because I’d like them to see me complete races that I work so hard for (they see the time spent on the treadmill – I wan them to understand what it is for). I also have my father’s sense of adventure and curiosity about the world around me, so I want to share that with them, hoping to spark their sense of adventure and curiosity about their world one day. On this trip, I had planned to drive to New Jersey, but stop in Washington DC on the way up (the boys had never been there) and then stop in Hershey PA on the way back.  I chose those spots along the way because my older son had read a biography on Milton Hershey (who sounded like a pretty fascinating guy) and, well, DC is our nation’s capital and if you live this close, why not? I took them out of school for a couple of days for the trip, but had very educational things planned.

On the way up, we stopped the first night in Washington DC. In DC, we crammed in as much as we could in less than 24 hours in the city – we walked the Mall, passed the FBI headquarters, walked through the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, went to the International Spy Museum, had a (gluten free) pizza at Pi Pizzaria, walked around the Capital (under reconstruction) and finally went to Ford’s Theater just a few days after the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. We left Washington DC around lunch time and headed to New Jersey where we stopped to get my race packet before heading to my cousin’s house… only to discover her house is literally 1.5 miles away. awwwwweeeeeessssssoooooommmmeeee. No need to drive or have anybody get up early to drive me. We had a great dinner and a good time catching up with everyone that night and, to my surprise, my uncle and aunt bought ferry tickets for the boys and me to go into NYC. The boys are big fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so they’ve been excited about the trip and the ferry was just easier.

One of my cousins planned a detailed agenda for us in NYC – and it was awesome (also see where I get that skill now… I always wondered about that). We followed her agenda by getting off the ferry at 34th street, walking a few blocks to get a cab to Central Park – visited the Central Park Zoo, had lunch there, and then walked to Times Square where we went to the M&M and Hershey stores (keeping with the Milton Hershey theme). By then, though, it was about an hour before the 2nd to last ferry went back to NJ and I didn’t want to be out late, so we decided to get a cab to the same Ferry port we arrived. Unfortunately, though, not only was there a big festival keeping us on the west side of the island, we also had a cabbie who must have been new – I had to navigate him to where I wanted to go and even then he had trouble understanding what I wanted. We ended up walking and barely missed the ferry. No worries – we had another port and another ferry – we took another cab to the Pier 11 Ferry port and waited in a Starbucks until it was time for the ferry. We got home and my cousins once again had a dinner ready for us and we had a great time having dinner and catching up on how the day went… but I was beat. I couldn’t believe I had a half marathon the next day.

Race Day 

I guess the NYC trip took it out of me because I slept like a rock that night. I got up earlier than I had planned and had plenty of time to get dressed and stretched and just wake up. Once I all my stretching and dressing done, I was ready to head out.

One of many things I absolutely love about New England in general is that Dunkin Donuts is prevalent there – I mean, more so than Starbucks (at least that I noticed) and the coffee is WAY better (in my opinion), and, as my luck has it, there is a Dunkin Donuts on the walk to the start line. I set out just before the sun was up to make my way to the start line and, honestly, it was even closer than I expected. I stopped and got the coffee I planned to get (a small), repacked my water bottle holder, and headed back out toward the start line.

The rest of the walk was calming and peaceful. I love little beach towns, and, though we were a few miles in from the beach where I was, it was close enough that it still smelled and felt beachy. In addition, the sunrise was stunning – a mixture of golden-silvery-pinkish-purplely and constantly changing the entire trip. The photo I captured of it only stayed that way for a few minutes. The start line was at the Monmouth Race Track – I’d never been to a race track before and it had an older 1950s feel to it. It was a bit chilly, so I walked inside to warm up and, you know, while I’m there, I’ll use the restroom with running water. It was nice to have the option and I didn’t mind the wait because of it. After the pit stop, I decided to walk around the building a bit – snapping a few photos and just taking in the sights. There was a one-man band (Mario) entertaining us with covers of late 1980s pop songs – I strolled past him to the back half and looked out to the track and notice four horses practicing. It was awesome – I’d never seen it before but grew up loving horses, so it felt like something I’d known all my life. It was a very cool experience for me.

As it approached start time, I wandered outside (it was still pretty chilly to me) and stood in line for *one* more potty break (if you’ve read any past posts, you know how this goes for me…) Of course, the official photographer wanted to get a photo while I’m in line, so I hold up my bib and, wouldn’t you know, it is the best shot of me for the entire race. haha. figures.

It was time for the race to start, so the announcers gathered all of us to the start line, so, I headed over to my corral and filed in with the rest. It was a crisp morning, and the start corrals were pretty crowded, so I was able to stay warm. I decided that, since I was still technically recovering from the full that I wanted to run with music and monitor my pace this time, so I tried to connect my bluetooth headphones – only to discover that this is nearly impossible in the start corral… something I also had to deal with in the Run to Remember half marathon a few weeks later.

Because the start was at a horse race track, it seemed only fitting that the bugler that started each of the horse races also started us off. We sang the national anthem and then got the typical horse race bugle call start for each wave. It was actually pretty fun. After the first bugle call they started playing “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. In my mind, you cannot have a running race in New Jersey – especially one that starts at a race track – that does not have this song pouring out over you in some capacity. I was in the third or fourth corral (I honestly can’t remember now), so the song was still playing as I passed the speakers and it was so loud (to the chagrin of all the locals in Long Branch…) that I could feel each syllable The Boss spoke vibrate through my entire body as I passed by.

The most notable thing for me for this race was the flatness of it – which surprised me because, generally, this area is not really all that flat. While it *is* a beach town, it is a New England beach town, and well, New England just isn’t flat. Later on that day, I will take my boys to Highlands (to see the twin light tower), which is called that for a reason. This portion, though, around the track and through Oceanport, was pretty flat.

We mostly ran through small neighborhoods and I got to see a lot of the little town my aunt and uncle lived in (almost literally passing their house). I also overheard a conversation between two women who were complaining about how the hill on mile 2 was kicking their butt – I had to laugh because I was curious what she was talking about. Between miles 5 and 6, there was a bridge we crossed (which I thought was nice – I like crossing bridges in races and most of the time take note of them) and that was a nice hill, but otherwise, most of it seemed pretty flat to me.

The first five or so miles were pretty good for me – I was averaging around an 8:10 mile until I got to mile 6 where we crossed the bridge and I was starting to feel the effects of the marathon from 4 weeks before this. My legs were starting to feel heavy and, although I had done a double-digit run before this race, most of the runs I had done were much shorter and I was starting to tell that maybe that was having a negative effect.

Plus: as usual – I had to pee.

I managed to keep myself together until I got to mile 9, but I really had to go by then, and, thankfully, there was a port-a-potty right there – this was my slowest mile, though, and put my overall average over 8:30 for the rest of the race. I had some walking around this time, too, because my legs were toast. I really struggled through from that point on to almost mile 11 when I finally turned on to 2nd Avenue and you could see the beach between the buildings and knew we were really close to the finish.

As we turned off 2nd to the side road that then turned onto Ocean Avenue, I started having deja vu from the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon that turned this hobby of mine into a giant goal that led me to this particular race – that turn and seeing the beach really brought back a lot of memories for me. Although, I knew I had just under a mile left, whenever you turn on to a boardwalk like this and you know you’re close, that mile seems to last for about six. Like Virginia Beach, this was a LOOONNNGGGG mile and I was ready to be done. However, unlike Virginia Beach, it was much cooler and the cross-winds from the shore were nice and cool and refreshing, not hot! I was able to pick up the pace a bit as I got closer to the finish, but nothing close to what I was doing the first half of the race. I ended with a 1:53, which was pretty much on the nose of what I told my cousins I’d do (I told them “about 1:53 or so because I’m not feeling it today”) haha.

I finished, collected my finisher items and located my cousins who were waiting with my kids at the finish area. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get in to see the finish, but they tried and I’m thankful I got to see them shortly after. We walked around and snapped a few photos and the headed back to one of their houses so I could clean up and we could do a little bit of touring of the town (Red Bank, Little Silver, Oceanport, Monmouth Beach and Highlands) and visit with the rest of the family who were coming over for a barbecue later that afternoon.

Learnings

This was one of those trips that I took that will be a good memory for me for the rest of my life. I am happy that I took the time to spend with family and it was good for me to have the connection to my mom’s town and where she grew up (as well as the people she grew up with as I’ve been somewhat removed from them for most of my life). It gave me the context I’ve needed to understand some things about myself. I am also glad I waited to do this race when I could take my kids. Although they still didn’t get to see me finish, they were there shortly after and were able to see that all the hard work I put in on the treadmill week after week isn’t for naught. I don’t think they fully understand it yet, but I hope they will soon. Unfortunately, after about 25 half marathons and now three full marathons, 10 or so 10k and about 20 5k races, they have yet to actually see me finish a race. I hope to change that soon.

