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.

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.

I Owe You One… or Five…

Myyyyy Friends…

I have not dropped out. I’m still running. I’m still doing my core and strength work (and it is starting to pay off).

I’m still racing.

In fact, I owe you several race reports, dating back to March! One for the St Paddys 8k (participated in the Kilt Run for a record!), one for the Martian Half Marathon (#11 – MI) which I loved, one for my beloved Tarheel 10 Miler, one for the Capital City Classic 10k, and one for the San Francisco Marathon, 2nd Half (my first repeat state – and I still loved this race)!

…and I’ve been getting a little faster, which has been a lot of work. In fact, because I’m still improving my speed,  I have decided to follow a 3:45 training plan for the full marathon I plan to run in April 2014 in Raleigh to see how close I can get to a BQ time, Actually, I have time to follow the plan without a race (maybe another 20-mile run instead of the full), recover three weeks, and try it again.

Looks like I’m going to stay busy for the near term.

I’m looking at how to get a calendar set up on my blog so I can show the races I have coming up. Right now, the only one I’m actually registered for and planning on is the United Health Care Half Marathon in Providence, RI in October. I’m looking at the Madison Mini Marathon (WI in August, though, that one seems unlikely at this point), Savannah Rock and Roll in November (at the end of the first 3:45 training plan) and/or Secret City Half in Oak Ridge, TN in December. Then… there are the shorter/faster races locally I’m likely to want to do such as the Oktoberfest 8k, City of Oaks/Old Reliable 10k and I may actually try for a 5k PR at some point. I’m also trying to coordinate things so I can do the Austin Half in February and make that my last race before the full in April.

I’m still playing catch up with everything, but I think, mostly, I just need to write shorter posts and stop being so anal retentive about my writing… Either way – I do remember and I will write them eventually. For now, though… I have to get in a decent (5-6 miler) on the treadmill… which I’m putting off because it is on the treadmill (sigh)

Until tomorrow… or the next opportunity I get to sit down in front of this computer 🙂

2012 Race Reports: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Hilton Head Island, SC – State #6)

Race: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Bear Foot Sports)

City: Jarvis Creek Park, Hilton Head Island, SC   Date: 02/11/2012

Distance: 13.1 mi

Weather: Upper 40s/Lower 50s, sunny and a bit breezy

Course:  mostly flat, other than a bridge

Summary: Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

loved it.

6 down, 44 to go.

This was a great race for me in a lot of ways, particularly because I beat my goal!!

Pre-Race

I think I mentioned in one of my training posts that I planned to be “all ninja-like” for this race – drive down, do the race, drive back. Surgical strike. Hilton Head Island is about a 5 hour drive from where I live, so it is easy to do something like that for a race like this. I’ve only been to Hilton Head Island once before – and, despite a few negative associations with that visit, generally speaking, I really like the place. It is an island with tons of beach-front areas, so what’s not to like there?

However, it is… a bit pricey. It is an island – there are miles of beaches, lots of golf courses and tons of history. Yet pretty much out of my price range to stay there for any length of time during season, so I don’t even consider it for a vacation when Myrtle Beach is much closer and a little more affordable. But… I was intrigued when it turned out that this race was the only one fitting into my schedule… and, not only that, but it seemed to fit all of my new criteria for a race after the Las Vegas Rock and Roll hysteria: it was inexpensive (only $45) and they claimed it was small (according to the website they had 400 half marathon finishers last year – contrasted with the 40,000 from Las Vegas). Other things it had going for it was that it was close (driving distance on a single tank of gas) and they claimed it was “fast and flat” (which was welcome to me after running all these hills here).  I figured that if it was expensive to stay one night, that’s all I would do and that I would make it work. However, I was thrilled to discover that Westin Resort and Spa on the island was offering a special rate to those running the half marathon. Off season is almost always a good time to go to the beach, but the rate they gave us for the half was even better than that and they waived the exorbitant resort fees – I had no plans to play golf or do other restort-ey things so that fee would have been a waste by someone like me anyway. That was all I needed to pull the trigger and register for this race. I could I *not* do this one now?!?!

