|Taken at the finish by my husband.|
That is to say: this race was exceptionally well produced, gorgeous, exciting, and fun to run. The weather was ideal and the food and race swag were awesome. However, my time was disappointing for several reasons that I will probably keep to myself, for fear of subjecting you guys to something that could seem ungrateful or whiny. In a nutshell, 1) I ran too soon after a full marathon, 2) I spent the weeks before the race on business travel, which meant poor sleep and poor training, 3) I made mistakes with nutrition in the weeks before the race, and 4) I made mistakes with pace during the race. Anyway, on to the recap!
My official time was 1:54:34. Even though it was my first official half marathon, I am not counting it as a PR, since I have run a faster "half marathon" as part of a longer tempo run. I was 120/1093 overall, 54/791 women, and 12/138 age-gender. Here is the race on Strava, if you're curious.
|Idyllic (Asheville Citizen Times).|
What can I say...this is a beautiful race. It's a "trail combo" on the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in the country. The price of your race entry gets you access to the grounds for the day of the race (normally $20 for adults). The landscape architecture of the sprawling property was done by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same designer responsible for Central Park.
The course starts and finishes at Antler Hill Village, the location of the Biltmore estate winery. The first six miles are on a combination of asphalt and packed clay roads that wind southeast to the Biltmore home and formal garden. Miles six and seven are very steep and winding asphalt roads that take you up onto a scenic ridge and around the home and garden.
|Biltmore home on race day, from the Asheville Citizen-Times.|
After that, the course is mostly flat dirt track and Jeep trail, with a stretch of dirt pathway along the French Broad River. The course is a big loop, except for a two-mile out-and-back at the very end. In a ridiculous twist, there is another steep hill between mile marker 12.8 and the finish line.
|Goal for spring: find a flat race.|
I'll also say that, because this race is not on my home turf, I looked at the course map and read the race director's published description ("hilly until mile seven"). I misread the course map at the point of the marathon/half marathon split, so I didn't notice the out-and-back at the end.
Now we move into the comedy portion of this recap. I ran a full marathon three weeks before this race. I attempted a three-mile recovery run a few days after, and my left hamstring was still not okay. I called my GP (who is also a recreational runner), and he advised it was probably a tendon strain. Two days later, I tried to run again and only made it a mile before I had to turn back home. After three more days off, I was able to fly through a few flat miles. In the meantime, I got called away on a business trip that ended up stretching out for six days and involving more than 1100 miles of driving.
(Actually, now that I am typing this out, it is starting to seem more like the tragedy portion of this recap.)
While I was traveling, I managed two six-mile treadmill sessions in hotel gyms. I've said it before and I'll say it again...you can maintain running fitness on a treadmill, but you can't make any significant improvements. It is just too different from outdoor running. During my business trip, I skipped several meals. I had a few dinners that were little more than a granola bar before bed. In my attempt to eat some vegetables, I ordered a few hideous restaurant salads that left me hungry. And one day, all I ate was this:
|Now, I'm no dietician, but you probably shouldn't eat like this.|
I want to be clear, I am not complaining or making excuses. My job is such that it can become periodically very intense and demanding. I am often required to be on conference calls that take place in the middle of the night, and to then be available 24 hours a day. Frequently, I have to choose between eating or working out, and I don't always choose wisely. At one point on this trip, my boss came to get me off the treadmill with an urgent question. That's life. I wasn't surprised at all when I got home and saw that I had lost about four pounds (likely all muscle). Fail.
Eight days before the race, I did an eleven-mile run with the track club and it hurt like hell. Again, fail. After that, I figured what the hell and did a few quick runs, a moderate run on some hills, and one speed session. I frantically Googled up information on racing shortly after a marathon, about hamstring tendon strains, about losing aerobic fitness, and about race pace predictions. I looked at a half marathon training plan on my track club's web site, and I started to come to terms with my situation. Two days out, I felt possibly woefully unprepared but ready to enjoy a nice family trip and a fun race regardless of the outcome.
Getting to the starting line was a bit of a challenge. The race offered a shuttle, but it only left from the host hotel, which was fully booked by Christmas. I am not joking. I called the hotel every week between January and the day before the race, and they never had any openings or cancellations. I ended up taking a taxi to the shuttle to the race (worth it to allow my family to get a few extra hours' sleep...but still). I guess this is why people constantly tell me I am lucky to be able to walk to the starting line for major races at home.
So, I woke up around 4:30, dressed in the hotel hallway, ate in the cab, and got to the race site by 6:00. I spent the time between 6:45 and 7:15 waiting on line for the bathroom. I will never (NEVER!) understand why race directors can't figure out the bathroom availability thing. The whole time I was waiting, I watched a woman going through the five stages of grief because she had started her period on the shuttle. The whole scene ended with a coordinated effort to remove the tampon vending machine from the bathroom wall by force. Things could have been worse, I guess. (Note: when I am a race director, I will put hair ties and tampons in all the swag bags).
|Right before the start, from the race Facebook page.|
I lined up to start about 7:20, and chatted with a bunch of track club buddies. I noticed a lot of pacers, for 10-minute increments and both the half and full distances. I used the pacers to place myself in the starting chute, fired up my music and GPS, and got moving. It was probably around 40 degrees at the start, so I kept my fleece jacket on with my shorts and shirt, and planned to leave it at the mile two clothing drop.