2015 Race Reports – Tobacco Road Marathon Full Report

Race: Tobacco Road Marathon (full)

City: Cary, NC  Date: 03/15/2015

Distance: Marathon (26.2 miles)

Weather: upper-40s at start; low 60s at finish; Sunny for the first half, mercifully overcast for the second.

Course:  American Tobacco Trail for the vast majority which is a wide, groomed trail. Some hills, but long and lower rise; half paved, 1/4 packed sand, 1/4 gravel and mud

Summary:  Another awesome, well organized and well done race!!

Prologue

I’m on a quest: I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I have been offered opportunities to run the marathon to benefit charity – which I may do one day – but the first time, I want to earn the right to be there because it is for me. That may be selfish, but I’m very selfless in many, many other aspects of my life, so want this one thing just for me. It is a daunting task – which I understand – and I have my work cut out for me, but I also think that I’m close enough to get there with the appropriate training.

I can feel it.

The “with appropriate training” part, however, is the difficulty that I have with this process. I am a divorced mom that co-parents with the kids’ dad. I have a full-time job that I love and it is flexible, but I don’t always get 2-1/2 hour chunks of time to knock out a 15-miler in the middle of the week without a lot of planning, finagling, and juggling, sometimes so tightly, a tiny 5-minute variance has a much bigger impact than it should. I have other things going on, too – life in general with housekeeping and friends and family in addition to my kids. It is a lot to manage outside of running an average of 7-10 hours a week. I rearrange and move things around to make it all work, but sometimes, things outside of running and training take priority and I’m not sorry for that.

But… I still think I can do it. I’m a sub-1:50 half marathoner, so I should be able to, at the very least, get a sub-4:00 marathon. I have a treadmill and a gym membership. I have a supportive network that check in on me, encourage me (even though they rightfully call me crazy), and can help me with the kiddos when I really need it, so I’m pretty lucky and very, very grateful.

However… stuff just comes up and you have to manage priority. As much as I would love to have focused on training a lot more this round, I had other things that were a bigger priority and training had to take a bit of a back seat. I did not get the kind of cross-training I know I needed. I didn’t make as many runs as I did last cycle. I had an injury that, well, slowed me down considerably.

So as I approached race day, I became honest about my ability. Some people looked at it as insecurity – it is not. It is an amalgam of intellectual honesty comprised of a dash of clear head, and a pinch of feet firmly planted and a big ole helping of clear understanding of my strengths and where I need help. Because of the mental, emotional and scheduling challenges during this training cycle, my toes on the start line was more of an accomplishment than I care to admit.

…but I not only got there, I finished. I’m proud of that.

Next Marathon, hopefully, I can work on things I couldn’t this time. Even if I can’t, I am contributing to my much, much larger goal of staying active and continuing to run as long as my body lets me which is a way bigger goal than any specific finishing time or qualifications or lottery entries to any other races, and though I may talk about these race times and qualifying for races, my pride is not inextricably linked to it and I am happy and grateful I woke up another day and had the opportunity to run at all.

Yes. I have goals to do well and be faster and better than I am now. Yes. I’d like to finish higher in not only my age group, but overall. Yes. I’d really like to qualify for and experience the Boston Marathon. But, at the end of the day, I really want to run to clear my mind of the cobwebs and expel all the stress and anxiety from my body to reset and make myself ready for the next day.

As the kids say: that’s how I roll.

Pre-Race

As I admitted in the prologue, my training cycle did not go as planned. There were several days where I woke up and thought to myself “why the hell did I sign up for *another* marathon? Was I really ready?” The answer would always be no until I got about half way through the training run and realized it was “ehh.. yeah… it’s ok…. I’ll be ok”. Of course, there were the “damn! that was awesome!” days mixed in with the “Gah… that sucked” days, as there always are in training cycles, but this is the first time of the four training cycles and three marathons I actually questioned whether or not I should have even registered for a marathon.

So, needless to say, when I had to take a realistic look at how I felt and what I was doing with this training cycle, I understood fully that I was not going to qualify. I did not have it in me. A sub-4 hour marathon was now a stretch goal and, beating my PR would have been nice, but ultimately, I thought I should land somewhere between the 4:12 of Portland and the 4:05 of Raleigh. Unlike the City of Oaks half where I was convinced I was doing the full at the expo, I walked into this expo somehow thinking I was doing the half and having to remind myself “no… no… you’re doing the full”. However, unlike Portland, after the race started, I didn’t wish I had registered for the half… I was grateful I had registered for (and completed) the full.

I picked up my race bib the Friday before and, I admit, I got a little more excited about it by picking it up early, so I think that was the right decision for me. I brought my kids because I always want to show them what this experience is like, and then we went home and had gluten-free pasta (my youngest loves pasta) and relaxed. The next day was much of the same until I dropped them off with their dad. Thankfully, I was able to sleep really well the two nights before and I spent most of the days leading up to the marathon focused on hydration and making sure I DO NOT make my previous hydration and fueling mistakes.

I was in bed by 7:30 and likely asleep by 7:58. I did not take long to pass out, probably because I knew I was getting up early and I was kind of tired from the weeks before.

Race Day 

I woke up at 3:45 – about 10 minutes before my alarm went off – because I had to pee. That was, as far as I was concerned, a very good sign. Ironically, I felt really well rested and I wasn’t as nervous as I usually am before a race. I deliberated about what I needed more: a couple of more minutes of rest, or to just get up and get started with things. Getting up and getting started eventually won that battle and I started on my usual race day routine: quick shower, coffee, cereal, mixing UCAN, and checking to make sure I had everything, but not the ‘billion times’ OCD-like check that I usually put into it – I was eerily relaxed.

I decided to be a bit of a cheapskate and not pay for a parking pass, so I left my house at 4:45 to park at Netapp and take the shuttle to the start line. I got there just as the buses were filling up, so I was able to take the 2nd bus almost immediately.

Because the weather was cool in the morning and there didn’t seem to be a line at the bag drop, I decided to walk around with my fleece on for a little while – since I had about 90 minutes to kill before start. I made my way over to the port-a-potties and then just walked around for a while. It was a beautiful morning, though, it was foggy. I wondered into the baseball park and noticed this weird cloud just hanging over the baseball field – it was very cool. I took a few photos and then I noticed that there were bathrooms… and they were unlocked. Holy yay! So, of course, I decided to get in line, although I had already used the port-a-potties just about 30 minutes before. It felt nice to wash my hands in real water! I left the complex and wondered around for a bit and decided to go to the bathroom *one* more time before start so I got back in line, which was much longer this time.

By the time I finished the last bathroom trip, I was ready to drop off my bag. I then shuffled over to the start line to see if I could place myself in a section that made sense. As I wondered down the chute, the pace group leaders – which had congregated together for a while – had started to fan out and take shape. I placed myself squarely between the 4:00 and the 3:55 pace groups. I thought to myself: if I can just keep up with these folks, I’ll be doing alright.

The music got louder and the emcee got more excited as we approached the 7 AM start time. His excitement was infectious because I was even getting excited at this point. He was calling out to people – “who is from Canada?”, “Who is from NY? – nawww… this is an NC race!” a comment that garnered a lot of cheering. Finally, though, it was time for the national anthem, so we all bunched in closer together – shoulder to shoulder – to listen to the anthem together. The anthem was over and we got a “you’re starting!” type of announcement from our bubbly emcee, so we all shuffled toward the starting mat, focused on our measurement devices. I turned on my bluetooth headphones, started my “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast, and was on my way.

The marathon route is very simple – you run out of the park, make a couple of turns, and then, after 2.5 miles, you are at the American Tobacco Trail (for a little history on the trail – which is part of the rails to trails project, see my post on the half marathon from last year…). Marathoners turn right, half marathoners turn left. My plan was, for the part before getting to the American Tobacco Trail, I would just go slow.

Thankfully, that was my mentality because I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I was going to go slow whether I wanted to or not. It was a bit crowded at the beginning – as all races are at the start. I found a few folks who appeared to be going a pace I wanted to go and I focused on staying close to them. My first two miles were over a 9 minute/mile average – for me, pretty slow.

Then we turned onto the American Tobacco Trail going north toward Durham. On this part of the trail, it is either half paved or fully paved, depending on where you are on it. I found it easier to run on the paved portions, so I stayed on that side. Looking back, I think that choice might have been a better option for me, as I typically do street running.

