Race Recap – Harrisburg Half Marathon

Race Recap – Harrisburg Half Marathon

Imagine you have signed up for an intimidating race and practiced seven months for it. You know you haven’t been as disciplined as you should have been. You’re not even sure you can finish the whole distance. Still, you love running, and the atmosphere of race day. You know you have grit.

You low-grade obsess about it the whole week before. It’s finally here and there’s no time to improve any more. Still you manage to be positive even when you find out it will be non-stop raining. (At least it’s not hot!) You know it’s a privilege to race. Race day is a collection of people who are brave enough to test their limits. There is an energy of excitement. To me, it feels like a buzzing hum of optimism.

You feel important too. They’ve closed roads and bridges, and there are volunteers all over who are smiling and happy to see you test yourself.

The race began on Market Street bridge headed in the direction of Wormleysburg. I tried to get to the back of the pack so I wouldn’t be tempted to go out faster than I intended. To keep myself relaxed I decided to smile at anyone who made eye contact. My shoes were already soaked because my “primo” parking spot happened to be in the middle of a four inch puddle. Oops, didn’t notice. I’m just going to go ahead and mention that it was raining and I will not be mentioning that fact in future because it rained the whole damn time.

harrisburg half -doppler

I started my first podcast episode, WTF with Marc Maron. The episode was an interview with Anthony Bourdain from 2011. I like listening to Marc because even if the conversation isn’t a particularly funny one, I’m still entertained by trying to picture his accompanying cranky facial expression. I left one ear bud out so that I could hear the sounds of the race. How I kept my heart rate down, I’m not sure, because I was just ready to go.

I occasionally turned my head to reassure myself that I was not the slowest runner in the whole damn race. Insecurities much? I thought to myself, “Hold up. These ladies next to me are doing a run/walk method and they are sticking with me. That’s not fair.” Fair or not, going slow to start was what I was supposed to do, so mission accomplished.

We ran with the Susquehanna River to our right and I took in the view. The river was brownish grey and roiling because of the rain. The Capitol was covered in fog. It was cold and I thought of my husband and son who would be waiting for me once I crossed the Harvey Taylor bridge. Knowing they would be waiting for me in this terrible weather made me feel so grateful and I started to cry. Mile two and I was already overwhelmed with gratitude.

I felt like it took forever to get to them. I usually run a loop in training and a linear route with a landmark you’re straining towards makes the distance go so slowly. Tyler made fun of me because each of the photos he snapped of me had me making goofy faces. I couldn’t help it. I was so happy to see them and wanted Camden to know that Mommy was excited he was there. I waved and smiled and yelled, “Hey baby!!!!!” He gave me the sweetest smile when I got close enough that he could recognize me.

Once I passed the boys I knew I had about an hour until I’d see them again and so I could just relax into the pace and enjoy the view. From the Harvey Taylor bridge we turned onto Front Street and ran in a coned off lane.  There were a lot of people to cheer and smiling at them helped me feel grateful. My raincoat was keeping me warm and my visor was keeping the rain off of my face. Marc and Anthony weren’t talking about anything I hadn’t already heard before, so I was ok half listening. A man handed me a beverage which I expected to be water or Gatorade, but turned to be beer. Not my thing. I saw it was frothy and tossed it.

Our route diverted down to the lower level, only five feet or so above the river at it’s current height. There were puddles galore. Even though my feet were already wet, it doesn’t feel the greatest to have a sloshing on your shoe’s foot-bed or a splashing onto your calves, so I tried to avoid them. Maneuvering gave you something to occupy your mind with and maybe helped the miles go a bit faster, but I would prefer to get in a steady pace of course. The leaders of the race passed us going in the opposite direction and we were able to cheer for them.

We ran what felt like a huge square around the PENNDOT building and then entered a “Green Belt” section. At first it was no different from the river front, but soon it became mud and there were puddles that were unavoidable. At parts we had to climb a knee high wall to avoid pretty deep puddles or dangerous mud. I was getting close to that point where it stops being such a struggle and it feels like your muscles just loosen up and you can run so much faster. I wanted to get going and RACE so I was starting to get impatient with the puddles. The green belt led us back to the river front and I decided to give up on avoiding puddles. I was ready to go “fast” and I managed to get in a good rhythm. I dropped a lot of the ladies who had been running with me. Everyone was very happy and supportive, but I liked that it was not very crowded and I could look at the water and the fog and the bridges. In the quiet moment I let myself think of Adam and gave myself a chance to tell him how much I love him. I dedicated my run to him and felt determined to make him proud…Cry #2.

