I signed up for the Minnesota Half Marathon in June as a fitness check for the Berlin Marathon. The race marked just over the halfway point in my training and would be a good indicator of how training was going. Leading up to the race, the race organizers did a good job of communicating with participants on packet pickup and other race day logistics.
Packet pickup was at a local running store in St. Paul (The Running Room). I had no issue finding parking but also arrived on the later side (7 p.m.) so there weren’t as many people picking up their packets at that time. Bib numbers were assigned the day-of and I got a bib, pins, and race t-shirt. With rain in the forecast, I decided to pick up a visor in the store since I had forgotten to pack one and the employee working was very helpful and friendly.
My husband and I left the house at 5:50 a.m. and arrived near the start around 6:10. We chose to park in a privately owned lot for $10 since the $5 lots were backing up already. It took awhile to pay for parking since there was only one kiosk but I was able to pay for parking by 6:30 and walk down to the start line. I got in line for the port-o-potties right away before my warm-up. They definitely had enough for the size of the group and they were located near the start line. I did a mile warm-up and then 4 strides to get my legs ready to run fast. It was extremely humid at 7 a.m. (over 90% humidity) and hot (upper 70s to low 80s during the race) so I was already dripping after 1.5 miles of warming up and knew that the day was going to be challenging.
I lined up in the corral at 7:05 to secure a good starting position. There was a 1:30 pacer and a 1:40 pacer so I lined up between the two closer to the 1:30 group. My plan for this race was to go out at a 7:10 and hold that through the first 8 miles and then if I had more in the tank to pick it up. This is where things started to get weird. They had a start line marked but the actual start was about .10 miles up and they had everyone walk up to the timing mat. There was no official “start”, just someone who said “go” which no one was suspecting but all of a sudden we were running. I turned my music up in my headphones and tried to lock into a steady 7:10 pace. Because of the heat/humidity, things felt hard from the start. Not even a mile had passed and I was already questioning if I should back off the pace. I told myself to just keep digging and that hopefully after a few miles it would feel easier once my body got used to it. Mile 1 came in at a 7:05 which was pretty close to what I was going for so I held onto that and just settled into a rhythm. Mile 2 clicked at 7:07 so I was staying very consistent and to the plan.
The course was a lot hillier than I had expected and with a downhill portion at around mile 2.5, I saw the uphill that I would be facing later in the race around mile 7 once we came back from an out-and-back portion. I made the decision that I needed to work the downhill portions with the hills that I would face later on, fully knowing that there was a chance I could burn out my legs on the downhill but willing to take the risk this time around since this wasn’t the “goal race” and I wanted that PR. Mile 3 was a 7:02 and 3.5 had a water station. It was the smallest water station I’ve seen in a race with only 2 volunteers and tiny plastic cups (my husband called them shot cups because they were that small) filled with only about 1 oz of water. I tried drinking while running and got about a drip in my mouth and the rest all over my face. Lovely. I hoped this water station was just a fluke and that the rest would be better. Little did I know it would only get worse as the race went on. Mile 4 was mostly uphill and my watch clicked at 7:09. Good for an uphill mile but my HR was starting to spike (191 bpm average for this mile). I was relieved when mile 5 was mostly downhill and my pace came in at 6:57. Around mile 5.5 there was another water stop and I was frustrated when I nearly missed a cup because the volunteers were standing around talking and drinking water themselves. It was like they weren’t expecting runners to be coming by already; this was really frustrating to me because this is one of the most critical pieces of a race, hydration. I charged ahead and hit mile 6 at 7:00. It was at mile 6 that I told myself that I was going to have to fight for every mile but that I had a fighting chance. Mile 7 had the uphill climb that I had seen earlier at 2.5 and it hurt. My split came in at 7:13 and my HR was back up to 191. Once I made it to the top of the hill, I started pumping my arms again to get going and to get my head back in it. Mile 8’s split was a 7:04 and my HR had climbed to 193. This was also where the race started funneling in the 5K and 5-mile races which was a terrible idea because it created such a huge bottleneck. The fastest half marathoners were getting blocked by the slowest 5K runners and 5-milers; it was a bob-and weave deal for the next 2 miles and was really frustrating. I definitely lost time because of this and getting water was even more challenging because all of these people were walking through the aid stations. I was in a world of hurt around mile 8 and was ready to slow down, but saw my husband perched up on a tall pillar and got so excited and started smiling at him and waving and it propelled me through to mile 9 which I ran in 7:11.
After mile 9 my headphones decided to die on me (I had them fully charged the night before…I’ll be contacting Bose because they’re no longer charging to 100% and dying after about 1-hour of use). This was really the worst possible time for them to go out because there were no fans, just the sound of a freight train rolling, and very few racers around. I became that obnoxious person who blared their music off of their phone speakers because I needed something to keep me in the zone while I was hurting. Mile 10 clicked at 7:35; I knew I had slowed quite a bit and was still working hard, but just couldn’t push any more than this on the uphill. I did some quick math and realized that if I just maintained an 8-min pace for the next 3 miles I would still PR. But today wasn’t just about going after a PR. I wanted more than that and truly was targeting a finish closer to 1:32-1:34 had things gone a little better on the course; my coach and I had talked about this and it definitely was possible given my workouts and the base I had coming off of spring half marathon training. So again, I kept pushing and tried to push out the 8-min thought from my head. At mile 10.5 I saw a water station and I needed water desperately since I hadn’t been able to get enough liquids in to take a GU packet. I walked through this aid station to drink a cup of water and a cup of powerade (the tiny plastic cups) so that I could actually get some liquid down. Then, I kept going. Mile 11 clicked at 7:32 and HR was at 193 bpm. I told myself that it was just 2 more miles and that I could run that any day of the week. It was an uphill climb to the finish and I maintained this pace with a 7:31 for mile 12 (HR at 195 bpm at this point). I then focused on getting through the next mile and then booking it after that for the finish. My pace picked up a bit with a 7:27 for mile 13, but my HR also grew to 196 bpm. Somehow, I was able to run the last .17 miles (tangents) at a 6:13 average. It hurt like crazy but I was so ready to be done that I just kicked. I saw that I was going to be so close to getting under 1:35 and I tried my best to get there but came up short with a 1:35:02. I did have to weave through strollers at the finish from the 5K which again was really frustrating but I was just so happy to be done.
I finished this race knowing that I had given 100% of my effort that day. I did my cooldown at an 11:15 pace and could not move any faster; this was really a sign to me that there was nothing else I could have given to nab those extra 2-seconds and be in the 1:34 range. It was one of most physically and mentally grueling races I’ve ever run but I am so proud of the way I hung in there and gritted it out to finish in a PR by 1 minute and 37 seconds on a day that literally everything was not going my way. These are the races that build my character and that help me realize that I am oftentimes stronger than I let myself believe. Being the competitive person that I am, I want to get out there again and do another half and see just how much more I can push myself, but that will have to wait until after Berlin and quite frankly probably not until 2019. For now, my sights are back on Berlin and closing out these last 6 weeks strong in my training. The hardest runs are yet to come in this training cycle and they’re going to help me be the competitor that I want to be come September 16th. And those 2 annoying little seconds that are after my latest PR? They’re just extra motivation for me in Berlin to throw down the hammer in the final mile to not let that happen again. And if that means bringing a drinking straw to get down my liquids from silly plastic cups, you can bet that I’m going to be that girl!