The Carmel Half Marathon was intended to be a tune-up race for me 3 weeks out from my goal marathon. I’d be racing on tired legs still in the peak of marathon training but hoping to get a little confidence booster going into the Eugene Marathon on May 1st. As race week rolled around, the forecast loomed over us with things not looking good for race day. It was forecast to be in the low 30s with strong wind, overnight rain and snow, and snow showers on race morning. I hoped throughout the week that things would change but they unfortunately held steady. The biggest concern for me was that the roads might be icy with overnight wetness and freezing temperatures in the morning; it’s one thing to race in the cold and wind, it’s another to race on black ice.
Half of Ross’ extended family lives in the suburbs of Indianapolis and when I picked this race, we made plans to see everyone as it had been many years since we had gotten together due to the pandemic. Seeing what the weather was going to be like Saturday, I would likely have skipped making the 3.5 hour drive one way from my home in the Chicago suburbs to Carmel since it’s extra stress on the body to travel and for a race that wasn’t the “goal”, it might not have been worth it. Since we had plans, however, I was going to run the race regardless so I went in with a few different plans after talking things through with my coach.
Plan A: 6:30 pace for the half if the conditions were right. It was unlikely we’d be able to go after Plan A but good to talk about nonetheless based on workouts in the cycle.
Plan B: 6:50-6:55 pace, aka marathon pace. If conditions weren’t great but it wasn’t icy, the plan was to go out at marathon pace and try to hit that for the half.
Plan C: Just run the mileage and don’t get hurt. If the roads were icy, it wasn’t worth risking an injury so the plan was going to be just to run the 16 miles I had planned for the day and then hit some harder workouts the week after.
We left home around 1:45 p.m. on Friday and arrived in Carmel around 6:30 p.m. with the hour time change and only 1 rest stop along the way. The drive took a little longer than we anticipated with traffic but for the most part it was smooth sailing. When we got to Carmel High School where the expo was, the plan was to get in and get out to get to the hotel to eat dinner. The expo was smaller and well-organized so it was easy to be in and out within 10 minutes. We stayed at the Renaissance which was only 1.5 miles from the start/finish line and one of the official race hotels. The hotel was also hosting a pasta dinner which we were able to get reservations for the day of which was very convenient (in fact we got to the hotel around 7 p.m. and got seated at 7:15 p.m., 6:15 Chicago time). After a big meal, Ross and I relaxed in the hotel room watching some scenes from The Hangover before going to sleep (there was nothing on TV!). The nice part about being in an official race hotel is that most people are there to run the race so it was super quiet on our floor at night.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. for an 8:10 a.m. race start. Before every half I’ve gotten into the routine of waking up and doing an easy 9-10 min paced mile on the hotel treadmill to get my body moving early in the morning. I ate breakfast around 6:30 (half a bagel and oatmeal with my coffee), then got changed into all my winter gear. Looking out my hotel window I could tell the roads were wet but people were walking in the parking lot and not slipping so it was a good sign that they probably weren’t icy! I left my hotel at 7:30 and did my warm-up over to the start line, getting there by 7:45. I found my friends who were running the marathon just in time for it to start snowing like crazy on us; we got a photo in the elements then hid under a tent until about 10 minutes till start time to try to stay dry. I headed over to the start line at 8 a.m. and got into the corral between the 6 and 7 minute pace signs. I could see a pacer for a 3:05 marathon (this race was both a half and full) so I positioned myself just ahead of this group to start. Fortunately the snow let up for the start and standing in the corral I was quite warm with all the other people around me. It was funny to see how everyone had dressed. There were a lot of us in tights and long sleeves, but others were in shorts and tank tops; I know I always run cold so I made sure to layer up for the elements.
The gun went off and shortly after I crossed the starting line. I knew I’d have a tailwind or cross-wind for the first half of the race and more decline with the headwind coming in the second half and more incline when we started running west. The roads were wet but not slippery, but I stuck with the 3-hour group for the first couple miles to ease in; they were actually running a bit quicker than 3-hour pace (my first 2 miles with them were 6:40 and 6:43) but it’s possible the pacer knew the course well and how to run it. After we hit 6:43, I decided to make a move and try to see if I could push closer to 6:30 pace. It was a risk since the elements weren’t favorable, but no risk, no reward so I went for it. I saw Ross and his family cheering for me around 2.3 and this gave me a little extra burst of energy. Mile 3 was a 6:25 and my watch was actually very dead on with the mile markers at this point which was a nice change from some of the big city races I’ve done where sky-scrapers throw things off. Miles 4 and 5 were both at 6:32 and I had settled into a good rhythm, but could definitely feel my body getting a little tired. I tried to remind myself that I had under an hour left of hard running at this point. I took my first gel around 5.5 miles at a water station and that slowed mile 6 down a bit trying to get the gel down and drink at the same time; a lot of the water ended up on my hand which was freezing in the weather and I wish the aid station was a little longer so I could’ve grabbed a second cup to wash the gel down with. Mile 6 split 6:45 which I was expecting since I knew the aid station slowed me down a bit. I saw the family again shortly before the halfway point of the race and this helped propel me up the hill but I could tell I was getting tired and I could feel my hamstring starting to hurt. I started climbing up the hill that the 7-mile marker was on (there’s a really steep hill in a neighborhood at mile 7 and I knew about this from the last time I ran the race) and got passed by a woman who I had passed earlier. I hit mile 7 at 7:00 and was bummed to see my first 7 in front of a mile split for the race.
