Yep. Last I mentioned running I was just building a base. Well, I got through that without trashing anything (and I felt like a beast after struggling through the record-hot summer we had), so I worked out which weekend would be best to try for a half and picked one of two available: Race 13.1 Valpo in Valparaiso, Indiana. It's a small town up in The Region (or is it Da Region? I don't know) so I was pretty sure the race wouldn't be huge, and Valpo is flat flat flat so I knew it wouldn't be hard. (Ha. Haha. More on that later.)
I loosely followed a Hal Higdon plan for beginner half-marathon training, and even though there were a few weeks when I had to trim my workouts a bit because of work scheduling, I still went into the last few weeks feeling really, really good. I had time to add a week before my taper, so my longest long run was 11 miles two weeks before the race. I spent the last week gently tapering and making extra sure to eat really well and stay hydrated (hydration is something I constantly struggle with).
When race weekend rolled up, Jason and I packed the dog and a bag that I triple-checked for my running shoes into the car and took off for our overnight stay at La Quinta in Merrillville. If you're traveling with pets, La Quinta is pretty much the best thing going. I got a fantastic rate, they didn't require a deposit, and it seemed like the room was extremely well-insulated against sound. Lanta is pretty sensitive and can get a little hair-trigger barky when there's outside noise. We hardly heard a thing, though, even though the hotel was pretty packed. The most we heard was the water running in the room above ours and a few muffled door slams down the hall--and nothing set her off. The bed was pretty comfortable and they actually had PROTEIN at the continental breakfast--yogurt (which I've seen sometimes, but not often) and hard-boiled eggs, which I have never seen at a free hotel breakfast. I got up about 5:45, brewed some coffee, had an egg, a banana, and a yogurt, and sat watching HGTV until it was time to leave at 7. (If there's any TV station that I am perfectly happy to get stoned on, it's HGTV.)
Traffic was non-existent and we were able to drive the 10 miles to the race site in no time. Parking was not easy; I ended up hopping out of the car to go in to packet pick-up while Jason found a parking space. I got my number and my shirt in about thirty seconds; it looked like I'd have to wait in line, but the room was really just full of people trying to escape the wind. (Ohmygod the wind.) Got into the porta-john line just in time--I was only about 6 people back, but by the time I came out the line was three times as long, and just a few minutes later stretched the full length of the parking lot. This might sound weird, but the portapots were really nice, even though they were swaying in the wind. (The wiiiiiinnnnnnnnd.)
Blah blah blah, stood around waiting for the start, they announced it in five, I lined up about halfway in the pack, and then--GO!!! I don't really like running in a starting pack. The longer it takes to thin out into a comfortable distribution, the higher my anxiety goes. I don't know if I'm a little claustrophobic or if I just need a lot of personal space, but I'm pretty sure there was some seriously noisy tooth-grinding emanating from my skull in the first couple miles. You've got the cross-country kids who blow by you at a million miles an hour, brushing your elbows and cutting you off; the people who did not train and stop short right in front of you at the 2-mile marker to turn around and walk back; the people who start waaaay too close to the front for the speed they'll be running and create roadblocks. By the 3rd mile marker, though, things were settling into a much more evenly-dispersed stream of runners, and I dialed in my pace at right around 10 minutes per mile.
Volunteers were numerous and enthusiastic in this race (too enthusiastic at one water stop--they were more interested in handing out high-fives than hydration, and I was kind of pissed off for a couple miles). The course was mostly out in the country--flat and fast, if maybe a little boring to some. I grew up on a farm, so I personally loved the scenery, but if you're looking for grand beauty, this isn't the course for it. Overall I was pleased with the race, I thought it was really well-organized, and the tech shirt and medal were nice prizes. My only complaint was the one water stop where they weren't handing out actual water. Oh, and the wind.
I need to devote a paragraph to the wind (as you might have noticed). It. Was. Brutal. It was out of the south, maybe a touch out of the west, and it was very steady and dry. Mostly it was to our sides; I didn't mind that so much, aside from it being annoying--it whipped my ponytail into a rope and made my nose so dry I actually feared a nosebleed for a while. Everyone struggled to run a straight line, and there were gusts strong enough to knock some of the lighter runners completely off the pavement. But it was the couple miles we ran south--face-first into it--that were just plain miserable. I just tipped my head down and pretended it was a big hill to climb. I think I managed it the best I could have done; I didn't fight to maintain my pace, because I knew that would be much more expensive in terms of energy spent. Unfortunately there was nobody to draft off, so I was all on my own. It felt like I was leaning so hard into it at times that I'm pretty sure it was literally holding me up. There were a lot of people who broke to a walk against the wind, some of whom I don't think ever recovered (I didn't see them again, anyway, like Stompy McFloppyFuelBelt, who I was really really happy to get away from after listening to the stomping and flopping fuel belt for eight-plus miles). As I made the turn off the last headwind section, I actually threw up my arms and cheered, and the volunteers at the corner there cheered right along with me. They knew what made me so happy.
Even through the wind, I was able to average a pace right at ten minutes per mile. At each mile marker, I glanced at my watch and was jolted to the reality that not only would I PR, and not only would I hit my "A" race of 2 hours 15 minutes, I would smash it. I would have had to completely fall apart in the last 5k to miss 2:15, and I knew I was not going to do that. I just felt good--solid and strong and my feet were ticking along like a metronome. I was passing more than I was being passed in the last miles, and I had the big, wonderful surprise of seeing Jason's smiling face just after the 11 mile mark.
Right after the 12 mile mark, we got to turn north and enjoy a tailwind all the way to the finish. I knew I had it, so I just turned it loose and ran it in. I picked off several more runners, turned the corner, caught site of the finish line, and fired the afterburners. I kicked it hard with a big, stupid grin, and I'm pretty sure I heard people commenting on it. Sailed across the finish line in 2 hours and 11 minutes for an average pace of 10:01, and got a big hug and a smooch from my fiance.
And here are some pictures he took!
|Before the race, with the Corgi. Aw.|
|Just after 11 miles. Done with the wind... just gotta get done with the race.|
|The finish... it is so close...|
|ZOOOOOOOOM my poor hair :(|
|RAAAAAAAA SMURFPANTS AAAAAWWWRRRRR I like the shirt we got. It's cool.|
And now I feel really good about shooting for an even 2 hours at the Mini in the spring. LET'S DO THIS.