First, let’s talk about how I’ve now PR’d in the last two races (10k and 13.1) during one of the toughest, most chaotic years of my life. Wait; do not. Let’s save that for my 2018 end-of-year recap.
Instead, let’s discuss my most recent race: The Grin & Bear It half marathon, 10k, and 5k. Local company Miles of Smiles created, directed, and time the race. Goal: sub 2:15. Finish: 2:11:52. Crushed it!
But this was far from the easiest of races. Turns out that a flat course isn’t all that matters…
First, I showed up way too early. The race was set to begin at 9 a.m. and I got there by 8 to pick up my shirt and race bib. I then sat in my car for about 40 minutes and enjoyed the seat heaters because I knew I’d be out running in the low 30s for over two hours.
This is the first time I ran a race in temps that low. Heck, this is the first time I ran that long – race or not – in temps that low. I secretly love my treadmill and I use it when it’s below 40s, for the most part.
I wore an Asics thermal looking shirt that wasn’t really a thermal with a lighter, collared Asics running shirt over top. I bought some new fleece lined gloves from good ol’ Walmart. For pants, I didn’t bother with my cold weather gear pants – I know that my legs warm up quickly, so I opted for a thinner pair of running pants. I stole my stepson’s typical socks, and I slapped on my Hoka Cliftons. I wore my favorite fleece ear warmer from the 2016 Hot Chocolate 15k, and of course, my trusty Spyder Grip.
The half marathon was chip-timed and kicked off over ten minutes late (my watch said 8:56). I was chatting with a couple friends and suddenly, the runners in front of me took off close to the 9 am mark.
Before we took off, the race director announced that there was a tree down near the turn around point (six-ish miles or so). As a former race director myself, I was a little bit peeved – like it or not, you and your team are responsible for a safe, clear course to the best of your ability. But anyway. At least he prepared us, right?
Miles 1 and 2 were great. I was clocking about a 10-minute pace or so, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. I could hear my friend Jeph’s words playing through my head: “take it easy the first half.” I tried my best, and I think I perhaps did negative split and run the first half slower than the second (ya girl isn’t good at math so I can’t be sure lol).
Around mile 2, I started running with a small pack. There were five of us. I really enjoyed this group because we were all talking, and I think that helped me keep my conversational pace just that – conversational. I typically do not run with groups, but they were a pleasure to run with.
Around the 5k point, two large, stray dogs were roaming around near the course. I was freaked the F out and started scolding myself for not bringing pepper spray! At least I was in a group, right? The dogs were friendly, thankfully. I just wasn’t prepared for it!
Took my first gel around mile 4. And then BAM – a tree down around mile 4.5 or so. The other runners in our pack were a bit shocked because we were told the tree was down at the turn around point, and here we were at mile 4.5 trying to figure out the best way to get around it without compromising our time. Over one part of the tree; under the other part of the tree. PS: My friend (who ran his first half and with an awesome time of sub 1:45!) got some battle wounds from this tree.
We figured the race director just miscalculated where the tree fell. When you’re an RD, you’re up pretty much from 2-3 a.m. on. I always found it tricky to estimate distances when I was up that early…
I was the last one to get around the tree. At that point, I lost the group. I just couldn’t keep up, and I told myself that it’s my race, my pace. So, off I went on my own, sans dogs and (what I thought was) sans tree-jumping.
Mile 5 was smooth and I was gliding at a comfortable pace of just below 10 minutes per mile.
But low and behold, when I got to the turn around point, another tree blocked the trail. The RD was right! But he must have not known about that first tree. The second tree was much easier to get around because I barely had to duck under it (hey – it paid to be 5′ for once!). It definitely didn’t break my stride or slow me down like the first tree.
I turned around the cone, went back under the tree, and told myself to settle in. Miles 6-10 were great and I continued to hold a pretty even pace between 9:57-10:00 per mile.
I actually caught back up with two people from our pack. One was losing some steam, and the other was impressed that I ran the first half slower. “You’re smart for running like that,” he said. Little does he know that it’s taken me since 2014 to understand how to execute negative splits!
Once I hit mile 10, I realized that the last time I ran ten miles was three weeks prior, and that I hadn’t run farther or longer than that. “Ok; shit is about to get hard,” I told myself, and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I continued to hold that sub 10 minute through mile 11.
Mile 12 nearly killed me. I could hear my feet dragging and I just felt like something was off. It was beyond normal “I’m worn out” feelings that we get at the end of the race. I looked at my watch and knew I was going to PR, so I told myself to just hang on.
