Race photos are finally up, my legs are mostly not sore anymore, and the blisters on my pinkie toes have receded to mild bruising – time for a race report!
I was pretty excited going into this half marathon since I had 8 weeks of solid 30+ mile weeks in my legs and several 12+ mile long runs, plus some strong half-marathon focused workouts. My long tempo (7 miles at marathon pace + 10 seconds) had gone well and predicted that I could probably handle low 7:20’s pace, which would put me well under my goal of 1:40.
Unfortunately, I was also *extremely* nervous about the potentially hot weather and longer race than I’d run since over two years ago. I completed my final ½-focused workout and felt ok but not great, and then spent the next couple days nursing a strange little Achilles twinge that popped up seemingly out of the blue after a hilly easy run. After a couple days off my last couple shakeout runs went by without any pain, and I went into race morning no longer thinking about the prospect of crippling injury.
I met up with Fish in Moab the day before the race and we camped out that night, tossing and turning with pre-race nerves.
I was having a *great* time dealing with some cramps and spent my pre-race prep swallowing ibuprofen in the hopes that it would keep the discomfort from impacting my race. On race morning I took a couple final doses as we drove down the winding dirt road back into town at 6am to meet the race shuttles. Fish and I ate some pre-made bagels and yogurts as well boarded the shuttle, and then spent 40 minutes shivering with nerves and cold as the bus wound through the dark canyon along the race route to the start.
We disembarked, spent about half an hour milling about the porte-potty lines, and then reluctantly took our warm gear to the gear-drop van. We spent the last 15 minutes before the race doing a ~1 mile jog to get the feeling back in our limbs (it was in the low 40’s) and then bouncing up and down to stay warm in the starting corral. As the starter made the pre-race announcements we hugged and went our separate ways to our respective pace groups to line up. The local Moab drumming group led us on a slow march to the starting line and then rode their truck off down the course that we would soon be covering much more slowly on foot.
The start was uneventful – a simple ‘1-minute to go’ announcement, a quiet wait, and then the gun. I took off in a small herd and tried to relax, letting the sprinters and speedsters fly ahead. My watch told me I was just a bit under pace so I settled in and let the slight downhill carry me along. At the 1 mile I passed a few people who’d started out too fast but otherwise mostly held even with all but the lead group who were already pulling way. The next few miles followed the same trend, with steady mid-7-teens showing on my watch and the quiet patter of feet providing the only distraction from the long road ahead.
At mile 4 I started to get passed and got a bit concerned. However, my watch still showed relatively even splits and I felt like I was pushing just as much as I could without going too far so I let the passers ease ahead and worked to just stay relaxed and keep an eye on the people who seemed to be holding my same pace. I had a nice chat with one younger guy who thanked me for acting as a good pacer as he pulled slightly ahead, and spent some time admiring another gal’s unique attire and earrings as she ran just ahead of me. I still felt good enough to chat briefly with my fellow racers and examine my surroundings, and was able to get enough water at the aid stations to avoid feeling thirsty in the still-chilly air. I felt a small Achilles twinge but had no lingering pain so was only mildly worried.
As we passed the 6-mile aid station I told myself that the race was ‘half over plus a bonus mile’ and focused on keeping my pace up while not thinking too much about the remaining miles or my Achilles, which had developed an annoying habit of twinging once or twice a mile whenever I hit a slight downhill or stepped too hard. The cycle of one mile without an aid station and one with every two miles was breaking the race up nicely, and the volunteers were enthusiastic and well organized, making the water stops smooth and upbeat. Mile 7 was our last flat mile and I just focused on relaxing and gradually working towards the small forms of the racers ahead. I worried a bit that the climbs would aggravate my Achilles issue, but figured I wouldn’t know till I took my first few uphill steps.
We finally hit the climbs, and the first big climb actually turned out to provide a nice boost as I passed several racers who I’d only expected to see the backs of for the rest of the race. My calf/Achilles actually felt better on the climbs than the slight downhills so I figured it couldn’t be too much of a serious problem. The climb to mile 8 cover 170 feet and gave me my slowest split (8:01) but the experience of passing people on the climb counteracted my concerns about the slower pace. The next mile was downhill, and then to ten miles was rolling climbs and drops. The downhills had luckily stopped aggravating my Achilles (thanks endorphins!) but were now making my feet suffer. Every downhill made my feet slide forward in my shoes, grinding my soles against the footbed and scraping my toes against the front of my shoes. I’d never had this problem in training, but had also never done quite such a long hilly run on the asphalt.Hitting eight miles had put me at the ⅔ mark and the prospect of only having 3 miles left when I hit the ten-mile marker put a little pep back in my legs, which were starting to suffer from the climbs. I had passed a few more men on the uphills with my short, quick stride and was now surrounded by a small group of older men, with the nearest woman about 30 seconds ahead. As we crested the final hills at 11.5 miles the drummers were there again, and the beat of the drums simultaneously gave me the shivers (thanks late-race, overly-emotional running brain…) and gave me a beat to run to up the final incline. From there it was all downhill or flat. I threw a last cup of water over my head at the 12-mile aid station in the hopes that the cold water would shock me into some sort of final push.
The men around me began to pick up the pace in the last half mile, but the final stretch turned out to be frustratingly long, with several twists and turns before the hidden finish. I prayed there wasn’t another runner gaining on me as I failed to hold off the group of men who I’d caught on the last hill. I was suffering and didn’t have any extra energy left to pick up the pace and fight off any kickers. We dropped down to 6:40 pace and it was all I could do to keep the group in sight as I flailed and gasped my way around the multiple blind turns.
Mercifully, I *finally* turned the final curve and only had 100m to go, and no one came up on me in that last straight. I got close enough to read the finishing clock and gave a low energy “whoop!” in my mind when I saw a ‘1:3_’ in front of the final digit rather than a 1:4-something. I heard someone yell out “seventh woman!” as I came through and managed a smile for that and the wonderful volunteers who were handing out medals and directing the runners towards the water.
I stumbled about for a bit and then grabbed some food and rushed back to cheer in Fish, who finished right on the dot of her ambitious ‘A’ goal with a perfect 10-minute-pace average (off of mainly hiking/backpacking training!). We spent the rest of the after-race celebration limping on sore feet and enjoying the bountiful feast of ice cream, chocolate milk, watermelon, and, a rare thing on a Utah Sunday, beer! I got a very unexpected age-group win and we both enjoyed some fun chats with fellow runners before heading back to the shuttles and some more substantial lunch food.
Looking back at my past races this spring/summer I realized that I ran this 13.1 mile race at the same pace that I held for my 5-mile race back in May! Going from a 37 minute all-out 5-miler to a 1:36:40 half marathon makes all those arduous workouts, tedious recovery runs, and tough long runs feel much more effective and much more worthwhile. This is also my first actual PR since my toe injury almost 5 years ago, so I’m both extremely pleased with the race and excited to see what I can do next season.
Hurrah for awesome racing buddies, only mildly unhappy Achilles tendons, challenging (but fun) courses, and the blessing of being able to train and then actually apply the resulting fitness in a good race!