This morning (aka last weekend, oops) I ran the Winter Warlock Half, my first half marathon in what feels like forever, in a respectable though not particularly exciting time of 1:36:21. It was a good race in many ways; I felt like I was running right around the pace I'd like to be able to run for a full, and felt fairly comfortable doing so. Maybe more importantly, I was able to take a day where I just really, really didn't feel like racing and do something productive with it.
After a couple beers and a night of emotional ups and downs during the Packer game on Saturday, combined with a vague feeling of coming down with a cold, I was not raring to race come Sunday morning. An iced coffee and a bagel for breakfast helped, minimally. For some reason it seemed significantly colder when we arrived at the race than in Boston, which didn't increase my excitement. The scene at packet pickup was mildly amusing; the race bibs seemed left over from various other races in the area and the chip timing was on ankle bracelets - hah! I haven't experienced that since some dinky early college XC meet, so that set the scene pretty well. Aly, Joy and I set off on a warmup along some fairly pleasant trails and I just wasn't into it. We then arrived back at the start at about 10 to 10, only to find that the race start had been delayed until 10:15 due to...wait for it...too many people in line for the 5 porta potties....sigh. Oh well, got another mile in on the warmup and then headed back to the start. By this point, I was most definitely ready to get this over with.
The course was a double out and back, which I honestly didn't hate as much as I thought I would (though I will admit to wishing I was running the 10K when I had to turn around for the second loop). We headed off down a dirt road lined with pine trees which I actually thought was quite pleasant - people were bitching on FB about the dirt road/"trail" and how unprepared they were for it, but honestly if this road is your idea of a trail...uh, I don't really know what to tell you. It was pretty even terrain, a few sections with a bit of gravel or some potholes but not much of a problem if you were paying attention. I was running near Joy and a few other women for a bit and then found myself starting to pick off people as we headed down the road. Unfortunately my Garmin pooped out and there were only mile markers for miles 1-3 on the course, so all I can say about my splits is that my first mile was 7:00, second mile 7:14, and 3rd mile 7:32. I felt OK, but not awesome, and once I saw that 7:32 I was kind of like..."meh. That's OK. Forget about speed, just don't barf".
On the way back, the pack had spread out quite a bit and we had lost the 5K runners, though there were still plenty of HMers coming the other way. I found myself running with an awkward guy in a white turtleneck who kept turning to look at me every 30 seconds or so...don't ask me why but I found this distracting and I kept wanting to be like..can I help you? Eventually I put in a little surge just to get rid of him and return to my enjoyable state of running comfortably hard down this dirt road. I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing to say that I don't really feel like I "raced" this race - I definitely worked hard and I put in a solid effort, but in the moment I just didn't feel like there was any particular reason to go crazy. It didn't help that I had no idea how to gauge my effort because I had no splits or mile markers, although that was sort of nice in a way too, because it let me just run by how I was feeling without having any emotions about it. I think if I'd looked at my watch and seen I was slowing down, I might have gotten flustered or frustrated, whereas in this case I probably fluctuated in pace but I didn't know it was happening, so I could just stay focused on the feeling of being smooth and in control. I knew this wasn't going to be a race where I ran a PR, so what was the point of getting stressed about it? In lieu of thinking about splits, I enjoyed looking at the apparel of the runners coming the other way and trying to convince my brain to have a better song stuck in it than "Country Girl, Shake It For Me, Girl" (the other option, it turned out, was Lady Marmalade, specifically the lyrics...'some mistake us for whores, but why spend mine when I can spend yours?' Um, OK.)
