I came. I saw. I conquered.
After months of training, a less than stellar full marathon debut in the spring, and a few other races here and there to keep my legs fresh, I’m beyond ecstatic to report that I pulled out an amazing fall half marathon performance at the Northern Ohio Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5-Person Relay on Sunday.
I needed this race. All the stars aligned throughout training. No injuries, no fear, solid track workouts. I was full of confidence and come race day, I rocked it. Here’s how it went:
I took my daughter up to Second Sole in Mentor on Friday morning to pick up my packet. The only reason I bother mentioning this is for two reasons. 1. She was smitten with a weird little statue man at the front of the store and 2. I finally got to meet Brian who I’ve been exchanging emails and tweets with over the last several months. It was nice to put a face to the name.
|Plus this rad race shirt!|
After an awful night of sleep (typical, I know) I woke up, drank some coffee, lounged around for a while debating what I was going to wear for the race (I had three options, depending on the weather conditions), and then decided it was time to get dressed. Grateful that the temperatures had risen from the day before, I got dressed in Plan A. I left my house with a 40-minute drive ahead of me armed with coffee, a black trench coat (my throw away just in case!), and little else. I was planning on running light for this race, hopeful for a PR.
I rolled in to the Headlands Beach parking lot and was shocked at the amount of traffic. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but I was there pretty early and since it was a small race, I had kinda written off the traffic/parking situation. Since I was completely unfamiliar with the area or where I was at all, I had a brief moment of panic before I saw cars pulling in to parking spots. The race director had warned me there were no lights and to head toward the light when I got there, but I didn’t fully comprehend what he meant until I saw for myself. I just wanted to go to the light!
I finally parked, gathered my minimal race essentials (armband, earbuds, sunglasses) and tethered my car key to my shorts. I then headed over to the First Aid tent to meet my new friend, Sara, to give her her race bib and shirt. Sara had driven in from Akron, which is a much longer commute than I had, so I was happy to see she had arrived with plenty of time to spare. After parting ways with her to use the restroom facilities, I headed to our “meeting” spot for our social media meetup. As it turns out, I was at the wrong spot but thankfully one of the guys meeting up, Bryan, saw me and flagged me down. Phew! I chatted with Bryan briefly and headed off to find Sara again. At that point I saw another new friend, Tony, and we met up again at the pavilion. Unfortunately by then Bryan had bailed. He had planned on having a solid race as well so I’m sure he was trying to get his head in the game. In any event, Tony, Sara, and I had our photo taken and chatted briefly until it was time to head to the starting line.
|Me, Tony, and Sara!|
What I truly love about the Lake Health Running Series is how the races have a small, local feel. Mostly because they are both small and local! A lot of the runners know each other from the running circuit, and even the out of towners feel welcome because it’s such a small, family-like atmosphere. And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t need a lot of crowd support during my races. Sometimes it’s nice but often times I feel myself getting distracted when I’m trying to read signs or thank spectators for coming out. I’m glad I chose Northern Ohio as my PR race because if there were many more distractions who knows if I would have achieved my goal.
No sooner had I reached the starting line was it time to go. I turned on my Garmin, started my tunes, and we were off! (You can see Sara and I briefly in the video above. Thanks, Tony!)
I held my pace guide in my hand (thanks, Coach!) for the first couple of miles but after rehearsing it over and over, I was fairly certain I had it memorized. My goal was to maintain even pace for the first three miles, then turn it up a notch for the next 7 miles, and then slowly chip away at my pace for the remaining 3.1. I stayed mostly on track until things got tricky.
I maintained a fairly easy, even pace but I could feel the effort. I was also having a real hard time keeping my pace in check. All I kept repeating in my head was, “Don’t go out too fast. Don’t go out too fast. Don’t go out too fast.” It helped, too. I remembered what happened at Rock Hall (which was an amazing race overall but no PR for me) and I refused to let the same happen at Northern Ohio. I had worked too long and too hard for a PR to go out the window due to my inability to maintain control.
Miles 4, 5 and 6 were solid. I saw my neighbor, Shannon, cheering everyone on and I was on target at that point. My pace goal was to be around 9:00-9:05, which was going perfectly. At mile 7, just before entering a nature preserve, I was spotted by my friend Janeese. It was awesome seeing her. It was a nice push seeing a few friendly faces just as things started getting tough.
|Feelin’ great around mile 6!|
|Heading toward the nature preserve.|
This is where things got wonky. The nature preserve was simply stunning and I loved it. Unfortunately part of the trail ended up being a boardwalk. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention but the day before was very wet and rainy and I watched someone wipe out at a local 5K. I had zero interest in wiping out myself, so I slowed down a bit. After I was off the boardwalk I picked up the pace a bit again, and felt good. After we headed out of the park, we were back on asphalt. There was a man cheering us on just before the 8-mile mark and I swear he must have been a coach of some sort because he looked me dead in the eye and told me to stay strong and to keep pushing. It’s like he knew that’s what I needed to hear at that moment. I said a quiet thank you as I continued on. I carried his kind words with me to the finish. Then came the next stretch of unexpected difficulty, right after I saw him.