Along this part of the route, though, I did not expect to see many supporters. To my delight and surprise, however, there were many! Many along parts of the route where there wasn’t easy access, too. It was so heart warming to see these folks lining the sides of the trail and cheering for us! Along this part of the route, too, I began to take notice of one of the bike route monitors. His job was to ride back and forth along the route to make sure we were all OK. I saw him several times throughout the morning, but this is my first notice of him and I made sure to say hello and to thank him for volunteering. This might be why I saw him several more times later.

The turn around point on the north side was just after 11 miles – I got incrementally faster along this side until I noticed that my average pace for this portion of the race was all the way down to 8:35. Exactly where I wanted to be at the end of the race, but I thought a tad fast (and too quickly) for this point in the race. I made a mental note and tried to slow things down a bit as I went back toward what I referred to as “the middle”.

My fueling strategy for this race was simple, since the complex strategies of the past apparently did not work: I would eat a normal breakfast (cereal, coffee and orange juice) and then a banana before the race starts. During the race, I would use a concentrated version of UCAN – just a couple of squirts – every 45 minutes (instead of 50-60). I would also walk through all of the water stops, taking at least 2 cups each time. By the time I got to the middle, I had refueled once and gone through a few water stops where it had not really affected my time. I was feeling very confident and good about my time, my pace, my strength – everything. Crossing over “the middle” was around mile 14 and I was on target for a sub-9 marathon with some wiggle room.

However, the terrain changed for the south side. First of all, my pavement was gone. It stopped abruptly after I crossed the road and I did not get it back for another 8-9 miles. Secondly, it had rained the day before – a lot. The sandy part was softer now and the gravely part was now muddy. Thirdly, the half marathoners had gone through there and, well, there were way more of them than there were of us. So… the second part was met with some challenges. This is when I really started to listen to my podcast to make sure I was not thinking about how awful I felt. I listened to the history of the Hope Diamond (in two parts) and the suspicious story of the lighthouse keepers in Scotland who disappeared (and one theory at the time is that aliens or a giant bird took them – this is the kind of humor I needed at that moment).

It was all I could do to stay running until I got 3:15, when I could take my next walk break. After 3:15, though, that was all she wrote. I had a tough time up to that point – I managed to make it to 20 without totally losing it, but my GPS was off and I was starting to get a little loopy and I was getting irritated that the mile markers were so damn far apart. I was convinced they’d made a mistake.

Then, around mile 22, I was approached by a couple of men who recommended that I stop at the next aid station and use some of the Vasoline because “that’s going to hurt”, pointing at my lower leg. I looked down, and to my shock, I had some chaffed spots that were bleeding! I never felt it and that has NEVER happened to me in any race. My form must have been reeeeaaaaallllly bad. I thanked them and agreed that I should fix that, and luckily, the next aid station was able to help me out with that. I applied the Vasoline, took THREE cups of water, and continued.

Remember the bike monitor from the first half? I saw him a few times on the way toward the south-side turn around, but he stuck with me for a while on the second half, and I was so happy to see him. We chatted for a while – he asked me if this was my first marathon, and in as much energy as I had, I tried to be eloquent in my descriptions of my endurance races resume, but it likely sounded more like “yeah (pause to breathe) no, (pause to breathe), uh, (pause to breathe), this is my third (pause), my, my, my third full. I’ve done more half marathons (pause to breathe)…” He was very sweet about it, though and was patient with me and tried his best to distract me. Luckily, I got a chance to thank him later.

Throughout the race, all of the water stations were fully staffed with happy and enthusiastic people who were excited to be there. At every stop, I thanked them all for all the entertainment, cheering and, most of all, for just being there. It meant a lot more to me as the race progressed. I spent the last 2 miles of the trail portion splitting my time between walking and running.

I finally got finished with the trail and had to make my way back up to the park – going back those couple of turns in 2.5 miles back UP to the park. I turned off the trail and looked up and I swear that hill looked long and steep. It probably wasn’t, but in my condition, it felt like it. It felt like I had twisted my ankle. My chaffed calves were now covered in sweaty, bloody vasoline that was running into my socks. My lower quads on my right leg were simply on fire. I even said “I’m so effing done with this race right now” out loud. I still had my ear buds in and, at this point, had forgotten which episode of history I was learning about because I was singularly focused on finishing this race and drinking some coffee (which I never did).

I turned the last corner and was now finally *inside* the park. They were starting to open roads back up and the crowd of satisfied half marathoners had really thinned out by now. I did not care. I wanted to be back home and in my shower more than words would allow me, but I could not articulate it to save my life. I huffed and puffed and I pushed and I finally rounded the corner to see the finish line. I my eyes filled with tears – I couldn’t believe I was almost there! I had done it.

Just don’t trip like you did in Portland.

I didn’t trip. I trotted across the finish line and, to my surprise, was greeted by the race director, Kazem Yahyapour, smiling ear to ear, arms extended and with familiarity as though we had been close friends our whole lives and he was welcoming me home. He held out his hand to me, pat me on the back, congratulated and thanked me at the same time. Even though I didn’t get to ring that PR or BQ bell, that gesture went a long way to make my 4:13 still feel pretty special. After I collected my medal, I saw the bike monitor again who also shook my hand and congratulated me. I thanked him for all his help keeping me motivated and we chatted a little. Another gesture that went a long way with making me feel special!

I collected myself, got my bag from bag check, and changed my clothes. I walked around a little, but, ironically did not feel like having a coffee, so I went back to the shuttle and to my car. I picked up my kids, took a shower, and then, for the first time in about a year, took a nap.

Learnings

So, ok – I did not get my goal, but I mostly enjoyed the race – as much as anyone can truly enjoy pain for almost an hour. On the plus side, I think I lasted longer this time than in previous races, so I’m taking that as progress. As I said in the prologue, I will likely try again and likely try to get back on track with my training. Until then, I’m going to work on strength and trying to keep what I have going.

2015 Race Reports – Tobacco Road Preview

Hi Friends!

I wanted to get a short preview of this race out there so I didn’t forget or get sidetracked, so this isn’t going to be the full report quite yet. There are a few things I wanted to note while they were still fresh!

First and most importantly: I absolutely loved this race! You may recall my affinity for the half marathon distance I did last year, but now having done it twice, I have a new affection for it. It is such a well organized and well executed event and ranks very high as a recommended event when my runner friends ask ‘what is a good marathon to do in Raleigh?’. I’ve not heard or seen anyone who has said anything to the contrary so far, 5 days later. They put the same heart and effort into it both years and it shows how much they love doing it. More on that in a moment.

Second: on a personal note, this was my slowest yet. No hot weather or any other factor to point to other than my training, which I expressed concern about in the weeks leading up to the event. Admittedly, I had a lot of distractions that pulled me away from my plan, as usually happens in life. I’m not upset about my performance – rather, I’m proud of myself for finishing a third full marathon, a sentence that a year ago, I never thought I’d write. I plan to try again, hopefully in November. I’ll make that decision in a couple of weeks. I am still planning on trying to BQ. I look at this race as a step in that direction as I am getting incrementally stronger… Just in much smaller increments than I expected and hoped.

Third: there is a sister race to this one that I love equally – The City of Oaks. I’ve done the 10k several times and the half once (currently my half marathon PR). Both races are directed by the same man: Kazem Yahyapour. I had seen him at many events – packet pick ups and running clubs – and he is a warm, affable person that seems to always have a smile on his face and appears to derive immense joy from working packet pick up and greeting runners to wish them luck. For the first time in almost 50 races, I was greeted at the finish line by the race director who congratulated me for finishing and thanked me – and seemed to be as happy and excited as I was that I finished. That was a very happy feeling I won’t ever forget.

I will write more this weekend, I hope, to talk about more of the details of the race – like my bleeding chafing, my bicycle course monitor cheerleader, way more specators than I expected, really awesome volunteers, and my very rapid unraveling at the cusp of mile 20 after a very strong showing for the first three hours. Oh. And Sean Astin was there! I wish I had seen him to get a photo because my younger son is a huge fan of both “Lord of the Rings” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”!

For now, I’m focusing on recovery 🙂

2014 Race Reports: Skinny Turkey Half Marathon – Raleigh, NC

Race: Skinny Turkey Half Marathon

City: Raleigh, NC  Date: 11/27/2014

Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

Weather: upper-30s at start; low 40s at finish, cloudy and drizzly throughout the race.