There was a ginormous hill which took us back up to street level. I knew I would be seeing my boys again. Despite the cold, I was starting to get nice and warmed up so I took off my rain jacket to throw to Tyler. Camden was clearly not having fun and pretty cold. I felt simultaneously bad for them and also really proud that my husband understood how much it meant to me to have them there.

Next was a looooooong portion of running on Front Street. I switched my podcast to Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard. It was probably one of the most boring episodes he’s done, but the familiar voices provided me with white noise that helped to drown out any doubts or thoughts of pain or discomfort. (It’s one of my favorite podcasts)

All the runners ahead of me were headed back in the direction of the walking bridge and most of them looked tired. I needed not to look forward at how much farther it was until I could turn around. (That turn was a big deal for me mentally because it signaled my last portion!) I made eye contact with as many runners as I could to tell them “Good Job” or give them a thumbs up. I got so many smiles and they really helped me.

We had some water stations on this portion which were manned by a local cross country team and they were phenomenal with their encouragement. I think I’ve mastered the drinking from a cup without stopping. Tyler pointed out I’m probably just better at it because I was going much slower in this race than I was in the 10k.

Once we were turned in our final direction we ran about 2.5 miles on street level and then had to take that same huge hill down to river front. I walked most large hills and definitely did for this steep downhill. Even if I wasn’t trying to save my quads and keep my heart rate down, the river front section was getting much more dangerous. The puddles were getting even deeper. I ran through a puddle that ended up being 5 inches deeper than I anticipated and muddy on the bottom so my foot made a scary little twist. There were sections that were completely covered in water and we had to walk as if on a balance beam on the outer portion of the sidewalk. If you toppled to the left you’d fall down the steps and roll right into the river. It was a bit scary when I was that close. Another section had a man from the race staff directing us where to put our feet since the puddle was deep and muddy. Definitely an adventure.

In miles 11 and 12 I started to wonder how I should proceed. My longest run had only been 11 miles so this was all new territory. I didn’t know if I was going to blow up at any minute and feel like I had nothing left. For our Turkey Trot 5k the final portion of the half course was also the end of our 5k. I was running MUCH faster then, but when I took the hill that leads up to the walking bridge I felt completely sapped and had to push REALLY hard to get a final kick of speed. I didn’t want to have to try too hard for the final sprint because I wanted to be fast in order to cut off some time but also to finish strong.

There were two women whose pace was pretty close to mine. I just took their cue pace wise, but I felt like I could maybe push it a bit more, especially when we entered mile 12! I was anxious to get up that hill and sprint. Instead I played it a bit safe. I walked the hill since running it in the 5k felt so foolish, then I took off. I was proud of all the energy I still had left, but half way across started to get scared again that I’d use it all and feel like I had to walk. I DID NOT WANT TO WALK IN TO FINISH. I pulled back just a bit and finished still sprinting. Tyler and Camden were there waiting for me.

harrisburg half - finish

I was shocked to see the gun time. It said 2:33:43! I had no idea what I could do since I had never run this distance before, but I had a window of times I would be proud to have achieved. I thought I could get a 2:45, but if I pushed maybe a 2:40. A time of 2:30 was the pie in the sky dream, and here I was so close!!

I got my blanket, a water, and my medal and I just kept thinking, “I did it.”

Tyler moved to the side so I could meet him and Camden there and as I walked towards them I started to bawl. I told Tyler “Babe, I did it” and he said, “YOU DID IT BABY!” with tears running down his face. He told me he was proud of me. I asked him if he could believe how fast I had done it. I was too afraid to even tell him about my time goal, and what’s great is it didn’t matter to him whether I did it fast or slow. He knew that I set this goal for myself and then he watched me work steadily towards it for all these months. He would ask me how many miles I did in my workouts and say “Wow! Babe, 9 miles!” He knew that sometimes it was really hard to just do shorter distances. Because he raced in Charleston with me, he knows how a course can surprise you and race day can throw you curve balls. He really understood what it meant for me to do this. How lucky am I to share that with him and have him get it? What better feeling is there than to make yourself and your loved ones proud? I love it that Camden will see that he has always been there to see Mom race. He will know I have grit because I have been working all these years on becoming a stronger person. He will be inspired to be strong and he will have the very thing I want most to give him: a belief that he can be strong and take on this world.

