CHaD Hero Half Marathon Race Recap

I have been terrible about race recaps. Unfortunate, since those are the most fun to write (and read!). And since this is supposed to be a running blog, you’d think I’d be jumping at the opportunity for “content.” Although my erratic blogging is a topic for another day, I suppose it’s not really a coincidence that of the last 4 races I’ve run, the only one that made it to the blog was the 5K where I ran a PR. Maybe I’m vainer than I’d like to admit.

So here we are, over 2 weeks later, in the midst of other awesome marathon recaps and post-NYCM excitement, and I am about to babble on about a race where I well enough — not bad but certainly not a groundbreaking performance. Aren’t you excited?

CHaD Hero

The CHaD Hero race weekend is a fundraiser for Dartmouth Children’s Hospital. The Half Marathon was only one of three events that day and the entire atmosphere was of one big party. The course is well organized, there is good support (from bands, performers and crowds), the post-race feast is delicious and plentiful, and it’s truly an inspiring event to be a part of. Trust me, that’s not a word I use lightly. There were huge teams running in honor/memory of someone. Looking around at all the shirts with faces on the back at the starting line was incredibly moving.

And if all that was not enough to make we want to make this race a yearly tradition, the start is only about 3 miles from my house. You can’t ask for a more super relaxing and easy race morning than that!

So while I loved being a part of the weekend, I won’t say it’s because of the course itself. This is a certified half marathon course and I know…the course is the course is the course. But it felt long. And it was harder than expected (no excuse for this really. See “race was basically in my town.”) All the turns and the weaving around people in the beginning made it hard to run the tangents, and the very hilly last 3 miles seemed to drag on forever. From the beginning, my watch was 0.1 miles ahead of the official mile marker and that gap only grew throughout the race (finished at 13.3), despite my constant wish for things to even out.

I am ashamed to admit this now, but I was a slave to that stupid watch, completely unable to trust my body to tell me how fast to run. So the fact that it was beeping for the mile well before I could see the official marker really got into my head. Which is why, even though I ran a smart, strong race — never bonked or hit the wall, never felt like I hadn’t trained enough or had that moment when I swore off running for good – why I was left feeling a little disappointed. Not so much about my time as about my attitude.

How’s that for an uplifting introduction? As ashamed as I am that I let something as trivial as my Garmin splits throw me off for a race, it’s all a part of this comeback journey, right? Part of learning how to race again, learning to trust my body, and remember what it’s like to truly run by effort and know when to push.

So let’s get on to the actual race, shall we?

Race Day

The half marathon didn’t actually start until noon on Sunday, which made fueling a bit tricky. Evan and I woke up early (babies don’t sleep in on the weekends), had a couple eggs and a piece of toast, and just sort of milled around with my parents for a few hours. All those things that I would have done the night before – finalizing my race outfit, making sure the Garmin and iPod (my other annoyance during the race – more about that later) were charged – I had put off until that morning since I had plenty of time.

Around 10:30 I figured I better eat something else, so I rushed down a piece of toast with almond butter, banana and honey. Standard race breakfast. I chugged more Nuun, nursed Amelia and finally around 11:15 or so, headed to the start. In hindsight, we probably could have waited until 11:55 to drive over, but the nerves got the best of me. My dad dropped Evan and I off right in front of the town green and we burned off some nervous energy by jogging around and using the portapotties a few times. Finally it was time to line up. The announcer had us recite the CHaD Hero oath (which included not complaining about the course…oops) and we were off!

The 5K and Half Marathon started together, making it hard not to get caught up in the surge of people at the start. Combine that with the slight downhill for the first two miles and my conservative plan to go out around 7:20-7:25, settle in and then drop the pace down from there (goal: 7:15s) was completely out the window. But I felt good and strong, so we went with it.

ChaD Half Marathon_beginning.jpgSomewhere around mile 2.5 or so…awesome form, LBC. Note the guy in sunglasses and bright orange shirt. He was an official pacer. This is important.

The first 3 miles weaved through Downtown Hanover before we heading over the Connecticut River and into Vermont. Those first two miles ticked off fast (7:07, 7:02). I knew my official splits were a little slower, but I still felt like I was moving at a decent clip – at least until the 7:30/mile pacer whizzed by us just before mile 3. Evan and I looked at each other in disbelief, and immediately I started to panic. Was I going that much slower than I even realized?