Course:  Also known in the area as an intentionally hilly race… and… it isn’t my imagination this is, according to my tracker, hillier than City of Oaks

Summary:  Another awesome, well organized and well done race!! But… no chickens this year

Prologue

I recently learned that the single day with the most road races scheduled is Thanksgiving Day. In a lot of ways, this kind of makes sense – there is a fair amount of guilt associated with eating big dinners and that’s kind of a big part of the feast. The idea is you gather over dinner with food brought by all to give thanks for the bounty an all you have. Running road races seems to fit in well with that theme – this way, you can go into the dinner with a caloric deficit and feel a little less guilt about indulging.

I know I did.

I ran this race last year and I loved it, so for me, it was a no-brainer to do it again. I had my kids this year, but thankfully, I have a dad who can watch them for a couple of hours while I run 13 hilly miles in the rain and cold for fun. haha.

Pre-Race

I only had a little over two weeks between this half and the City of Oaks, so I didn’t do a whole lot of specific training, but I did get a few targeted workouts in, specifically a couple of speed intervals and couple of hill workouts. I also managed a longer tempo run that is, to date, my fastest average pace for any distance over a mile (especially for one that is not running down Lassiter Mill Road or the side of a mountain). I followed that run by an overly aggressive hill workout and, I must say, the runs leading up to this half marathon were all very tough. I finally had a good run the Tuesday before the half, but even that run was a bit tough at the start of it. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for having a good race. For that reason, I set my mind to “just beat last year’s time”. I didn’t think that would be difficult to do since last year’s time was my slowest half marathon time ever.

The night before the race, I got my packet from one of my friends also running the race, and then I packed up the kids and went to my dad’s house. We feasted on pizza and gluten free cookies and enjoyed the evening playing games. I was horrible about drinking enough water that day – just forgot and got busy at work and with the kids so I wasn’t on target. I remembered as the evening got late, but by then it might have been too late. One of my uncles – driving in from IN – decided to drive all the way in and arrived around 10. I stayed up to visit with him and my cousins that rarely see, and finally headed off to bed, carrying a sleeping 9 year old. I think that should count for something… haha.

Race Day 

I slept great through the short night I had – my alarm went off at shortly before 5, so I got up, had some coffee, ate some cereal and otherwise continued with my normal routine for preparing for races. I left my Dad’s house around 5:20 and planned to arrive to the school a little after 6 to give myself enough time to use the bathroom once I got there. I got there in good time and ended up having enough time to use the restroom three times. I was grateful to have indoor restrooms, though some ladies complained about their condition. I wanted to say “hey – better than a port-a-john…

I heard the announcements – that they are going to get everything started – so I went outside to line up. It was cold, for sure, but even though it was only a few degrees warmer than City of Oaks, it felt warmer. I filed into line and set up my phone with music and to record the right shoes and when I looked up, I saw my friend that got my packet for me. We chatted for a bit and he introduced me to a couple of women at the start, one he was going to pace. I wished them luck, put my ear buds in and started on my way by myself.

The route is tucked between Old Falls of Neuse, Highway 98, and Capital Blvd and the majority of it is in a planned community called Wakefield Plantation. It starts and finishes at the Wakefield High School and it appears that most of the volunteers for the race are the students and their families. With the exception of the portion along Highway 98 – about 2 miles – the route is contained solely in the neighborhood served by the school. The first six miles are an out and back through the, what I’ll call, the middle income section of the neighborhood. The houses are nice – they all look like mine – just not fancy and big, but nice. Inside the first half mile, we pass the guy in the Leopard robe drinking coffee and cheering – only this year, he has some people with him… and a tent! They made a bit of a party out of it! I was hoping I’d see him again this year! The rest of that six miles was rolling – just up and down and up and down and up and down. A lot of lead changes with folks – as I pass them going up, they’d pass me going down… and then we’d get a flat and I’d catch up or open the lead a little until they were just gone.

Around mile 3.5, we make the turn to come back and you start to remember all those hills… and how much harder they are going up than the others seemed to be on the way out. I managed to just tune out for a while until I saw some of the kids manning the water stations and cheering for us – they were all so enthusiastic and seemed to be having a really fun time, which made me happy to see! I was able to get some energy from them and it helped push me up the hills… until we passed by the road leading back to the school.

Did I mention it was raining? Oh. Yeah. It rained. It was on and off drizzle mostly, but there were a few periods of rain that were consistent. This gave me even more hope about the next generation that some of them were not only out there supporting a bunch of us looneys running on a holiday, but doing so in the rain.

At this point, I knew what was ahead: Highway 98. And… getting to Highway 98. I distinctly remember the year before being surprised at how long of a hill that was, and how tough it seemed to climb it. I also remembered having to get there. This was the part of the neighborhood on the golf course with the large houses. It was very pretty back there – I almost think prettier this year because there was more color still on the trees at this point. It is a sucky, sucky hill on the way in, but it is worse coming back. This was the area where I saw the chickens last year – I was disappointed there were no chickens this year, but the kids at the water stop did a wonderful job about cheering us on and directing us.

Once I turned on to Highway 98, I was grateful because I knew I was almost done. I powered up that hill and tried to pass as many people I could. I thought back to last year’s race and how I was talking to my friend running the race with me trying to distract him from the hill the best I could. I remembered how there were beer cans littering the side of the road, and as soon as I thought that, I saw another one – haha. I got to the top of the hill and I thought we turned around at the store, but I noticed the turn around was a bit after the store. Dang. I got to the turn around and headed back down and as I did, I saw someone pointing at the horse in the yard next to us – he was running with us! Back and forth and back and forth – it was adorable! He just wanted to run with us 🙂 As I was spacing out thinking about the horse, my friend that I saw at the start line shouted my name and I waved to him – ironically, almost exactly the same spot I first saw him the year before. About half a mile later, he had caught up to me and we ran together until we got to just short of mile 12. He was excited and trying to help pace me for another PR, but I just didn’t have that much more in me and I couldn’t keep the pace. I thanked him and told him he’s welcome to run with me, but if he wanted to go ahead, he should go.

He thanked me waved goodbye and I told him I’d see him at finish and he took off. I actually had a visual on him the remainder of the race – at least when I was at the top of the hills! haha.

I was really happy to be at the end of the race, though. I was singularly focused on getting that coffee. I knew they were selling some for a dollar at the school, so I was really looking forward to getting it. I crossed over Old Falls of Neuse and then made the turn for the last mile back to the school. I was getting giddy with excitement now – not because I was finishing faster than I thought I would. Not because it had stopped raining. Not because I saw my friend. Because I was 1 mile away from coffee.

I climbed the last hill along side a man who I had traded leads with several times toward the end of the race and he snuffled and snorted and griped about the hills – I chuckled and said “oh yeah… this is worse than City of Oaks!” not even thinking he *might* be an out-of-towner who doesn’t know what I’m talking about. As I crested the hill, I could see the finish banner and I picked up the pace just as much as my legs would allow and I crossed the finish at a very respectable 1:48:44 and 2nd in age group again.

Learnings

I’m impressed that I got that close to my PR. For me, a minute away from my PR is pretty close, especially when I had over 300 more feet of climbing. I was happy to see my friend in the race. I was pretty sore, though, the remainder of the day, so I think I was definitely dehydrated. As I work up to marathon training again, I need to keep a closer eye on that. I could have probably pushed it a little more if I had been better hydrated.

2014 Race Reports: City of Oaks Rex Healthcare Half Marathon – Raleigh, NC

Race: City of Oaks Rex Healthcare Half Marathon

City: Raleigh, NC  Date: 11/02/2014

Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

Weather: Mid-30s at start; upper 30s to low 40s at finish

Course:  known in the area as an intentionally hilly race – I am not going to disagree with that statement, but the Skinny Turkey had more hills…

Summary:  Another awesome, well organized and well done race!! And… a new PR 🙂

Prologue

I’m writing these out of order because I wanted to get all the half marathons done first because they are, collectively, much better experiences for me this year. This race was certainly no exception. I had wanted to do this race for a few years, but had settled for the 10k because I didn’t want to hurt myself and/or because I had other races that were near it in terms of timing. I didn’t even run it at all last year (any distance) because it conflicted with the Savannah Rock and Roll race. No regrets about Savannah – I loved that race, too, but I’m glad I was able to make this one work this year.

Coming off the disappointment I had in Portland, though, I was ready for a PR race. Just two weeks before this race, I set a new PR for the 8k distance – to my utter surprise – so I had mixed emotions about this one. I set out on a hilly course in September with the Race 13.1 Mid-Town and couldn’t make that PR happen at the end, so I was a little worried I’d do the same this time. Deeply conflicted. I told everyone I wasn’t going to try to PR – just that I wanted to see how close I could come to 1:50 again. Mostly, I just wanted to beat my time from Mid-town. I thought I could (and should) at least do that. I had been more consistently logging faster runs after the weather got cooler, and, on this day, the weather would, once again, be perfect for a longer distance race. Yes, cold for the spectators, but comfy and perfect for me.

