Half Marathon Unplugged 2015 Recap

I’m sitting here with a generous glass of wine after a long day. Evan is traveling tonight, so you know what that means: it’s Race Recap time! Only two weeks late. Not so bad given my current track record, right?

To be honest, I feel just a teeny bit sheepish after my last post. I’m not one to make excuses for a race that hasn’t even happened yet…and in the end I suppose that might be how it came across. But really – I was trying to give an honest account of my training; to capture where I was in the moment. If you had asked me right before the Half Marathon Unplugged whether I felt as fit or fitter as I had been back in October for the CHaD Half, I would’ve said no way. I didn’t have the miles or the confidence.

But sometimes you can go into a race feeling underprepared, and yet somehow everything comes together for a great day. Maybe I was underestimating myself all along. But Unplugged Half was the kind of race that I didn’t feel like I deserved to dream about anymore. The type that left me fired up and hungering for more….that made me finally feel like me again. The Lauren that can work hard and dig deep and run fast (relatively speaking, I mean). The competitive, confident running Lauren. And I have to say, I really, really liked it.

half marathon unplugged

A few things worked in my favor that Saturday:

1. It was a pretty flat course. Much flatter than my half marathon in October, and flatter than any of my long runs. Thank goodness, since I did a lot of early morning runs on the treadmill this winter.

2. I’m over a year postpartum now (vs. 9.5 months), and breastfeeding significantly less than I was 5 months ago, which I think makes a huge difference in terms of recovery and my energy levels.

3. I just had a really good attitude about the whole thing. A “let’s just celebrate being out there and see what happens!” type of attitude…which is probably the most significant change from my last half.  The change I was most proud of.

All of those things combined led to a great day. I finally broke a 4 year old half marathon PR by nearly a minute. A PR that I knew did not represent my true ability…a PR I’ve been wanting to take down for a very long time.

Race Morning

The Half Marathon Unplugged field is divided into two waves to accommodate a larger number of entrants (fields are self-selecting). The first goes off at 9:00, the second at 11:00. The earlier wave is the more popular of the two, and usually sells out pretty quickly. But I actually prefer the later one. I got up a little after 6:00 on Saturday morning, ate a relatively leisurely breakfast, got all my stuff together and out the door around 8:00 to made the drive up to Burlington. We arrived with plenty of time to pick up my bib and drive down to the start (the course is point-to-point). The only thing I was worried about was fueling, so I made sure to eat a bit more than I wanted to: eggs and toast with almond butter + Nuun + coffee first thing in the morning and then half a bagel + more Nuun about 1.5 hours before. I had also brought a couple of GUs with me just in case. All winter long I trained without fuel or hydration on my long runs. The weather was cold and I just didn’t feel I needed it (keep in mind my longest training run was only 11 miles). But since I was going into this thing a bit undertrained, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have the extra boost.

It was a chilly morning with strong wind gusts resulting in a significant chill (40 degrees but “feels like” temps in the 30s). I agonized over what to wear, preferring to race in a tank and arm warmers but afraid I’d be too cold. In the end I changed my race outfit about 3 times, finally opting to go with the long sleeves.

About 5 minutes before the race was due to start, I whipped off my extra clothes, gave Amelia and Evan a quick hug and walked to the starting line…to the sounds of her wailing. Not exactly the exciting and positive start I was hoping for.

Lauren_Amelia_race morning

The Race

I stood on the line and waved to Evan and Amelia, who fortunately had stopped crying at this point. It was then that I realized I had forgotten to pack any GU with me and I briefly panicked. I caught Evan’s eyes and tried to tell him about my predicament, charades-style. I knew I was going to see him between miles 3 and 4 when the course headed back through the starting area…I just had to hope he understood my message.

Suddenly the race started and we headed straight into a strong headwind. Believe it or not, this was actually a good thing. The course starts with a short out-and-back section before weaving through neighborhoods to pick up the bike path to Burlington. Knowing that we were starting into a headwind was reassuring – it meant we would avoid a direct headwind for most of the race.

From the beginning, I made a resolution not to obsess over my pace. My shirt sleeves were pulled over my watch and I just ran. I knew that I wasn’t starting slow, but I felt strong. It was like as soon as the race started, I was transported back to earlier days of running. The days when I would size up the “competition” and see if I could stay with them. The days of Confident Lauren. That first mile clicked through at 7:01. Okay, probably a little fast, I thought. But let’s go with it. I covered my watch again and just ran.

The best part about this start is that I could quickly assess where I was in relation to the other women. As I watched the runners come through the turnaround, I counted my position. 6th. Not bad. And it was here that small fire started raging. For the first time in a very long time, I was feeling competitive. I knew it didn’t mean anything — there were no medals, no prizes, not even a t-shirt for finishing this race. But I wanted to come in as one of the top women in my wave. For myself. To prove that I could do this.

We came back through the start sooner than I expected and suddenly there was Evan and Amelia. Amelia was holding my GU out to me, excited and proud. I waved hello and grabbed it from her hand as gently as I could without breaking my stride, thanking them for bringing it. I breathed a sign of relief. Now I could race.

