Let me set the scene....
Temps were cold (how does 32F grab you?), the trail was frosted over (and quite slick), and we had 13.1 miles between us and the finish line. It was a point-to-point endeavor, so there was no turning back. But, we were promised biscuits and gravy, chocolate milk and homemade pie at the finish line.
This was the setting for the sixth annual Hillbilly Hike. I ran the half marathon, but there also was a 10K and a 5K option. Benefiting the Indianola Chrsitian Union Church mission team (more info HERE), this was my fourth time taking part in the festivities. I ran the half marathon back in 2014 and 2015, and also the 10K in 2017.
Anyways, since the half marathon is a point-to-point route, the gathering spot for check-in and shuttle departure was at the Carlisle High School (Carlisle, IA). Barb and I headed out around 5:45 for the 80ish-minute drive, arriving around 7:00. We had time to grab our packets, use the porta-potties, drop off the extra stuff back in car, and climb aboard a shuttle bus.
|on the bus....headed to the start line|
Brrrr, it was cold! As is always the case, it's a guessing game as to what to wear when the weather first gets cold. The week had been unseasonably cold, and it was even colder on race day. The wind was mild (and would be more of a cross wind than anything once we got on the trail), but we would have plenty of sunshine.
I opted to go with two flannel-lined layers under the requisite flannel shirt (it was called the Hillbilly Hike, after all). I also had flannel-lined tights on the bottom and a fleece headband and gloves.
We had been warned, prior to the race start, of the slick conditions on the trail (due to the frost). There were several bridges on the route, and we'd been assured that a crew of volunteers had been out and salted all the bridges earlier that morning, but we were still advised to take precaution and respect the slippery conditions.
This was going to be an interesting endeavor for me. The cold temps were a given, but I also was running this race without the benefit of music. My Ipod Shuffle had refused to function for me just six days prior...you know, at the Marine Corps Marathon. I wasn't able to get it to hold a charge, nor would any power light come on, so I left it at home for this race, too. I figured if I could soldier through 26.2 miles sans music (under very rainy conditions), I could handle a mere 13.1 miles...right?
So, not only was I without music, I was running a long distance on an asphalt trail laden with intermittent patches of black ice and frost. Oh, and my body was still (technically) recovering from that marathon. I had kept my fitness on the down-low all week, though, and had been foam-rolling and stretching on the daily. In all honesty, I was feeling (almost) fully recovered.
The first few miles went well. I had a few slight slips on the trail (and had veered off, intermittently, to the grassy/rocky shoulder). My legs were feeling good, as were my hips. My fingers were cold, but overall, I felt comfortable.
The Summerset Trail is lined with a great variety of trees, and this time of year, there were many vibrant colors. As we were working our way along the third mile, there was a chorus of cows mooing in a field (beyond some of the trees). Several runners were mooing back, which made for some entertainment.
I had tried to check my Garmin at the first three mile marks, to see how my pace was doing...but with the glare of the sunlight, it was difficult to read. Also, under the two fitted layers of my running gear (as well as the buttoned cuff of my flannel shirt), it was a challenge to uncover the screen. Adding in the extra challenge of the slippery footing, and it was nearly impossible to get a focused view of any of the numbers on the watch face without coming to a dead stop (and that wasn't easy, either). I could tell I was running steady and strong, so I decided to just continue doing what felt good. Onward!
It was around the 4-mile mark that I noticed the trail started to take on a slight incline. This continued on for the next couple miles. As I approached the 6-mile mark, I could hear my stomach growling. I had eaten some oatmeal for breakfast, but that had been a couple hours ago at that point. I also had eaten a few Honey Stinger chews before lining up, so it was odd that I'd be that hungry. I grabbed a few Honey Stinger chews out of my belt and tried to eat them while maintaining my balance on the compromised slick surface.
