Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fearless...A Long Time Coming



This day (and race), in more ways than one, has been a long time coming.

But, let's start at the beginning....This was the 32nd year of the Red Shoe Run/Walk Half Marathon and 5K  in Iowa City (benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois). I went to college in Iowa City (University of Iowa....Go Hawks!), and had done a handful of 5K's there, but had never hit the streets to run much further.

Eager to get out of my little bubble and do more new (to me) events, I eagerly added this to my spring roster. This was to be my inaugural 13.1 of 2016. It had been almost six months since the Hillbilly Hike (remember that train wreck? Recap HERE) ). Other than the 15K on New Years Eve (while on vacay in California for the Rose Bowl), I had not run any races longer than a 10K.
With Barb, waiting inside the Carver Hawkeye Arena, ready to run!
Leading up to race day, I did the typical weather stalking. Earlier in the week, it was looking to be a rather wet and chilly day. I have run many races in the rain (including half marathons), but all of those rainy races had been in warmer weather. I don't mind rain if the temps are above 70-degrees, but it's a completely different scenario when the temps are in the 50's.

Unsure of what to wear, I had a light-bulb moment on Saturday, the day before the race: I went for a "test run." The temps were almost identical to what was forecast for Sunday, and there was plenty of rain coming down. I pulled on some capri's, a short-sleeved tech shirt, arm warmers, my wind-breaker jacket (which is rain-proof. Sort of.) and a cap. I only went 2-1/2 miles, but it was far enough to know I had made the right choices in race gear.

The "test run" was a brilliant idea (if I do say so myself)... I haven't (yet) applied for a patent, though 
Also, in the days leading up to the race, the weather forecast kept changing. The cool temps remained, but the chance of rain had been slowly diminishing. Imagine my surprise to see the chance of precipitation gone on Sunday morning! Thank you, Momma N!


Once in Iowa City, we arrived at packet pickup with almost 40 minutes to spare until gun time.We grabbed our packets, used the restrooms, and headed back to the car for a final "cross-check" (there's always a few last-minute decisions...gloves? Ipod? sunglasses?).

Ready for the start line!
The race started out with a downhill, which is not ideal for me. Why? Because I have a very hard time running "slow and easy" on a downhill, especially right out of the gate. If this was a shorter race, it wouldn't be a big deal (and, actually, could be a good thing to get my momentum boosted). When there's 13.1 miles ahead of me, though, I need to conserve some of that momentum and save it for the final miles.

The first mile took us to a residential neighborhood, and the downhill leveled off just before the start of the second mile. My watch said I had run that first mile in 8:40 (damn you, downhill!), which is certainly not my fastest mile split ever, but it's faster than I want for the first of 13 miles.

Barb and I ran together for the first three miles or so, then she started to gradually merge ahead of me. We start off most races together, but seldom are ever side-by-side the entire course. We each run our own races (for example, I prefer to walk for a few seconds through the water stations, while she prefers to keep going). That's what works for us on race day.

The first few miles felt great. I consciously tried to ease up on my pace, and managed to keep it right around a comfortable 9-minute pace. The first few miles stayed pretty level, but that all changed just after the 4-mile mark.

The fifth mile began with a pretty intense incline up a long hill, and (little did I know) there would not be much for flat terrain for the remainder of the course. There was a nice decline just before mile six began, and that took us through a part of Iowa City I had never seen before...quaint housing, urban dwellings, and even a dog recreation park!

There was a wooden walking bridge that lead us into Coralville, approaching the start of mile seven. I was still feeling great...no muscle aches, no fatigue, and continuous energy. I must have hit a foreign button on my watch (yes, I have been known to do that...more than once), because it kept showing me my current pace and then my "average" pace at each of the mile marks. I much prefer to know my "actual" running time. Maybe it was there and I just couldn't read it, but I spent the entire race not knowing exactly what my race time was.

As I approached the seventh mile, I pulled out a Honey Stinger gel from my belt. I had been debating about bringing a gel along, since my tummy no longer seems to like them anymore. I drank a Beet Boost drink prior to the start line, and had been chewing PlowOn gum, but I couldn't help wondering if I'd need anything else for the remainder of the race. I do know it's best to fuel before you need it. Although I didn't feel like I needed it, I also didn't want to risk crashing and burning in the final 5-6 miles without it.

As luck (or fate) would have it, I spotted a garbage can right before the 8-mile mark (a perfect opportunity to dispose of the gel wrapper). I gulped down the gel and threw the wrapper. And wouldn't you know? A short ways later, there was a water stand! (another thing I know is that it's best to not do a gel without water).
What got me to the finish line...
By this time, the route had us going along the Clear Creek Trail, which was absolutely beautiful! Constant twists and turns, and never-ending inclines (funny, I don't recall as many declines). Although, the hills seemed ever-present, surprisingly, my energy still felt great.

