So given that my lead up to Philadelphia has been less than ideal I wanted to get in one more long "race" effort to make sure I was mentally and physically ready to really race a marathon at Philly. While Columbus was a blast I did not have to go to the well that day and it really gave me no indication of what my body would be capable of in another 5 weeks. So with that in mind I planned to run a half marathon two weeks out from Philly and have that double as my last big long run at a quick pace. Originally I was thinking of a semi local flat half but ended up opting for the Mason half down near Cincinnati so we could visit friends and I could run a more challenging course with some hills since Philly is a bit rolling (as far as I can tell from the profile and USATFs claim that it is a slight net climb). I was aware the field would be small and I likely wouldn't have many competitors to work with, but I was hopeful a few would show up to get my competitive juices flowing and keep me honest and true to my goal.
Keeping with the low key vibe I have been trying to maintain since Indy's disaster of a half, I wasn't too worried about eating bar food the night before and having a beer. Thankfully my stomach played nice and I didn't pay for my casual approach, though my singlet did smell an awful lot like malt vinegar when I threw it in the wash post race...
The day before my left shin was acting pretty angry on my easy shake out run, but thankfully race morning it did not make a peep.
My original plan was to target 16 miles total at 6:16 pace, I figured if I could run 16 at 6:16 Garmin pace I'd have a reasonable chance of going for 2:46 at Philly given a taper etc. I figured this was probably not going to be reality, but wanted to give it a go. I initially was going to do a 2-3 mile easy warm up and target a slow start in the half with a fast finish followed by 3 more hard miles post race. I decided to bag that plan last minute and get in the 3 hard before to make sure I got all 16 hard done. I had my doubts I would want to head back out for 3 more after racing the half.
Pre race I had done the math on what I would need to run garmin pace wise to get in 16 averaging 6:16 with 13.1 of it at slightly faster than my PR (1:21:52). I really want to make sure I don't go out too fast at Philly like I did at Boston and Indy so I wanted to go out the first three miles slow at around 6:26, follow that up with 7 miles at target pace of 6:16, and finish it out fast at 6:00 for the last 5k. I knew this would be tough, but it was the goal I set. Given that goal, to get in the 16 on pace I needed another 3 miles at 6:31.
We got to the race with just enough time for me to run to the bathroom quick, strip to my race clothes and get in an easy mile followed by the 3 mile tempo. Weather was absolutely my ideal conditions. Around 36 and sunny. I forgot my shades, but never was too bothered by it. I warmed up one mile easy and then found myself having to hold back on the warm up tempo. Grateful my body felt so good I was excited to see what I could do in the race. Hit the tempo miles in 6:29.67, 6:23.29, 6:30.86 then ran over to the start to find David and hand him my gloves and arm warmers.
Got to the start line with about a minute to spare and was happy to see one of my old SERC buddies who had moved away. Some quick pre race chat and got caught off guard by the starters commands for us to go and we were off!
The first mile was significantly down hill and despite my best efforts to remain calm and keep it relaxed the mile was fast around 6:08. 15 or so guys in the 5k were ahead of me, 4 in the half, and two guys were right with me as I tried to settle into 6:26 for the next uphill mile. I nailed this one while chatting with the guy next to me about the best Ohio marathons. I pulled slightly ahead at 2 to make sure I got water since I had already run 5 hard miles and I didn't want to dehydrate. I assumed both guys would go with me but they did not and I found myself by myself for the 3rd mile until catching 5k runners who had a slightly different course. As they headed towards their finish to the right I made a left hand turn and noted 4 guys in the distance as speakers played "It's raining men" and I hit the third mile in 6:20.
Time to go to work. I wanted to try and nail 6:16s at a minimum from here on out if possible. The next guy up was about 100 meters in front of me and pretty much running exactly the same pace as I was. This mile was rolling up hill and I could tell though I was pushing, my body was going closer to 6:20s. I stopped looking at the watch and decided to just go by feel and run what I had for the day. I wanted to be mentally focused on working hard the whole way. I took a gel here and my left calf was starting to get pretty tight which in turn had my foot talking a bit. Hit this mile in 6:18 and the next four miles were actually pretty close to the desired 6:16 coming in at 6:11.10, 6:15.29, 6:17.60, and 6:20.45.
This was a small race so there weren't many spectators, but once or twice a mile there were a few people out to cheer for their runners and I was appreciative of their enthusiasm and returned the support with a wave and a smile! A bit after mile 5 we made a left turn up a short but steep hill off the bike path we had been on and onto a road. I was still holding the gap steady behind the 4th guy. I knew the course took us out to mile 7 before making a hair pin turn and backtracking. Energy wise I was feeling really good, though I had an inkling the pace wasn't quite what I wanted and my left calf was a bit troublesome, I was excited to be covering ground relatively fast and feeling like a racer again.
There was an aid station around mile 6 and I accidentally dropped the cup and let an f bomb slip out, which I promptly apologized to the volunteers for. I noted to myself that I would need to make sure I didn't miss the water on the way back as I needed to take a gel there. Charging ahead the guy in front of me was thrown off by the first confusing turn on the course and I hollered ahead that I thought we needed to go left. Earlier in the race I had thought that some spectators had said "There she is" and "Go Terri" so I wasn't confident there wasn't a girl close on my heels and I was anticipating the turn around where I could gauge my race position better.