No sooner did Mr. 7:30 pacer pass us, but we saw my parents waiting with Amelia at the top of our first (only) really long descent. I wanted to yell — don’t be nervous! I swear we aren’t running 7:30s! But they didn’t care. They were so excited to see us, so excited to show Amelia her parents, that I’m not even sure they noticed we were even behind him.  My mom bounced Amelia up and down, and she waved at us with the biggest grin on her face. It was all I could do to not stop and scoop her up.

Seeing them helped me forget about pacing for a little while. We were entering my favorite part of the course – the Vermont section. Back on familiar roads where I did many long runs over the summer. The temperature was perfect, my legs were feeling warmed up and I just felt settled into a pace, trying to hold myself back because the numbers on the watch were making me nervous. I didn’t really notice the gradual uphill during these miles. It just felt good to be running.

We gradually started gaining on the 7:30 pacer and the girl that was running with him (who seemed to be his biology study buddy?? Totally what I talk about when I’m racing too…). We had just pulled up alongside them when a man who was watching from the sidelines pointed to her and then to me, saying “6th woman, 7th woman!”

From that moment, it was on. Because, you know, getting 6th place in a race was exactly what I had been shooting for all along! My first reaction was to turn to Evan and say, “I wish he didn’t say that.” The competitive juices had started flowing and I couldn’t stop them. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be competitive. Wasn’t sure this girl even considered me her competition. But it didn’t matter. Whoever she was or whatever her goal for the day might have been, there was no way I was going to let her beat me. So without even really thinking about it, I picked up the pace just a notch and inched ahead of her and that annoying pacer.

CHaD Half_river.jpgDon’t be jealous of my awesome race day outfit matching skills. Orange and pink are the new “it” colors for the season. Trust me on this one.

For the next couple of miles, Evan and I ran side by side without saying much – except to remark on how annoying it was that the mile markers seemed to be getting further and further apart (I know, I know). When we turned to head back into the center of Norwich, he told me he felt like we were going too fast and was afraid he was going to blow up. I told him I just wanted to make it to the hill after mile 9. I knew that would slow us down, so the entire race I had just been focused on making it to that spot. If I could keep a consistent and steady pace until then, it didn’t matter what happened in those final miles.

ChaD Half_Norwich1New favorite race picture of all time! Feeling as strong and steady as I looked at mile 8.

We ran down along the Connecticut river, rounded the corner back across the bridge, and suddenly my family was there again. Waving and cheering and smiling! It was awesome and the perfect boost before the climbing began. I turned the corner to go up the hill and felt a little pep in my step. Trying to focus on one step at a time, I envisioned myself powering up the hill like a locomotive.

In reality it wasn’t quite that powerful or smooth. But at least the effort felt steady. And that is where I lost Evan. I briefly debated slowing down and waiting for him. Despite my warnings before the race that I wouldn’t, I hated not having him by my side. I thought if only I could get him to catch up with me again, he would be able to pace off of me the rest of the way.

In the end I just kept running. I was too afraid to break my own momentum…and half-convinced he was right behind me.

At mile 10, we reached the cruelest part of the course. After a mile of climbing, you run back through Hanover, across the main green and right past the finish line. There were people finishing and I still had 3 more miles to go. Awesome.

CHaD Half_HanoverDebating if anyone would notice me making a u-turn to the finish

 The fun just kept on coming. We climbed another steep hill that I didn’t know existed before the race. I had told myself the hill a mile before was all that I had to make it through – this one felt even worse! We turned a corner into a residential neighborhood and it seemed to keep climbing. I willed my legs to move forward, but they just didn’t have any speed in them. I kept wondering if I should take the gel I stashed in my shorts just in case, but since I hadn’t trained with them and haven’t taken a gel since, I don’t know? 2012? I ultimately decided not to. Just kept powering along, telling myself that with all this climbing it HAD to be downhill to the finish.

I was wrong. The elevation profile will tell you that there were, in fact, some downhill stretches in the last 3 miles. I didn’t notice them. Somehow it seemed like an endless climb. And my legs just had no speed. No power. I wasn’t spent or ready to puke, but I still couldn’t push any faster. Or maybe I had given up. By this point I had stopped looking at my watch, discouraged when I realized at mile 10 that I was going to finish more than a minute slower than what I had calculated. Any rational person probably would have turned off autolap and manually lapped their watch at the mile markers, or at least turned the screen to simply show the time of day or something, anything to get over the inaccuracies. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was just pissed – pissed that my watch wasn’t lining up with the course, pissed that I was pacing according to my watch and not the course in the first place, and pissed that I had let something so silly get into my head so much…especially for a race that I wasn’t going to PR anyway.