Happily, the way back went by fairly quickly, although that didn't stop me from gazing longingly at the road to the finish line as I turned to run again, away from it. All of a sudden I was running virtually alone except for a couple of older guys in front of me. I basically had convinced myself that once I got through the way out, the way back would be easy, because it would only be 3 miles to the finish line! The lies we tell ourselves. I took a Gu at what I perceived to be around mile 8 (actual distance unknown) and got ready to grab some water at one of the few water stops...only to find it occupied by a 10K WALKER FILLING UP WATER BOTTLES FROM THE CUPS. I'm sorry. I know. I sound like an asshole right now. But there was literally one volunteer at the station, who could clearly see me coming (and I even yelled "water" as an extra alert system). This woman who is standing here filling up water bottles clearly is not all too concerned with her finishing time. Can we let the people who are actually racing this thing at least not be hindered by other participants, please?! One of the dudes in front of me actually stopped to wait but ain't nobody got time for that. I think I gave some sort of noise of frustration, but the one positive side was that my rage at what had happened powered me through the next mile, as I focused on thinking up snarky comments to post on this blog vs. the fact that I was starting to get sick of running and the taste of salted caramel Gu clinging to my taste buds. Finally, about a mile later I was able to grab a cup of water (literally grab off a full table of cups while a volunteer stared at me with a confused look...we were not on our water stop A game today). The uphill leading to the turnaround seemed significantly steeper the second time around but things immediately improved as I turned and took stock of the situation. I had counted 5 women ahead of me, none of whom were in reasonable distance to catch. The next woman behind me was about 2 minutes back. That made this quite easy - all I had to do was whatever it took to maintain position.
The last couple of miles were a blur, I was tired, I wanted to stop, and there really wasn't anyone close enough to me to latch onto and try to pass. The race director passed me on a bike and said something that I thought was "4/10 to go!" but that's actually not possible, because as I perceived it I probably had another mile to run. I saw Aly out on her cooldown, and she cheered at me to which I responded "MBLAAAAH". Finally I reached the HM turnaround, where the volunteer told me "only one mile to go!" Um, excuse me? Thankfully my assumption that this person was very very wrong was accurate, though the finish line was still a bit farther away than I realized. One more turn, one more uphill, and I was there. Whee! Done. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to see 1:36 on the clock when I came across the line - based on effort, I had guessed I was running maybe just under 7:30 pace and was expecting something closer to 1:38. Aerobically I barely felt like I'd done anything, but my legs were toast - clearly, that has to do with the fact that I'm only 3 weeks into more real marathon training. I waited for Joy and then the 3 of us reconvened for a brief cooldown before heading out for brunch and beer in Plymouth...obviously, the most important part of any race experience!
I'm pretty happy with 6th overall and winning my AG (after top 3 were taken out), and I think this time is a great starting point. I definitely wasn't pushing it to the limit during this race, but I think it was a solid effort. The fact that I'm trying to run only about 5 seconds slower per mile for twice the distance, however, is mildly terrifying at this point. But there are lots and lots of miles to run...
As an aside/rant...people were behaving like BABIES about this race. In the days after the race I read several reviews on the race's facebook page stating how this was "the WORST race EVER!" and "I will NEVER do this race again". The reasons for these complaints? The lack of medals, not enough food at the finish line, and the fact that the RD delayed the race because of long porta potty lines. I have to say, these comments made me sort of sad about the state of running these days. Sometimes, I don't want to pay $70+ to run a half because its an "event" and there are medals and a party and whatnot. I paid $45 for this race, which is damn near impossible to find for a half marathon, the course was accurate, and my time was right - what more is there to ask of a no frills race? I think these days people expect every race to be an EVENT, an "experience", where everyone is made to feel like a special flower. But whatever happened to racing because....you're trying to race? Not for a participation medal, or for the food afterwards? I mean, none of us even picked up our awards that we won, partially because we were cold and wanted to go home, but also because that's not what it's about. So anyway, besides the water stop debacle I really had minimal issues with this race, and the shirt I got is super soft and is going to make a fantastic PJ shirt...so there's that. With 2 more halfs on the horizon before Boston, I'm now looking forward to seeing what I can do with more focused training, speedwork, and some more mileage under my belt!
Winter Warlock Half Marathon
1:36:24 (7:22 pace)
21st OA, 6th woman, 1st AG