Sidebar: I'm currently undergoing Invisalign treatment, which makes it impossible to eat without removing the orthodontic trays from my teeth. I have been pre-slicing the HS chews into fourths, so I can swallow them whole. That's worked fine for me through all of my training runs without incident...until mile six of the Hillbilly Hike. The first piece got stuck in my throat. Not enough to make me choke, but it didn't want to budge. I kept trying to swallow, and it didn't move. I could see a water stand up ahead, so the immediate plan was to eat/swallow a few of these chews and chase them down with water. Finally, the chew dislodged and all was well. I was able to swallow a few more pieces, grab the water, and be on my way. Crisis averted LOL.
Shortly after the 6-mile mark, the half marathon route veers briefly into Summerset State Park (for just over a mile) with an out-and-back detour. This is also where the 10K runners are shuttled to for their race start. The jaunt into the park seems to take much longer than the return trip back out. There was quite a bit of shade, so the trail was especially slick.
|photo by S David Pullara|
By the time I passed the 10-mile mark, the trail started leveling off. It had never been hilly, but it did feel like a slight, gradual incline for the past several miles. The sun was still shining, though, and the wind was still sheltered from the route by the trees, so all was well. My pace still felt good, too, so I resisted (again) looking at my watch.
Thankfully, I was feeling comfortable with the running gear I'd chosen. I did play the gloves-on/gloves-off game a few times in the later miles. I also ate the few remaining HS chews as I approached the 11-mile mark. The temptation was strong to take a peek at my watch, but (again) I resisted. I didn't want the numbers on the Garmin to get in my head. Besides, I was still recovering from the marathon...the fact that I could run this far without any residual aches or pains was a good thing.
Well, I take that back. By the 12th mile, I was feeling some weird aches. Nothing painful, but I could tell my hips flexors were starting to feel a bit strained, as were my ankles. I suspected that it was more from the constant slipping/sliding on the frost-laden trail, though, than from the marathon. Still, I didn't want to overdo it.
I decided to wait until I passed the 12-mile mark, then I'd check my Garmin to see where things stood. It's no secret I've been chasing a sub-2:00 for awhile. My last sub-2:00 was in May 2016, and the closest I've come since was at the NewBo Half Marathon (early September), with a 2:01:37.
Well, I passed the 12-mile mark, and my watch showed 1:50:XX....seriously???? I didn't have the energy to go into a full-on sprint, but I did have some mojo on reserve to up my pace a bit. Things had felt good all morning. I had managed to run the entire race without any music on standby. I had (somewhat) battled the slick conditions, and had remained vertical (despite a couple of close calls).
It felt awesome to know I was almost finished. I remember passing several people in that final mile. It wasn't that I was going so much faster, or that they all were slowing down, but probably a result of nearly 13 miles of constant balance checks as we all fought to not lose our footing. I spotted the finish line arch up ahead and just kept pressing on...finally crossing the mat.
The ever elusive sub-2:00 yet, again, eluded me...but I'm pretty satisfied with how close I came.
Mile 1 - 9:14 Mile 6 - 9:16 Mile 11 - 9:44
2 - 9:02 7 - 9:34 12 - 9:00
3 - 8:48 8 - 9:25 13 - 8:33
4 - 8:59 9 - 9:20 (.14 - 2:10)
Stats: 5th (out of 15) in Age Group
52nd (out of 189) for Females
126th of 317 overall
Despite the cold temps and the slick racing conditions on the trail, this was a fun event. The organizers know how to put on a nearly-flawless event. I say "nearly flawless" because my official time was posted as 2:00:16, which is a solid minute faster than what my Garmin indicated. Although the event was chip timed, I'm inclined to go with what my Garmin says (even though the other finish time is more desirable LOL). Besides, regardless of which finish time I go with, it doesn't affect anyone in my age group (and only alters my overall finish by three spots)...so no big whoop.
Anyways, the Hillbilly Hike was my fourth consecutive weekend of racing, and also my last big hurrah for 2019 (there may be a random 5K, but nothing major). I'm happy to be going out on a high note, but I'm definitely ready for some down time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
By the way...are you following me on social media? You can find me at these various platforms:
Let's connect : Facebook Instagram Pinterest Twitter