I registered for this race about 5 weeks from the race date, which didn’t leave a lot of time for intense training so I set my goal to do better than the last 4 half marathons I did: 1:59:00 or less. With that in mind, I set out to train for feeling better after 10.5 miles than I did in each of the last 4. As a result, however, I ended up with my best training week/month ever so far, setting personal records for mileage in a month, mileage in a week, speed and distance – all in one week.

I was ready.

I left for Hilton Head a little after lunch time on Friday – I figured I would get there in enough time to get my packet (which was in the Westin I was staying in), get some dinner and get to bed. The drive down was uneventful – I had my music, my snacks and my water – all I needed for the trip. I got down there just after 6, checked in, parked my car, and got my stuff. I planned to put my bag in my room and then get the packet. The elevators to the rooms were on one side of the “room tower” (only 5 floors, so hardly a tower, really) and the rooms wrapped around the resort to make a v shape. So… all that to say, I ended up walking down the longest hallway to get to my room…. it reminded me of the scene in the original “Poltergiest” when the mother was running down the hall to her kids and it kept getting longer and longer. That table you see in the middle of the shot there is only 1/2 way down this hall – and I had just turned the corner of an equally long hall. My room was another probably 100 yards beyond that table. ha!

Once I *finally* got to my room, I put my stuff down and located the “soft puppy” aptly named Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza by the boys. My youngest son gave it to me as a birthday gift the week before, so I brought him as a good luck charm for my race. I then unpacked my clothes for the race to double check that I hadn’t left anything I needed (I brought everything – but OCD kicked in so I had to be sure). I searched for all my other gear – my phone case and my Garmin. To my dismay, I couldn’t find my Garmin. I was OK with running without it, but I was mostly worried about “where did I leave it…” because I had started a new habit of putting it on my phone case… I thought I had done that but didn’t see it anywhere. I fretted about it for a few minutes, but eventually accepted that there was nothing I could do about it anyway and moved on to getting out the food I planned to eat the next morning to see if I needed to make a run to the store (I didn’t). To take my mind off my OCD, I went down to get the race packet and a few more things out of my car.

I think I’m going to stop calling this event “packet pick up” from now on because really it is “t-shirt and bib” pick up since a lot of races now don’t put much into your “packet” if you get one at all. Having said that… this was a relatively nice “packet”. First, I had to find my number, then I had to go to the table for the Half (there were 2 other races at the same time, but I’ll get into that on the Race Day section), and then I had to walk by the sensor to activate the chip in my bib. That took all of 3 minutes. As we were doing that, they gave us our bags. The main sponsor of the race was Publix super markets so we got a giant green (canvas!) bag with Publix written on it – means nothing here because we don’t have any Publix stores here, but a nice bag nonetheless. Inside the bag was a long-sleeved technical shirt, some coupons and a newspaper advertising local events and things to do for the weekend if you were planning to stay. There were also advertisements for other races and events held by Bear Foot Sports, the directors of this race. I put my packet back in my room, and then went out into the resort to find some meat and potatoes. The best I could find was a bun-free burger and some french fries – not what I wanted, but close enough. After that, I went back to my room, hunted for a cell phone signal that popped in and out all night, making the nightly phone call with my boys and text messages with friends wishing me luck extremely frustrating (grrr… I hate when hotels block signals!). I finally figured out that the hotel’s wifi was free, so I logged on, sent a few emails and called it a day. I fell asleep watching “Old School” – haha.

Race Day

I set my alarm for 5:30 because I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get dressed, do final stretches and drive to the site of the start. I woke up at 5:15. I was excited and nervous at the same time. This was my first race since Las Vegas and I could tell I was having race withdrawals. I wanted to do well, but mostly I just wanted to run. I got dressed and made some coffee and did some stretches while I was drinking my coffee and water. Then, I look at my phone. It was plugged in all night and I only have 89% battery?!?! ugh… stupid signal hunts…  sniffing signals is the worst battery killer for an iPhone… more than any app I’ve ever used… and it sniffed signals all night so it couldn’t charge fully. ugh.