CHaD Half_Finish1Demonstrating more awesome running form

Finally we headed back through campus and I knew the finish line had to be close. I tried to pick up the pace and someone remarked that I was “making it look too easy” but it didn’t feel easy. My brain was not communicating with my legs the way that I wanted to. I felt weird and disconnected. Like that pain place I used to know how to get to (and through) no longer existed for me. So I continued my steady run right across the finish line.

CHaD Half_finishIf you look really closely, you can see a man in a tan jacket and tan hat on the lefthand side of the photo, standing out into the course a little. That would be my Dad — my Mom is the little speck of blonde hair behind him. They both were amazing cheerleaders AND babysitters. We couldn’t have done the race without them!  

Also, today is my Dad’s birthday, in case you want to send him a note.

And immediately felt guilty. I didn’t see Evan. I was annoyed at myself for being so annoyed during the race, and upset with myself for leaving Evan — and all for what? For a moment, my attitude went from bad to worse, and suddenly the strong, relatively even paced race I had just run became this complete failure in every way. Talk about dramatic. (I am not proud, I will admit. And yes, I can now see how ridiculous I was about the whole thing.) I stood there, scanning the crowd, hoping that each person I saw would be Evan nearing the finish line. Finally, 4 minutes later he came in, happy and proud of his effort, while I blubbered like a baby and apologized for something he never asked me to do.

So my race day mental game and focus? Needs some work. The endurance is there, the strength is there, even the building blocks for that mental focus are there. I had my iPod on me the entire time in case I needed it, but I never even wanted it. For the first time in any distance race, I preferred the silence of my footsteps and thoughts over music. Instead it just became another annoyance as I tried to keep the stupid cords from bouncing around by wrapping them into my sports bra.

In spite of everything, I still managed to place 2nd in my age group, and was somehow able to hold onto that overall female finish spot (and the first place girl in my AG actually finished 3rd overall, but they awarded her both prizes, so…).

IMG 7836

Finish: 1:36:04 (7:20 pace); 46th overall, 7th woman (my friend at mile 5 must’ve counted wrong because no female passed me after I thought I was in 6th), and 2/141 AG

Just because I found it interesting: 5 of the 6 women ahead of me were under 25 – talk about a group of fast, young women (thinking the Dartmouth track and cross country teams must have been well represented here)! Only 3 of the ladies in the top 10 were in their 30s…it’s not every day I feel like the old lady of the group.

For my prize, I won this super cool, exclusive cup that Amelia immediately claimed. I figured she earned it more than I did for being such a trooper the entire day. She missed her afternoon nap to sit outside and wait in the damp cold. And didn’t complain once. That’s worthy of a gold star in my book.

CHaD Half_Amelia

Here’s how the splits broke down. Keep in mind that these don’t add up to my overall official pace

Pace

Net Elevation

Mile 1 – 7:07 Down
Mile 2 – 7:02 Down
Mile 3 – 7:10 Up
Mile 4 – 7:02 Down
Mile 5 – 7:16 Up
Mile 6 – 7:10 Up
Mile 7 – 7:03 Down
Mile 8 – 7:04 Down
Mile 9 – 7:31 Up
Mile 10 – 7:36 Up
Mile 11 – 7:38 Up
Mile 12 – 7:09

Down

Mile 13 – 7:17 Up
Last 0.3 – 6:43 pace The only flat section!
Garmin: 13.3 miles in 1:36:06 (7:14 pace)
Official: 13.1 miles in 1:36:04 (7:20 pace)

And the elevation profile. The entire course was rolling - not sure there was any section besides that final stretch that you could consider “flat.”

CHaD Half Elevation

So there you have it. A tale of how a crummy attitude can ruin an otherwise good race. Overall I really loved being able to run most of the half with Evan, and it has lit the fire for speed. I know I can run faster. I know I have another gear. I just need to remember how to access it.

Not sure what’s next for me. But I know it’s going to include speedwork.

 

 

 



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