Race Report: The 2012 Palmetto Half Marathon

13.1 x 2 = Awesome

Rewind. Stop.

If you just want to read about the actual race, scroll down to “The Starting Line” to begin.

Seven days before race day

Week 7 of my marathon training has me running 12 miles on Saturday. In order for that to happen without risking personal humiliation I needed a change of scenery and I needed to arrive there feeling like Wonder Woman, so I opted to take the bike and check out a paved trail along the Savannah river, running along the fall line of the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. What can I say? I get bored rather easily and I need distraction. This time I actually had the opportunity to steal the Sponsor’s truck which was parked in the driveway while its owner was sleeping off the nightshift.

I jumped into my running gear, and “half-squidded” it across the river to the North Augusta Greeneway. Yes, I basically rode half naked. Top half in leathers, bottom half? In a world of pain if I end up on my side for one reason or another. Some of my motorcycling friends are going to give me hell for this one, since I am a rather loud-voiced advocate of ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) and that such gear should also fit properly and have the minimal features required to actually be considered safety apparel. But that is a different story for a different post.

I get there, secure my gear on my bike, check the park’s map to figure how to run the trails without the least amount of repetition, refill my water bottle and make one last pit stop before hitting play on my Nike+ app and get moving. It is already in the high seventies, if not the lower eighties and it’s humid. But I have new food for my senses to soak up. For some reason I feel alive today. Happy, even. I am enjoying the new sounds, sights and smells and am actually happy to be running.

Wait a minute here! Happy to be running? Who the heck are you and when did the pods take over the body? Yes. I can’t deny it, but I am actually happy to be running. It’s only been about a mile, I’m sure I’ll snap out of it here shortly. Two hours and thirty-eight minutes later I complete my scheduled 12-miler with having set a new personal best for the half-marathon distance by nine minutes.

I ride home happy and secure in the knowledge that even though I might not make my arbitrary goal time of 2:26 (it’s twice my bike’s competition number, in case you were wondering what hat I pulled that out of), I can give my adrenal gland a rest knowing I will not embarrass myself in public by dropping dead halfway up the first steep hill I come to. Mission accomplished, even though that trail seemed uphill both ways. I swear it.

Race Week

During Week 8 of Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Marathon Training, coach is telling me to run 3 miles on Tuesday. I miss out on that mileage due to unforeseen events during an unscheduled motorcycle joy ride that culminated in carbo-loading and beer drinking at the Carolina Ale House with the Slower Half. I said screw it and skipped the run. After all, it’s only three miles. And my calf muscles are still screaming bloody murder, and the right one is extremely unhappy where it attaches to the whatnots behind my knee. I don’t feel too bad, Hal himself said to take an extra rest day if we needed it. I needed it. I hadn’t been out with my baby in over four weeks. All work and no play saps the life force away.

Wednesday I’m supposed to crush six miles for the sorta-long run. As good as I felt Tuesday, I couldn’t understand why I felt so drained, unmotivated and sluggish today. I felt downright depressed. I was hoping that my mood would clear in time to maybe still get the procrastinated morning run in before it turned Dark:30. It didn’t. I ended up moping around until it was too late, succumbing to the misery and watching TV all day, not doing a damned thing other than wallowing in thoughts of self-sabotage.

Thursday. I don’t even remember Thursday. I didn’t run Thursday. I remember that much.

Friday is a rest day in the program. I rested. Surprisingly, when Mr. Slow woke me up with coffee and a few kind words, I’m not even sure what he said that served as the catharsis, but my mood returned to its normal levels. Now I was free to get excited and a little anxious about the race. I decided to hop on the bike, run a few errants and then book it the almost 100 miles to Columbia, SC to pick up my race packet and do a little pre-race recon to ease the nerves and scope out the traffic situation.

Oh yeah, that did it. Nothing like playing in rush-hour traffic at speeds 30 miles over the posted speed limit to make you feel alive. It  trains the senses, sharpens the reflexes and hones the skill. Playing a game of Frogger with the commuting crowd and getting your lean angle kicks on cloverleaf ramps is prescribed skill training for the redneck road racer. To my defense? I’m a goodie two-shoes in all other areas of my life. I have no other vices, I don’t even drink enough to be considered problematic and I’m a really cheap date, I don’t eat a lot and I’m buzzed halfway through my second beer.

