Although I felt confident in the days leading up to my 15 miler last weekend (which would be run as the Newberry Half Marathon plus 2 more miles), the night before, I definitely wasn’t so excited. I guess I accidentally ate something with gluten in it (we had gone out to dinner on Friday night) because I was in serious physical pain both Friday night and Saturday morning. I had planned to give the race a decent effort, but on my way to the event, I was no longer quite so sure and just hoped for a finish.
I met up with my friend Kristen before the race. We had talked about running together, but she was planning on taking it easy while recovering from her recent marathon and I was not really sure what I wanted to do. I said a few quick prayers to the digestive system gods and before we knew it, the race was off!
When I signed up for the half marathon, I only knew two things about it: 1) It fit nicely into my training schedule and 2) It’s a tough course. This area of South Carolina is pretty hilly, but so is where I live and run, so I wasn’t too concerned. Everyone who had run it warned me about a monster hill at the end of the race, so I literally envisioned a massive all with the finish line at the top. I was all wound up to contend with that, but we’ll get there later.
At the starting line, I saw my friends Carol and Tracey – fellow Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters who were in town from Arkansas and New Jersey, respectively! It was such a cool surprise and definitely not expected at this race. That’s one thing I love about being a member of these great clubs – you have a pretty good chance of seeing a friendly face at every race!
My plan for the half marathon, if all went well, was to run it at a comfortable pace but still push myself a bit. I wanted to be able to have conversations but also not totally slouch and take it easy. I really had no idea what to expect given the course, but I set out at a comfortable pace that seemed simultaneously fast and slow. Am I the only one who has ever experienced that? It’s weird.
We ran through downtown Newberry and some of the surrounding neighborhoods, which are chock full of beautiful historic homes. I enjoyed looking around a bit, but by mile 4, I was kind of wishing that I had someone to talk to. I guess I was a little bored, but still running a good pace. The water stops were every 2 miles and I walked briefly through each one, careful not to linger too much.
As luck would have it, I saw Carol and Tracey around this time and started running and chatting with them. It was nice to catch up after not seeing them for awhile! I had no idea what our pace was but I felt I slowed down a bit, which was fine. There were constant rolling hills – literally, if you weren’t going up, you were going down! Then a man ran by and said “I have to tell you, you have the most effortless running stride I have ever seen!”
Ok, time out. If you have ever seen me run, there is definitely nothing “effortless” about it, so that made me laugh. I have been wearing new shoes lately (more on that in a future post) so the thought crossed my mind that that might be it, but I doubt it. I will say I was feeling particularly light on my feet that day, though. Anyway, the man was wearing an Outer Banks Marathon shirt and I told him how much I loved that race, and we started chatting. Turns out he is a fellow Maniac and 50 Stater as well! I really need to get better about asking people’s names when I talk to them in races, because I’m pretty sure I know everything about that guy now except his name. By this point, we were probably around mile 7 or so and I wanted to speed up, so I said goodbye.
As we ran past the campus of Newberry College, I spotted a group of 3 people that had been ahead of me pretty much the whole race. Interesting fact: Newberry, despite being a very tiny school in a very tiny town, sells out all of its football games, and hotels in town are sold out during every home game.
The three had a good pace going, and I wanted to catch them but was determined to be smart about it and not wear myself out since it was hilly. I picked up the pace and noticed myself steadily gaining ground. Around mile 9, I finally caught up to the group, who had sort of split up by that point, and said to one of the guys “I’ve been trying to catch you guys for miles!” He smiled and said something to me in a heavily accented voice, and it was then that I remembered reading in a race email that there were runners from the UK, so I asked him if he was! Turns out, I was right, and he is from Wales but working in nearby Greenville, and he and some of his coworkers had come to do the race.
The more I talked to this man, the more amazed by him I became. The miles were flying by as he told me his story! For one, it was his first half marathon, and the farthest he had ever run in his life was a 10k…at a race two weeks ago. He told me that the woman behind us, who had been in his group, was on pace for a 2 hour half marathon, and he thought he would be “quite pleased with that” for his first attempt. At this point, I got pretty excited because that’s a great time for me, and we were ahead of her! I learned that his family lives in the UK and he works in Greenville for 6 weeks at a time, then has 2 weeks off and flies back home, and then repeats. He has worked all over the world like this for the past 10 years! He and his coworkers work 12 hour shifts, often at night…so he worked a 12 hour shift the night before the race, then literally left work, got in the car, RAN HIS FIRST HALF MARATHON ON NO SLEEP, got back in the car, took a nap and then worked another 12 hour shift.
I could tell he was starting to get tired (for obvious reasons), so we chatted about different places we love around the world and where we want to go and all that sort of thing. It was a really lovely conversation and again I find myself regretting not asking his name. We ran together from miles 9 – 12, when THE HILL happened.
The Newberry Half Marathon is notorious hill at “the end” of the race, which is really mile 12. When I think “the end,” I literally envision running up a hill to the finish line, but that’s neither here nor there. I was feeling really optimistic about my time since we were still ahead of the girl who was going for 2 hours, so I wanted to push myself and kept chugging up that hill, which was indeed quite steep but not the worst thing ever. After that, it was about half a mile to the finish!
Well, the downside of not wearing a Garmin and relying on other people to give you an idea of your pace is that sometimes, people don’t stay on their pace. So while I thought I was cruising to a call 1:58 – ish finish, it was actually more like 2:01. While I’m thrilled with that time – it’s my third fastest half ever, partially because I don’t race half marathons very often – I also had gotten my hopes up a bit about running under 2 hours and was disappointed that it didn’t turn out to be the case. However, I have no one to blame but my own self-induced anti-Garmin agenda.
However, I am feeling great about the race for the following reasons, sub-2 or not:
- I felt like I was running at an easy pace the entire time
- I slowed down to talk to people pretty frequently
- I never let myself get worked up about the hills
- I paced myself well, backing off when I needed to and speeding up when I could
- I was able to finish my extra 2 miles after the race easily
I still had two more miles to get in after the finish line, so I grabbed some water, chatted with some friends for a minute, and then turned back around to run down the course and find my friend Kristen. I got to her when she was in the middle of the giant hill, so I got to do that one twice – hooray! I ran her back in to the finish and did a couple of loops around the parking lot to finish off my 2 miles. To measure it, I ended up downloading RunKeeper, which constantly updated me on my pace and distance and basically shamed me into running faster. Highly annoying, but effective.
After a solid race and 15 miles, I’m feeling optimistic about the next couple of weeks of my training plan before AJ and I head to Argentina for our honeymoon. I have a 10-mile cutback week long run this week and a 16-mile long run next week, then I’ll be taking two weeks off of training (but still running and staying active) while we’re away. When we come back, there are just 7 weeks of training left before race day! Eek!