On a Wednesday, I got an email from a local running shop that had an event calendar, and I saw that there was a half-marathon and 5K that Saturday in a small town about 40 minutes away near an Air Force base. I kept it in the back of my mind, thinking about my plantar fasciitis and lack of speedwork over the past month. On Friday night, I decided to run it.
Fueled up the next morning before a 40-minute drive. The race didn't start until 8, so that gave me plenty of time. It took 2 minutes to register and get my bib. There was no timing chip, just a tear-off strip on the bib.
The race was in a very small town in the town's big park and benefited the Wounded Warrior Project. There were American flags lining both sides of all four roads going around the park. The area is completely flat. The biggest limiting factor of the day (besides my foot) was the weather: 72F degrees and 100% humidity. Yuck.
We got a bit of a late start after a lot of pre-race ceremonies. A military Color Guard was there for the National Anthem, then someone sang "God Bless America." Then a young soldier with prosthetic legs told us how much he appreciated us coming out for the Wounded Warrior Project.
This was the kind of race where the walkers get up in front and no one tells them any differently, so I knew the first quarter mile or so would be crowded and potentially dangerous. I did my best to get through the crowd without too much weaving. We wound through some residential areas for a while before reaching the edge of town and officially landing in "the country." If you've ever been in southern Illinois, it pretty much looks the same: acres and acres of flat land with corn, soybeans and cows. And that was my scenery for the middle miles of the race.
The first 5.5 miles or so we were running into a headwind. The water stops were not placed regularly so it was hard to plan nutrition timing. My handheld bottle of Perform was leaking before the race so I didn't carry it. I had 6 ProBar Bolt chews with me and planned to take one with water every 2 miles. It didn't work out exactly, but I ended up eating 5 of them, took water at every stop, and warm, super-concentrated, disgusting Gatorade at one. My hands were swollen by 3 miles and stayed that way the rest of the race.
I could see the police car/lead car with the flashing lights, but it was hard to tell how many people were between it and me. Around mile 4, I saw a woman running in front of me and decided to pass her. I did, and she really, really tried to keep up with me, but couldn't. At about the 5 mile mark, a police officer on the side of the road said to me, "You're in the lead." Whaaaat? I just said thanks. I could see a turnaround ahead (marked by a volunteer and spray paint on the road). I did the turnaround and headed back up the country road. Now, there was no breeze whatsoever -- just 100% humidity-full air and rising temperatures. Gross. But as I passed others heading toward the turnaround, people started saying, "great job, girl," "go girl," then "You're the first girl!". I probably heard it 200 times. A man was running next to me for a little bit, and he said, "That's got to be encouraging." I said, "Well, it is, but now I have to hang on." We weren't even at the 6-mile marker yet and it wasn't getting any cooler, so I knew it was going to be tough.
From this point I tried to keep a steady pace and take water and a ProBar chew at every water station. At one station I walked through to get two cups -- one to drink and one to pour over my head. Eventually we got closer to town, and I noticed some commotion behind me. A woman spectator said, "Be careful! There's a truck driving crazy behind you and he's trying to hit runners." I said, "Call the police!" She said something like, "Well, I don't know..." And I said, "Call the police!!" Turns out she didn't have to. Right after that the crazy driver drove up behind me on the left side and crossed onto the left side of the road where there were 3 police officers. He was yelling to them that "these runners don't have the right to run all over the road and spit in my car..." I just kept on going. I figured they would take care of him.
There was a male volunteer on the right side of the road, and he said, "You're the first female." I asked, "How far behind is the next one." He said, "Oh, you've got a good lead." I said thanks and kept going, but I wanted to say, "how much is that -- 30 seconds? 5 minutes? Help me out!"
Right after that we turned into a neighborhood, and I was running alone. Thankfully they had volunteers out to direct me, because otherwise I would not have known where to go. We came out of the shady neighborhood onto a wide-open street with no shade. I finally saw the 10-mile marker and thought, "I have three more miles of this boring, flat road!" But I kept on going. As I got closer to the park, around 12 miles, there was a water stop, then shortly after that was a group with a couple of kegs of beer who were handing out beer. I saw they had big bags of ice and loose ice around the keg, so when they offered me a beer, I yelled, "ICE!" as loud as I could. A woman said, "we don't have any ice." I heard the guy who offered me the beer say, "yes, we do." But by this time I was well passed. A few second later I heard footsteps behind me, and they guy had a big mound of ice cupped in both hands for me. I thanked him profusely! I wanted to hold it in my hands to reduce some of the swelling. And I put some in my sports bra.
Again I was running alone, but I finally saw the flag-lined part of the street where we had started. We had to go all the way around the park, and it felt like forever. Finally I turned onto the part of the road that led to the finish chute. There were still 5K walkers coming in taking up the whole width of this road, so I had to politely tell them to get out of the way. Thankfully I knew the person who was running the race timing, so he knew that I was a half-marathoner, because no one else was prepared for me. Even the announcer didn't announce me as the first female -- he just said, "Here comes number 117!" I crossed under the finish arch and tore off my name strip from my bib to hand to the volunteer, who put it with the 5Kers. Then the race timer came up and told her I was a half-marathoner. I said, "Yes, I ran the half marathon." So they were very confused. Then I was handed a 5K medal.
I got a couple of bottles of water and a banana and cooled down a little bit. My friend at the finish line told me awards were at 11 a.m., so I had well over an hour to kill. Then went to my car to get my Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator, a Clif Bar and to put on my Zoot compression socks and my bag with stuff to do. I did go and get stretched by some chiropractors, who told me that my plantar fasciitis is caused by a tight soleus muscle in my calf.
Since this wasn't my part of town, I didn't know anyone there, so I found a picnic table and sat down to do some work while I waited. The awards ceremony was a bit anticlimactic since I didn't know anyone, and by this time, it was starting to rain.
All in all, my experiment to see how I would do in a half-marathon without a specific training plan paid off pretty well. Although my time was 5 minutes slower than what I ran at Columbus last year, I was still 4 minutes ahead of the second-place woman, who was the woman I'd passed early on. I saw her in the parking lot afterward Her mother was the woman who warned me about the crazy driver, and told me she called 911 and heard later that the crazy driver got arrested. Mom also told me that this was her daughter's first half-marathon, then asked me how old I was, (!) and when I told her, mom, dad and daughter were all shocked (Like I have one foot in the grave already). Master's women can still win races!
But this one is not for me, it's for the wounded warriors like the young man who started the race.