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!
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
|Ready for the start line!
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...
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--9:53mile 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)
|Finishing 7th in my age group (out of 42)
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).
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.