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 🙂
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.