It was one of those days where everything just fell into place.
The weather was near-perfect. The Covid protocol was on-point. The course was its usual hilly self. And my post-stress-fractured self was ready to truly test my grit, my fitness, and my rally-back efforts.
Enter the Drake Relays Road Races. And, while we're at it, let's run a half marathon!
Let me set the scene...
Affiliated with the Drake Relays, the Drake Road Races kick off the start of the week-long Relay-related events (that is, in years when a global pandemic isn't a factor). Where the Relays themselves attract qualified athletes at the elite, collegiate, and high school levels, the Road Races are for more "common folk" runners. This year, due to Covid precautions, the registrations were capped and only the 5K and half marathon were offered (there's usually a 10K as well).
I'm no stranger to this event. I first ran the 10K (back in 2013), and returned for the half marathon in 2014,2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. All events had to assume a virtual format in 2020, so I ran the virtual 13.1 on the actual race weekend (on my hometown streets). A few months later, I "biked" the virtual event when the swag arrived. Even with last fall's stress fracture, I just could not stay away.
When it was announced that the 2021 events would all be live (with the option to run them virtually), I was totally psyched! Not only would it be a live race, but also a significant milestone in my rally-back from the stress fracture.
|prior to the race, with Spike, the beloved Drake Bulldog mascot
This morning had all the makings of a perfect race day. The temps were in the high-40F's (with a mere 8-10mph wind), and partly sunny skies. All runners (as well as volunteer personnel) were required to wear masks/face coverings until the official line-up. The start line was fenced off, and runners were allowed through in groups of 50. Every 90 seconds, a different group was allowed to cross the official start line.
The first mile greeted us with a somewhat steep climb right out of the gate. In all actuality, that was a good prelude to the hilly course that lied ahead. In my opinion, this race course is a fun one due to all the hills...it makes for a true test of grit and determination. That said, I don't consider it very PR-friendly (again due to all the hills).
|course map from 2019 (still showing the 10K route)
The temps were pleasant, though a bit tricky to dress for. I had a tank with arm sleeves (for easy discarding, if need be) and a light-weight 1/4 zip jacket. I opted for shorts (mainly for the convenient side pockets), and I felt completely comfortable the entire time I was on the race course. I did lose the gloves around the 3-mile mark, but was able to carry them easily.
I also brought along the hubby's vintage iPod Shuffle...but never wound up using it. I've gotten used to running sans music, but didn't know if 13.1 miles would be too far to go without...turns out, I was just fine and didn't miss it at all.
Throughout the route, many of the hills are gradual, rolling hills. But, then there's a short (but steep!) hill right before the 3-mile mark, a big decline (followed by a couple more short hills)...then a gradual climb for the next couple of miles. Meanwhile, though, there's plenty of beautiful, historic homes to admire.
Once we reach the halfway point, the route levels off for awhile. I didn't really "need" to take a potty break, but I also didn't know when I'd see another porta-potty, so I made the command decision to pull over at the water station just after the 7-mile mark. I didn't think to check my time, but I don't think I lost more than a minute (?) by taking that quick break. I also slammed a quick SiS gel before continuing on to the 8-mile mark.
There were a few more short hills, and the final big one. About halfway through the ninth mile, I spotted a little girl blowing bubbles out into the street, so I ran through her cluster of bubbles (she told me the bubbles had magical powers LOL). Before I knew it, I found myself passing the 10-mile mark. Remarkably, I still was feeling pretty energetic. My left hip was starting to feel a bit strained, and my right foot (near the bunion area) was a little achy...but that was it. I didn't have any desire to walk, nor did I feel like I was dragging or shuffling my feet (must have been those magical bubbles).
There's a long, straight stretch, on Kingman (well, it's about 1-1/2 miles), that we return to as we make our way back to Drake Stadium. Although it's relatively flat, it's just long enough you cannot see where the turn-off is. It seems like it takes forever between miles 11 and 12.
Reaching that 12-mile mark, though, feels pretty sweet. We run a couple of blocks, then turn north. Once we make that turn, it's all down hill! I have to admit, I have not run many races that treat you to a downhill finish, so this is such a great reward after fighting all the previous hills.
The grand finale is a lap around the famous Blue Oval in Drake Stadium (yes, the track is blue!). Usually there are crowds of people cheering, but not in 2021 (thanks, Covid). Alas, without the usual loud cheering, I could hear the announcer say my name as I circled around the track (glass half full!).
Although I wasn't feeling too fatigued, I was glad to cross that finish line. Every finish line is a victory in my book.
|just beyond the finish line
So, how did I do? My official time was 2:05:21. My Drake course PR is 2:04:33 (from 2019)...playing with the numbers a bit, I possibly could have snagged a new course PR had I bypassed that potty stop. But, I may have been feeling pretty miserable had I done so. I'll never know, and that's quite alright. I wound up finishing 208th (out of 311) overall; 76th (out of 133) for females; 4th (out of 9) in my age group. For just coming off of a stress fracture and not doing any speed training in a shorter-than-ideal training cycle...I'm quite happy with how this race played out. Quite happy, indeed.
Isn't the medal cute? It's reminiscent of the famous Blue Oval.
And, let's not forget the swag! The 1/4 zip jackets are unisex, but don't seem to have the usual "boxy" fit, so I'm totally good with that. Also, thumb holes...need I say more? Oh, and we also received $10 Scheels gift cards, as well as grab-and-go boxed snack kits.
So, yeah. It's not every day that the stars, moons, and planets (and any other forces of Fate) all align. It's really nice when that all happens on race day. This race feels like a big pivotal landmark in my running adventures. I've made it through a stress fracture diagnosis, running sabbatical (and subsequent recovery) and have rallied back. I'm feeling really good and am eager for another race!
Have you ever taken a chance, on a shorter-than-ideal training cycle, and did better than expected? Hilly races...yay or nay? Ever regret a potty stop? (not me LOL)