When I returned home, after 196 miles, I was nicely tired out, I barely managed to eat a few more carbs, laid out my gear and set the alarm for 4:00 am and went to sleep.

Six Hours Later: Racing to Race Day

I get a call from hubby at 4:00 am. He will be back in time to come with me. This day is off to a good start already. I smile as I get ready. Logistics have just gotten a heck of a lot easier. Since I am now meeting my husband at his work, I don’t have to worry about what to do with my gear and how to pack it for the bag drop at the start. That saves time, too. I end up leaving the house 20 minutes late anyway, because I can’t concentrate. I’m excited, a little nervous, and my brain is mush.

I am freezing my tush off on the 40-mile ride to meet up with the husband. I’m glad I’m wearing my winter gloves, but I didn’t think it was cold enough for a neck warmer. Holy hell, the cold air is rushing straight down the neck hole into my jacket, I’m shivering by the time I get to the state line with 25 more miles to go. I’m in a full-on race tuck, my elbows dropped below my knees, hugging the bike tightly with not so much as a toe sticking out in the offending breeze, trying to stay in the bubble to keep warm.

I arrive with a massive neck and shoulder ache and the chills. I unceremoniously park the bike with a dive of the Beemer’s nose, kill the ignition and yank the key before the kickstand is even fully extended, jump off the bike and straight into the waiting pickup truck. “Damn, it’s freaking cold out there” serves as a good morning to my smiling husband and off we go towards half-marathon destiny in a more civilized fashion.

The Starting Line

That would be me rocking the pink mini skirt and the speedos with the go-fast hot pink accents.

We arrive with about 45 minutes to spare. There are people everywhere. Running to and fro, warming up, stretching, and standing around in small groups chatting. There is music playing over the PA system and the mood is cheerful. I am shivering in the cool morning air and since I am too restless to stand around we start walking away from the starting line so I can jog in place and get my heart rate up and maybe quit being so cold. 15 minutes before the race Joe hands me my gel so I can eat it. Espresso flavored, in lieu of my morning coffee. Yum! I head for one of the women only port-a-potties and relieve myself one more time, just as the newbie tips I’ve read online instructed me to do, even though I didn’t feel the urge to go. I immediately regretted that decision. I tried to hold my breath, not touch anything without falling over or peeing on myself, without much success. At least I didn’t have an accident and there was paper still on the roll. That’s something.

Note to self (and other first time racers): Bring a packet or two of single-use disposable antibacterial wipes to clean your hands with after the fact. Heck, bring a smallish stash of TP (or a single-use wet-wipe), just in case.

By the time I emerge from the plastic outhouse, the race is about to start. Everyone is instructed to line up in order of their pace, faster runners in the front, slower runners and walkers towards the back. Since we were already milling about towards the back of the crowd I didn’t have too far to go. I find a spot in the very rear where the 5K runners and walkers are hanging out. They are easily spotted due to their yellow bibs. I actually ended up standing next to my “bib mate” #782, and I wanted to say something profoundly geeky to the girl, but I bit my tongue and kept the mathletics to myself. When I’m nervous, I talk way too much and I also break the verbal speed limit of pre-coffee cadence and coherence and I blabber, sometimes about more than one subject at a time. No. I’m keeping my trap shut and smile and nod and radiate a friendly aura, but I’m keeping it zipped. I’m enforcing the five-word sentence limit.

Race Start

Joe tells me to keep to the left when I’m crossing over the starting line, so he can take pot shots at me with his Canon and with these last instructions he disappears into the spectator crowd lining the left and right sides of the road. I suddenly feel very alone in a sea of brightly colored, happy people. I feel lost and out of my league. The organizers have a prayer  before the race and then someone sings the National Anthem over the PA system.

Shortly thereafter we begin moving forward, slowly at first, but by the time I am crossing the finish line we are at a run. As promised, I am keeping to the left of the road but I can’t spot Joe anywhere. I scan the crowd, but he is nowhere to be seen. Now I really feel alone, I don’t know why, but I wanted to catch a glimpse of him one more time before I embarked on this experience.

