MCM Training Week 11: Air Force Half-Marathon (race report)

Back when I was talking about figuring out how I wanted to set my goal(s) for MCM, I also mentioned my half-marathon goal for Air Force. In reality, the idea of trying to get 1:45-1:47 (8:00-8:15ish) scared the shit out of me. Lots of doubts crept in over the weeks, especially with a lot of crummy tempos (and despite faster paces on easy and long runs, and the fact that I was crushing my track workouts) – what if I never break 1:45? What if my 1:49 at Pittsburgh in May was a fluke? What if I completely implode? I have to run 20 the week prior to Air Force – what if I’m racing on totally dead legs?

usaf2013finishtime

So, that happened.

But first, let’s blast through the week prior:

Monday: easy 9 – did this one solo after all-night rain, so the visibility was pretty iffy. Also, WTF cyclist on the sidewalk on Forbes, where there was a totally free, completely usable bike lane? Okay. In the evening I stocked up on healthy, carb-y, taper week food for me and the boy. Tons of kale, pasta, tomatoes, and other deliciousness. And Greek yogurt up the wazoo – I’ve been going through that like it’s going out of style.

Tuesday: legs workout, heavy on the squats. Several days before race day so I figured I would be fine… right? (spoiler alert: I was. But it took until Friday morning’s shakeout run to completely get rid of the ache)

Wednesday: easy 7 with Tess – and we really did keep it pretty easy! Though as soon as I stood up to go take a shower after finishing the run and uploading my data, BOY were my quads crying! Laundry + pre-packing in the evening. (I made my packing list on Tuesday, no joke)

Thursday: rest! Final packing, Keeley and Rose’s arrivals, and not enough sleep that night.

Friday: very easy shakeout 3+ miles with Keeley and Rose (see below)

After lots and lots of travel hassles, Keeley arrived in my waiting arms around 5:30 pm on Thursday. We immediately started chatting, eating the popcorn she brought along, then she kept me company while I made a really basic, carb-loading meal of spaghetti and red sauce and a spinach salad, and she made some kale chips (which were DELICIOUS mixed in with the spaghetti, WOW). My man came home in the midst of this and we all chatted and stuffed our faces with pasta. He headed to bed at a decent hour while we sat outside on the balcony talking about life and running and relationships and everything, waiting to hear from Rose (who was slated to arrive via Megabus at about midnight – oof). We headed downtown a little before midnight to come get her, and then all crashed pretty hard in advance of our 7 a.m. wakeup on Friday.

After a little chatting and dilly-dallying, we headed out into the warmish, muggy morning for an easy 3+ (my Bayard loop is like 3.27 but I don’t even care). We took is nice and easy and chatted. I hauled it up the one hill to avoid angering my IT band, but otherwise it felt great, and definitely shook out the last bit of squat soreness. Then it was time to shower up, check the packing list one more time, load up the car, gas up, grab bagels (and coffee for me) and hit the road!

We were traveling in somewhat of a group – it had been 11 but had since dwindled to 6: my boy and me, Keeley, Rose, Devin, and Danimal. All former Ragnarians from our DC team last year! The girl car was heading out at 10:30 (sharp! we rock) to pick up Danimal from the airport in Dayton,  and Devin and NF were heading out as soon as Devin got out of class shortly thereafter. We were just getting on the road when Keeley answered a call for me from Dan – he had slept through his alarms and missed his flight, and was driving to Dayton from STL. *facepalm* Oh, Danimal.

So we had a little time on our hands. We took a potty/lunch stop around 1:30 pm at  Panera just off the freeway, chatting and taking our time long enough for the boys to overtake us by a good bit. But we arrived probably 30ish minutes after them at the expo, and Danimal arrived there as we were just about heading out, so it worked out okay.

Of course we got our picture taken with the giant shoe. She was really nice, actually.

We grabbed our bibs and packets, did a little shopping around, then hit the road to the grocery store (Kroger!), where we stocked up on supplies.