After my little training snafu, I had looked at some numbers and decided to run between an 8:15 and 8:25 pace, depending on how my hip and hamstring felt. I actually felt pretty fresh and pain-free at the starting line, so I lined up between the 1:45 half marathon pacers and the 3:50 full marathon pacers. As it turned out, the half marathon pacers went out way too fast and destroyed my plan (and some of my motivation). I ran the first mile at 8:06, and the 1:45 pacers (who should have been at 8:01) were out of sight. They were immediately more than 50 meters ahead of me, and I never saw them again after the first quarter mile.
|Mile 6, from the Asheville Citizen-Times.|
1 - 8:06 - relatively straight, flat start
2 - 8:55 - first hill, 175 feet of climbing, I threw my jacket in the clothing drop and drank some water
3 - 8:16 - descent, where I did okay (it seems I only slow for downhills once my quads are tired)
4 - 8:25 - hitting a groove
5 - 9:19 - another hill (160 feet) sneaked up on me, I slowed a bit and grabbed fuel
6 - 8:57 - steep rollers and winding road, I had some hip pain that I prayed wouldn't get worse
7 - 8:23 - past the Biltmore home and into the gardens, with some hard downhills, more hip pain
8 - 8:21 - last steep descent to the stables and the French Broad River, more fuel
|Along the river, proof from Paul Jackson Photography.|
9 - 8:47 - the next several miles are my attempt to run an even 8:45 without walk breaks
10 - 8:55 - which worked pretty well, the sun came out and I pulled my glasses down
11 - 8:41 - the full marathoners split off and the finish line came into view
|Sorry, Paul Jackson Photography...this one is not cute either.|
12 - 8:57 - confused to see some faster half marathoners running directly toward me on the dirt trail
13 - 8:52 - realized it was an out-and-back, suddenly demoralized
.2 - 8:06 - "is this a hill?" "where am I?" "is this course long?"
I saw my husband and son about 20 meters before the finish, which was nice and rarely happens. The announcer botched my name, mistaking my surname for a city. Some volunteers handed me some bottles of water, a medal, and an embroidered fleece blanket. I circled back to find my family and we went to the food tent. They had a huge spread, but I didn't really want much of it. I had some potato chips (quickly becoming my favorite post-race food) and a banana. I tried to eat a chocolate doughnut, but the sweetness was unappealing and I tossed it.
|Nate almost didn't catch a picture of me at the finish!|
Honestly, I finished the race feeling great...not exhausted, no hip pain, no crazy hunger, not really affected by the weather. Let me tell you, a half marathon is a straight-up leisure event after a full. It doesn't even seem logical that it is one-half the distance of a full marathon. The mental and physical effort required just don't even compare. We spent some time getting coffee at the creamery, and then petting some milk goats (which my son called "doggies!"). I picked up my fleece jacket and we left fairly early.
So, to summarize...by the time this race rolled around, I had adjusted my goals. I wanted to 1) enjoy the setting, 2) run strong on the hills, 3) avoid my usual walk breaks toward the end, and 4) not have to quit because of my hip. I feel like I did better on these hills than I have in any other race, and I definitely passed some walkers on each one. I'm already incorporating some hill repeats into my midweek training, so that should help even more. I am so proud that I didn't indulge in my usual walk breaks; instead I just slowed to a jog at the water stations. My hip continues to improve, and I've been employing a lot of foam rolling, stretching, and patience to help speed things along. I am so grateful that I was able to run this gorgeous race, and feel healthy and strong the entire time. Running is a gift, and I do enjoy every minute of it, even when my times are mediocre.
The sad truth is, at the end of February I was probably in shape to run a sub-1:45 half marathon. And several things changed that for me -- some I had control over, and some I did not. Either way, I can't wait to get back out with my track club tomorrow morning for a long run that feels like a success. Onward and upward.
I was given a discounted race entry as a representative of the Birmingham Track Club. I was not compensated in any way for this post.
(P.S. - Apparently there is some fiendish new invention that LOOKS exactly like water, but TASTES like a gel. In other words, it is fetid, cloying sheep snot from the salty bowels of hell. I grabbed a cup of it at mile seven and damn near puked. If anyone knows what this stuff is, please tell me so I can never let it touch my lips again.)
(P.P.S. - the hip pain I felt during this race ended up being a fairly serious injury that sidelined me for spring and ended up requiring some pretty hardcore physical therapy and rehab. Hindsight is 20/20, folks.)