Coming off the trail, and out onto a long, curving stretch of sidewalk was when the hill thing started to get to me. I didn't need to walk, and my energy was maintaining, but my calves were starting to feel some strain. I could see the 10-mile mark up ahead and felt some relief in knowing all that remained was a 5K distance. I had done it! Our longest training run had been 10 miles, and now it was just a matter of finishing this race in that final 5K.

Then, the route turned the corner, and headed due east. Into a substantial NE head wind. Up another hill. Seriously? Granted, I still had plenty of energy in the tank, but another hill? Thankfully, it was a gradual hill (not a steep one), but it was long and straight and seemed like it went on as far as the horizon.

It wasn't until about the 11.5 mile mark that we had some shelter from the wind as we approached another residential area. I was familiar with this area of Iowa City (actually, University Heights), it lead us right into the hub of the extensive University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics campus and all the sports facilities for the athletic teams. I knew the finish line wasn't too far away.

The final half mile or so was pretty level, but had several turns as it lead us back to where we'd begun our journey... the Ronald McDonald House. I have noticed this countless times.....somehow, my body just seems to go into over-drive in the final mile of a race. I don't even have to make the effort, my legs just spring into action and I am overcome with a huge surge of adrenaline. This race was no exception....I rounded the final corner and bolted to the finish line.....

And, are you ready for it? I squeaked in a 1:59:58 official finish time! I finally landed a sub-2-hour finish (for the first time in almost two years)! That, indeed, was a long time in coming!

Here's a map of the route, and a chart of the elevation:

Can you say, "hills?"

I've had a few days to bask in my glory (so to speak), and I'm still not sure if there's any one thing in particular that made this race seem so effortless. I definitely think I nailed the fueling (though my tummy kind of rebelled a few hours after I got home). This was the first long distance race (in a long while) that I didn't wear compression sleeves. Honestly, I don't know if they make a difference or not (for me) while running, but I do LOVE them for recovery. These hills were so intense, even with compression I'm pretty sure my calves (and shins) would still have been in agony.  Although the Plantar Fasciitis has not been a problem (in a long time), I taped my left arch as a precaution. And, no blisters!

Smartwool socks and tape...race day neccessities

My mile splits definitely tell a fascinating story:

mile 1--8:40      mile 8--9:32
mile 2--9:04      mile 9--9:38
mile 3--8:51      mile 10--9:53
mile 4--9:19      mile 11--9:07
mile 5--9:18      mile 12--9:14
mile 6--8:58      mile 13--8:20
mile 7--9:37      (final .1--7:54)

**The final mile was my FASTEST mile (What the WHAT?)
**Average pace was 9:11 (I'll take it!)
**That last 5K (into the wind, mostly uphill) was very close to what my "average" 5K time is....and this happened after running 10 miles of hills (too much gas left in the tank?)

My stats: 7/42 (age group)
                62/203 (females)
                147/337 (overall)

Finishing 7th in my age group (out of 42)
Although I was frustrated not knowing my exact time as I was running, I felt great the entire morning. My body just kept going steady, even on all the hills. As much as I was really hoping for that elusive sub-2, and I knew I was doing well, I really wasn't expecting the sub-2. This course was really a challenge with all the hills, probably the toughest 13.1 course I have ever run.

I have said it before, anyone can PR an easy (flat) course on a (wind-free) day, but there really is no challenge in that (my opinion). Even though this was not a 13.1 PR, it was a sub-2. It's been almost two years since I've been able to do that (thank you, Piriformis Syndrome, Hamstring Tendonitis, and Plantar Fasciitis....you all have kept me quite  humble). This half marathon was a substantial victory for me, proving that I am finally rallying back and my finish time reflected that. It really makes me wonder what my finish time could have been if this was a flatter course....#thegreatunknown

Another highlight of the day was meeting up with my cousin, Jessica, and her family. They all did the 5K race. Ronald McDonald and Herky (the Iowa Hawkeye mascot) both were there at the finish line (but were MIA when I went searching for them after I had changed my clothes).

 Great swag! A performance shirt (with a lady's cut!) in a bright color. The medal is pretty cool, too.


I'm linking up with Deb at Deb Runs for the Wednesday Word linkup. Today's word? Fearless. Exactly how I felt as I conquered those hills en route to that sub-2 finish. I invite you to head over and check out what all the bloggers have to say about being Fearless.





35 comments:

  1. Congrats on that sub 2! That's especially sweet with all those rolling hills.

    I gave up on gels last year, altho I do pull them out for a "shorter" long run. I used them in my half last November because it was too cold to carry my handheld. I still like my Tailwind!

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    1. I'm still at a crossroads with fuel. I like the Beet Boost, though. I thought maybe the HS gel would be fine since it was a one-time thing...but ugh, my tummy was not happy a few hours later. I liked Tailwind, but it was just too much water for me. Have you ever used it "double-strength" with half as much water?