Pre-race supplies on the left. Post-race on the right.

Then it was off to the house. In the past we stayed in hotel rooms when it was just three or four of us – since we initially had a group of 11, though now six was still pretty sizeable (and those who dropped out last minute had already paid their portion), we stayed in a SUPER swank house we found on VRBO that belonged to a family. We had never used VRBO before, and this family was using it for the first time as well. They left an INCREDIBLY sweet note for us, wishing us luck in our race and letting us know where to find stuff, as well as reminders about what we needed to do to clean up before we left. If you’re traveling for a race with a big group, I highly recommend VRBO. Way cheaper than hotel rooms, and you get to stay in a real house, with real beds, and a real kitchen.

Danimal created a shrine to the running gods, complete with Brooks Launch and a pirate flag (duh).
On the side of the fridge at the house – we chose the right people! They so get us!

After ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the house and staking claims on rooms, the ladies – mostly Rose – got to work cooking. Rose made sugar-free pancakes using fruit instead, and egg whites to make them fluffy. We added some cinnamon and topped them with Greek yogurt, granola, and of course maple syrup for delicious, filling, carbo-loading goodness. So tasty! The boys cleaned up, we all discussed logistics, and headed to bed for our 5:30 a.m. wake-up.

All set up for race morning

Pre-Race

Per usual, I slept like garbage and was wide awake probably a good 20 minutes before my alarm, so when it went off I popped right out of bed to start getting ready (first stop: bathroom. Always). The house was pretty quiet for a bit but Devin was apparently also wide awake pretty early as I crept downstairs to cook my oatmeal on the stove (no microwave). Soon the house was buzzing with pre-race rituals and excitement. I had told everyone we’d leave at 6:30 so that we’d actually leave at 6:45 (getting 6 people organized is hard enough – wonder how we would have done with 11). We got to the base pretty quickly and after making one last left turn towards the base, were waved on pretty quickly – the line is always huge but the police and airmen are extremely organized and efficient in getting everyone into parking. It’s a few minute walk the start, and we donned the garbage bags I had packed as we made our way in.

Did I mention it was raining? A huge storm had unleashed the previous night just as we left the expo (and cancelled the 5K that evening) and it then proceeded to rain all night. It looked like it cold pour all during the race, and while like running in the rain, running with rain-coated glasses is NOT fun. I was hoping for no more than pleasantly cooling drizzle. It rained lightly on the drive but slowed to a stop as we got to the start. We lucked out! Still, I donned a hat just in case.

The empty finishing chute. Nothing more adrenaline-kicking than sprinting underneath the wing of a jet.

We had about 45 minutes to the start and we spent that time taking turns at the portos, checking our bags, talking race strategy, and wondering what the hell we were doing.

Enthusiasm? Fear? Excitement? Naivete? WE LOVE RUNNING, GUYS.

Fifteen minutes to start, we took our pre-race fuel and headed over to the start line. Keeley and her mom hung back to do their own thing (it was her mom’s first half so it was all about fun!), Devin hung near 2:10, and Rose, Dan, my man and I huddled up a few feet behind the 1:45 pacer. Adrenaline surged through my veins – flyover or no flyover (still bummed – seriously, complain to your congressmen about the stupid sequester). At 8:30 sharp, the airhorn sounded and the race was on!

The Race

After a brief bottleneck just before the mats, we quickly wove through traffic while also trying not to get sucked into the fast pack and go out too hard. I quickly lost track of Rose but was very near Dan and NF from the start. I tried not to stare at my watch, but was also trying to dial in to goal pace, maybe a little bit slower to ease in. I front-loaded my playlist with calming rhythm setters – slower beats but very even. Nothing that would kickstart my competitive drive or need to surge. A little Death Cab and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”? perfect. I hit high 7:50s and told myself to hold it right there, go no faster. The 1:45 group was maybe 10 seconds ahead, but I figured we’d catch them eventually; they seemed to be going a hair fast, at least for this early. We hit the first mile right on pace at 8:00 (1:45 is about 8:01, so I needed flat 8’s to break it).

