It has been an annual tradition for me since I started racing again in 2004/2005 to compete in the Youngstown Mill Creek Classic Half Marathon. The race promises 19 hills over 13.1 miles, and usually bad weather to boot. But it is a good fitness test when training for a hilly spring marathon like Boston, and seeing as our annual running club banquet is always the same day I feel like I earn my grub if I make the trek to Youngstown and run hard. In most past years I have treated the race as more of a training run, the footing is usually poor, and weather is usually cold so I haven't really raced the event besides the past two years. Last year we had perfect weather, but alas, this year we woke up to snow snow and more snow that had followed rain so we were expecting icy conditions.
Once again had a stress free carpool to the race, but there is where the smooth sailing for the day ended. Arrived to the race site to guys shoveling ice off of the start. Not a good sign. Coach gave orders that we should do nothing that would get us injured, so just a hard training run. Got a late start to the warm up and checked out about a mile of the course, half clear, and half covered in slick snow. Still not looking so good. Realized as I warmed up that the tights I had on were going to be too warm. Had to rush to the car, struggled to find the keys, finally found them just as I was going to give up, stripped the tights and threw on capris. Rushed back to the start and realized I had left my gel in my tights pocket. Oh well.
My training partner and I decided to take it out a bit conservatively and see how it looked. Can't lie though, I intended to run hard for any sections that were clear. I came to race! In an ideal world I was hoping to get under 1:22, but wasn't really sure what would be realistic for the course. The first half mile we joked around a bit with the guys around us and I noted that there weren't many of them. Apparently most of the fast guys had decided to make it a training day or stay home. First mile is repeated twice and half of it had decent footing while the big dip and climb that we ran twice were covered in snow. After that the course wasn't too bad.
During mile 4 my partner realized her shoe was untied. We had just pulled away from a small group of guys and could still see the lead 3 runners. There was a big climb coming up so I told her I would take it easy on the climb until she caught up. Can't say I was too upset about being able to back off the effort up the hill :) She caught up near the top with the pack of guys and we pulled away again. The mile markers all morning had been off by one mile, indicating we were one less mile in than we really were. Thankfully I knew the course and realized the error. The markers for this race are typically off so I had planned on using the Garmin anyways.
Miles 5 through 7 wind around through the park and for some reason those miles are always colder, which meant the snow was back, but there were tire treads that were clear so other than sacrificing tangents we didn't slow much. These miles I struggled a bit mentally with whether or not I was "racing." Running next to my training partner it is hard to say if I would be doing something different if she wasn't there. But I did a gut check and while I can't say I was running at 100% effort it was definitely over 90% effort. I just kept waiting for her to decide she was going to pick it up and dust me :) The next aid station I tried to get gatorade, but instead ended up dousing myself and the road missing the pass off. Nice. We headed downhill and soon two young guys decided to pick up the pace and blow by us.
At some point the second male must have decided to pick it up as we had lost sight of him. But the gentleman in fourth had been "taunting" us the whole race, staying the same distance ahead of us from about 1 mile on and we decided we would have to pass him before the end. Around mile 9 there is a long slow climb and I fell behind my training partner but tried to stay close. As we went through the aid station I again struggled with the gatorade managing to get about a sip in my mouth and the rest all over me, this time victim to plastic cups that I couldn't squeeze shut. But the aid station allowed me to catch up with my partner and as we rolled towards mile 10 and 2 miles of rolling downhill we started to step it up and reel in the now 6th place runner. Another small incline and my training partner once again pulled ahead passing into 6th place. I followed shortly thereafter moving into 7th and careening down Bear Hill.
The next mile as we run towards the finish many other runners are going the other direction to make the loop from mile 8 back to 11. We saw a few friends who cheered for my training partner then me. Lot's of cheers for first and second woman and a few encouraging me that I could catch her. Ha. Unfortunately for me the last mile of the course is the hardest with 3 big rolling uphills that just juice you and despite my best attempts at upping my strength my training partner just seems to have more steam on uphills than me. I tried my best to keep it honest though and was able to hold the gap where it was coming in 7 seconds behind her for 2nd female in 1:23:59. Not quite the sub 1:22 I was hoping for, but given all the mishaps I think it was a really good effort. To top off the race mishaps I got back to my car after the cool down and found that the gel I had forgotten had exploded all over my tights. Gross!
I was happy with how I handled some of my mental demons on the course. It definitely made it a good mental effort forcing ourselves to push while most of the field that should have been with us ran more conservatively. I am sure we made it look easy running together most of the way, but I am not sure we could have gone much faster if conditions had been better and we had raced from the gun. I'm thinking we probably ran a better more even effort than we would have if roads were clear from the gun. Other than missing the tangents and slowing down up Bear Hill I don't think I would have run much different other than a faster first mile. Perhaps could have shaved 30-45 seconds, but not sure I could have broken 1:22 even with warmer weather and better footing.
Did some number crunching and while it isn't exactly the predictor I was hoping for, for Boston, the time does put my Boston goals in the realm of possible based on past Youngstown vs. Boston performances for myself and a few other women in my training group. I'll take it :)
As usual SERC had lots of great runs with most members placing overall or in their age groups. Always a good time, even though a challenge.