Let me see what I can do with that…

Pre-Race

I didn’t do a lot of specific training for this race, as I was officially recovering from Portland, and I kind of take recovery seriously. I do run during recovery, and toward the end, I add in some tougher runs, but I’m gradually building it back in and I wasn’t doing anything crazy. A little over a week before this race, however, I did a test 12-miler around my neighborhood that was…. eh, let’s call it fast. It was pretty much the fastest run I had done for a longer distance at that point (I’ve since done a couple more that were faster), so I was hyped about my chances of breaking my now 1-year old PR.

Though I hadn’t done any specific training, I had decided that I really needed hill work. Badly. I was very disciplined about my speed work and I regularly promoted such workouts to my friends who mentioned they had a goal to get faster. I was an advocate for the speed workouts, even if I was forced to do mine on a stinkin’ treadmill. As great as speed workouts are, I could tell my weakness was climbing hills and, well, this was a hilly route, so I decided to join another local run group and do their hill workouts. By the time I got to this race, I had only done 1 hill workout, and even if it didn’t do much for my physical condition, it really helped my mental.

I went to packet pick up excited. I walked in and went straight to the Marathon bib page and didn’t see my name… wait… no… you’re doing the half, not the full. I went over to the half bib look up and there I was. Whew. I get in line for the Marathon bib pick up. Damnit. Half… half… half… I get into the HALF line and they actually find my bib. I go into the expo – which I think gets bigger every year – and I get my shirt (which I liked better this year!!) and my bag and I go over to the big screen to watch the marathon route video. Oooh. Look at that! Going down House Creek Trail…. Lordy. Oh, wait. that’s the full. Half… half… half…!! It was like I had forgotten I registered for the damn half! All day I kept thinking I was doing the full!! Around the end of the day, I talk to a few of my friends who all wish me luck, and like the Mid-Town before it, I make a moderate bowl of gluten free pasta and settle in for the night rather early. It was going to be an early day as I prepare for my marathon.

I mean… half. right. Half marathon.

Race Day 

It was an early morning, and, though I had periods of sound sleep, the periods I was awake, I was AWAKE. It was frustrating. I did get a decent score for my sleep, but just not the over 80% I had hoped for when I went to bed the night before. I got my coffee, my breakfast, my UCan and all the other stuff I needed for my race. I double and triple checked that I had my bib (for some reason I was worried I was going to forget it this day) and I set out on my way.

We were instructed (and I usually park) somewhere in Cameron Village. It is so easy for getting in and out of the race, plus, there is plenty of parking there. I pulled in to the Harris Teeter and noticed a ton of people parked there already and thought that would be perfect – then, I could go the bathroom before and get a coffee after! ah ha! Priorities. It felt brutally cold when finally got brave enough to venture out of the car, so I trotted to the entrance of the grocery store and made my way down to the bathrooms. To my delight, there was *nobody* in the bathroom. What the what? I looked at my clock and it was 6:15. This is almost unheard of. I took advantage and went to the bathroom. By the time I exited, there was a line outside of the bathroom. haha. Good timing on my part.

I braved the cold again and trotted back to my car to replace my fleece and put on my gloves. I sat in the car while I pinned my bib (which was crooked – haha) and then I got out of the car and walked toward the start line. Enroute, I ended up walking with a lady from the bathroom and she and I chatted about races and running and then we wished each other luck and I headed toward the NCSU Belltower where I had planned to meet some of the running group that I did the hill workout with. One of those in the group was my friend who did his first Half Marathon at the Mid-Town – he was doing his first Full here! I really wanted to wish him luck. I walked in circles around the Belltower but could never find the group. Eventually, they started to announce that it was time to line up, so I got into the corral and hopped around like a rabbit to keep warm, placing myself somewhere between the 1:45 and 1:50 pace groups.

I was grateful when we were finally on our way – I was freezing and I was excited about the new (to me) route. Around the Belltower, there is a large traffic circle that has these giant reflectors (and by giant, I mean, they are about 8-10 inches in circumference and about 4-6 inches off the ground) that is another thing I’m fearful of tripping on, so the first mile or so, I was heads down to ensure I didn’t trip on these reflectors. I made it through that section and down Ashe Avenue – which is a steep bowl-like road – back up to Western. In the past, we went up to Wilmington and around to Salisbury and cut back on Hillsborough – this time, though, we took a left at South Street, and then to Boylan Heights. I liked this adjustment, mainly because it is a little less hilly than going all the way up Wilmington, especially after climbing Western, which was a hill in and of itself. Around this time, another friend of mine who was doing the Marathon Relay (and who is much faster than me), comes up behind me and we chat for a bit. He pushes me a little without really even trying, but I get to a point where I can’t hang for much longer and still finish the race, so I tell him he can go on. The route takes us up Boylan Ave – which is a nasty hill (probably to make up for Wilmington), but the reward is that you get to cross over the Boylan Street Bridge with a beautiful view of the skyline. This was probably my favorite part of the race (aside from the fact that it was a little before mile 5 and I’m still feeling good…).

The next change I really liked over two years ago was the snaking around through downtown after the bridge – we took a right Morgan Street to Fayetteville and went around the Capital Building to Wilmington, around to Salisbury and then down Jones by the giant Globe (I like that section, too), then up Glenwood (and… I do mean “up”) and then up Peace (again… up – but at least this is in the middle of the hill, so there is a bright side).

Throughout all of this section, I felt fantastic. I decided I wasn’t going to listen to music or my pace, so I had no clue as to what my pace was, other than I found it difficult to talk, so I was going at a hearty pace, but not too hard that I felt sick. I got up the first part of the hill on Peace, and then we ran through Cameron Village. Again, my Nog Friends were there with a waterstop and cheers when I really felt like I needed it – they all yelled for me and wished me luck on the second half (this is around mile 8.5) and I felt a renewed spirit to keep going and trudged on up that hill.

The hill finally crests around Brooks avenue and I felt good about taking a little bit of a break to slow down a bit… that is until I was passed by one of the girls who did the hill workout with me the week before. To be clear: I wasn’t trying to beat her (she’s not even in my age group), nor was I intimidated by her passing me… I was impressed. Just two weeks before this race, she placed top three finishers in a trail marathon and kicked my ass in the hill workout, so I made it my goal to keep a visual on her the rest of the race. I figured that if I could at least keep her in sight, I had a chance to get a PR. For the first time all race, I decided to look at my phone to see where I was on pace and I was ahead of my PR – way ahead – by a few minutes. I almost got emotional right there, but snapped out of it because she was getting farther away and I needed to keep up.

I put my head down and followed as she climbed Brooks – another daunting hill just after finishing the one from Clark. Ok, I’ve got this. I put my head down and climbed Brooks. I was focused now – not thinking about anything other than that coffee I was going to have at the finish line… and how my friend doing the full was faring. I made the turn up (and literally up) Bartlmettler and sighed when I looked up to find that girl because I didn’t see her. Damn. Lost it already. I just kept going and tried not to get too discouraged. I turned off Bartmettler onto Dixie and now I could see her – she wasn’t that far away. I also noticed a guy I had traded leads with on and off the whole race start to slow his pace a bit, so he and I started trading leads more often. We come out of Dixie back on to what I call “The other Clark” (two streets named Clark that don’t connect, but should – it’s very confusing) back to Hillsborough Street. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Hillsborough street! I knew the turn around was almost there and that I was very close to being done. I was thankful because I was getting tired and I was starting to hurt.

Like in the early part of the race, there is an obstacle that I run around and over a number of times, but is something that gives me shudders when I encounter it in person because I’m terrified of tripping on it – a giant curb island. Just like the one at the beginning of the Race 13.1 Mid-Town race. I knew it was coming and I knew I had tired legs so, again, quite cartoon-like, I leapt onto and off of the sides of it to avoid tripping and busting my ass – or worse: my knees.

I cleared the curb without incident and noticed that my lead-trading buddy was now walking – I passed him and said “we’re almost done!! You’ve got this!!” He laughed and waved to me and found the strength to swap leads with me again after the turn around. I finally saw that girl from the training group so I knew I was not that far behind her and I was poised for a pretty awesome PR. Admittedly, though, that was the longest 1.5 miles I have ever run. It was like the hallway in Poltergeist – it just kept getting longer the faster I ran. I finally started to hear the announcer and I picked up the pace as much as I could at that point. I was tired and legs freakin hurt. Plus: I really, really wanted some coffee. I made my way down the street and all of the sudden heard my name again – I looked over and saw one of the guys from the hill workout – I didn’t even know he was doing the race! That gave me the little bit of energy I really needed to tear ass down the rest of that section to chute to finish with a giant shiny sparkly PR (1:47:41) over 2 minutes faster than my previous PR and closer to 1:45 than I ever dreamed of being. Now, it seems, 1:45 might just be achievable.