I soaked up the course, the crowds, the experience – the one I had had two years before but had missed last year due to rolling my ankle near the start of a tempo run during race week (I wisely cut the run short when that happened and skipped the race to save Ragnar, even though it wasn’t a bad sprain and I may have been fine). We slowly reeled in the pace group and I tried not to freak out at my splits as they ticked off at an astounding rate – this race was already flying by!

7:40, 7:54, 8:05, 7:45

We caught the pace team not too long into the race, and would alternately come close to the front of the pack and trail off to its tail, depending on the pacer’s speed and the crowd. I noted the m-dot (Ironman) tattoo on the pacer’s calf and marveled at his relaxation at a pace that was just 15-25 seconds slower than my tempo pace. Then I thought about how relaxed I felt, as well. I knew it was early, but this pace felt amazing. I was really relaxed and felt strong.

midrace2 midrace1 midrace3 midrace4

The crowds were great – it’s not a big city marathon/half, but the volunteers were enthusiastic and helpful, and the spectators who came out were there with funny signs, big smiles, loud cowbells, and tons of enthusiasm and encouragement. I waved and grinned and smiled at all of them, especially the little kids cheering their hearts out. Between the magic of running on the biggest Air Force base in the country, how the run felt, and those spectators, I spent a lot of this race running with a big dumb grin on my face.

We passed through a quiet section lined with fields and I really locked into a rhythm, tucked right behind the pacer. I had Florence + the Machine singing my ears (Heartlines and No Light, No Light are AMAZING running songs – try them out!). Whenever I started getting in my head – you’re going too fast, no way can you hold 8:00s, and some of these are 7:xx’s, you’re going to blow up – I shut off my brain and just stared at the gray stripe on the back of the pacer’s singlet. He was also great. He went a little quick at times but overall pretty steady, and always encouraged us up the little hills, warned us about turns, which side water was on, etc. Awesome. It also helped that every time I thought the pace was getting a little harder – maybe I couldn’t hold this? – I realized we were on a little hill, and as soon as it leveled off or went back down (this course is very flat but hey, a hill is a hill, especially at race pace) I immediately recovered and felt great again

7:45, 8:03, 8:03, 8:00

Just as we passed the 8 mile marker, the one significant hill came into view. I remembered two years ago I had to stop to try to figure out a blister situation, and between that and severe GI distress, the race kind of imploded for me from there. Now, I felt great. We slowed a bit up the overpass but once we crested it, we let the hill carry us. Dan and I chatted about how we felt – that it was hard but manageable, and we were trying to make sure we saved some for the end, and we were glad that hill was over. So we kept on trucking.

8:12

We approached Wright State to a slew of crowds on either side, cheering and hollering and cowbell’ing. I had Lady Gaga singing “Applause” in my ears, and got extra pumped for the crowds. I took my second gel at this point – I had taken one at about 5 and wanted to wait until 9ish (with a close-by water stop – I had decided to forgo my handheld, which I worried about when the rain stopped but ended up being just fine) for the second. I had packed three but thought I had lost one. Turned out it was buried in my race belt so I didn’t need to be so stingy, but I ended up no needing more than two mid-race Gus anyway!

midrace6 midrace8 midrace9 midrace10 midrace11

Around 10 miles, I could feel the urge to speed up, but told myself to exercise patience. Around this time, too, I realized NF had fallen off the pack. He’s been dealing with some training hiccups that we’re still trying to hash out – you can read his race report here.

Patience, I told myself. Patience.

The pack was dwindling, and there was only one other woman in it – whom I chatted briefly with – as we headed onto the rollers of the last couple miles. I alternated water and Gatorade a bit at the aid stations but still felt strong and comfortable, fuel and temperature-wise. My legs wanted to push, but I kept reining it in, forcing myself to stick right with the pacer as the pack grew smaller (though I’m not sure how much of the pack surged ahead vs. dropped off. Wasn’t really paying attention).