For a small race they really did a nice job of trying to provide some energy and had music in a couple of places along the course. As we made our way towards the turn around there was an OK Go song playing. Nearing the turn around I confirmed there were another three guys ahead of the one I had been tailing. They all looked strong and I didn't think I would be reeling any of them in. Thanking the volunteers I made the turn without slowing too much or falling which is always an achievement, I hate hair pin turns!
Now the fun began. There were a few guys not too far behind me that I cheered for as I headed towards mile 8. And eventually the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th women appeared who I cheered on enthusiastically as well as my old SERC friend. It was such a beautiful morning for a race and you just couldn't help but smile watching everyone work their way to the finish! After 7 miles of pretty much silence the next 3 were filled with cheers for "the first lady" and my intermittent responses of "good job" to those runners behind me. Slowed a bit to grab my water at 8 and chug another gel and headed back towards the finish now a bit into the wind. I was keeping an eye out for my buddies CG and Steph to give them some in race high fives which kept me occupied until about mile 9 when I caught the 4th guy and passed him.
I could not see any of the top three guys in the horizon so I knew I was pretty much on my own from here on out as the trickle of runners still heading to mile 7 diminished. I worried a bit that if the course got confusing I would have no clue what I was doing in the park having no one up ahead, but decided if that happened I would roll with it and just remember I was here to get in a good hard last long run. Turns out I had nothing to worry about as the course was marked perfectly.
The inevitable slow of someone on their own who had run a 3 mile tempo pre race commenced and miles 9 and 10 were a bit off pace 6:26.42 and 6:25.51. An awesome spectator reminded me to relax my shoulders and jaw and I shook out my upper body and tried to determine how one goes about relaxing their jaw while smiling gratefully at spectators. I was caught off guard before 10 as I saw a fit looking guy running out of one of the parking lots, I assumed a coach looking for one of his runners, when he cheered "Go Tinkerbell" and I realized it was our buddy Greg who had done the 5k. This made me laugh. I had missed the 10 mile marker and was grateful for a spectator who let me know as I passed over an intersection heading back towards the starting park area that I had 3 to go.
Again time to go to work. 6:00 might not be possible, but it was time to see what I had left in the tank. The next mile, aided by that wonderful downhill section was close at 6:05.58 and then I trudged my way up that hill from the second mile that hadn't seemed quite so steep the first time around. Hmm, so much for that badass 6 minute pace finish I was hoping for. The past few volunteers at the mile markers had been caught off guard by me and hadn't read the race time so I literally had no clue where I was at time wise having left my watch running from the warm up and tempo. I was fine with it, no matter what the watch said I was running with everything I had on the day and it would be good enough at the finish!
As I climbed that crazy hill before mile 12 two young guys cheered that I was "Representing all the ladies out there" and something along the lines of give it everything you have got. I felt pretty humbled as I shuffled up that hill at what felt like some pace slower than a walk! I did the best I could to use the brief downhill to uphill roller in that mile and managed to hold a 6:24.75. As I neared the 12 mile mark I again missed the water and once out of ear reach instructed myself out loud to "Rally." Easier said then done. That last mile was pretty much my worst case scenario terrain: a slight uphill grade into the wind the entire mile until making the turn a bit before 13. This one was the slowest of the day at 6:32.93. (And thanks to my less than optimal navigational skills I always know that garmin pace is to be buffered with about an extra .15 miles to a half, so my garmin average of around 6:19 for the half would end up to be around 6:23 real pace.) Despite being entirely juiced the crowds at the turn to and along the finishing winding stretch helped me to rally indeed and finish it out strong, finally at my desired sub 6 pace, coming across the line in 1:23:25, 4th overall and first female.
Am I done yet?
I gratefully got a water from the volunteers, sat down to return my chip and was pleasantly surprised by a cute medal for finishing. I found my husband and friends and changed into dry less stinky clothes before cheering for the next few runners and the top females and bouncing around to the music and testing the calf/foot to get in 3 more miles and close out my last 20 for the day while running my buddy CG in to his finish. The calf and foot were tight and I thought for the first 50 or so meters that I may not be able to cool down but it loosened up enough to head backwards through the course about a mile and a half, stopping to thank the aid station volunteers and to remind the boys on that dreaded hill that they were sworn to secrecy about how awful I looked coming up the hill the second time around. And at the bottom of said hill I caught my buddy CG and happily encouraged him to the finish while rounding out 20 miles for the day all at an average of around 6:50.
CG in the final Kick!
Once CG finished we grabbed some grub and I continued my danceathon cheering for runners waiting for our buddy Steph to finish. A nice lady came out and told me though she didn't know me I was being called up for an award inside. Oops. I headed inside still carrying my plate and was pleasantly surprised to find out I had won a gift certificate to Fleet Feet and a free nights stay at a hotel. Score! I wasn't expecting anything with it being a small charity race so that was a nice surprise! Took an awkward photo with the race director then it was back outside to cheer for Steph! Though hungry my energy was great and I felt like I could have run all day had my foot and calf felt better and we hooted and hollered like crazy people as Steph finished out her half!
Steph Rocking it Out!
It was a beautiful morning with our friends followed up by a relaxed fun afternoon. Though I obviously would have liked to have been faster I was really happy with my effort and glad that it was in the realm of what I thought was realistically possible given my less than optimal training. I will say though that if you want to PR in a half and you aren't quite as speedy as you currently hope, don't bank on doing it following a 3 mile tempo pre race :) I had absolutely no "get up and go" speed those last three miles and would have had no response if someone had forced me to kick.
Post race refreshments never tasted better!