Maybe.

I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes and a little in denial about what just happened. It took me a few minutes to compose myself, but not before the camera caught me crying. How many times have I done that and it was never caught?? This time – of course. I don’t care, though – it was real. I get emotional when I set a goal that seems difficult to achieve and I actually achieve it. I collected my medal and – probably my favorite thing from this race – my finisher shirt (I like the finisher shirts – just seems like a cool bonus to get another shirt after you finished) and walked through the finish chute to collect my water and blanket. I walked over to where the guy who cheered for me was standing and I stood with him and the girl I was following (and another guy from the group) for a few minutes, but I got too cold and had to go back to my car to get changed.

I got changed and then bought the largest coffee I could get at the Starbucks inside the grocery store. I had on 4 shirts and two pair of gloves and I still wasn’t warming up. I went back out to wait for my friend doing the full in hopes of being able to run him in, but I missed his finish.

Learnings

I waited to do this race for several years, and, though I had been anxious to do it, I’m glad I waited. I don’t think I would have been as well prepared for it as I am now. I have trained well and, though I’ve made a lot of progress, I still have a lot of room for growth. It was a tough course that I did not expect to PR on, so I am grateful that I was able to have the discipline and the focus to reach this goal this time and I hope I can do the same when I’m ready to break this PR next year.

If you are a 50-stater and/or you are looking for a challenge, I highly recommend this race. The race director puts a lot of care and thought into this race and it shows – it is a well organized, well run race.

2014 Race Reports: Race 13.1 Mid-Town Raleigh (Fall Race) – Raleigh, NC

Race: Race 13.1 Mid-Town Fall Half Marathon

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…

Prologue

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.

Pre-Race

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.

Race Day 

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.

Learnings

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.

2014 Race Reports: The Hatfield McCoy Marathon – Blackberry Mountain Course (Williamson WV and Goody KY)

Race: The Hatfield McCoy Marathon – Blackberry Mountain Course (First Half)

City: Started in South Williamson (Goody) KY, Finished in Matewan, WV   Date: 06/14/2014

Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

Weather: Mid-50s at start, just over 60 at finish; partly sunny and mildly humid

Course:  ha – Blackberry Mountain… it beat the Presidio from the San Francisco Marathon First Half  terms of climb (though… those images do not do it justice), so I’m gonna go with Hilly – haha

Summary:  Awesome race, great town and I won Age Group!?!?!

Prologue

One of the many things I love about where I live in Central NC is that I am close to both the beach and the mountains. As a kid, I was lucky enough to have parents who also loved both and they took me to each part of the state many times. Even now, many years later, I still gasp a little at the first sight of the beach or of the mountains – in awe of the beauty of it all. Recently, however, I’ve only really made it to the beach. Outside of a work trip out west, I had not seen mountains in  a few years – and I’ve been missing the NC mountains, so I was looking forward to this trip. Yes, I realize this trip is outside of NC, but it is the same chain (Appalachians), and the beauty of it extends beyond the borders of my own state.

I drove through some of the mountains of West Virginia on my way to the Indy 500 Mini Marathon a couple of years ago – and because I was traveling with my Dad (who loves to sight see as much as I do… a fitting story considering this is Father’s day weekend) we decided to stop at the New River Gorge and I could not get over how beautiful the mountains were in West Virgina. Needless to say, I was excited about seeing it again.

Plus: I have never officially been to Kentucky.

This race was recommended by a friend I routinely run with at the nOg club. She was planning to do the full and had a lot of nice things to say about the event as a whole. I had been looking at doing this race for a while, but this was the first year I could make it fit into my schedule. When she and I talked about it during one of our runs, she recommended staying in the local fire station – a small donation was all they were asking. It was a drivable (therefore ninja-tripable) distances and, because I was taking this trip solo, I didn’t really want to spend a lot on it.

I was intrigued by the theme of it, though: the Hatfield-McCoy feud. I grew up in the south and I, of course, heard of the feud, but admittedly, I had no idea what it was about or any of the details of it. Until I got there, I thought it was over disputed land, which was an assumption I made because in history, that’s a common cause of a dispute that lasts years like this. A quick trip to Wikipedia, however, could have given me a better insight to the race and the weekend before I got there.

The whole thing was about a pig.

Actually, there was a kerfuffle a few years earlier when one of the McCoys joined the Union Army in the Civil War and a Hatfield uncle of the  major players in the primary feud was pissed about it, and Union supporter was murdered. The Hatfield Uncle was suspected of murdering him but was never convicted and, as such, this incident is not considered to be related to the giant feud started by the pig incident. Apparently, a Hatfield (who were supposedly more wealthy and had more political pull in the area) took a McCoy pig and that’s what started all of this.

photo 3Dude just wanted his pig back.

When the accused were told to bring the pig to the trial (there were markings on the animal that the McCoy family claimed were theirs), it turned out the pig had already been slaughtered and eaten… that pissed off the McCoys, and there you go. There were all kinds of things that happened as a result of it: jilted romantic involvements, double-crossing, houses being burned and folks shot while sleeping, and many heated physical battles ending in injury and death – in all about 12 people were murdered as a result and one ended up getting hanged for crimes. There is even a supreme court ruling because of these guys that says even illegal return of fugitive from an asylum state does not prevent trial of the person under federal law. It wasn’t until 2003 that the feud “officially” ended, though, the violence ceased about 100 years before that. According to Wikipedia, since 2000, they have held a reunion festival which includes this race, re-enactments, history, ATV tours and fair-like making and exchanging of food, usually held around the official reunion day, June 14. This year, the race was separated from the reunion weekend (now to be held on the 21st) because it is supposedly the 15th anniversary (all of the stuff I got from the race had 15th anniversary printed all over it) so I assume they held one unofficially in 1999.

photo 2This event – at least the first half – was spread out over a few very small towns separated by the Tug Fork River: Williamson, West Virginia and Matewan, West Virginia. Williamson actually crosses the Tug Fork River, so part of it is in West Virginia, and part of it is in Kentucky, though, the Kentucky side has the name “South” Williamson and is about 3-times bigger. You can see the Kentucky side from the hills on the West Virginia side. The West Virginia side of town is home to the Coal House – and yes, it is actually made of coal. It was a public works project from the 1930s and has stood since, though, it was severely burned several years ago. The burned portion was restored and now service as the Tug Valley chamber of commerce. I didn’t get a chance to go inside it – I’m not even sure you can go inside it.

The finish of the First Half (called the Blackberry Mountain course) ends in the tiny town of Matewan, West Virginia. And, yes, the same as the film about the “battle of Matewan” unionizing incident from the 1920s. I remember that film coming out, but I didn’t know what it was about until today, so I really want to see it now. And, I was informed, that the town was, in fact, named after the town in New York with a similar spelling, but the locals decided to change the spelling and the pronunciation from “matta-whan” to “mate-wan”, unlike the NY town it was named after) on the WV side of the river and South Williamson (containing the unincorporated communities of Belfry and Goody) on the KY side. So, as small as I thought my home town is, it is a giant compared to these towns.

And, I’ll bring you back to the intro of this piece: it is the mountains. I tried to capture some of the beauty via photo, but it does not do the scene justice – the camera cannot capture the entirety of the beauty there. It remote. It is quiet. It is small.

It was a very pleasant place to visit, for me.

Pre-Race

I decided to stay in the Williamson Fire Department (on the WV side of the river) during my trip there. Primarily because of the price, but secondarily because I thought it would be cool to meet other runners. The friend that recommended this race is part of the Marathon Maniacs group and said a large contingent of that group would be at the fire house and suggested I stay there. I also noticed that the Hatfield McCoy Marathon website listed a 50-States Marathon Club event, which meant a large number of those folks were likely to be there, as well. These are my people – how could I not stay there? Even if I wasn’t a member, I was likely to meet a few cool folks, maybe learn something, maybe hear about a cool race to do… all of which happened.

I left my house mid-morning on Friday before the race. It had been a busy week at work and I joined a high school friend for an impromptu concert (Vampire Weekend – great show!!) and I was behind on laundry and packing. I got all my stuff together, threw it all in the car and was on my way by about 10:30. I decided to bring snacks to eat on the way up so I didn’t have to stop often. The drive was uneventful but very, very pretty, especially once I entered VA. I’m not sure what it is about VA and GA, but you all have the prettiest states and I can always tell once I cross the border that I’m in your state.