harrisburg half - finish photo

Man, what a gift it is to race and to achieve your goals!

harrisburg half - medal

Cooper River Bridge Run 10k RECAP

Cooper River Bridge Run 10k RECAP

Last year I had set a goal that terrified me—run a 10k. You have to understand that when you’ve never been able to push past 3 miles in your workouts, doubling that distance sounds like a feat that will require morning, noon and night workouts and rock hard abs.

With the help of Runner’s World, I looked for races that fit my distance goal. Last year around this time we were in South Carolina for vacation. It was sunny and so much warmer than here in Harrisburg. We had been in Myrtle Beach, so when I read about the Cooper River Bridge Run, the chance to experience April in the south and also visit a new city was exciting.

In the interest of making it a budget friendly trip I used Air BNB to find reasonable rates. Did you know people rent house boats on there?! Well, we decided it’d be fun to stay on a house boat. My mom agreed to watch Camden, my two year old son, so that my husband and I could have a weekend away.

boat

crowded bridge

As you can see in the picture above, the race is very large. It caps at 40,000 people and since I’d never been in a race that large before I was worried about having to weave around a lot of people in order to get anywhere near my time goal. To prevent having to pass walkers, I needed to qualify for a running wave. That meant I had to have a qualifying time in a 5k of 30:00. (Thankfully this race allows you to qualify with a time for a shorter distance, generously assuming you will put in the work to be just as good in a longer distance at a future date.)

I had only run one race before, the Color Me Rad 5k race in Philadelphia several years ago. Color Me Rad is the cheaper step-sister of The Color Run. I didn’t specifically train for a time in that race and ended up walking a portion of it with my partner so that we could both enjoy the race. When we decided to sign up for the Cooper River Bridge Run it was already August. If I gave myself a couple months to prepare I thought I could get a qualifying time in November, in a Turkey Trot race.

(Stay tuned for recaps of these races)

Once Tyler and I qualified for the running wave it was time for me to start focusing on running longer. I added long runs to my weekends. In most cases I ran my long runs on the indoor track at my YMCA because I hate to run on the treadmill nowadays. The indoor track is 1/16th of a mile, so at minimum:

6 miles – 96 laps

8 miles – 128 laps

indoor track

Thank goodness for hand held clickers so I can just zone out. I found that long runs were best done listening to podcasts instead of music so that I would stay relaxed and keep to my slow pace. My favorites for running are “I’ll have another with Lindsey Hein” and “Oprah’s super soul podcast”.

Training was well-intentioned, but now as I look back on it I think I did too much moderate pace running and not enough 80/20. Many runners follow the 80/20 rule which is essentially that you do 80% of your running at an easy pace and 20% at a mix of moderate and high intensity.

You can read more about it here:

“>80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald

My break down was more 75% moderate, 25% easy and 0% high intensity. I was finding myself very fatigued as I piled on milage. I had enough energy to do 75 miles a month, then the next month was barely over 50 miles, then back up to 75. Partly this was due to stress of cold season with a toddler, but I think I may have been overtraining.

I used barre class and squats for strength training but I HATE to do core work, so in the weeks leading up to the race I knew I just hadn’t prepared to run fast. Doubling my 5k time was practically a moonshot. A brave goal was under 58:00 minutes, but I expected to be closer to 60:00.

I was really nervous I would disappoint myself. I kept evaluating my expectations. “Sarah, are you ok if you have to walk?” I thought the answer was no; I would be embarrassed and bawling at the finish if I couldn’t run the whole thing. In training I had been able to do a 9 mile run at slow pace so it was almost a given I would be able to run the whole way.

Truthfully, I just wanted to be happy. I wanted to be proud of whatever happened, so I tried to change my mindset. I put everything in perspective. I was so scared I’d never be brave enough to run more than three miles that I made a post on Facebook admitting to the world that it was something I dreamed of doing. Then I put in the work to do so. Bottom line, I was brave enough to TRY…even if I failed I decided it was all going to be about the experience.

