Race Report: Magnolia Half Marathon, November 21, 2015, Meridian, Mississippi (1:52:45)

Here is a race report that was a struggle to write.  Each time I got started on it, all my memories of the race would start to crowd in and skew my perspective.  The short work week threw me, then it was Thanksgiving.  I got sick.  Suddenly, it was the weekend and I still couldn't clear my head.

Here is the best exercise I could come up with for busting my bad-race writers' block: I focused only on the positive.  I did not let my mind wander until I felt I had completely exhausted the list of reasons I am glad I ran this race.  So hold on, because all of my lame whining and excuses will come later.  First, positivity!

As Lewis Carroll said, "Begin at the beginning!"

Ten Amazing Things About This Race

1.  No doubt, this race was an awesome training run that made me both physically stronger and mentally tougher.  I am better runner for having completed it.

2.  I had the entire half day out with my husband, with no worries about childcare.

3.  My husband and I got to run about six miles of the race together, which was incredible.  I can count on one hand how many times we have run together in the past year.

4.  My husband had a great race for the full marathon, winning his age group and finishing fourth overall.  Incredible.

"...and you'll know when you're done."

5.  The weather was ideal.  It was the running weather you fantasize about...45 degrees, clear as a bell, no wind.

6.  I got to see the city where my parents live from a completely new perspective.  I got to run all the rolling hills on their weird highways that are normally too dangerous for runners.

7.  The race marshals and law enforcement support were unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The police were out in force, and traffic was controlled in places I never dreamed they could do it.  Runners who ended up running alone (me, and as it turns out, my husband) got a private police escort.  The local news ran a story about how to drive carefully around runners.  Everything was above and beyond what I imagined.

8.  I was able to support a community with a small but growing interest in running.  I know I say it all the time, but I believe running is for everyone who is willing and able.  I am honored to promote running in communities where it is unpopular.  It is an amazing way to take back your health, reclaim "dangerous" neighborhoods for pedestrians, and meet new people.  Also, where runners are common, everyone is safer.

9.  The charity partner funds research for Alzheimer's, the disease that killed my grandmother.  The race route went past the home where I saw my grandmother for the last time.  That made things very personal and meaningful for me.

10.  I ran a very fast finish, with a strong kick, and that is something I need to teach my body to do.  Again, I am grateful for the training experience I got from this race.

Okay.  Now, for the recap!  I want to start by saying that I am NOT disappointed in my time per se.  I know that many of my readers would love to finish a 1:52 half marathon (or even just FINISH a half marathon).  This is not a commentary on how a particular finishing time reflects on a person.  Instead, it is a commentary on the way my finishing time is a reflection of a poorly executed race.  Any disappointment is because I know my training should have translated into a better result.


I have always approached my training intuitively, by referring to the more popular plans (Hal Higdon, McMillan) and then developing my own goals for each week.  This fall has been so full of races, that I was a little stumped after the 10k I ran a few weeks back, and decided to check out the Strava Premium training plans.  They are based off McMillan, and mine had me reducing mileage by 25% in the final week, taking additional rest days, and running a three-mile shakeout the day before the race.  Check, check, check.  In retrospect, I'm not sure whether this was the best idea, and I probably needed more of a taper.  The week before the race was 40.5 miles, and the week of the race was 29.1.

Before the Race

We drove to my parents' house the evening before the race, and had dinner with them.  It was so weird packing my racing stuff, while my husband was also packing his racing stuff, while we were both packing our son's stuff to be "babysat."  We forgot a bunch of things like toothpaste and phone chargers, haha.  Packet pickup took all of five minutes, at a local hotel.  Everyone was smiley and encouraging and telling us they were so happy we were in town for the race.  The swag bag was one of the best I've ever seen.  It was handmade from burlap and filled with edible goodies, coupons, a voucher for a free large pizza, a voucher for a free Diary Queen cone, etc.  I think I counted seven pens in there, too haha.

My mom was practicing some of her Thanksgiving recipes, so we had a traditional turkey dinner the night before.  I stuck to the carbs and avoided the salad and veggies.  Afterward, we had a little cake for my son's birthday, so I had a slice of that with ice cream and my traditional pre-race dark beer.  Nothing special (in retrospect, probably also a mistake).

Fancy Delancey.

The morning of the race, I insisted that we get to the start freakishly early, while my husband wanted to do his normal thing and arrive ten minutes before the gun.  We compromised, but I still woke up plenty early.  Also in keeping with my tradition, I ate half a bagel and a caffeinated gel while I dressed in the bathroom.

Traditional bathroom breakfast.

I put on compression shorts, a short sleeved tech shirt, arm warmers, socks, my newest Brooks Ghost 7s, and a brimmed mesh hat with a knit beanie over (so attractive, I know).  I topped everything with gloves, sunglasses, and a cheap fleece jacket.  The same cheap fleece jacket I bought before my February marathon with the intention of throwing it away after the start (SPOILER: seven races later, and I still have the jacket).  I watched my husband sleep in and casually dress himself from what looked like a dirty bag of laundry.  Our personalities really could not be more different, haha.  Love him.

I have to do this the night before. 