The next few miles weaved through two different neighborhoods and I focused on running the tangents as much as possible. I told myself to stay relaxed – that the locking in to a comfortably uncomfortable part of the race wouldn’t happen until after mile 4 when we entered the bike path. I could see some of the lead women ahead…could see that the original leader had lost steam and now wasn’t too far from me. I focused on her back and steadily reeled her in.

Miles 1 – 5: 7:01, 7:01, 7:08, 7:00, 7:01

The miles were ticking off at a consistent low-7:00 pace. By mile 5, I knew —  this was either going to be a great day…or I was going to go down in flames. And if that were the case, so be it. I dialed it in and surged ahead, feeling elated that I felt SO good.

Approximately 2 minutes later, those first needles of doubt crept in. I might feel good now, but I still had SO far to go. This race wasn’t even half over – how was I going to keep this pace up for 8 more miles? Especially when the longest I had run since October was 11 miles. Panic seeped into my head and threatened to undo my race.

I let the thoughts come in and then, I pushed them aside just as quickly as they came. Run the mile you’re in, I kept telling myself. Focus on the halfway point. Don’t worry about the rest. Instead of falling apart, I gave a little surge, determined to find that happy floating feeling I had just a few moments ago.

Mile 6 – 7: 6:53, 6:57

I knew there would be a water stop sometime after mile 7, so when I got to the mile marker I broke out the GU and started slowly sipping on it. It was thick and gross in my mouth – it had been awhile since I had tried taking nutrition on the run, and here I was doing it without water. But I took my time, not letting it stress me out. I wasn’t at the point where I felt like I truly needed the boost, but I knew I still had a decent way to go and for once I was trying to get ahead of my nutrition – to fuel the future miles instead of reacting to the fatigue. The water finally came a long half mile later. I took a few sips, threw out the GU and focused on reaching mile 10. I was slowly picking off the women in front of me one at a time, working my way up through the ranks.

Miles 8 – 10: 7:02, 6:40, 6:58

Between miles 9 & 10 is the ugliest part of the course. It’s lonely, you’re running through a lot of construction, and the path is uneven. But I told myself not to pay attention to that. My legs still felt great, I felt dialed in. I was going to run hard until mile 10 and then see what happened from there.

I finally got through that no-mans land and ran past the future finish line of VCM. The wind was picking up here, and I could feel its strength whenever we went around corners that put us directly in its path. I said a quick thank you that it wasn’t directly in my face the entire way…and then I came around the corner and saw a familiar car, and a bit further in the distance, Evan and Amelia. They were waving wildly, Amelia was grinning from ear to ear and it was the best boost to my soul. “You’re killing it!” Evan exclaimed and I knew that he was right. If I could just hold on, I was going to PR today.

half marathon unplugged_after mile 10Feeling as good as I looked here

Mile 11 – 13: 7:13, 7:20, 6:57

The last 3 miles of the race are tough – mentally and physically. It’s not a hilly course by any means, but there are a couple of hills that feel worse than they are due to their position in the race. To make matters worse, you run away from the finish line before you run toward it.  After mile 11 you leave the bike path and are directed up (what feels like) a long hill into a park. The course runs through the park and into yet another neighborhood. Even though I was prepared for it this year, I still felt myself losing steam. The wheels were finally starting to come off, my lack of endurance apparent.  The steady 7:00ish minute pace I had been holding the whole race started slipping away. But I didn’t let myself think about it or stress. I focused on getting through that neighborhood loop and up that last hill. Because once I hit the park again, it was a quick shot to the finish.

Last 0.2 (Garmin): 6:23 pace

You hit a wonderful downhill after the park and then a slight uphill to the finish line. I could see the clock in the distance…I knew I was going to come in close to 1:32. Just how close was up to me. I gritted my teeth and gave it the rest of my strength, oblivious to Evan and Amelia yelling from the sidelines.

half marathon unplugged_finish

Pain face:

half marathon unplugged_finish2

I crossed the line in 1:32:15, 3rd woman overall in the wave and 1st in my age group. Apparently all the super fasties were in Wave 1. (I am not exaggerating. I was 9th women overall and 3rd in my age group). Considering the circumstances, I couldn’t have asked for a better race. It felt like redemption. Like the start of a comeback.

cheering squadThe best cheer squad

I sucked down a quick beer, picked at the post-race food, and then we all headed over to Sugarbush for some quality recovery thanks to some awesome friends – a weekend filled with American Flatbread pizza, hot tubbing, snowshoeing and some spring skiing.

snowshoeing_sugarbushNot Amelia

Okay, so maybe the last two things weren’t exactly recovery-related. And I’ll admit that my legs were positively trashed come Monday morning. But when it’s a 60 degree bluebird day after a long and harsh winter, you’d be crazy not to spend every moment outside.

What’s next? It’s still being determined. But the fire is raging, my friends. And I’m ready to work.



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