The Race

Around Mile 7

It feels strange running with so many people. I train alone. The last time I ran with people was in the military, and we ran in formation for the most part, singing cadence and keeping in step. The pace was forced and falling out meant pain later, so you didn’t. They would round your ass up and make fun of you or make you run circles around the entire running formation as punishment. It wasn’t pretty and it meant more work, so unless you were croaking of an embolism you kept up, no matter what. Failure was not an option.

I’m starting to pass people because my legs want to go faster, the pace doesn’t feel right. It feels too slow. I fight the urge, reminding myself that coming out too slow is better than coming out too fast. I have two and a half hours of this and I haven’t run in a week! I can’t help myself and keep passing. I’m trying to be as courteous as I can and dance through the crowd without making contact and giving people their space. I find other people are doing the same thing. Everybody is being nice. Where are the elbows? They must not come out until Mile 13, I’m assuming. I smile to myself at the thought. There is a word for what seems to be happening here: Esprit de corps.

I am shocked to hear the first pace announcement from my GPS app: 9:38 I think it was. I have the application set to tell me my average pace every 0.25 miles, so I can adjust my pace accordingly.  I know that if I fall below 11:14, I won’t meet my time goal of 2:26. A week ago, my average pace was 12:02. I keep reprimanding myself to slow down, but my body doesn’t listen. I keep right on going. I tell myself that I will “deal with it later” my right leg isn’t bothering me too much and my body feels strong and my breathing and heart rate are normal. I’m surprised. Maybe it’s because it is cool and not as humid and I am used to working out in 80-90 degree heat with humidity, since I can’t seem to manage to get up early enough on my own to run in the cooler part of the day. My allergies also don’t seem to bother me as much. My sinuses and lungs feel clear and my nose isn’t running. In other words, the God of Speed is with me. The weather is perfect.

As we begin our decent down the Clemson Road cloverleaf ramp, I am happy I’ve been incorporating hill work into my shorter runs. I have read tons of articles on how to run hills and practiced a few things, and wore myself out on hills. Threw myself at their mercy, to be ground up and spit out feeling weak and like a failure. The torture seems to have paid off and I’m smoking the ramp, gaining speed as I let gravity do its thing, lengthening my stride and controlling my movement. I’m passing people left and right. It felt great to see all that work pay off in a quantifiable sense. If I had been on my bike, I would have been sliding sideways around the corner onto Two Notch Road. I can finally say I passed a motorcycle cop and didn’t rate a ticket. 🙂

[BTW, riding that slow on a motorcycle without dangling your feet or power walking the bike, takes tremendous skill. This cop had his machine under control. Dude knew how to freaking ride.]

As I rounded the corner onto Two Notch Road, I wanted to scream praises out loud and maybe do a little happy dance as the race continued up the next hill towards the first water station… with energy to burn and feeling fine.

I was waiting on my sub-10 pace to keep biting me on the bum and reducing me to walking the rest of the way, but the expected exhaustion never came.

Around Mile 9 or so I had to pop the two Advil I had stashed away in case the pain in my right leg became bad enough to slow me down. On a training run I would have slowed down, but this is a race. I’m eating the pills. These are desperate times, and I can’t come home with a DNF, especially not after I’ve managed to keep my average pace below the 10-minute mark for 8 miles. This is also when I switched to Gatorade from water because I could feel my electrolytes going whacky, or at least I think that’s what was happening because I started to have goosebumps and experienced chills. Another cup of Gatorade and an orange later, the chills were gone.

Around Mile 10 I knew I could have the time goal of 2:26 in the bag with lots to spare. But I kept waiting on the hammer to fall. Running this fast for this long on a body that isn’t trained but to run at a 12-minute pace AFTER taking an entire training week off must have consequences. Not to mention the abuse I’m putting my shredded right calf muscle through. And why the heck am I not out of breath yet?

Fight to the Finish

We need more cowbell! The fight for 642nd place. Why? Because THIS is racing. 🙂

Around Mile 12 I have to start fighting. My hip flexors are sore and are beginning to be painful; this is a sure sign that my legs aren’t going to want to go much further at their current pace. Now I am really glad I’ve taken those two Advils earlier. In my training this marked the time of a definite decrease in speed and stride length because my legs were starting to feel extremely heavy. It almost feels like I am running in water.

