Friday, March 15th
I was so nervous leading into this race and I think my coach knew that. We had a pre-race conversation and she asked me how I felt about running this race somewhat blind. What she meant by that was that it would be an effort-based run where I wouldn’t look at my watch to see my pace during the run and would purely just be pushing hard up and down the hills. I could look at mile splits if I wanted to but the rest of the time I would just focus on running a comfortably hard effort and let my inner GPS take over.
Saturday, March 16th – Day Before
I went for a 25 minute shakeout run the day before running the half marathon. My overall pace was a 7:57 but I didn’t feel great. My body felt sluggish and tired as I was on very un-tapered legs from marathon training. I came back into the house and immediately put my legs up on the wall. My husband came downstairs, laughing at the sight of me, and asked how my run went. “I didn’t feel great,” I said, “but I’m going to do everything I can to get my legs recovered for tomorrow.” I started with an Epsom salt bath and then took a nap, because rest is so crucial to the recovery process (and I really love naps). After my nap I headed out to pick up my race bib in Crystal Lake at the Running Depot. Packet pickup was easy and the volunteers were so friendly. I don’t know what it is about packet pickups but they always get me in a good mood for racing! For dinner that night I made the Turkey Trot Meatballs from Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow along with Banza spaghetti (I honestly prefer this chickpea pasta to regular pasta!) and the marinara sauce from the cookbook. We ate shortly before 8 p.m. which is later than normal before a race so I had a Kind bar while cooking to start getting in some fuel. Lights out around 10 and I would end up sleeping very well which is rare for me the day before a race; I think getting to sleep in my own bed where I was comfortable made a big difference.
Sunday, March 17th – Race Day
I woke up at 6 a.m. on race day and got changed to do a quick 10-minute shakeout run on the treadmill a couple hours before my race. I have done this before every half marathon I have run over the last year and it really helps loosen things up early on and get my body temperature to rise after sleeping. To learn more about why I started doing this, click here to read an article from Runner’s World (the same article that convinced me to try something new last year). After the shakeout run, I made some Quaker instant oatmeal and a cup of coffee for breakfast along with a glass of water. I let myself eat slowly and was unusually relaxed for race day. I had run the Cary course 3 times in training and so I think it felt a little bit like just a regular long run morning for me being at home in my kitchen. After breakfast, I changed into my outfit which I had laid out the night before. I said goodbye to my husband, who I told could stay home since I had no idea what I was going to do out there, and he told me that I was the most inspiring and strongest woman that he knew and it brought the biggest smile to my face. I threw on a pair of sweat pants over my shorts and a jacket and headed out to the race which was about a 25-minute drive from our house.
When I got to the race, I had to park a little over a third of a mile away from the high school because the lot had filled up already. I used this as an opportunity to do a light jog up to the school to get my legs moving after sitting in the car. I met my running club for a photo in the gym, then changed into my Vaporflys and checked my bag at gear check indoors which was a very smooth and easy process.
I started my mile warm-up and strides at about 8:20 a.m. which was 15 minutes before the race started. The timing of this worked out well as I was only in the corral for about 5 minutes and didn’t get cold; had this been a bigger race I wouldn’t have been able to do that but I took advantage of the 1000 participant size and used it to my advantage. My warm-up mile with strides was at 7:18 pace and it felt effortless. “Hmm,” I thought, “let’s make this a fun one.” The gun went off at exactly 8:35 and we were off. The first mile flew by, literally, and my watch clicked at 6:42. My first thought was “lol you did exactly what everyone told you not to do on this course, you went out too fast,” and my second was, “well 6:42 felt pretty comfortable, let’s just take it down slightly but keep this comfortably hard effort going.” My friend Marie came up on me shortly after but having my headphones in I didn’t hear her at first. She looked so happy and comfortable and we ran stride for stride for a couple minutes until she kept going ahead. I felt a little bit of a cramp in my right ab but tried to focus on my breathing since I get this cramp pretty regularly and know that it’s often caused by uneven breathing. My second mile came in at 6:46, so I didn’t exactly slow down, even though I felt like I had. I felt very in control and while normally I would have freaked out about these fast miles, the goal of the race today was just to go run hard so I had no time pressure on me. Miles 2 and 3 are net downhill so I kept pushing ahead running off of effort. There was an aid station and I normally don’t take fuel in so early on but I took a swig of Gatorade and used it as a distraction for the upcoming hill.