This… and I couldn’t find my Garm…. wait a minute! I found my Garmin! I don’t know why I didn’t see it the night before – maybe I was tired – but I was delighted as hell that I found it now. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t really… I tried to eat, but I was too nervous and my stomach was in knots. I still managed to choke down one slice of gluten free bread with a little peanut butter on it, intending to eat another piece that I never ate. I tried to drink my water, but I was too nervous and I felt like I was going to throw up. I did manage to choke down most of a bottle of coconut water and some sips of plain water to wash down the peanut butter bread. I don’t understand why I get *this* nervous before races, but I think, mentally, I had set a lot on this one being a “good” race. All of 2011 I had been frustrated by falling short on almost every race and having to claw my way back to where I am now with my training. I guess, to some degree, I was worried I hadn’t done enough or that I would somehow fail my own expectations. My running buddies and my training partner in particular were helpful in setting perspective, but I was still pretty nervous. I actually told a friend something along the lines of ‘I’m so freakin’ nervous now… but I’ll be better at around 8:05′ (I was right about that). I finally finished the last of my OCD checks at around 7 and went out to my car to start charging my phone and drive to the location of the start of the race – about 4 – 5 miles from the hotel.

The race started and finished in a  park called Jarvis Creek Park. For those unfamiliar with the Island, there is one major high way – 278 – crossing from the mainland onto the island. This highway pretty much cuts through the middle of the island and turns south to the tip at a point called South Beach. There is a toll road that cuts across the middle of this highway, but, for the most part, this highway is central to getting anywhere on the Island. The entrance to Jarvis park was located on one side of the highway, and directly across the highway from the park is a cluster of schools – an elementary, middle and high school. We were to park in the school parking lots – which was great because there was plenty of parking when I got there and I got a nice strong signal so my phone was able to recharge. I parked and chugged the last of my coconut water and filled up my water bottle as my phone finished charging. I decided to only bring one “snack” with me (the prime bar) and instead of coconut water in my bottle, just bring 24 oz of water with one propel zero packet. I don’t know why I made this last minute change, other than what I had done for the last 4 half marathons didn’t work, so maybe that wasn’t the right recipe?? Dunno. OCD kicked in one more time, so I rechecked my case, put my phone in it (again), pinned my bib – and then repinned it – and double-checked my key. I got out of my car and walked to the park. By this time, it was about 7:30.

I followed the crowd of folks across 278 (with the help of the local police) and made my way to the park. The park entrance was only about .10 of a mile, and once you got into the park, there was a split. To my left was the start (which was hard to tell at first) and to my right was a big grassy area with some tents, intended to be the site of the beginning and ending race “entertainment” they promised. Between me and the grassy area were the port-a-johns and, although I went several times before I left my room, I wanted to be sure I didn’t have a repeat of Las Vegas, just in case there were no potties along the way (there were) so I followed my routine of going to the bathroom one last time and just people watched. It seemed to be a race with a lot more serious runners than the last few races I did. Almost everyone there looked like they had done at least one half before and there were no big groups of giggling 20-year olds bragging about how hung over they were. There were families here and there were kids running with their parents. There were people my age and older running their x-th half marathon and comparing the weather today to the last one they did. There were lime green shoes and deer hunter orange shirts (a ton of those) so I fit in well with my slap-me-in-the-face yellow shirts. It was like I was running with friends who took it as seriously as I do. It was refreshing.

After finishing my business at the port-a-potty, I made my way over to the start line. The start line was, compared to a lot of other races I’ve done – including 5ks – pretty underwhelming. It was a banner that simply said “Hilton Head Island Half Marathon” on it. No balloons, no banners, no blasting music, no characters, no gimmicks, no marketing, no selling. Just a plain ole start line. To the left of the start line was a small parking lot where a lot of runners started to congregate to do various stretching and warm ups. I saw a lot of strides and high knees, kicking and lunges, stretches of all kinds and by people with all colored bibs on (more about that in a minute). I did some last minute stretches on my right calf (it has been tight the last couple of runs) and walked around a bit to keep my muscles warm, but that was about it. I didn’t even have my music on yet because I was scared of burning out the battery. I just walked back and forth from the start line banner to the end of the sidewalk, about 200 feet away. It was this warmup, however, that I noticed there was no starting mat… that meant this is a gun time race…. ah… ok… helped me pick out a starting point, if nothing else.