The start was at a civic sports complex with lots of parking.  Once we arrived, we did a few strides and stashed our outer layers in the car.  My husband likes to line up at the front for small races (as he should), so we compromised and stood in the third row.  I made a comment that the start was uphill, haha LITTLE DID I KNOW!  The race director shot a real revolver for the start (yeehaw, Mississippi!) and we went tearing up the first hill.

The Race

My husband and I had talked about race strategy, and decided to run the first six miles together at a 8:00/mile pace.  I knew it would be a bit of a push for me, and very conservative for him.  We figured it would give him a nice, controlled start for the full, and me a good buffer for a PR in the half (SPOILER: LOL).  I've always wanted to try starting a longer race at a more ambitious pace, then attempting to "hang on" until the finish.  I'm usually too much of a control freak to risk blowing up.  And yeah, I'm also scared of the pain of hitting a wall.  It sucks.

Splits, GAP, elevation change, and heart rate from Strava. 

Mile 1 - 7:56 (GAP 7:52) I did everything in my power to keep my husband's pace reigned in by running right in front of him with my eye on my watch.  At the end of the first mile, he said, "I hope the next 25 feel this good!" 

Mile 2 - 8:02 (GAP 7:48) The crowd thinned out and the lead pack pulled away.  We weren't running with anyone at this point, and it was just the two of us on the shoulder of a four-lane state highway that was not closed to traffic.  Police on motorcycles escorted the runners along a single shoulder, and controlled the cars attempting to drive around us.  It was very cool.  At this stage, running on the shoulder wasn't bothering me yet.  It was rocky and very cambered, so I made a mental note to pay attention to my hip.     

Mile 3 - 8:00 (GAP 7:54) Half a candy pumpkin.  I started fueling early, because I knew our pace was going to burn me out.  Occasionally, a police bike would cruise past.  Cars in the northbound lane would slow down, honk their horns, and roll their windows down to cheer for us.  At first it was alarming, but after a while it was kind of fun.  The same trucks circled back over and over to cheer, and some folks even climbed into the beds for a better view.  Again, let me reiterate: yeehaw, Mississippi!

Mile 4 - 8:03 (GAP 8:09) The other half of the candy pumpkin.  At some point, I threw my ratty wool hat in a ditch.

Elevation profile for the half.  My hamstrings start to hurt all over again each time I look at this thing. 

Mile 5 - 8:21 (GAP 8:22) I was reenacting my days as a track club pacer, and attempting to "run over" the terrain without slowing.  The first four miles had five large "roller coaster" hills, and as we neared the first half/full split (mile 5.75), it became clear that I would need to slow down.  My husband told me he would probably catch me again around mile 7, where the courses joined back together.  Each turn in the course had a volunteer with a large printed sign saying "HALF MARATHON TURN RIGHT" or whatever, so it was very easy to find the route.

Mile 6 - 8:36 (GAP 8:29) This was the beginning of the Perfect Storm, a five-mile section of steady climbing.  I was running alone at this point, and trying to decide what to do with the rest of the race.

Mile 7 - 8:55 (GAP 8:29) It pains me to type out these split numbers.  One woman passed me during this part of the race, but otherwise I was totally alone.  I was on the grid of small streets downtown, where the police escorts were no longer needed.  Cars stopped for me at four-way stops, and I waved to them.  I ran past the hospital where my son was born almost exactly two years before, and had pleasant memories of carrying him home on a similar November morning.  I ate another candy pumpkin. 

Mile 8 - 9:02 (GAP 8:38) This mile was painful.  We ran past the city high school, where some of the students were cheering with handmade signs and passing out water, Gatorade, and bananas.  I was focused on climbing and didn't stop, but one of them called after me, "I really like those shorts!"  My leopard print booty shorts are very divisive...people either love them or hate them!  Glad they got good reviews at this race, haha.

Mile 9 - 9:11 (GAP 8:54) Pain.  Real, actual pain.  We ran past the house where my mother grew up, and I remembered her stories about rolling down the hill on 33rd Street.  I felt like rolling down the hill myself.  I saw 8:06 on a clock outside a bank, and I told myself I would be done in 40 minutes.  It seemed so far away!  I was incredibly frustrated, because this part of my last half marathon felt strong, effortless, and fun.  Near the end of mile 9, my husband caught back up to me.  He said he had dropped down to a 7:20 pace, and I think I actually said, "that's nice...I'm suffering at 9:00."

Mile 10 - 9:24 (GAP 8:59) This was my slowest mile.  My husband chatted with me while he ate a gel, then he left me behind.  Even on the best day, it is difficult for me to be dropped or passed during a run.  And here I was, nine miles into a race, spun out from half an hour of climbing, and my head was a mess.  It was incredibly demoralizing to be alone on the course again.  I guess I am glad I managed to pull myself together quickly after.

Mile 11 - 9:03 (GAP 9:01) At last!  The top of the hill!  We ran past the hospice center where I last saw my grandmother alive.  When I started feeling emotional, I reminded myself to channel it into finishing the race.  For a while, the course was on a stretch of undeveloped road.  There were no cars, no other runners, and no noises except my shoes hitting the pavement.  