Mile 2.5 has the first climb in the race and I let people pass me here; I didn’t want to use energy pushing up this hill because I knew I’d be greeted with a long downhill on the other side (the same section that becomes a major uphill leading up to mile 10). I cruised down the hill to finish mile 3 in 6:37. It was here that I made the decision that I was just going to keep going no matter how many 6’s I saw on my watch that day. In racing, I normally make calculated risks, but on Sunday, I just took a flat out risk. There was nothing to lose. It’s possible I could blow up later in the race but what a perfect opportunity to go test it with nothing on the line besides pride. Mile 3 to 4 is an ever so slight incline but Krishna, a friend who I had asked for advice prior to this race, had told me not to waste my energy here since I’d get it as a nice decline on the way back. So again I let some people pass me and just maintained my effort-based approach. 6:54. Yep, there was that incline, but seeing another 6 pop up was pretty cool.
From running this course during training, I knew that the first big hill of the race would be coming up just after mile 5. I used mile 4-5 as an opportunity to coast and go on auto-pilot as it’s a slight downhill for most of the mile. 6:49 clicked. I could see the big hill ahead and told myself to just work up it off of effort and to not blow my legs out on it. I remembered what my friend, John, said about this course being a series of surges and recoveries. This would be a surge and I could use the other side of the hill as a recovery. I focused on the people ahead of me and tried to let them pull me along up the hill. As soon as I made it up I opened up my stride and let the downhill take me. 7:03. My first mile in the 7’s, but also the first mile with a big hill (named Shoe Tree Hill). After 6 miles I looked at my watch and knew I was about to set a big (unofficial) 10K PR. 42:20, over a minute faster than my last 10K. I smiled big even though no one else around me had any idea what I was smiling about. The smile quickly faded though as I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before I got to the next hill and one of my least favorite on the course, “Sneaky Hill”. It’s a short hill, probably about .15 miles total, but incredibly steep. Again I didn’t waste too much energy here and just worked my way up. 7:02; consistent with the last mile and I was happy with that given the nasty hill. Mile 7-8 winds around and you end up climbing for quite a bit up the next hill, “Substantial Hill”, but I knew I would be greeted with an aid station and a downhill on the other side so I started moving. I thought about taking my gel but the thought of it made my stomach queasy so I decided to stick to my swigs of Gatorade and water. After the aid station before a turn, I saw my friends, Tim and Fred, cheering and I gave them a big smile and a thumbs up. They gave me momentum and mile 8 clicked at 6:46.
I was truly in awe of what was going on in this race. I felt great; I was relaxed, my form was really good, and I just felt happy running fast. Mile 8-9 has the slight decline that was the slight incline from miles 3-4 and I could feel myself picking up speed. “Work this section”, I thought to myself, and ended up running with some guys for the mile. 6:37 for mile 9. It was about this point that things finally started to hurt but I thought about the fact that I only had about 4 miles to go and that I could and I would do this. I embraced the hurt and had mentally prepared for it. It was here that I really let myself believe that I was going to have a massive PR on a ridiculously challenging course and I used that to help get me through the toughest section of the course. Not only is it tough because of where the miles fall in the race (the latter portion) but this is also the section with the most back to back hills and the longest ones. “10-Mile Hill” rocked my socks off, but it was also doing that to everyone around me. I felt like I was slowly marching up the hill but I wouldn’t let myself stop and walk no matter how much I wanted to. I was counting random objects that John had told me about to get me through it; a speed limit sign, a mailbox, etc. I knew the aid station would be on the other side of the hill since we had come down this earlier in the race so I kept the legs moving. At the aid station I took some Gatorade again and mentally prepared for the next hill I was going to encounter in about half a mile. I tried to find my speed again after “10-Mile Hill” but my legs were toast. “You knew this was probably going to happen after all these training runs out here. This isn’t a negative-split kind of course so just hang in there. There’s still a big PR coming, and you get to determine how big it is.”
