Post-race report: Run For Green half marathon

First of all: T-minus less-than-50-days until the marathon. Insane.

Second of all: I’ve finally had one of those weeks where I fell in love with running again. I think this is because the weather (finally?) turned last weekend, and the humidity has been slowly trickling away as the fall equinox approaches. What this has meant is cooler weather and, though sunny, much less stifling conditions, at all hours of the day. Running-wise, this means less of a perceived effort for me, and faster times even on my easy runs, which I expected, but is still a nice boost to my well-being. (Basically, running in 60-degree weather with the blue sky ablaze and a breeze to cool you is the greatest thing ever, and don’t even get me started when the leaves start changing for real. AAAHHHH.)

I’ve had great runs all week, which is an awesome feeling – a rain-induced 5-mile pace run on Tuesday, a lovely 8-mile jaunt on Wednesday that when I finished, I actually thought, oh, is that all? I’m done now? Shoot, I wanted more, and a speedy 5-mile jaunt yesterday that ended with me thinking Holy crap, my legs are dead, but I love this shit. I’m about to finish week 11 of my training plan, and I recall distinctly before starting that I looked ahead to this week and though there’s no way-  NO WAY! – I’m going to be able to survive 5-8-5s when this starts. How on earth am I going to carve out the time and mental space for all of that? 8 miles on a weekday? Madness! And yet it’s happened, and it feels great. I’m so beyond ready for Saturday’s 18-miler – yes, the “dreaded” 18-miler. Are you kidding? Dreaded? I can’t wait to knock this thing out of the park. And (as of this drafting) I haven’t even had coffee yet! AHHHHHH.

Anyway, the title of this post has to do with a half-marathon, so I need to tell you guys the story about that, don’t I? Okay then!

Like I said a couple of posts ago, this was the first race I’ve ever run in another state, and the first race I’ve run in which I’ve never seen the course beforehand. It was the Run For Green half-marathon in Davidson, NC, home of Davidson College and a few stones’ throws from where most of my family lives. The race had a 10k and 5k going on concurrently, and the whole shebang was part of the town’s Green Day celebration, sponsored by the Davidson Lands Conservancy – which explains the finisher’s medal, made from a recyclable, which you’ll see below. Pretty cool concept, and pretty good cause; proceeds from the race went to the Conservancy, which makes me feel a little better about all the gas I burned driving to and from NC.

Anyway, the best I could do as far as getting a sense of the course went was to look at the course maps and try to do some elevation mapping to see where the hills were. So I had some clue as to the first couple of miles being downhill, then the course flattening out, then a gradual – but not steep – climb, then rolling hills and a sliiiiight climb to end the course. Okay, I can handle this, I thought. I’d told my family the night before that I was hoping to break my PR (of one race, haha) of 2:15, and it seemed like the course would make that possible.

The race was on Saturday morning, and Friday afternoon I rolled into town, went to packet pickup, and drove out to the start of the race so I could a) find my way there and not get lost on race morning and b) time myself so I’d know when to leave for the race on race morning. These were anxiety-soothers more than anything else, since I get nervous and squidgy when I don’t know where I’m going and have to be someplace at a particular time (see: the time I took my GREs and the testing center was absolutely nowhere near where my maps told me it was. I showed up late, which was verboten, and the attendant tried to jokingly tell me I was forbidden from taking the test due to tardiness and would have to sign up for a later date. I’d driven THREE HOURS to get to that point; I didn’t laugh. I cried. He quickly let me in, the jerkface.).

So that all went well. Saturday morning I woke up on time, and left on time, and even had enough time for a quick pit stop to pick up a banana and some Gatorade. I arrived in good stead, and had plenty of time to walk to the starting line from my parking space – good thing #1: there was ample parking and it was about 500 feet away from the start line – and explore the area a little bit. Good thing #2 was that there was a CVS with plenty of bathrooms that was open at that hour (7am), all of which were being used by runners. Good thing #3 was the weather; it was a cool morning, a little humid, but not excruciatingly so. The sun would rise and shine strongly for the duration of the race, but it was never overly hot, though I did manage to still be totally soaked through with sweat by the end.