This event actually hosted 3 races: a 5K, a 10K and the Half Marathon. All races were to start and end at the same place, and all three were out and back. The route started and wound through the Jarvis Creek Park, and then out onto the toll road, across the sound via a bridge that was the only sizable hill in the whole route, through a greenway on the other side of the bridge (which looked similar to Jarvis Creek Park’s greenway) and back. Runners in the shorter races had turn-offs along the toll road: the 5k runners had a turn around a little more than half a mile down the toll road, the 10k runners had their turn around about 2 miles later, just before getting to the toll plaza. Each race had a different color bib – the half marathoners had a white bib, the 10k runners had a blue bib and the 5k runners had a yellow bib so we could see who was in each race. As the time for the race to start got closer, we were instructed to line up. There were no corrals. No pacers with special singlets. Nobody carrying signs reading “3:30”. It was just a crowd of a few hundred friends running – and self-regulating. The announcer suggested we start lining up by time – the sub-6 runners in the front, and everyone else behind as you saw fit. Again, self-regulating. I tried for my usual “front-third-right” spot, but didn’t want to cut in front of a lot of people, so I stayed in front-third-middle. It turned out to be a pretty decent spot for me.

I set my Garmin, got iSmoothRun ready, and chatted with the guy next to me. We discussed the missing starting mat, the beautiful weather and all the “luggage” I was carrying in my hand. The announcer came on to get us started – I wished my friend luck (never saw him again – he was much faster than me), and then we were off. I typically struggle with whether or not to listen to music and today, I guess, I couldn’t really make up my mind. I put one ear bud in and decided that I would either add the other or take it out as I went along. At the very least, I would know how my pace was going every 5 minutes or so as iSmoothRun talked to me for as long as I decided to keep it in. I ran with only one ear bud for about 4 miles, amazingly, and finally decided to put the other in because I had a song running through my mind that I couldn’t get out and it helped to have other songs distracting me.

I really started out way too fast. Partly because I was with the faster runners in the front which also meant I didn’t have to pass a lot of people – very refreshing – but didn’t get passed a lot either, which I’m pretty proud of. There is an exception, though: I was getting smoked by a little girl running in the 5k. When I say little girl, I mean she looked like she was the same age as my older son – about 7 or 8. I looked it up later – she’s 8. And she kicked my ass at the start (she ended up with a 31:00 5k, but she passed me effortlessly at the start). There is something a little bit demoralizing about getting your butt kicked by a 8 year old that will motivate you to run a little faster. soooo… my first mile was 8:17. It scared me a little that I was going that fast, so I tried to slow down for the next mile: 8:28 (I lost track of that girl by this time, though so I could relax a little – haha).  The run through the park was wonderful – it is a really pretty park and the trails are paved – it actually reminded me of the Raleigh Greenway trails we have in this area. After the park, we headed out onto the toll road, also known as the Cross-Island Parkway. Shortly after getting onto the Parkway, the 5k runners had their turn around. As we approached the turnaround, we saw the 5k runners coming back for their finish and we all cheered them on – I saw the little girl that passed me and I cheered for her – I see a future Olympian in that one!

