Runner's World Half Marathon Recap

>> Thursday, October 25, 2012

If you remember, the last half marathon we ran was way back in May. It was my first big deal race after having Ada, and I surprised myself with a finish in the 1:48 range. My training had been hit-or-miss, but relatively solid. My goal for the Runner's World Half was to commit to running 5 days a week and to not miss any long runs if I could help it.

How did I do? I'd say well. However, I didn't meet either of these training goals. My training ranged between 3 and 5 days a week, but most weeks I'd finish 4 runs. Usually on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. As for long runs (Sundays), I pushed many to Mondays and I missed 2 of them entirely.

Stephen had been telling me about the course for months. (Image from the RW Half Participant Guide.)

That the website described the streets of Bethlehem, PA, as "hilly" and "challenging" -- but I didn't pay it much attention. I've done tons of courses with rolling hills, and I consider tackling inclines a strength of mine. I trained on some hills, but, as I found out on race day, not nearly enough.

OK. So, here's us before the race. (I'm very car-sick in this photo!)

At the start, I decided to take off my long-sleeve in favor of my sleeveless shirt. I have such a hard time knowing what to wear while racing, and I usually end up too hot. The weather was almost perfect -- cool, but with promise of warming up with some sun.

I positioned myself ambitiously, right by the 1:45 pace group (8:00/mile). I've never run in a pace group, so I thought this might be a good time to try it out. Before I knew it, I was off and running. After a slight decline, the first hill revealed itself. I made it up just fine, but was lagging a bit behind the group. I figured as long as I kept their little signs in view, I'd be fine.

One thing I haven't given much thought to before is downhills. I'm probably going to dwell on all the climbing I did in this race. But I think the declines balanced them out. Anyway, I race on those declines. Fast. But not many people do. I think it's silly not to take advantage of such a controlled fall like that. (If you want to try it out, make sure you practice. It uses different muscles.)

Back up for a second. To the expo, where we got this great family photo taken.

At the expo, I heard people saying over and over again that once you get past mile 7, the hills were done (with one exception) and it was just coasting to the finish. I let that dictate how I powered up all those hills. I RACED them, which is unusual for me.

I should have looked at the elevation chart beforehand.

Or maybe not. In all, the elevation gain was over 800 feet. That's the most I've ever done in a race, and I've completed some very hilly courses. I kept thinking those first seven miles, which were a complete blur, that it would be over at the 7-mile marker. But as you can see from this chart, one of the biggest hills is between 7 and 8.

I guess I misinterpreted what "after mile 7" meant. So, this is really the part I can remember. After I hit mile 7, things leveled out, and I thought I was in the clear. No one in my pace range spoke very much. They were all very focused. This is how I can tell I was actually racing, because I didn't mind. Sometimes I am way too happy and giddy, which shows me I'm not expending enough energy.

A man jogged next to me and said he'd be using my pink cap to pace himself the whole race. Soon after, we passed by some houses and his whole family was there cheering him on. I think he had three daughters. Fun!

Also at this point, he blew past me because I saw that gigantic hill. Seriously: Seeing the hill was so demoralizing. I thought I was done for a while, so I think I even swore under my breath. I made it up, but my legs felt like there was nothing left. I hadn't trained for this type of difficulty, and because I was car-sick, I didn't eat a huge breakfast. I think my energy stores were low.

However, things looked up -- or, rather, down -- after that. The neighborhoods were absolutely gorgeous with all the colorful leaves. There were lots of people sitting outside their houses cheering. It reminded me a lot of the Boilermaker in that respect.

And speaking of 15Ks, I wasn't wearing a watch, but by my estimation (and the 9-mile clock marker), I think I did close to my PR on this course for that distance. That was a long way of saying I was speeding along quite well despite feeling so tired.

But the 1:45 group was nowhere to be found.

I thought of Stephen. Poor Stephen. There are no groups for his pace. Running in the top five must be so lonely. Thanks to Kerris (congrats on your race!) for passing along this great photo her husband took of Stephen -- not knowing it was him!

I said the first 7 miles were a blur, but really the rest was, too. I just remember that the weather was perfect. The leaves were beautiful. Bethlehem was beautiful. People around me started to pass me. I was keeping steady-ish, though. But others were speeding up. I heard a few say "we can still make 1:45," so I figured I was somewhat close to my goal.

I started making promises to myself at mile 10. I'll never make myself run a full marathon again -- I will stick to halfs like these, as they are definitely enough challenge. I will give myself an entire week off from running. I'll eat an entire pizza when I'm done. Just don't stop. I'll do anything for you, Ashley, just finish the damn race.

Somewhere in those last couple miles, we passed through Moravian College and some of the historic district again. (These are old photos from when we raced the Lehigh Valley Half a few years ago.)

I also passed by Runner's World Editor at Large Amby Burfoot, who was looking to beat his 1:48 previous PR. He must have! Everyone was saying hi and thanking him for all his hard work. That was one super cool thing about this race. All the RW writers, editors, staff. They have helped me so much with my running, I felt honored to be racing alongside them.

I got to the final mile and my legs were burning. It reminded me much of my marathon days, so I could tell that this course was leagues above what my training prepared me for. I decided (having no idea where I would finish time-wise, Zen-runner that I am), my goal was just to bring it in without stopping. Even if that meant slowing a bit. Which I did because there's a slight, slight incline for part of that final mile.

As we approached the end, I heard drums, cheering, and saw this awesome flame above the finish line. The whole steel mill structure where the race made its home base was asolutely incredible. I wrote more about it on Writing Chapter Three. Anyway, I saw the clock. 1. 4. 6 -- OK I was CLOSE!

Then 35, 36, 37, 38, 39 . . .  ever-ticking along.

I sprinted because I DID NOT want to go over into the 1:47s. And I did it. I think the clock time was 1:46:42 or something like that. But my official time was 1:46:27. A whole 4 seconds off my pre-baby PR at Lake Placid in 2010.

It might not be 1:45, but on that course, I'll take it.

The best part? I r.a.c.e.d the entire half marathon, hills and all. I may have slowed down a couple times, but not by much. My average pace was 8:07, only 7 seconds over goal. At the end, I wanted to collapse, not take cute photos or Tweet my good news. My biggest accomplishment is that I feel competitive again. I'm giving it everything I have, perhaps more than I ever have . . . and only one year after Ada was born.

I didn't think it would be possible. Then I saw Stephen, who first congratulated me and then quickly told me that he had crossed the line 3rd OVERALL. But his story is one for another day.

Recovery has been rough. That day, I took two very long showers because I felt so out of it. I took Monday off from activity, but returned to some easy jogging Tuesday and there was yesterday's pretty jaunt. I was thinking of doing another half in two weeks, but I think I may allow my body more time to heal.

Whatever I do, I know I'll be back for next year's race. The event was super organized, featured stunning scenery, allowed me to run with some amazing people, and -- despite the difficulty -- was fun. Thanks, Runner's World. What a great race!

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