I went straight to the packet pick up in Belfry High School, South Williamson, KY. I got there at the perfect time – around 5:15, so I didn’t have to wait in line for too long. I got my bib, the bag (a zip bag with the logo which was pretty nice!) of stuff which included some fliers and a plastic cup (which my boys will love), and picked up my shirt. I got my ticket for the pasta dinner and turned the corner to see a set of tables with people selling stuff ranging from candles to jewelry to previous years’ shirts. They were all very friendly and welcoming as I passed by their tables. I made my way into the high school cafeteria where I got my pasta dinner.

Yes, I know I’m gluten free, but I felt it to be a bit rude not to take anything. I went through the line and took a plate of pasta, passed on the bread and took the salad, carrot cake and a bottle of water. One of the high school kids offered to take my tray – I said “oh, that’s OK, I can take it – thank you, though” she replied “well… that’s my job – that’s what I’m here for – to take your tray!” OK, then. I let her take the tray. She placed me at a big, empty table, and I took a seat. I ate the meat sauce off the pasta and the salad, and, although it contained gluten, some of the carrot cake (I hate to admit it, but I LOVE carrot cake). A woman ended up sitting at the other side of my table, but neither of us spoke to each other – I thought to myself, “should I say something? try to be friendly?” she didn’t seem to be in a chatty mood, so I just went back to looking at my phone and tried to send text messages to friends while I still had that one bar of a signal. When I finished, I threw my stuff away and set off to find the Williamson WV fire station.

HatfieldMcCoy_RunnersCotsThe Williamson Fire Station was just on the other side of the Tug Fork River – in fact, because Williamson is situated on the side of the mountain and up higher than Belfry, you can actually see the high school from some parts of the town. I drove around to find a place to park and ended up meeting a man in the parking lot from Atlanta. He was an older man who was a part of the 50-States Marathon Club and decided on a whim to stay in the fire station because he’d “never done anything like this before and, well, if nothing else, it’ll be an adventure”. Exactly my sentiment! He and I talked and chatted like old friends in the first 20 minutes of meeting, so we ended up hanging around and getting cots near each other. We brought our stuff in and set up and decided to go outside and explore (this man is *exactly* like me and my dad so he was a great companion!). We went out front and were deciding where to go when we ran into the woman from Kentucky who decided to do the race at the last minute and was asking questions about where to go and shuttles. We told her we were planning to walk around the town to explore and asked her if she’d like to join us for the walk – she graciously accepted, so the three of us set off to explore the town of Williamson, WV… and a little bit of KY.

We walked around for about an hour, snapping photos of the towns, the signs, picking up rocks and they convinced me to have photos taken of myself in these places (something I don’t usually do), so now I have photos of myself at the KY and WV signs as well as at the Coal House (made of real coal!) and in front of the Williamson WV Fire House. We also ran into the race director for the Loonies Midnight Marathon in Livngston, TN and he described the race for us. Turns out, Atlanta was planning to do the race (in July – 5 weeks from this weekend). It sounded like a pretty awesome race and the RD was a great guy! Around 8, we decided to head back. I took a phone call from my kids, and then tried to locate a way to heat up the gluten free pasta I brought with me. Once I had my pasta, I changed into my sleeping clothes and got all my run gear out. Around then, most of the other runners started to filter in, including a friend (in the Maniacs as well) of my friend from MO came to Raleigh for the Tobacco Road Marathon in March! It was great to see an unexpected familiar face! He is such a friendly guy – introducing me to all his travel buddies. I then saw my friend who recommended the race – she and I talked for a bit, and then I got my extra water and settled in for the night. I was out by around 9:30.

The Fire Station had set up about 60 cots for all of us on the second floor in a couple of large, empty rooms. The cot wasn’t the most comfortable sleeping I’ve had, but it was not as uncomfortable as I expected and I was grateful for a place to sleep. In fact, I slept pretty well, all things considered. I didn’t get woken up in the middle of the night by others making noise or using electronics. The only thing that woke me up was how cold I was. I left a blanket and pillow my son brought to school the day before in my car, and thank God. I woke up because I was shivering. I put my socks on and that helped a bit, but I couldn’t find the fleece I brought so I sucked it up and ended up falling back to sleep at some point. I did hear a guy snoring, but I didn’t realize it was snoring until I woke up the next morning – all that time I thought it was someone zipping and unzipping their bag! haha.

Race Day 

The great thing about camping out with a whole bunch of runners is that you all get up around the same time. I set an alarm because I was worried that I *might* sleep through it (it has happened before), but I honestly didn’t think I would. It was a precaution more than anything. I heard others rustling and milling about around 4:30 or so, and I finally got up around 5 AM (7 am start time) and headed to the bathroom to get ready. Even at that early hour, there was a line, but it moved quickly as we were all pretty efficient at getting dressed and suiting up, as it were. I saw the Kentucky woman that I walked around with the day before and told her I’d gather her and the Atlanta guy so we could walk down to the shuttles to the start line together. I ate my cereal, drank my water and Gatorade, and pinned, re-pinned, and checked and rechecked all my stuff. I was ready to go, but I wanted to put all my stuff in my car so I was ready to roll out when I got back. I ran into Atlanta and told him I was taking my stuff to my car and he decided to do the same, so I waited for him to pack up and we walked out together, gathering Kentucky on our way down.

HatfieldMcCoy_StartInGoodyThe three of us walked to the shuttles (following the crowd) and got on the bus together just before 6 am. The buses they used were small ones, likely used for an elementary school, as there were these complicated harnesses and even a car seat in them. All the seats had little bubbles above them with the kids’ names – they were actually very cute. We took our seats and chatted about the upcoming race. We were dropped off in the Food City (a local grocery store chain) parking lot at 6 am on the dot. I like to get there early, but we had an hour and this was a much smaller race than I am accustomed to, so the hour might have been a bit long. We hung around in the parking lot, chatting, goofing off, and photo bombing people in the 50-States Marathon and Marathon Maniacs clubs, thanks to Atlanta. He is a super friendly guy with a goofy sense of humor, so it made for a fun hour (and now the three of us are included in the Marathon Maniacs group photo for posterity as proof). He ended up striking up a conversation with a man I thought he knew (because of the way he talked to him), but it turned out he had never met him before. The guy was a veteran of the Hatfield-McCoy marathon and, as it turned out, also from Kentucky – from the same town as Kentucky – so they started chatting about the running groups and races as a whole. He then asked us if we had done this race before. We all smiled and said no, and he chuckled and said “ok, then… let me give you some advice.” He proceeded to describe the course, some of the locals who come out to watch us (one I missed) and said that, when it came to Blackberry Mountain: walk up and down – that sucker is steeper than it looks. We thanked him for the advice and chatted about running stuff. It was cold, though, mid-50s, so I was shivering and anxious for it to start.

At around 6:50, they moved the starting line into position (you read that right – it is literally a banner they had off to the side and moved it onto the official start line they had spray painted on the parking lot) and told everyone to line up. Atlanta was doing the full and does these things for fun, not time, so he lined up toward the back. We wished him luck and told him we’d see him later, though, neither of us got his contact information. It turned out Kentucky and I were about the same pace (she a bit faster than me), and I think she really wanted a run buddy, so we decided to run together, which meant I wasn’t going to listen to music – or audio cues – for this race. I wasn’t planning on it anyway because the roads weren’t totally closed, but this gave me someone to talk to so I didn’t think about it. I didn’t have a goal other than to not hurt myself and I told her I was totally ok with over 2  hours, but my standing goal of two hours or better is a target. She agreed and we lined up at the back end of the first third of the group.

photo 1 (1)There were a couple of guys dressed as old mountain men (I assume they were dressed up) holding shot guns who were responsible for starting the race. At 7 am (or a bit after), they shot the guns to start the race… more than once. I expected the shot gun start because the website had it as a “shot gun start”, but I didn’t expect multiple shots! Kentucky and I started out on the route. I am a chatty runner, usually. I like to run my mouth as much as my feet – this is a trick my mentor taught me to make sure I didn’t go out too fast. Usually, he got me started on a topic he knew I’d go on and on about, and let me go, occasionally asking questions to keep me going. I tried a few conversation starters, but, I have to remember not everyone is as chatty as me. It didn’t seem like she was very chatty, so I decided to just run without talking. I had a lot going through my mind about work, and kids, and stuff like that, but ultimately landed on: damn. These mountains are pretty. I remarked about how beautiful the mountains were, especially in the morning with the sun rising above them, and through the fog, and eventually, she started to point out scenery too. She later admitted that she never really looked around during a race and, from habits learned in high school cross country, kept her head down focused on the run itself, and that, for the first time, she looked around. The air was nice and cool and the fog meant it was mostly overcast at the beginning, which was fine with me! Although it took a couple of miles, I finally started to warm up. By then, we were at the three mile mark and I started thinking “we are already at 3 miles?”