At 13.13 miles (very accurately measured course), I crossed. I didn’t drink any water on the course because all they had were 12 oz bottles of Aquafina and I didn’t want to carry it. All I wanted was a bottle of water, and they didn’t have any water left at the finish line. I got a cool medal, though.
Cue prompt blurting out of the words “is this a fucking joke?” The RD just shrugged it off and said “sorry.” They had some chocolate milk and the thought of drinking it made me want to vom. Ugh!
And that is when things got weirder for me. I realized I was sweaty – my hair was wet; my not-thermal-thermal was wet. My ear warmer was wet against my forehead. I started shivering uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. I started thinking I saw people standing there that weren’t even there, and I called someone I didn’t even know by the wrong name thinking that she was someone else.
“Dazed and confused” is an understatement. I ate a cookie and got in my car. I blasted the heat and turned the heated wheel and seat on. The shivering only got worse. Grabbed my Hot Hands warmers – still got worse.
I had to get diapers because I knew we were running low, so I stopped at a Family Dollar on the way home. I walked in and almost threw up on the counter (lol). I went back and got what I needed and dropped it more than once because I was shaking. I was holding a cold bottle of water and almost put it back because the thought of holding and drinking something cold was nearly unimaginable at that point.
“Courtney, you drank two sips of water since this morning,” I said out loud. I forced myself to hold onto the Smart Water.
So, there I am – shaking through the store and talking to myself! I am sure I was coded in some way. Sue at the front probably called Jim in the back with a “code 4 crazy person who might be drunk” in aisle 6.
When I got to the register, I told the woman my card would probably be declined. I had no reason to say that. I kind of felt woozy and delusional.
When I got home, I was in tears because I didn’t want to get out and walk in the cold from the car to my house. Mind you it’s about 200 feet from the car to the door. I got inside and took my temperature – it was about to drop below 95. I knew from Red Cross training that it’s hypothermia territory.
I got under the blankets and put heat warmers on my feet, but that wasn’t working. Drank tea – that wasn’t working. Finally, I stood in the shower that was scalding hot for about 40 minutes and my temp finally climbed back to 97, then 98, and it stayed that way.
I was upset because I crossed the finish line and felt feelings of panic rather than euphoria. I PR’d by over 3 minutes and sobbed my way home. I was upset about the water and I knew something was up with my body temp. My husband chilled champagne to celebrate my time and I still haven’t drank any of it!
So, I definitely learned that moisture-wicking serves a purpose when it’s cold. I didn’t really pay attention to that before. I also learned that that mind will give out long before the legs – do your mental training just as much as your physical training.
And now, ladies and gents, my rating system: 1 is the worst and 5 is the best.
- Timeliness: 4/5. The race began early and none of us were prepared for it.
- Course design: 5/5. The course was flat and was extremely accurate. I clocked myself over the finish line at 13.13 miles. It was an out and back.
- Course difficulty (1 being easiest): 2/5. Would have been a 1 because it was flat and there was barely any elevation change, but the trees made it tricky.
- Timing accuracy: 5/5
- Water stops: 1/5. Runners don’t want to carry a 12 oz bottle of Aquafina – use small cups. Have enough water at the finish line! You should sacrifice other things, including finisher medals, to pay for water if you can’t afford it. Runner safety always trumps swag.
- Nutrition stops: 0/5. No nutrition on the course.
- Facilities: 1/5. Limited portajohns at the start and none along the course.
- Volunteer presence: 4/5.
- Traffic control: 5/5. Traffic was intermittent; runners had the right-of-way.
FINISH LINE AMENITIES (“NA” for “not available; “A” for “available)
- Medical tent: NA
- Posted ambulance: NA
- Post-race PT and stretching: NA
- Bananas: NA
- Sugary/carb heavy snack: A, limited quantities of cookies & chocolate milk
- Heaters/heated tents: NA
- Results tent: A, but the person working it wasn’t friendly and the results were slow coming in (it was paper)
- Parking: 5/5. You could park by the start and leave immediately after.
- Swag: 4/5. Finisher medals along with tech-shirts. The writing came off part of my shirt already. No dates on either.
- Awards: 3.5/5. Identical to finisher medals other than an extra line with age groups.
- Cost: 5/5. The race was $35 when I registered. A very affordable one.
My husband asked if I regret running the race because of all the issues I had with dropping body temp., etc. I don’t regret a race where I PR and learn lessons (usually it’s one or the other!).
VINAL VERDICT: While the race is affordable, I likely will not do the half again based on the above ratings.
All of the above are my opinions and I do not represent any companies or brands linked in this post.
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