The pain in my hamstring started getting worse and worse and I felt like I was running with a straight leg on one side that wouldn’t bend. “Ugh. This sucks,” I said to myself, fully knowing at this point the PR was out the window (I was about 30 seconds ahead of a PR at the halfway point so not a huge buffer) and it became more about clawing my way to the finish. Mile 8 was mostly uphill and the sleet started to pelt us in the face with the headwind in this mile. It was adding insult to injury at this point and there were barely any crowds out. Because I was still ahead of the pace groups but had slowed down from the people I was running with, I was in no-man’s land for awhile, until I got passed by people left and right for the next couple of miles. That was not a good feeling and I felt embarrassed. “They probably think I went out too hard and am just bonking,” I thought. I really slowed down and just tried to manage the pain at this point, getting pushed back by the strong wind and not being able to see with the sleet in my eyes. I considered stopping around mile 9 and just having someone come get me but kept moving because I didn’t want to quit since my family had come out to support me and also because it would be faster to finish than to wait for them in the cold to come find me in the middle of a neighborhood with closed roads.
Miles 8-11 were definitely the roughest into these conditions (7:26, 7:30, 7:55, 7:31) but once I hit 11 I knew I’d make it back. I took a gel at mile 10 and the same scenario with the water from the cup freezing my hand occurred; I think if I run a freezing race in the future that I will bring a handheld since this was not pleasant at all, especially with Raynaud’s where my fingers already go numb in the cold (I had handwarmers that helped a lot, fortunately). Mile 11 enters a trail and I was by myself for awhile here, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Somewhere between mile 11 and mile 12 there was a pedestrian bridge on the trail and I started slipping and sliding and nearly ate it; I probably looked pretty comical to the people who were walking in the other direction towards me. Fortunately I stayed on my feet and the bridge was short but bridges hold ice more since they don’t have the warmth of the ground beneath them. This was the only slippery part on the course so in that sense we were quite lucky. By mile 12, I started passing people who were walking either the 5K or 10K to the finish. Mile 12 split was 7:33 and we got off of the trail around mile 12.5 and ran through downtown. I started picking it up at this point, starting to pass some people who had slowed down, and tried to focus on maintaining a harder effort to the finish. I hit mile 13 in 7:14 and then ran the last bit in a 6:10 pace, crossing the finish line in 1:32:51 officially, a 7:05 overall pace.
I was so happy to be done and was lucky that my family was at the finish with a car parked close by so I didn’t have to walk very far and could warm up. This was over a 4-min course PR for me in much worse conditions than the first time I ran it in 2018 (1:37:10) so that was a positive to take away from it, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the way everything transpired. By all accounts the weather was not favorable for racing but I think I could’ve held it together a little more had my hamstring not acted up; this is the same hamstring that has given me issues in the past and often rears its nasty head when I run hard in the cold (it seems to make it tight) so it wasn’t surprising, just more frustrating since I’ve done so much work to try to fix it including countless hours in the gym and PT exercises. I haven’t dealt with the pain this cycle other than the occasional flare-up but it just stinks it had to be on a race day.
Reflections and Moving Forward
I ended up running between the A and B goals for the first half of the race (officially 6:39 pace for the first 6.55 miles), and between the B and C goal for the overall race (7:05 pace vs goal marathon pace of 6:50-6:55). I know I did the best I could on the day that I was given (snowy, sleeting, 33 with a real feel of 25 and 10-15 mph sustained winds), but it was quite frustrating to wake up Sunday morning in Indy to 0 mph wind, sunny skies, and 35 degrees. The race ended up having over 300 feet of elevation gain and some true rolling hills which I must have blocked out of my memory from the first time I ran it but I’ve made note of it for the future this time. The marathon I’m running in Eugene has just over 400 feet of total elevation gain so that should feel really nice in comparison!
As I write this, Eugene is 20 days from today, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I know I’m in shape to run a strong marathon, but right now a little less confident with how I’m tracking to the sub-3 goal. Sub-3 has never been my “dream”, but it became a goal after running 3:07 in 2019 and realizing it could be possible in the future. I’ve been working hard towards it, pushing myself to see how far I can go, but trying not to put the pressure on for hitting a certain time to determine my worth as a runner since I learned the hard way on that during my Boston qualifying journey.
It’s a lot more fun to share recaps when races go well but only sharing those stories paints an unrealistic picture of what it’s like to be a runner. This cycle has been hard. I’ve been healthy for it which is a huge positive but I haven’t had any one long run workout that I’ve thought, “yep, I nailed that one.” This is largely due to the fact that I haven’t actually had any ideal running conditions on a long-run in general this whole cycle! It’s been nuts! It’s been super cold, wet, and windy for nearly every long run and on most of my speed workout days as well. It’s made it difficult to gauge fitness, so I’m hoping to get a better read on that in the next couple of weeks with it warming up now. I’m hoping sub-3 is still in the cards, but I’ll also be happy if I feel strong from start to finish on marathon day even if it’s not quite there yet. This isn’t me throwing in the towel on the goal, I still really want it, but I also want to run a smart race for where I’m at.
My hamstring is improving but we’re keeping this week easy until a bigger long-run workout this weekend to let it loosen up and feel better. I still have a bigger mileage week ahead and am looking forward to one more opportunity to test the fitness this weekend before tapering hard for marathon day. Truthfully, the taper can’t come soon enough after this wild weather we’ve had all winter long and into a fake spring!
One thought on “Carmel Half Marathon Recap”