The first 5 miles or so were rolling hills – and, that time of morning, the light was golden and pretty above the treeline. The other benefit of a mountain race: a lot of it was in the shade. We were in and out of the shade so it never really felt all that hot (though, the temperature wasn’t all that hot, either, so that certainly helped). The roads took us by several small houses: one guy was sitting in his garden in a beach chair with his back to us (the road made kind of a backward S shape and he as facing the woods) with some garden tool in his hand. He didn’t wave or anything, just sat there. A few miles later, we went through a section that had a nice, big new building that I thought was a house or a set of apartments but turned out to be a funeral home. Oddly enough, I seemed to notice quite a few funeral homes in the area, and recalled a story about how the fire station we stayed in was once located in a funeral home while the “new” building was being built. Across from that building were several row homes and the folks were sitting out on their porches with their coffees and cheering for us. I always said “good morning! Thanks for coming out for us today!” and they always responded “have a good run!” or “whoo hoo” or something similar. It was very sparse, but very nice.

Around mile 4, I really had to pee again. I tried holding it, but I figured that I wouldn’t make it up Blackberry Mountain without some measure of embarrassment if I didn’t take care of things, so I decided to stop. I told Kentucky she could go ahead without me and that I’d try to catch up to her, but she said she’d wait for me. Unfortunately, there was a line… and someone playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on an accordion over and over and the wait was, oh, about 5 minutes. gah. To distract myself from the fact that I was about to explode, I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me waiting to go who had on a Virginia Tech hat. Once I was finished, I had to wait for traffic (these are literally the only roads in the area, so they could only close one lane, so yet another reason for me not to wear headphones this run), and then, finally, we were on our way again… just in time for Blackberry Mountain! Though… I must say, that damn version of the Accordion “When the Saints Go Marching In” kept circling in my mind over and over again… dang!

photo 2The adviser we met in the parking lot told us Blackberry Mountain started at mile 6. The part he left out was the climb to get to the base of the mountain – or, rather, the part of the run when the incline changed from “ughh” to “God, please help me”. That was a good 3/4 mile or so before we got to the mountain – and then the climb of the mountain itself was a little over a mile – maybe even a mile and a half. Kentucky and I ran the “uggghhh” portion of the climb but about 1/4 of a mile into the “God, Please Help Me” portion, we decided it was prudent to follow the advice we received in the Food City parking lot and walk the remainder of the climb. Walking it wasn’t necessarily easy, mind you. We were walking at a pretty good clip – around a 14 minute pace or just under that – the times for both of these miles were just over a 10 minute mile! During the walk portion, Kentucky asked me where we were on pace – the first time I even thought to look at it. It was at mile 6.8 or so, and we were over an hour already. I said “well… we are not on track for a sub-2 hour finish…” she said, “but, don’t you think we can make up the difference on the way down?” hmmm…. you know… maybe we can… so that’s what we decided to do.

Once we got to the top, which was approximately 4 feet of flat – haha – we started our run down the other side. I looked at the elevation chart after I signed up for this race and I promise you: it did NOT look like this. That peak in the middle of this chart I’ve attached is much more accurate. The other side of the mountain – the side we ran down – was much steeper than the side we went up. It was awesomely scary. Kentucky and I were flying down the mountain – passing people right and left who passed us on the way up. There wasn’t a thing conservative about that portion of the run and one misstep could have really hurt me, but I kept it together and loved every adrenaline inducing moment of it. It reminded me of the wild abandon I used to have as a little kid running down hills and it made me happy. This, I think, was the highlight of my race.

That mile was a whopping 7:34 average, and part of that mile, I was walking. I have NEVER run that fast for an entire mile. so… yeah, we made up the time, haha.

The remainder of the race had some rolling hills, but certainly nothing at all like Blackberry Mountain, and were relatively uneventful. Kentucky and I maintained a healthy 8:30-8:40 pace for the rest of the run, though, we did stop at the site of the McCoy Pig Farm (which is still in operation, and the site of the original crime that started the whole thing) so Kentucky could take a photo, as she is a history teacher. From that point, though, I was starting to feel stronger and get a bit faster and I was wondering how I got to mile 11 already. Just like in marathon training, the first five sucked, miles 6-9 were better and miles 10-13 felt great. gah. At mile 9, Kentucky asked about pace – we were 33 minutes from the 2 hour mark, so it was still possible. At mile 10: “where are we on time?”, Kentucky asked: now, we are just under 27 minutes from the 2 hour mark and that’s much easier… we can definitely make 2 hours now, I think. We never checked pace again after that because we were both sure we could do it. Because I wasn’t checking pace, though, I was totally looking around at the scenery and wondering what it might be like to live there. There was even a little shack – I think – that someone who might have been homeless lived in… it was tiny chain-link fence that enclosed a space that was maybe 5 x 5 and about 6 feet tall. There was even a door on it that was locked. There was a piece of wood on top of it – like plywood or something similar – that covered it from the elements and there were some blankets and a pillow inside of it. It didn’t look like it was being currently used – maybe that stuff had been there a while. And, I don’t even know if that is what it was used for – but I was very curious about it and I really wanted to stop to investigate it.

We finally got to downtown Matewan, which is a charming little town that looks like they’ve had a recent revitalization, but tried to preserve a lot of the history. The downtown area has about 2 blocks north to south and about 4 east to west. That’s it. And the blocks are maybe .2 a mile each? So, you round the corner on the western side, run the whole town on the northern block, and then turn the corner and run half of the southern block to the finish. I loved it! I was so busy looking at the town, I didn’t even pay attention to time or anything and apparently was flying through there because my last mile was just under an 8:00 pace. I turned the corner and saw that the clock had not hit 1:59 yet, so I sped up and crossed the finish line at 1:59:10. I was delighted that we finished in under 2 hours and Kentucky and I congratulated each other on an awesome run! She thanked me for pulling her through the last few miles and I thanked her for running with me.

HatfieldMcCoy_Medal_and_JarWe got some fruit and some water and looked at the mason jars they were giving to finishers and thought about asking how to get one when one of the volunteers came to the table and started calling out names for the top finishers of the half marathon I just finished. Like 2 minutes ago. Kentucky and I decided to stay to watch the folks getting prizes because it is always fun (to me at least) to cheer for other runners who win stuff. The jars were all lined up and there were black metal plates they had to go on top of the jars that had the race name, the placement and the division. The volunteer called out the overall winners, female, first. Each one she called approached the table tentatively, saying their name and looking somewhat surprised to have won the award. Next, she called the men, all equally as surprised to have won the award they were given.

At this point I started tuning out, trying to get a signal so I could report to my friends that I finished the half marathon and in under 2 hours, no less, and, man, that mountain was a bitch, and… what? did I hear my name? Kentucky poked me – I got what? “You won age group, Darlin'” the volunteer said to me as she smiled and handed me my mason jar. My response was “wwwwhhhhaaattttt?” She smiled and offered me the jar again, urging me to take it because she had other names to call. As soon as I took it, Kentucky approached the table because she and I finished together and we knew she’d get the second one. The volunteer proceeded to call out Kentucky’s name and I cheered for her. WOO HOO!! We were so humbled, but excited at the same time. I have placed 2nd and 3rd in age group for a 10k and for an 8k, but never even came close to placing at any of the 17 half marathons I’ve done. I realize this is a very small race, but I was excited none the less.

Kentucky and I waited until Atlanta came through – he stopped and chatted with us and congratulated us on our prizes and we got his number so we could keep in touch. We then saw my friend who recommended the race – she was pacing a friend of hers from the Maniacs. I wished her luck for the rest of the race, and then Kentucky and I took the shuttle back to Williamson (which was a surprisingly long ride). We walked through the finish festival and I got a cup of coffee I was desperate for, and then we said good bye. I went back to the fire station and cleaned off with wet wipes (no showers in the fire station and I wanted to get back in time to make a movie I ended up not going to because I was sleepy at that point) and I headed home.

Learnings

I loved this race, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Although there weren’t a lot of people out cheering, there was a lot of community support and I would like to thank the towns of Williamson (both the WV and KY sides) and Matewan for your hospitality. I highly recommend this race, not only for the beauty and challenge of it, but for the adventure of it, as Atlanta called it.