Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wolf Hollow Half (belated) Race Report

Surprise! Who expected a race report 2 weeks after a near PR marathon? Not me. But thanks to a every convincing friend and the fact that I got the itch to race back very quickly after Madison, I found myself signed up for the Wolf Hollow Half in Nashua. I went into this race with my expectations at absolute zero. In fact I told myself that I actually wasn't allowed to really "race". (Spoiler alert: I can't not race in a race). I went totally incognito and didn't even wear my GBTC singlet - no pressure whatsoever.

It just so happened that the day of the race was GORGEOUS... after several days of rain and freezing wind it was in the high 40s and sunny. I was kind of laughing, because honestly it wasn't that long ago for me that running half marathon was a big. frickin'. deal. And now I was about to do one literally for shits and giggles, without really any concerns that it was going to be particularly hard. Guess that's when you know you've kind of made it as a distance runner, when a non-goal race half marathon is just sort of NBD. We got to the park, picked up our packers, and did a quick " warm up", aka jogging around for 5 min looking for somewhere to pee in the woods, and then headed to the start. I had decided to listen to music again in keeping with the "I'm not racing, just going on a delightful long run through the forest" mentality. And then we were off!

I started off wearing arm warmers but tossed them within 2 min of starting...the sun was warming up fast. The course started with a 2 mile loop on roads before heading into the park and its trails. As usual, Joy shot out ahead of me and I tried to just relax and groove. I think I missed the 1 mile, and after jockeying for position a little bit I found myself passing Joy. I passed the 2 mile at 13:30...if I'd had water in my mouth at that moment I'd have spit it out. Not racing, MY ASS. Try my fastest start in a half (or race for that matter) in a looong time. Still, I felt great and smooth and wonderful and so I was kind of like, OK, I guess this is how its going to be!

We headed out into the first loop of the park, which was just lovely. We were running on trails and the late fall colors with the sunshine made for a very pretty run. I was still maintaining under 7 min pace through miles 3 and 4 which was surprising. Mile 5/6 found me just over 7s. I sort of had a brief moment of thinking, holy shit, could I PR today? But it was also around that time where I realized that things were starting to feel hard and I was not even halfway.

At around mile 6.5 we had to briefly veer off the trail and over a bridge to do this awful little lollipop. Between the quick uphill/downhill and some quick turns I felt like I totally lost my groove. However, I could also get a good sense of the field ahead of me and I suddenly realized that I was definitely in the top 10, possibly top 5 women. What? That was an exciting thought, however, the last 1/2 mile of the loop was a HORRIBLE uphill that totally sapped me. I was not feeling so good about this second lap anymore. But hey, we're not really racing, right? Except for that whole part where I'm shooting for top 3 now. But hey, not really racing...right? RIGHT?

Just chilling out max, relaxing all cool

JK, LOL. During the second loop my mindset completely shifted. I knew I had slowed down a bit and wasn't really trying to keep track of pace or splits anymore. What I was keeping track of, for maybe the first time, was my competitors. I spent miles 7-10 staring at the back of and slowly reeling in a girl in a yellow shirt. We started playing a little leapfrog at mile 9, but I had the sense that I had a little more left in the tank. As that was happening, this girl with a French braid came BOOKING by. I didn't have the pick up to go with her, but I did make my final pass of yellow shirt. Then, as we turned for home after mile 10, I saw a girl ahead in a Harvard jacket who looked like she was struggling. Again I went into competition mode and went in for the kill.

Not sure of the actual order of these two photos, but I look more tired here

My legs were getting tired, with the fatigue of being only 14 days removed from a marathon starting to take its toll. But the clear fact right now was that I was in 3rd. I had no clue what time in was going to run, but damnit, I wanted to hold on to top 3. We approached the lollipop, and I was gaining on French braid. Just then, a girl with 1 calf sleeve came cruising by. The 3 of us jostled for position until we hit the lollipop water stop. Calf sleeve grabbed the first cup and accelerated, French braid kind of slowed down to grab a cup, and I decided to seize the opportunity. I still was losing ground on calf sleeve but I was holding onto 3rd. I was NOT going to let anyone else pass me. Of course, the last 2 miles of the loop were by far the hilliest, and I had very little left in my legs. I kind of thought to myself "just run fast enough that French braid doesn't catch you". Which isn't very helpful, because I didn't even know how far behind me she was! Either way, I didn't feel like anyone was aggressively breathing down my neck so I tried to just suck it up and haul it up the hills as best I could. By the time I came down the other side and into the finish chute, I was just soooo ready to be DONE. I accelerated down the stretch, because I was NOT going to be outkicked today, and squeaked in just under 1:36. Top 3! BAM!

While not my best half time ever, it's still in the top 3 by a considerable margin and given how soon after the marathon this happened, I was damn pleased with what my legs gave me. That combined with the fact that the course was on trails (bound to slow you down a bit) and relatively hilly (not Harwich level, but I certainly wouldn't call it an easy course), I'm extremely happy with this. And, not to be forgotten, top 3! My first ever top-3 in a race that wasn't like, a 20 person 5K. I did a great job during this race of keeping my race face on and not worrying so much about MUSTPRMUSTMPRMUSTPR as just, go get that girl ahead of you. Now another one. And another one. Really, it was SO much easier that way. Do whatever feels good to your legs, and try to speed up if you think you can run someone down. Simple, really! And in addition, I think there really might be something to this whole zero pressure thing for me. Two solid races (though neither of them PRs) that I'm genuinely happy with back to back? I must be dreaming!

I'd also definitely recommend this race, especially if you enjoy a more laid back racing scene. The course was really pretty, and while I'm totally not a trail runner it was actually a really nice change of pace. Not sure I'd target it for a PR given the trail aspect and the hills, but it was a really delightful, well run half. The shirts are tech shirts with a simple but attractive design (and black which I liked) and I got a pint glass for my award which I will NEVER complain about. All in all, I'm glad I can be easily convinced to do ridiculous things, such as running 13.1 miles for no particular reason, and then can run kind of fast while doing them!

Wolf Hollow Half Marathon
Nashua, NH
39/573 OA, 3/317 F, 2/80 F20-29