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  2. Wow, you did awesome! Your come back to 13.1 was a great one.

    Ps, I'm not a fan of the down hill either. I think they are worse than hills.

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    1. I think I actually prefer the uphills over the downhills, crazy, huh! I'm always afraid of going too fast and losing my footing (because I'm klutzy).

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  3. Congratulations on your sub-2 and a race for a great cause!
    My current PR is from a hilly course, so you never know when you'll have a great race day :)

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    1. This finish time came as a surprise. I knew I was running strong, but to be sub-2 with all the hills certainly upped the badass quota LOL

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  4. Congratulations! Amazing performance, with hill,s wind and rain! You're incredible!

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    1. Luckily, the wind wasn't much of an issue until the final 5K. I almost took off the jacket and did a waist-tie with it, but was glad I kept it on for the final stretch.

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  5. Congrats! Your paces were pretty close too!

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    1. Thanks! I was happy to see all the splits were under 10 ;-)

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  6. Boooyah!!!! Way to go!!! Holy Hills!!!

    Good idea on the pre run test....

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    1. well, we always advise people to train for their races in similar conditions (regarding temps, terrain, etc.) so our bodies will be acclimated...it works for wardrobe, too ;-)

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  7. Replies
    1. haha! I may have done a bit of post-race celebrating ;-)

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    1. Thanks! It did feel pretty amazing, and certainly gave my confidence a boost ;-)

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  9. Wow nice finish! We had the same cold rainy weather for our relay hard to dress for isn't it

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  10. Congrats on your sub-2 finish! That must have felt absolutely incredible after two years, running in the weather that you did, and to help support a fantastic cause.

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    1. Thanks, Kathryn ;-) The sub-2's are pretty few and far between LOL I'm hoping to get more consistent with my 13.1 finish times and stay under that 2-hour (self-imposed) goal time. (there's work to do!)

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  11. It sounds like the weather has been wacky everywhere, but going on a test run was a great idea! CONGRATS on the sub-2!

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    1. The weather had indeed been wacky! As much as I love spring, I am ready for summer and consistently warm weather ;-)

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  12. Huge congrats on the sub 2!! You ran such a smart race and to think your last mile was the fastest!! That's the way to do it - way to go!!! :)

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    1. When I saw the split on that last mile, I was in shock. That's a fast split for me in a short race, but to do it at mile 13 just seems surreal.

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  13. Great job! We don't have a lot of flat on the east coast, where the vast majority of my halfs have been, so I wonder sometimes how I'd do on a flat course (in great weather, of course). My only flat half this year might be warm, and I don't do well with heat, either.

    I'd love to have an effortless PR! I mean, I know it wasn't effortless, but I'd sure love it if it felt that way. I know if the weather conditions are right and I feel ok, if I PR my next half, it won't be effortless. I'll have to work for it!

    It's also comforting to me that your longest long run was 10 miles, since that's been my longest long run this training cycle (although I did do 3 of them!).

    Again, great race -- congrats!

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    1. Thanks, Judy ;-) I've done many half marathons (I think this was #27), and I've never trained beyond 10 miles for any of them. I read about it (somewhere, way back when I was training for half #1), and it said something along the lines that once you reach that distance, there's nothing more to gain by running/training farther...and each additional mile puts you more at risk for injury. I'm always paranoid about injury, so I believed it LOL Anyways, the 10-mile thing is what has worked for me, so I have embraced that distance ;-)

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  14. Nice job! Can you tell me more about beet boost and plow on gum? I have never heard of those before.

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    1. I won a sample box of Beet Boost from a blog giveaway recently. I had never heard of it before then. It's made from dehydrated beets (and tart cherry), it's a powder you mix with water. I'm not crazy about the taste, but I can slam down 6 oz. of it and all is well. It gives me a definite boost of energy! The PlowOn gum is a gum made from natural ingredients....it has ginseng (I think) and it's kind of like a chewable caffeine fix. Both of these products are available online ;-)

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  15. I'm amazed by the evenness of your splits, especially with those hills! The fastest mile coming as the last mile is a huge testament of great pacing and training. You rocked it!

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    1. Thanks, Holly Dear! I wish every race could be this easy (but we wouldn't appreciate them, would we?)

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  16. Wow!! That's awesome! Congratulations on your sub 2 half marathon!! Great job!!

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    1. Thank you! The sub-2 definitely felt great...glad I still got it in me ;-)

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  17. Awesome job on the sub 2!! Congratulations :)
    I love finishing with a little downhill :) you were flying!

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  18. Congrats on your time ! Seems like a really hard race course with the turns and elevation. You should be very proud !

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  19. Congrats on your sub-2 hour half! That's fantastic! And thanks for linking up!

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