After passing the 5k turn around, the crowd thinned quite a bit. I was able to get to a more comfortable pace of about 8:42 during this part of the race because I was starting to settle in to the run and those running near me. I was still surrounded by a lot of 10k runners, though, so as we approached the 10k turnaround, I could feel myself getting faster, if only to give in to race instinct – maybe because in a way I was pushing them through or to help kick in their race instincts. As more began to turn around, we again started cheering for the folks we passed. My 4th mile shows it with an average pace of 8:38. Shortly after the 10k turn around, I decided to go ahead and put my other earbud in so I could just listen to the music and get swept away with the run itself. The only really interesting sight at this point in the run was running through a toll booth. Otherwise, it was pretty, but nothing spectacular. It was this point – as in most of my other half marathons – that I become engrossed in thought and I thought about a whole bunch of stuff ranging from how hot I was at the moment (and how badly I wanted to take my long sleeve shirt off) to the encouragement I got from friends about this race, especially the ones that knew how much emphasis I placed on this race myself. But mostly, I kept thinking about how hot I was becoming and how I had to get the damn shirt off soon. I decided I would take it off when I stopped to eat because I had to re-pin my bib and that was a good time to do it.

Then… I round the corner and step out to the foot of the bridge. oy. This is a bridge over a canal and ships have to pass under it so… it’s a hill. I expected it – the website even called it “the bridge run” so I knew it was coming. Still, standing at the foot of it, initially, I was a little shocked at the height of it. I shook it off, though, and reminded myself that hills are my thing. I mean, that’s all I run around here, so I dug in and started my climb. I was proud of the fact that I was passing people right and left, only to have them re-pass me at the bottom, but still made me feel good to pass them on the way up. Honestly, though, having gone up it, the bridge really wasn’t that bad. At the top, looking over the water and down at a few boats, it was very peaceful… and quite windy. It was at that moment that I was kind of glad I left my long sleeve shirt on – and wished I had stopped to take a photo. It was a memorable and pleasant moment for me. Then we went back down the other side of the bridge. If I have learned only one thing about running (and truthfully, let’s hope I’ve learned more than one), I am finally feeling good about running down hills. I used to conserve my energy for the down, but I’m finally starting to take advantage of gravity (in a good way) and take the hill on the down side and save “recovery” for the crests and valleys. I thought about that the entire way down – I worked hard on concentrating on my stride (as my running partner suggests) and keeping my pace pretty even with my climb. Hard to do, but oh so worth it at the bottom because my quads weren’t killing me.

Shortly after the bridge, we went through another greenway – it was around this point (7 miles) that I got to the 1:00 mark. I have reminders set on iSmoothRun to remind me for nutrition at each 50-minute interval. I skipped the 50 minute nutrition because I was trying to stretch it to 60 minutes since I only brought one. I could tell I was starting to need it, though, and I stopped to eat. I don’t think I could have stretched it further, especially since I didn’t eat that morning. I slowed to a fast walk, ate my bar and drank some water and started back up to running. Once I got going, though, I started to realize I was still hot – why was I… oh, dang it. I forgot to take my shirt off. Now… every one of my half marathon race reports has some funny story of some extraordinarily goofy thing I have done or said. I’m happy to announce, my friends, this one is no different. I mean, other than being beaten by an 8 year old girl…

Once I realized my shirt was still on, I decided to slow to a jog – like 11mm pace jog – to take it off. Remember the “luggage” the runner at the start line teased me about? I had all this in my hands still, plus I still have my ear buds in because, well, I’m listening to music, duh. I promise I’m not an airhead, but I swear something happens to my brain after 7 miles where my common sense IQ drops profoundly and I don’t think things through. This is one of those episodes. I must have been quite the sight struggling to get that shirt off, getting it caught on my ear buds, and THEN getting my Garmin stuck in it and – because I’m suffering from endorphin labotomy at this point – all I care about is not screwing up my time on the Garmin (which I forgot to turn off at the end of the race). At the end of this, I ended up having to stop after all to untangle myself and repin. I probably would have been far more efficient if I had just stopped in the first place. So… this mile, with the two stops, averaged 10:13.