I am so thankful I put the work in to focus on those things because the race was so much harder than I thought it would be. Sure, I saw pictures of the bridge. I knew we’d have to go up. BUT. I thought it would level out once we were up there and then we’d just coast downhill onto the flat road at the end…

I’m getting ahead of myself! After all, this WAS a vacation in addition to being a race. Our drive was 10 hours. TEN! Still, they were ten hours where we were only responsible for ourselves. Music, reading, podcasts with no interruptions? That’s worth the mild discomfort of being stuck in a car.

We arrived at the marina around 2:00 pm to scope out our boat. The manager was there and let us check in early. I parked myself pretty quickly on the deck and started to enjoy the sun and the sea breeze. Conveniently (or perversely, whichever) we could see the very bridge we would be running. Tyler kept staring at it with heavy trepidation.

boat deck

We relaxed for about half an hour, but the trip was so short because of all the travelling time so we had to force ourselves to get going and check off our sightseeing goals. The rental came with access to bikes and we decided to try to take them out. I have not ridden a bike since I was 8 years old. Leaving the marina we were able to ride them on the road safely and with extra room to spare. I felt like I was flying. A bike is so fun if you aren’t nervous. Add a busy road to cross, and a girl who is not confident nor coordinated enough to ride on a sidewalk and it’s a recipe for disaster. Tyler was afraid I’d break a toe and my race would be a no-go so we took the bikes back and drove into the heart of downtown Charleston.

There was a temptation to try to get glorious pics of Charleston like you’d see at www.galmeetsglam.com for my Instagram page, but ultimately I decided not to bug Tyler to take pictures of me posing and instead just hold his hand and point out things we both thought were cool about the houses. In exchange he tamped down his desire to pull them all up on Zillow to see how much they’d sell for.

touring charleston

Ooo you get a peek of my Oofos sandals—we created a product review of these which will be coming soon!

We spent about an hour walking the streets and loved it, but it was dinner time. I knew the restaurants on Broad Street would be really busy, so I wanted to try a place closer to the boat since we’d be finished eating around 8. Our Air BNB host had recommended Edmund’s Oast, but we wanted a place less swanky. I found Taco Boy online and we had some pretty amazing tacos there.

taco boy

Once we got back to the boat after dinner we decided to call it a night and try to get some rest. Tyler slept perfectly well, but I did not. I gave myself an hour before we left the boat Saturday morning-race day-to fuel with Orange Juice and Superhero Muffins I’d made ahead of time.

You can get the recipe here:

Run Fast Eat Slow – Superhero Muffins

We had about 1.5 miles to walk to get to our shuttle location. We had timed it the night before so we were not in too much of a hurry. The plan was to jog some of the distance anyway to warm up our muscles. As part of the info on the Air BNB rental we were warned that the train which crosses the road leaving the marina will blow it’s horn before it crosses usually giving you 5 minutes or so to get the heck out of there. The horn blew just as we were leaving the boat. “Oh crap!” I thought. By the time we got to the road we saw the train was already blocking our exit. Luckily before we could panic, the last car came into view. We could have missed the entire race because the bridge closes at 7:00 am (hello, the race IS the bridge).

The shuttles were loaded quickly, but once we were dropped off at the corrals we had to weave through the crowds to get to the front. I don’t want to brag or anything…but since I had planned so far ahead to enter the race we were the first wave for our time slot. There was SOME pleasure in passing people with “J” bibs and thinking “Outta my way, I’m headed to ‘A’ beetches.”

start line

The crowds were a blessing because it took my mind off of worries I would’ve had standing around in the corral. Instead we spent only about 15 minutes waiting. I thought there would be at least 5 minutes between the waves, but they walked us up to the start line only 2 or 3 minutes after the first runners took off. I started to cry.

I was so proud of myself. I was really excited to see what I could do. I was so freaking grateful for the opportunity to experience it all.