We lined up at 7:20 and were off exactly at 7:30, and thus began what may be known hereafter – until my next half, anyway – as the Most Smiley 13.1 Miles I’ve Ever Run In My Life.

The first 3 miles were indeed downhill, quite gradually at first, but that gave me a false sense of speed and I ended up doing my first mile a bit faster than I’d wanted. I checked myself for the next two, and going from mile 3 into mile 4 I had a gradual but still steep-ish ascent to help me do this. We did go through some neighborhood roads, and almost immediately I discovered good things #4 and #5 about this race: there were immediately people cheering on the side of the road, and there were a ton of signs and cones and people directing traffic to make sure we knew where we were going. I get very anxious when I’m going somewhere for the first time, and road races aren’t to me really the sort of place you want to have that anxiety of not knowing where you’re going creep in. Because what happens if you make a wrong turn and get lost? So, I appreciate well-marked courses because they ensure that I, whose brain usually shuts completely off after 8 or 9 miles, will not actually end up somewhere in Georgia. I also really appreciate people cheering on the side of the road at frequent intervals because as a slow runner I can tell you that it sucks to get to the end of a race and have no one there because everyone else has gone home. It’s one of the reasons I sat outside my house after my first half-marathon and cheered on the slower marathon runners when they were going by; I know that’s going to be me in November, so I love to be – and see- that support. It makes a HUGE difference, especially if the course is an out-and-back and they’re the same people you saw going out before turning around to come back. This was an out-and-back, and every single one of those people stayed until the end, and cheered just as loud and hard for us when we were coming as when we were going.

Anyway, before we got onto the flattened-out greenway we had to run out of the neighborhood somehow, and I was pretty pissed to discover that it was via an incredibly steep downhill at mile 2.5ish, because that meant that we’d have to run back up that steep hill later at about mile 11.5ish, which, hey, I’m sorry, isn’t really the time in my half-marathon where I want to see one of those soul-crushing ascents. But, you know, what can you do? (Most people walk it. I dug my toes into the pavement and ran up the damn thing just to prove to it that I was better than it. Pbbbbllllt. My hamstrings took a couple of days to forgive me, but they got over it eventually.) But there was our first water stop after that, and hey, there’s good thing #6: plenty of, and well-spaced, water stops. With the nicest people in the world to the point where I actually felt bad not taking water from them. How does that happen? It was so great, especially when I did take water from them on the way back.

Through the greenway we went, into the shade, and I got totally distracted by the sunrise coloring a haze over the top of the tall grass in the adjacent fields. It got more distracting when we turned out of the greenway and went onto an actual road, which was lined with cornfields, which were colored the most ridiculously brilliant gold and red against that early blue-purple September sky. It was breathtaking, and not just because it meant we were chugging uphill. But, thankfully, that was short-lived, and into another neighborhood we trotted, into the fun and windy parts near golf courses and some absurdly large houses. (Hello, professor-land!)

The middle miles of the course were, as I’d expected, full of rolling hills. Some of them were steep; some were not, so it was a good mix. But, I had a hard time figuring out whether or not to conserve my energy, because I knew I’d be coming back over these hills, but I also didn’t know how much of an uphill finish the finish actually was, since it was slightly different from the start (we forked right after mile 12 where we’d originally come in from the left). So I slowed down, a lot, and by mile 8 had pretty much figured that my chances at a PR were shot. I was a little disappointed at first, but I eventually realized that the only thing really wrong with this was that I had family waiting at the finish line, and my first thought was that they were going to think I was laying dead in the middle of the road somewhere if I didn’t finish around when I told them I’d expected to. (My next thought: boy, are they going to be happy when they see that I’m actually not dead!)