Getting back up that dreaded Clemson Road ramp is a feat of pure willpower. I see a girl two runners ahead of me simply walking up. I want to stop and walk, but I am afraid that if I start walking I would not be able to start running again; that my hip flexors and calf muscles would just tell me to piss off in a refusal to cooperate. I could have made better time walking up the ramp, but I just put my head down and baby step it up that puppy, concentrating on just keeping those legs moving at roughly the same speed they were moving before. Do not stop. Do NOT stop! After what seems like an eternity at a snail’s pace, getting passed by a few people, I finally reach the top of that awful ramp and things start feeling a little bit more manageable again. Once I was over the bridge and back to a slight decline of the road, I was back in business.

I never could catch the girl who walked up the ramp. I tried, because her strategy was sound. I wanted to employ it, but I didn’t dare. I regained my lead on a few people who passed me on the ramp. And I held off a few attempted passes by others.

When I finally round the last corner and saw the finish line up ahead I just want to die. I keep running but for some reason it doesn’t seem to get any closer. What the freaking hell!?! My running app’s voice-over announces something along the lines of being almost there and making it count and to please tap to hear my “power song.” My power song is “King of the Mountain” by Redline, the Isle of Man TT “theme song”. I would like to tap, but I don’t think I’m coordinated enough at this point.

Almost there! The fight to the finish.

The last few hundred feet to the finish line is like running the gauntlet. I feel claustrophobic and exposed all at the same time. All these people are cheering us on as we come in, but I can’t hear them. Yes, I have my music on, but I could hear people talk at the water stations, I could hear traffic. I can’t hear shit now. Eyes on the prize. Almost there. Why the hell am I hauling ass? I don’t know, but I’m now in “just want this to be over quickly” mode.

I see movement and a flash of color in my peripheral vision. Someone’s trying to pass me to my right. I turn my head slightly to check the situation.

My racer mentality kicks in. Oh, hell no!!!

I increase my pace, she keeps up and gains. I redline it, give it all I have; so does she. The crowd is cheering. I still can’t really hear them nor see them. I have tunnel vision at approximately 8-9 mph! Last time I had tunnel vision I was going a little faster than that… maybe 130 or so, more importantly I was pulling some Gs. This would be funny if it wasn’t so damn painful.

I’m thinking to myself that we are giving the crowd what they want to see. The glory of victory and the cruelty of defeat. We are crowd pleasers, true racers. I think I beat her to the finish line, but I’m not sure.

There are three pads lined up and I’m not sure which one is the actual timing pad. I would assume the first one, but I’m uncertain so I cross all three, but I’m already slowing down. I think I have her on the first pad, but she was passing me and had me on the second and definitely was ahead of me on the third.

We had them going! A podium worthy finish fighting over 642nd place. 0.85 seconds separated us in real time. Our chip times weren’t as spectacularly close.

I wanted to high five her and tell her that she has made the finish of my first race a thing to remember. Something that makes that side of me that is slightly crazy and overly competitive sing praises to the God of Speed. But by the time I’d gathered my senses and my finisher’s medal Miss 325 had already disappeared into the crowd.

The satisfaction of placing 643rd. 🙂 Who said I couldn't make this in 2:26? Proved y'all wrong I did. I kept true to my basic rules of racing: 1. Find someone to follow 2. Pass someone (don't come in DFL) 3. Finish ~ Oh, and I didn't throw up in my mouth sitting on the grid this time. >.<

Stats:

Finish Time: 2:14:05.60 (new PB and official first PR)
Finish Position: 643 (out of 933)
Finish Position [Females]: 291 (out of 511)

I also set a new (unofficial) PB for the 10K distance: 1:01:02

The Palmetto Half Marathon Course Map

Splits:

I try to run with a steady pace, rather than negative splits, since I don’t have the patience for starting out slow, it’s not in my nature. I’ve tried.
1.  9’56″/mi
2.  9’38″/mi [Fastest]
3.  9’50″/mi
4. 9’50″/mi
5. 10’01″/mi
6.  9’39″/mi
7.  9’50″/mi
8. 10’42″/mi [Slowest]
9. 10’30″/mi
10. 10’04″/mi
11. 10’38″/mi
12. 10’34″/mi
13. 10’33″/mi

Racing Firsts: Mementos of 643rd Place. This even triumphs the purse money I won in my very first motorcycle road race because I got up and the other guy didn't. And I placed 3rd then. 🙂



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