8:06, 8:02

The last couple miles of the course get pretty damn fast. I knew we were getting close and while I told myself to be patient, my body started to surge. There was also a not insignificant downhill pretty much all the way to the finish. I still stuck to the pacer like glue, trying to think calm thoughts, focusing on my breathing, keeping my arms relaxed, and being as patient as possible.

7:42

I talked to the pacer briefly, thanking him for his awesome pacing that was pretty much guaranteeing me a PR. As we headed into the final mile – and I knew this from two years prior – you can see the entire rest of the race, including the loooooong finishing chute. The set-up is pretty cool, but the last 1.1 being completely in sight is also a tad cruel. We headed toward the chute, which has a long turnaround to the final chute with the jets all lined up, and I started to kick. I glanced at my overall pace for the first time since about 10K (confirming that I was comfortably sub-50 at that point and therefore on pace – something that had scared me pre-race. It took me a lot of work to break 50 minutes the first time in a 10K, and now I was going to try to do it in the middle of a half??) and said, “Holy shit.” Another guy in the pace group asked, “PR?” And I told him my PR was 1:49 so I was about to crush it. He told me to go get it.

And I did. I started giving it everything I had, easing into a surge, my legs turning over faster and faster beneath me, while trying to stay in control for the long chute. I plunged around the corner and soaked up the roar of the crowds as the pain began to set in. I missed my watch beeping just before the 13-mile mark and just kept sprinting, begging the finish line to come closer a little faster.

7:17, 6:07 pace to the end

I saw the clock in the low 1:40s and grinned all the way across the finish line, before my emotions overcame me and I burst into tears (much to the distress of several volunteers who asked if I needed help before realizing I was just overwhelmed with joy).

finishline1 finishline2 finishline3 finishline4 finishline5 finishline6 finishline7 finishline8 finishline9 finishline10 finishline11

I stumbled along, my hands over my mouth, trying not to weep, and tearfully thanked the volunteer who put a medal around my neck (didn’t get an officer – bummer), then got wrapped in a space blanket, walking slowly until I heard Dan’s name being called as he crossed the finish a little over 1:45. We got our food and waited near the tent for the rest of our party, delirious and happy.

Post-race

After some noshing, I headed to the results tent to get my timing printout. I had wanted sub-1:45, but my Garmin had me so close to 1:44, clocking 1:44:04, and since I had started my watch early and stopped it late, I had hope for going a full minute faster than my heart-of-hearts goal. And then I saw my timing printout.

Chip time: 1:43:56 (7:56 avg) – New PR***

Almost fell over trying to manage this goofy pose – serious dead legs!
Our whole crew post-race

The rest of the day was spent celebrating. We got our free beers and limped back to the cars, sore, tired, and victorious. Despite numerous training setbacks, Devin finished his first half around 2:20. Keeley and her mom rocked it at about 2:22. Dan came in about 1:45:30ish. And Rose had an amazing virgin 13.1 time of 1:50!

Keeley had to head back to Cleveland for family time and her flight the next day, but the rest of us partied it up. We showered, then went to a local bar to stuff ourselves with beer, burgers, wings, and fries, napped for ages, watched Anchorman, ordered pizza, and drank some more while playing Drunk Jenga (yes, really) and Nertz before crashing.

Gimme.
True recovery: compression socks, up on the couch, laying on the floor.

The next morning it was breakfast, pack, clean, and head to the museum before we parted ways after an amazing, adventure-filled weekend!

Now what?

Well, I’ll deal with questions about my next half-marathon goal at another time. For now, we’re in the final weeks of marathon training! We’re halfway through our second to last hard week before the taper. I know the fatigue is accumulating in my legs, but I’ve been eating well (and a TON), doing great on my runs, and have managed a lot of miles this week already (but I’ll recap that after this week is over). I’m going to need to really sit down and figure out my MCM race plan, but for now I think sub-4:00 is still the goal I should set my sights on. I would hate to get greedy…

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