Around mile 8.5 or 9 (hard to recall exactly), we headed onto the Headlands Trail which followed along the shoreline of Lake Erie. It was very beautiful and there were a few times I really wanted to stop to take a photo but I knew I had zero extra time to afford a photo opp, so I pressed on. The terrain, however, was completely unexpected and took a lot more effort out of me than I realized. It was a trail with some larger rocks, which made footing slightly tricky, and there was an ever-so-slight incline. Thank god most of my training was on hills, otherwise this portion just might have killed me! It was quite beautiful, though, so it was worth it. Unfortunately my pace suffered quite a bit, and as soon as we were back on roads and I tried to regain my pace, I found it difficult as the uphill, rocky effort seemed to have zapped some of my energy.
I stopped at every aid station for water along the way. I was worried this would slow me down, but it didn’t one bit. At mile 11.5 or so, I started getting a side stitch, which I knew meant I was bordering on dehydration. I originally planned on blowing past the remaining aid station but once the cramp started I knew I should stop for some Gatorade. It helped, the cramp went away, and I was on my way to my PR.
There was this woman I had been tracking throughout the entire race. We seemed to be about the same pace but she didn’t walk through the aid stations. She somehow had mastered running while drinking. I kept getting further away from her but then catching up ever so slightly to keep her within eyesight. I was really focused on staying with her. After we exited the Headlands Trail I saw her doing what I thought was walking. But there was no way this lady was walking. She couldn’t be! But alas, she kept getting closer and closer. She was, indeed, walking. I sadly passed her and hoped she would finish the race strong. She had unknowingly been pacing me since the beginning. (You can see her just before me in the video. She’s in an orange long sleeve shirt.)
The last three miles were where I started picking up the pace pretty hard. When my Garmin said mile 11, I knew it was go time but then the cramp thing happened. By the time it cleared up at mile 12, I pulled out all the stops and ran hard. I had no idea where I was on time but I knew I needed to beat 2:07, which was about 9:30 pace, in order to get my PR. I was hopeful for sub-2 but I really wasn’t sure if it would happen for me or not. As soon as I turned the final corner to the finish and saw the clock counting down, I knew it was mine. I saw the clock as it read 1:59:40. Damned if I wouldn’t get in under 2 hours. I hauled ass, pushing near-puke pace and figured if I would puke at a race, this would be it. I can’t be sure but I think the clock read 1:59:56 just as I crossed. My official chip time was 1:59:40.
An 8-minute PR. BOOM!!!
As soon as I crossed the finish line someone handed me water (another HUGE perk to the Lake Health Running Series and Greater Cleveland XC events), and then I was awarded my finisher’s medal. This one was hard earned and pretty rad, too. It’s my new favorite.
After I got my water and medal, I aimlessly wandered around in a daze. I decided to stop to get my picture taken by the official race photographer, and then I headed to the results tent. There I was, next in line, when I got a tap on the shoulder. It was none other than the woman I had been tracking for the entire race! She congratulated me and told me she had tried to catch me as I passed but I had kicked it up at that point and was going too fast for her. It turns out she had started cramping up and that’s why she had to walk. We were both following each other at different points throughout the race, and I was so happy she was able to finish uninjured. Remember what I said about the small races having a family-like atmosphere? This is one of many examples of that.
After a few more minutes of aimless wandering, I bid adieu to Geoff W. (who I almost plowed into as I was heading toward the finish. Ha!) and then stopped at the beach for a final farewell. I called my friend Sara to share the good news (she had just broken 2 hours with her half marathon a few weeks ago!) and headed home.
This was my first race I ran without hydration on my person. I have to say, it was liberating. But at the same time, I’m certain the lack of readily available hydration, coupled with the exertion of racing itself, had somewhat disastrous effects on my gastrointestinal tract come post-race. I spent an absurd amount of time tending to my bowels or just straight up being uncomfortable for the majority of the day on Sunday. It wasn’t until around dinner time when things finally started to ease up and I could enjoy a solid meal. Where I faltered in my hydration and nutrition is my morning coffee. I normally have a few sips, if any, before a run or race. This time I was feeling kinda cocky and decided to drive my 40 minutes with my travel mug full of coffee. I only drank half of it but that’s half more than I’m used to. I’m pretty sure the caffeine completely negated all the hydrating I had been doing the entire week leading up to the race.
|SOS to the rescue! Chugged this stuff when I got home to rehydrate.|
I credit my success to having a phenomenal coach. He says he can plan, coach and train all he wants to but at the end of the day we’re the ones that have to put forth the effort. And that’s true for the most part. But without proper training and guidance, there’s no way I could have coached myself to a sub-2 hour half marathon.
Special thanks to Geoff and Bill for another phenomenal race. The Lake Health Running Series is second to none, and I don’t say that because I’m a race ambassador. I say it because it’s true. If you have the opportunity to run one of these races, I highly recommend them. The atmosphere is great — pre-race music and excitement, post-race food, photos, and fun. It’s a truly wonderful series.
Overall, an awesome race experience. I’m already looking forward to 2016.
Old PR: 2:07:30
New PR: 1:59:40
It seems like there were A LOT of PRs over the weekend! Were YOU one of them? When’s YOUR next big race?