The Road to the Half: The Race Recap

Yesterday afternoon around 3pm I thought, “Wow, I’ll be done with the half by this time tomorrow.”  And so I am.  I’m done.  I still can’t really believe I did it.

I got up around 5:15 this morning.  I’d pretty much packed everything the day and night before, so there wasn’t much to do but savor a cup of coffee and catch up with a few things online.  I double checked everything in the bag, and left my house around 5:35.  If I’ve learned anything about tight parking at races, it’s to leave early.

I arrived at Jennings Beach in Fairfield around 6:05.  It was, indeed, early.  There was tons of parking available, so I snagged a spot very close to the pavilion where all of the pre race activity was (and, more importantly, the porta potties).  It was early, so I chilled for a while, went through my bag again, and just tried to zen out.

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Finally I ventured out of the car to see what vendors were set up.  What luck to find a running store had brought tons of stuff to sell, including small belts that can carry a few gels and keys.  I had chosen to wear pants with a pocket, but they didn’t really hold the small tube of Vaseline I wanted to carry with me and reapply during the race.  The belt I found was perfect.  I snagged it and a few gels (wasn’t sure of availability on the course, although I know they were supposed to be handing them out) and set it up.

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The weather was beautiful, even a bit cool, as I killed time before the race.  I used the bathrooms a lot, not wanting to have to on the road.  I enjoyed the scenery and plotted out my race strategy, trying to fight off nervousness.  Basically, I decided to walk every hill.  I knew I couldn’t spare the energy they would take to run and go the whole thirteen miles.  I also decided I’d walk through every water stop I got water at.  I wasn’t sure if I’d need them all (there were nine on the course map) but if I was getting water, I’d walk.

I ventured out to the start line about twenty minutes before race time since there really wasn’t anything else to do.  This year, they’d separated out the men and women with two different starts (although elite women runners were supposed to go to the men’s, and some of the slower men showed up at ours).  Even so there were tons of people (I suppose at least two thousand).  The race started right on time at 8:15.

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The first few miles were relatively flat.  I could tell I was keeping a good pace, although I tried to keep it slow.  Even so, hundreds of people passed me.  At first I was discouraged, but then I finally got my headspace right and started enjoying the scenery.  There were still plenty of people around me.  It was fine.

I felt really strong even through the hills for about the first six miles.  There was lots of shade, and the hills led to great downhills, and the water stops were frequent.  I think it was around mile 7 that I started to not feel super any more.  I could tell blisters were starting to form on my feet, and I reached in my pouch to reapply my Vaseline to my bra area.  I took a gel just before the mile 6 water stop, but it didn’t seem to be giving me the energy I’d hoped for.  I opted for water and gatorade at the next one, hoping for a boost.  I tried doing the math in my head, and realized I still had six more miles to go.  I remember thinking, I’ll never make it.  An Episcopal priest stood outside his church giving high fives.  I slapped his hand and said, “I need all of the help I can get!”.

I started taking more walk breaks at this point, figuring that at this point my pacing had been good enough that even with walk breaks I should still meet my 3:00 goal.  Another big hill loomed somewhere in mile 8, but after we crested it, I was able to find a good pace for over a mile, and felt a little better.  At mile 9 I took another gel, and I felt even better after that.  By mile 10 I knew I was in the homestretch.  It seems crazy to think “It’s only a 5K from here” but it was what everyone around me was saying.

Mile 11 brought us back near the beach, but deceptively so.  We had to weave in and out of sidestreets before we got back to the beach where the finish line was.  I remember thinking that mile 12 was so far away at one point, and then trying to do the math in my head:  if I walked the rest of the way, what would my time be?  I forced myself to run more than I walked at this point, but it was a very, very slow run. At this point I was fighting for every inch.  I stopped at every water station and just tried to muster the energy and hydration to keep going.

Somehow, mile 12 passed more quickly than mile 11, and finally, finally I saw the finish line sooner than I had anticipated.  I was able to muster a bit of a faster pace towards the finish line, and was grateful to see 2:50:xx on the screen (actual net time was 2:49:40, better than I had ever imagined I’d do).  I’d done it.  I’d made it in under 3 hours, with a ten minute cushion.  I grabbed my medal and walked through the chute to where more water waited.

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I guzzled four paper cups of water before I finally felt good enough to venture back to the beach for some fruit.  I hardly ever feel like eating after running, but I knew I needed the fuel.  I snagged a banana and some watermelon, and was just grateful that there was still food left.  I bypassed the pizza line, not interested.  Instead, I asked someone to take my photo on the beach while I was still high and sweaty from finishing.

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So now that it’s over, here are my takeaways:

  • Follow the training plan.  I felt reasonably well prepared for this race.  It was definitely hard but I knew what to expect.
  • Conserve your energy.  I passed a lot of people in the mile 5-8 range because they clearly bonked out.  My strategy of walking the hills and water stations worked well.
  • Hydrate the day before and throughout the race.  I sweat a lot so I was really aware of needing to stop often for water.  I had hoped to skip a few of the water stops but I found each time that I felt like I needed it.  At some of them I took just a sip and poured the rest down my back or over my head.  I never felt full of water and I never needed to use a bathroom after the race started, so I know I did the right thing by stopping so much.
  • Take every high five and smile you can get.  These really helped me, especially since I didn’t have anyone there to cheer me on.
  • Body Glide everywhere you usually chafe.  I applied it twice before the race and then used Vaseline during the race and it worked very well.  I only have one small spot, as opposed to the many sore spots after some of my long runs.
  • Sunscreen/hat.  If it is summer, or sunny, you need both.  I used a sports sunscreen that isn’t supposed to sweat off, although I saw some pink on my arms near the end of the race.  I was grateful for the hat too to keep the sun out of my eyes.  I swear it helped me stay cooler.
  • Try to find socks that will minimize blistering.  I have had tons of issues with blistering during my long runs.  I still have blisters, but way less than I did after my twelve miler.  They need to be very lightweight and sweat wicking.
  • Try to enjoy the moment.  There was beautiful scenery throughout the race today, and I really tried to make myself stop and appreciate it.  It helped.

I”m not sure I’m ready to do another half any time soon.  It was hard, extremely hard.  I don’t know that I would do another one just to race again.  I do think I would be willing to run another half if it was a destination race:  like New York City or maybe the half in my hometown of Detroit, or Niagara.  We’ll see.

For now, I’m glad I did it.  🙂

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About mostlyforward

Somewhere on the journey to a better life, depending on the day...moving (mostly) forward.

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