After getting situated, I was (slightly more) comfortable and ready to finish this race. I knew I was more than half way through now and that we must be turning around soon. I passed a sign for rest rooms and considered it, but thought I can wait. I passed it. I knew I’d pass it again if I really needed it (I didn’t). Then we passed the “way backin’ it” point – the turn around when we were officially “way backin it” as the guy in Las Vegas called it (I do like that phrase). I started to get excited now – I knew where I had been, I knew how long it took me to get there, more importantly, I knew I was on my way back and that I still had some gas in the tank. Mile 8: Let’s do this. At this point, I really started to focus on how I was running. I don’t really remember much about any thoughts I had other than “I’m holding a chip…  I’m holding a chip… arms straight – not crossing my torso… I’m holding a chip” haha. It helped, though – I didn’t get lazy with my form when I thought about it – mile 9. My legs weren’t tired. My stomach was starting to knot up, but I felt well hydrated. We recrossed the bridge and it felt faster than before. I was starting to feel tired, but I still had some in me. Mile 10.

Then I hit 10.5 miles. I had some understandable anxiety about 10.5 – that was my failure point in each of the 4 previous half marathons… was it going to be a trend? I’m happy to announce, my friends, it was not.

I was tired, that is for sure, but when I heard the announcement that I had passed 10.5 on my iPod and I still felt ok, I almost cried. It was the motivation I really needed to keep going. I’m holding a chip. Mile 11. I passed a guy walking and looking tired and said to him “you’ve got this man! less than 2 miles!!” Mile 12. I knew I had only a mile left and I was really ready to be finished, but not in the same way as the last 4. I wasn’t angry about it – I was thrilled – but very, very thirsty and I needed something to drink. I ended up approaching one guy who was running just a little faster than I was at the time, and was shortly after passed by another guy who was running faster than both of us, but slowed down to talk to the guy in front of me. It felt like I was like running with my running buddies and I sped up to get as close to them as I could. It was just the push I needed to get me to the half way point of that mile – they ended up pulling ahead of me, but it was helpful to have them there. Then… “A Quick One While He’s Away” by The Who came on my iPod – this song is about 7 minutes long and has a lot of mixed tempos in it, especially in the middle. It was just the push I needed for the end of that last mile. I turned off the toll road, made a few right hand turns just as the “You are Forgiven” part of the song was being repeated quickly in my ear and loads of folks were cheering for us. I passed the clock where beside my name displayed 1:56:00. I actually said “Hot damn!” out loud.

I was unceremoniously handed a plastic bag with my medal in it. There were no bags of stuff after the event. Nobody handed me food or  bottles of water, but I honestly didn’t care. I emailed and texted friends to let them know how I did, picked up a banana at the Publix tent and tried a new drink (that I now can’t remember the name of) to be rehydrated. It was good. I’ll have to see if I still have the flier in my car. I walked around for a minute to loosen my legs and then I went back to my hotel room to take one of the best showers I’ve had in a while and pack up to come home.

Learnings

I have to say the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I wasn’t running enough for the last few half marathons – at least, not enough for me. I still need to work on my cross-training but, directionally speaking, I’m on the right path. I can also honestly say this is the first half marathon where I am positive I did not have anything with gluten in it before the race and I was able to perform better than the last 4 where gluten was a factor. Finally, and I’m planning a separate post on this as well, I believe that red meat and potatoes is my ideal pre-race meal. I still need to test this theory further, but so far, the last few long runs I’ve had where that was my meal the night before have felt better. I have a plan for making the One America Mini Marathon feel better than this, and I have some time to work on it. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to do it.

Anticipation… is getting the better of me

I’m so excited right now, I’m finding it hard to find a place to put all this energy.

A week from today, I’ll have hopefully finished my 3rd half marathon in as many states. I think of this as a true test as to whether or not this was just an insane idea, or if it is really a super-long-term (some might argue insane) goal. I hope it is the latter.

My only goal for next week is to finish under 2 hours as I did for the previous two races. I’d like a Personal Record (PR), but I’m also realistic – I was injured during part of my training and I have missed a lot of training runs recently due to work and life stuff… my goal this year is to be a lot more disciplined about making my training runs and cross-training workouts. Oh, and to do Yoga. So far, I’m not doing so great with it, so I have some work to do.

Regardless…

I’m excited about this time next week. If nothing else, I’ll have the experience of traveling to a new city and running with about 20k of like-minded folks, and that makes me happy.

I’m sure this will come up again this week, so my apologies in advance for being as giddy as a 12-year old at a Jonas Brother’s concert.