Because you know what? I was having SO MUCH FUN just being out there and running and chatting with people and smiling and encouraging people and BEING encouraged that I honestly didn’t care that I was nowhere near a PR. This is the first race I’ve ever been a part of where everyone within earshot of me when the leaders doubled back on us cheered for every single one of them, pretty much until we got to the point where we were doubling back on ourselves, which made us laugh pretty hard (and exchange a few high-fives). It really made me appreciate other runners, and it made me so happy to see all of us supporting one another- a few of the leaders even yelled back at us “you’re doing great too!”, which was so awesome. Maybe it’s just where I run in Virginia, but that’s never really happened to me before, even in the half I did in my city. This isn’t to say the people here weren’t supportive, because they were to a great extent, but these North Carolinians really knew how to put the hospitality in “Southern hospitality”. It really made for a race-changing experience, and I can’t thank any of my fellow runners or the course-marking-people or water-stop-manning people enough for their cheers and encouragement.

Mile 9 came, and I decided to try to pick it up a little so that my family would indeed not decided that I was dead, though I knew I had to save some energy for that nasty hill at mile 11.5. I have no idea what my splits were for the last 4 miles, so I have no idea if I succeeded, but my legs were telling me that they were doing their best but had more to give, so I made them give a little more. The nasty hill was nasty indeed, but once I’d climbed it, it was mostly smooth sailing from there. I didn’t know that mile 12 would be relatively flat until it was mile 12.75, so I didn’t really start to hustle until it was rather too late, but that ended up being just fine since it gave me momentum to get up the – ARGH! – final hill. Which was slight, but still – uphill finishes stink! 🙂 But, I knew I was going as hard as I could, and that I would finish strong-  that’s always what I intend to do on any of my runs, even my long ones: to finish the last mile as best and fast and strong as I can for that run, and pretty much leave it all on the pavement. That habit led to me booking it towards the finish line last Saturday; I rounded the last corner, saw the finish chute, and immediately scanned the people lined up there for my family. I didn’t see them at first, and panicked: Aw, crap, they gave up and went home!  Stupid brain: they wouldn’t actually do that… and no, they hadn’t. WaitohmygodtheretheyareEEEEEEandI’mfinishedEEEEEEholycrapcanIhavesomewater. And then I was handed my medal and then my smart-aleck nephew made the comment you’ll see below.

Here, have a look at some peektures:

This is the awesome finishers’ medal that we got. I wasn’t even expecting one, so it was pretty cool to be handed this at the end; they’re made from the bottoms of green glass bottles, and stamped with the race logo, so each one is unique. I couldn’t stop holding mine up to the light:

Nice and simple, on a green piece of string. I love it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my cheering squad, headed by my nieces and nephew:

One niece is totally covered up by her sign (oops!), and the other was being a bit camera-shy, so you only see nephew behind me. He’s the one who, when I crossed the finish line, chirped “what took you so long?” Twit. He gets it from me. 🙂

So, after exchanging sweaty hugs and congratulations and love to and from the family – my mom, two sisters, nephew, and two nieces – we went our separate ways: they went home, and I went to get a free beer at the taphouse next to the finish line. Not gonna lie, it was probably the best free beer I’ve had in a very long time. I chatted with folks for a bit, walked back to my car, stretched out, and joined my sister back at her house, where there was a quick shower, lunch, and then an afternoon out on the boat that involved lots of sitting around and drinking and playing volleyball. It was a good afternoon; the perfect way to celebrate the most fun I’ve ever had running a race in my life.

(My final time was 2:21, which isn’t terribly far off my 2:15 goal. In case you were curious.)

So that’s that – if any of you are on the east coast and are looking for a fun, small, friendly, very-well-planned half -marathon for the fall next year, please consider the Run For Green half (and no, they didn’t pay me to say that!). It really is worth traveling to, and I hope they run it for many more years to come. I know I’ll be there as long as I’m out here!

Gotta get back to doing work now (grading papers, wheee!) – but I confess, I’m a little fidgety thinking about my 18-miler tomorrow morning. Can’t wait to just get out there and enjoy the run.

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2 Responses to Post-race report: Run For Green half marathon

  1. Larissa says:

    Agreed 120! “I’ve finally had one of those weeks where I fell in love with running again. I think this is because the weather (finally?) turned last weekend, and the humidity has been slowly trickling away as the fall equinox approaches.”

    Congrats on the race! Looks like a ton of fun!

    :: Larissa from pilotingpaperairplanes.wordpress.com

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