Mile 12 - 8:51 (GAP 9:06) We turned into a gated community, where some volunteers had set up a water stop with a loudspeaker.  They were playing Smells Like Teen Spirit and dancing around.  I grabbed a cup of red Gatorade and spilled it all over myself, from my face to my shoes.  I paused and carefully drank what was left (first time I had stopped running during the race).  The course went through a gated community with some astonishingly steep hills, but at least they were short.  There were people raking leaves and taking out their trash, and they waved to me.

Mile 13 - 8:49 (GAP 8:40) Each turn near the finish was very well marked by volunteers with signs.  I started counting down the tenths of a mile until I could hear the announcer at the finish line.  Suddenly, after miles and miles of lonely running, I saw another runner out of the corner of my eye.  She was running hard and obviously trying to pass at the end.  All of my frustrations that had built up during the race suddenly sharpened into one clear thought: HELL NO.  I just wasn't willing to endure one more ridiculous moment before the finish line.  With two tenths of a mile to go, I absolutely dropped the hammer.  She yelled some profanity, but I barely heard it.   

Unrepentantly heel striking my way to the finish.

With the finish line in sight, I heard the announcer trying to read off our bib numbers.  He gave up and yelled, "IT'S A RACE!"  At the very last moment, we were still running abreast when the other woman reached out and pushed me sideways.  The announcer said, "play nice, ladies!" with this tee hee voice that made me so angry.  I have never run so hard at the end of a race.  Looking back at my watch data, I was running at a 5:37 pace through the finish line.  Race results show that I beat my nemesis by .2 seconds, and she was in my age group.  No regrets!

I know in Westerns, white hats are the good guys and black hats are the villains.  You decide. 

Afterward, I felt immediately very ill.  In fact, I have never felt so sick after finishing a run.  My vision was blurring a little bit, and I thought I was going to throw up.  I sat on some bleachers for a while while some guys ate pizza near me.  Happy to report I pulled myself together, though it was touch and go for a while.

I thought about looking for my nemesis to...I don't know?  Ask her why she pushed me?  Maybe apologize for not letting her pass?  I wondered whether I had broken some rule of race etiquette, but let it go when I realized she was nowhere in sight. 

I took a few water bottles and jogged over to the car to get my jacket.  I killed time waiting for my husband by walking around, printing my timing slip, chatting with some women from Jackson, staring at some ravens, and trying to eat.  The ravens were not interested in my bagel.  I headed over the the finish line and watched my husband come in fourth overall, first in his age group.  His official time was 3:36:30, and his race was incredibly well executed.  I took the opportunity to be a good wife and document his marathon experience with some quality photographs. 

"Sad Nathaniel Eating Pizza"

Photos that, in the moment, you do not want your wife to take but that have since become your Facebook profile picture.  You're welcome, Nate.

We chatted, mostly about hills, and waited for the awards.  The trophies were beautiful, handmade from magnolia wood and brushed metal.  I felt silly accepting an award for third in my age group.  Seems that's my normal race result lately, huh? 

I do like my legs in the photo, though.  Maybe the Ugly Shorts are growing on me?

When trail runners crash road races.

It was incredible to not have to rush away from the post-race activities to be with my family.  We really enjoyed ourselves and hung out until noon. Over all, this is a tough and unusual race, but you will not find a better small marathon experience.  Everyone was so professional, I did not notice one problem or mistake, the volunteers were perfect, the law enforcement support was the best I've ever seen at a race, the course was well marked and true, and everyone was just SO DAMN NICE.

Apologies for the parts of this recap that dragged on or seemed whiny.  I really did enjoy the race overall, and I am toying with the idea of running it hard next year.  At least I know what I'm getting into now, right?

As always, thanks for reading!

I was not compensated for this post in any way, and all opinions are my own.


Kristin said…
Dude! She PUSHED you out of the way? So not cool!!!
Rheagan said…
That's what I thought, but I wasn't sure haha.

(BTW my Google account is having issues and I can't "reply" to comments. Working on it.)
Tricia Vaughn said…
Hi Rheagan, it's so nice to find this recap. I also ran in the Magnolia Half a few weeks ago. I'm just now posting my recap as well. Meridian is my hometown and you made me feel great to read what you had to say about my town, even if we are all "so damn nice" lol. I really did get a kick out of that! How neat was it to run past the house where your mom grew up? I did think that was very tacky of the girl pushing you at the end and for my peace of mind I had to go look her up and felt satisfied that she was not from Meridian. Shame on her where ever she's from. I know it may not be any consolation to you, but I think you handled it very well and I'm so very glad your foot was the first to cross the line! Congratulations to you and also your husband it was not an easy race for sure. I see you're in the Birmingham area now right? And we were apparently at the Mercedes as well in the Spring. I came so close to a PR in the half. Congratulations on your marathon that is a great pace to have completed! Seriously your pictures look like you are out for a Sunday stroll! I will be attempting to run my first marathon in the Walt Disney World Marathon in January. Wish me luck as I do plan on doing a lot of walking. What races do you have coming up in 2016? It's very nice to connect with runners close by. :)