I haven’t run a half marathon in almost a year. I decided this year to focus on one big race and while I’ve hit (and passed) the 13.1 mile distance a handful of times in training, I haven’t toed the start line. Then I won an entry to a local half marathon (thanks The Style Files!) that was the same weekend as my last long run of marathon training. And thus, Sunday morning I found myself standing at the edge of Lake Michigan with approx 400 other runners ready to take off for a race.
190 of those runners were doing the half marathon distance, the rest were doing a 10K. I always think that’s a nice race combo. The 10K runners stayed in the Dunes State Park for their run. The rest of us immediately headed out to US 12 which winds its way through trees that are blazing with color this time of year. It was a small enough race that after the first mile everyone settled into their pace and there was no more passing. (I’m sure there was plenty of passing for the front of the pack but those of us towards the back were happy to run our race.) Around mile 4 we ducked onto the Calumet Trail – hard packed dirt with crushed stone. I’ve run this before – in fact the next 5 miles are miles I’ve run before. I was very familiar with the entire course which made this race feel like home to me.
After about a mile on the trail we hit a street and made a turn straight for the beach – my family’s favorite beach in fact. 🙂 I love this little beachside neighborhood and, while I wasn’t dragging prior to it, I definitely perked up at this point in the race. Soon we came to Lake Front Drive and ran a peaceful mile or so with the waves of Lake Michigan crashing on the right and beautiful homes on the left. A few homeowners were out cheering us on. This was the only “crowd” support of this race. But I wasn’t there for crowds – I was there for the scenery and distractions to help my 20 mile run feel less intimidating.
We had to turn away from the beach and around mile 9 were back on the Calumet Trail. The race director warned us that miles 9-11 were wet. She was being optimistic. Miles 9-11 were 75% flooded. No way to walk around the puddles – it was muddy, slippery & wet. Within half a mile my feet were soaked and mud was squishing out at every step. I caught up to a group of runners here as we were all walking and trying to pick the driest paths. We agreed that we felt like we picked up an extra 5 pounds of mud to carry the rest of the race. It wasn’t fun. At some point I just gave up and ran unless it was too slippery.
Just over mile 11 we turned back into the State Park (and pavement). I had mud splattered up my back but enough energy to ask the people manning the water stop where the “dry sock & shoe” station could be found. We all laughed and then I got back on track. The last two miles wind through the Indiana Dunes State Park and it felt like I was running through a gorgeous tunnel of fall leaves for most of it. Loved it.
I ran 6 miles at home early in the morning (just me, the moon & my flashlight). Got to the State Park as the sun was rising, picked up my bib and ran another mile or so to warm up before the race. So when we turned into the park I was at mile 18. Aside from some pain from my calf injury (I don’t think the slick trail with all its starting & stopping helped that), I was feeling great. Plenty of energy and ready to hit the finish. I got back on track with my run/walk intervals and tackled the last two miles. I felt good enough that I skipped the last walk interval because I knew I was only .5 from the finish. I actually had enough energy that I picked it up a bit to push hard and I crossed the finish line strong and with a smile on my face.
The last time I trained for a marathon, the 20 mile run almost killed me. I walked & limped the final two miles that day. This day I pushed harder. I’m shocked at how much stronger I’m feeling with the distance runs. I was actually on track to have the half marathon finish around my average for that race distance (until I hit the muddy miles and slowed down). If I were racing, I would have just crashed through that flooded section. All I could think about was how angry I’d be if I slipped and hurt something and then couldn’t race the marathon in two weeks. The Hero Half wasn’t my goal race and I was pretty determined to keep that in perspective.
I left the State Park yesterday knowing two things:
- I am feeling great moving into my marathon taper. Even with those weeks I had to take off of training because of my injury, I feel more prepared than I did for my first marathon. Yesterday’s run was a little slower than the pace I envisioned pre-injury but it was right on target for where I expect to be in two weeks. I didn’t watch my pace for one second yesterday and I don’t expect to on race day either. I’m going to run by feel, soak in the miles and hopefully have lots to smile about at the end. That’s how I ran my 20 and I’m still smiling about it.
- I would love to run the Hero Half again. The course is beautiful with its fall colors & Lake views. I like the feel of a small race. And it was the perfect way to make my 20 something special.