Tyler’s training was, shall we say, minimal. He was going to be my official race photographer and videographer…for as long as he could stay with me. Or at least that was the plan. I wanted to go out as slow as reasonably possible to start. I knew this would also be the best chance for Tyler to actually finish the whole thing while running. My goal was to start at 11:00 pace. I really want someone to do an academic study on what percentage of runners actually hit their goal “slow” pace during a race. We got pretty close: 10:00 is only a minute faster. To be fair, our effort was very low because of how relaxed we were.

running selfie

There were great spectators on the Mt. Pleasant side of the bridge. This was my first race with true spectators and it feels so great to have so many people proud of you—and impressed by you just for showing up and having the courage to do it. We learned at our first water stop that we do not know how to drink from cups while running. Life: “One sip for you, now go run up that bridge”.

Ahh, the bridge. Everybody ahead of us is faster than us. It’s a little unsettling to see them all slow down. I said to Tyler, “Why does it look like they all stopped running?!” Cuz they were in pain. Cuz people don’t bounce much when they are running up a steep hill. We took it like champs. In fact, we got half way across the bridge before we started to say to each other, “Does this EVER flatten out? We’re still going up!!”

That was also the moment we each got a side stitch and started cursing for water. The BIGGEST lesson learned in this race was:
KNOW YOUR COURSE MAP

The course map tells you where water is. Duh. I knew somewhere in my brain there were only two. This seemed reasonable since we were hopefully not running longer than an hour. Of course they can’t have cups on the bridge; the wind would pick them all up and throw them into the marsh. The race’s motto would be “Litter: YAY!” instead of “Get over it”.

IMG_2431

I was in deep pain but still determined when we finally started to go downhill around mile 4. As we were exiting the bridge I remembered something an elite runner had said about running tangents and for some reason this thought made me momentarily insane. I was like “I know stuff, I’m awesome” and decided I had to surge to run the shortest path to the water. Tyler said I was bookin’ it and he was sure this was the point I would lose him. Like I said, it was only momentary insanity. I had NO ability to surge at that point. We were still at an average 10 minute pace.

performace stats

I’m sure it didn’t help mentally to finally be at the water station and once again only manage a sip. I was hot and I was working hard. I knew I had to slow my heart rate down to be able to continue running the duration. I needed a sign of hope so my eyes were straining to see the finish line in the distance.

Once again:
KNOW YOUR COURSE MAP

I was not able to see the finish line, not because it was miles and miles away, but because we were running a horseshoe. We had two left turns to go before the finish. If I had known that I could have used language to motivate myself to make it to the next turn. I had to stop to walk around 5.5 miles. In reviewing my stats via my watch there was just no other option at that moment. My heart rate had climbed to 191. The highest it had ever been, even in my 5k where I had a decent kick at the end, it usually topped out at 186.

I think I just hadn’t practiced slowing down when you are that fatigued and impatient for it to be over.

Tyler had grabbed a popsicle, so he had a surge of energy and kept going without me for another .2 miles. He did end up having to walk for a little bit though too because he couldn’t get over the mental hurdle of the horse shoe either. We each walked about .07 miles.

Once I had my breath back I started running again and was very happy to cross the finish line. Tyler finished with a time of 61:18 and I had a 62:25.

brave face

For sure, there was momentary disappointment for me because I had to walk, but I was still pretty proud of myself. I just kept thinking, “That was freaking hard, but you did it!” Plus, if you have to walk, being able to hold out until after the bridge is certainly a bragging right. It was not easy to “Get Over it”.

We had a great time at the after party (although my makeup was blinding me in my left eye, hence the strained look on my face). There was a ton of free food, including Krispy Kreme doughnuts and the best BBQ I’ve ever had.

krispy kreme

Once we got back to the boat we both showered and climbed in bed to try to nap. I wasn’t able to sleep. I just wanted to relive every moment over and over. I turned on a baseball game and listened to the rain drop on the roof of the houseboat. The water started moving a bit more and we were gently swaying. It was a great trip and will always be such a full memory for me.

rainy boat

Things I liked:
-Well organized race logistics-wise (even the festival was very well planned, all the free food was on side streets to limit congestion in the park)

-Bridge was such an entertaining challenge

-Tons of free food

-Great communication for questions and concerns with race organizers

Things I didn’t like:

-The mind-f*ck of the course layout

-No sourcing for individual race photos (if Tyler hadn’t taken pictures of me I wouldn’t have a single in-race action shot)

-Announcer for the start was a bit meh

Repeatable?

Heck yes!