Mile 10 came in at a 7:18; not surprising because of how slowly I crawled up the hill which is about a quarter mile long. Less than a half mile later I was pushing up “Big Hill”, appropriately named. It was here that I saw someone begin to walk but although I was basically crawling up it, I refused to stop running. When I made it to the top, I let gravity take me down a slight downhill in a neighborhood and mentally started preparing for the last big hitter, “Lung Buster Hill”. Mile 11 clicked at 7:30 and then I was climbing Lung Buster Hill. “Just hang on. You knew this was going to hurt but this is the last big one. Keep pushing. You’re going to see Tim and Fred on the other side.” So I kept grinding. Seeing Tim and Fred brought so much joy to me and I yelled, “I’m going to PR!” and pumped my fist. I was seriously so tired and so ready to be done but like the saying goes, “fake it till you make it”. I’m not sure where my fist pump energy came from as mile 12 was still a 7:32 but at least I was hanging on consistently. In training, I kicked it in this last mile to finish out a 20-mile run. I tried to do the same here and did bring mile 13 down to 7:20 but I really had nothing left to give. I tried so hard, knowing that I was going to be dang close to qualifying for the New York Marathon with this half, and while my mind was still in it, my body had given it everything it had and I had to respect that. I somehow kicked it in at 6:30 pace, stopped my watch after crossing the line, got a medal and water, and found a nice spot in the parking lot to pop a squat. I let myself look at my watch. 1:32:20 (my official time would come in at 1:32:19). It was officially a 2:43 PR on the most challenging course I’ve ever raced.
2 medals – 1st place Age Group, Race Medal
To everyone who believed in me even when I wasn’t believing in myself, thank you. Just a few shout-outs…A few weeks ago I was struggling through a 20-mile long run in Barrington Hills talking to Marie Billen about this race and how there was no way I was going to PR here. She pushed back on that belief and both she and I ended up running the races of our lives yesterday (1:29 for my super speedy friend!). My chiropractor, Nick Nowicki, encouraged me to run this race and told me that because of the competitiveness of the field, I would likely have a lot of people to run with who would push me. Both true statements. My coach, Jessica, who helped get me into the best shape I’ve ever been in and encouraged me to run this off of effort to manage my nerves. I’m pretty sure she knew the kind of shape I was in from my workouts and just wanted me to prove it to myself; mission accomplished. Finally, my husband who said the sweetest things to me the morning of the race; he’s my biggest supporter and I’m so, so grateful for everything he has done to help me be the best version of myself. I think I was the only one who had doubts about myself going into Sunday and with that I had several takeaways for my last few weeks of training for Boston and beyond.
I’ve had a little bit of time to digest this race and there are a few things I’m taking away from this experience.
1. Racing is not always about getting a PR. Sometimes we race as part of our training and part of a bigger goal. That’s all Sunday’s race was about for me; doing something hard to gain fitness for Boston. If we lose the fun of racing and it only becomes about getting a PR, then is it really worth it anymore?
2. Sometimes the stars all align for something really special. On Sunday, we had really great racing weather; low 30s, partly cloudy skies, and light wind. On top of that I woke up feeling well-rested, had no pain for the first time in weeks when running, and my mind was in a great place. All of this made for a strongly executed race. We don’t always get ideal conditions but when we do, we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it.
3. Keep showing up every day no matter what excuses you have. Showing up might look different each day (i.e. if you’re sick, “showing up” might mean getting extra sleep to kick your illness to the curb), but the end goal should always be kept in mind with the decisions you make.
4. Stop being so scared of failure. Give it your all, whatever that is on that day, and stop overthinking everything. Trust in your training and how it has prepared your body and your mind.
5. Dream really freaking big and believe in yourself. If you believe you can, you will find a way to get there. Manifest the sh*t out of your own destiny.