So, first things first! I REALLY need your help. The female track and field athletes at Rhodes Hall High School have their regional championship meet on February 2nd, and they are in desperate need of uniforms for the event. I’m continuing to send contributions in hopes of getting them uniforms by regionals, so if you can contribute even $5 to the GoFundMe campaign, it would be SO appreciated! Please, please, please! Don’t make me beg. You can read more about the kids and their incredible stories here.
I targeted the Resolution Run Half Marathon as my first race of the year for two reasons: 1) it was close to my house and 2) it was cheap. Those are as good of reasons as any, right? I didn’t know much about the course
(this will be important later) besides that part of it is run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, like many races here in the Greenville area. We are so lucky to have this spectacular paved multi-use path stretching 19 miles from south of downtown Greenville north to Travelers Rest! It’s a great place to run or bike and it’s very convenient to access from my office downtown. I take advantage of it basically never, but I do occasionally squeeze out of the door for a lunchtime run. Note to self: use the trail more.
The trail! Photo cred: Greenville Rec
The race didn’t start til 9 am on Saturday, January 9, which was pretty excellent. I met my friend Bobbi at the start around 8 am, as she had driven up from Columbia to run the race also. We weren’t running together since she is super speedy, though. She is going to Nepal with me in October, so we had lots to catch up on and talk about! We sat in her car and chatted until about 15 minutes before the start because it was pretty cold and windy outside and we were feeling wimpy.
As I lined up at the start line, I really did not know what to expect – either from the race or from myself. I have not done any kind of speed work since March of 2015, before I reinjured my back (it’s fine now, but I took about a month off last spring, if you recall). Since then, it’s been slow and steady miles and I haven’t worn my Garmin at all, so I had really no clue what would happen. All I knew is that I wanted to push myself and run at a comfortably hard, sustainable pace. I brought my Garmin along for information’s sake, but I had to carry it in my glove because the wrist straps broke off like a year ago and I am too cheap to replace something I use so rarely. Meh.
The race started off with a 5k out and back that was run with those racing the 5k. Like I said, I knew nothing about the course, and neither did Bobbi, so we had no idea what to expect. Let’s just say that if I had known what to expect, I probably wouldn’t have done this race, because the hills were unreal. Typically, hills are either short and steep or long and gradual, but these were somehow steep AND long. I hit the first mile in 8:47 and thought “Oh, shit.” I don’t know how I did that given the giant hills, but I kept plugging along. I tried to slow down as much as I could, knowing I was going way too fast for where my fitness is, but I still did the second mile at something like 8:50. Gulp. The third mile was so hard that, as we ran past the turn-off for the 5k and saw the finish line, I seriously considered just turning off and doing the 5k. I was gassed. I thought, “Oh great, I have no energy now for the next 10 miles!” But it wouldn’t be a very good start to 2016 if I quit my first half marathon in favor of a 5k, now would it?
We headed towards the Swamp Rabbit Trail and I did my best to take it one mile at a time. I looked at my Garmin only on the mile markers and tried to run by feel. I walked through rest of the water stops after arrogantly thinking I could run through the first one while grabbing a cup of water and drinking from it – uh, no. I’ve been doing races for what, five or six years now and I still do not have the hang of this? Oh, well. Even on the miles where I walked through the stop and took a short walk break, I was still in the 9:30 range, which I was very pleased with. Although I didn’t know what to expect from my fitness, I really wanted to keep it under 10 minute miles. Anything better than that was gravy! The miles without water stops clicked by in the 9-9:10 range.
I’m not gonna lie, though. It felt much harder than it should have. I was definitely pushing it, and I just didn’t feel great – my stomach was bothering me (did I tell you guys I’m getting my gall bladder out on February 19th?) and, possibly thanks to the two barre classes I did the day before (teaching and taking), my legs weren’t exactly feeling fresh. “Run the mile you’re in,” I repeated to myself over and over again. I didn’t want to drain all my energy early in the race, but I also didn’t want to be complacent and give up on myself early on. As beautiful as the Swamp Rabbit Trail is and as great as it is as a training area, I find it a difficult place to race in some ways. I was alone for a lot of the race, and because the trail is one long, straight line with trees on both sides, there isn’t really much to look at and focus on besides yourself and how you’re feeling. Your mental game really has to be on point, and that’s definitely not my strong suit when it comes to running. So, my entire strategy was to do the best I could until I reached the next mile marker and then reevaluate.
You’re not helping, gall bladder!
To be honest, it felt like the race was going by slowly, but each time I checked my garmin at the mile marker, I was pleasantly surprised by my speed. I was still running in the low 9s without water stops and in the 9:30-9:40 range with them, and I had not had any miles over 10 minutes. As we reached the turnaround and headed back towards Travelers Rest, I knew the trail was now heading gradually uphill instead of gradually downhill, and I tried really hard not to let that mess with me mentally. We also were now running into a headwind, but I told myself it was ok if I slowed down as long as I continued to give my best effort. Still, by the time I reached mile 10, I was pretty toast. I took a slightly longer walk break at that water stop and was feeling pretty disappointed in myself for my bad pacing and crappy endurance. Still, I kept going and just prayed for it to be over.
A man passed me at mile 11 and said “Come on, we’ve only got 2 miles left. We can do two miles!” I smiled and said “It’s funny how 2 miles doesn’t seem that far when you have just started running, but it seems like forever at the end of a race!” I latched on and tried to pace myself off him so I could keep running. I found, as is often the case when I start out running at a faster-than-normal pace, that my legs have a hard time slowing down once they are used to going fast. That’s great, except when my endurance runs out and I am going too fast for my heart rate but can’t seem to slow myself down! He was running about 10 minute miles, so I moved in beside him and we chatted a bit back and forth until we hit mile 12. At that point, I knew it was almost over, and I just wanted to get the best finishing time I could. This race was all about pushing myself, right? I picked up the pace a bit, focused on lengthening my stride, and dug in.
Since I had only been looking at my lap times and not my overall elapsed time, I was pleasantly surprised to round the corner to the finish line and see that the clock said 2:03! I thought there was a chance I would come in around 2:05, but I was really excited to see 2:03. That was way better than I was expecting! I was exhausted but ecstatic as I crossed the finish line in 2:03:13 and raised my arms in victory. I was handed a handmade ceramic coaster as a finisher’s award, which was extremely exciting because I was pretty sure there were no medals and I therefore assumed we wouldn’t get any type of award. Is that a huge deal? No…but after a tough race, a little prize doesn’t hurt!
With my sad broken Garmin and my sweet ceramic coaster (at least, I think that’s what it is)
Immediately – and I mean within literally 5 seconds of crossing the finish, according to my Garmin – the race director came over and said, “So, what did you think of the race? Besides the first 5k, haha!” I’m not sure why he picked me to ask, other than the fact that I was wearing a Little Rock Marathon shirt so maybe he figured that I do a lot of races. I could barely breathe, so I think I gave him a look that was something like “Are you effing kidding me right now?” but I do love to offer suggestions, so I let him know my thoughts. Overall, I thought the race was well organized, although the mile markers were way short (0.1- 0.2 mile short) until mile 12. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, and I had a great experience besides my own lack of fitness! No complaints. And Bobbi ended up winning her age group, so she actually did get a medal.
Overall, I’m pleased with my finishing time, but not proud of my race execution. I went out way too fast and didn’t pace myself appropriately. I don’t think I could have gotten down under 2 hours regardless, but it might have been a lot closer. Nonetheless, I now have a measure of my fitness and a jumping off point for training for the rest of the year, which was the goal. Sub-2, I’m coming back for you!