The first race of 2019! My last race was the Cold Winter’s Day 5k at the end of 2018 so it’s been a long 2 months without any races on the calendar. I don’t really mind that – starting in April, I’ll be racing at least once a month all the way until October so I make the most of these months (November – March) when I don’t have to travel so much. That said, I was looking forward to dusting off the racing cobwebs with this half marathon in Columbia, SC.
Mindset going into this: our coaches remind us that they’re training us to be great triathletes, not runners, so I have to tell myself that I’m not chasing a personal best or anything like that in this race. That takes a lot of pressure off of me, and I prefer going into every race without a time or pace in mind. But, as anyone who runs and races knows, there are very few people who ACTUALLY go into a race without a dream finish time in mind. My finishing times for the previous 4 years at this race are:
2015: 1:59:21 (my second-ever half marathon)
2017: 1:48:06 (my personal best time in a half marathon)
I’d love to break that 1:48, but I told myself to run happy, run where it feels good, and manage the terrain well. In standalone running races, I have the habit of turning myself inside out and making the whole experience unpleasant (sore feet, nausea when my heart rate gets up to 200bpm, side stitch, etc.) so my goal was not to do that! Run strong, run with good form, run by feel only (not checking the watch for pacing), and enjoy myself.
A course run down for those who haven’t run the Run Hard Columbia Half Marathon or Marathon (2 loops of the half): the race starts out fast (of course!) with a descent from the State House down Blossom Street to Five Points for the first mile. Then we swing right for a big climb up Saluda Avenue to finish up the second mile. Miles 3-7 are rolling hills through pretty neighborhoods. This is basically my favorite bit because you can take advantage of the downhills (free speed!) and the uphills aren’t too steep or long. Mile 7 is where the course bottoms out and you know it’s all uphill from there. Miles 8 through 10 have some long climbs in them. You have to hold your nerve here as it would be easy to blow up with 5k+ to go. Mile 10-11 is a long downhill on Gervais before the long and steep climb up Gervais for Mile 11 to get back up to the same elevation as the finish line. Instead of heading straight to the State House finish line, they send us right down Pickens Street to make up the 2 miles needed for 13.1. It’s very tempting to pick up the pace and blast through these 2 miles, but they’re deceptively tough with a slight incline the entire way. The final half mile is a straight shoot down Main Street to finish at the State House, running right down the center of the Soda City Market.
I woke up at 5:15am, my usual wake up time during the week. Took the dogs out, fed them, then heated up some blueberry oatmeal bake from Marni Sumbal’s book Essential Sports Nutrition. After eating, I made 2 flasks of Osmo Hydration for Women, 1 20oz bottle of Clif Hydration for my swim afterwards, a flask of Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee for the drive in, and packed a cooler with a banana, apple, and Amrita Protein Bar. I changed into my race clothes – shorts, tech shirt, compression socks, running shoes, Garmin Fenix 5, HRM on my arm, TriMarni trucker hat – and brought my goodr sunglasses, race belt, and Nathan’s hydration belt. It sounds like a lot but its so much less than prepping for a triathlon J
I hit the road at 6:15 and was parked 2 blocks from the start by 6:45. I made my way to the packet pickup, got my stuff, went back to the car to drop things off and get my race number on, and do some dynamic warm ups. I then did an easy run around the block to wake up my body. One last trip to the porta-john and it was 7:25 with the race starting at 7:30! Weather was foggy, pretty humid, 50F.
I lined up close to the front, but not on the front line. Any time I line myself up at the very front, I get swept away with all of the fast people and my goal was to NOT do that. Race started as expected. The first 2 miles were people running silly fast, and then pushing through the people slowing down. The hill on Saluda Ave. always takes out a few overly ambitious people, but I like the climb. Mile 1: 7:34, mile 2: 8:19.
After cresting Saluda Ave, I settled into a nice pace – not too hard but not sitting on the brakes either. I enjoyed the people cheering on the side of the road, and I saw the cutest Sheltie with his/her daddy and complimented them on the beauty of the dog. Now I understand why everyone says “what a beautiful dog!” when they see my pretty Sheltie Lizzy. Miles 3-6 I was going back and forth with the same groups of people as we settled into a similar pace. Of course, there had to be that one runner who drives you nuts. This year it was a girl who liked to sprint down the hills, then absolutely died on the uphills. I could tell by her form that she wouldn’t be able to keep this pace for the whole 13.1 miles, but she held in for longer than I expected. That said, I was happy not to see her after about the mile 6 mark. Mile 3: 8:03, mile 4: 8:13, mile 5: 8:01, mile 6: 7:59.
Mile 7 is always a good mental mile marker to pass as you know you’ve made it halfway. I told myself to take a 30 second walk break at mile 7 to reset my form, bring my heart rate down, and take in some liquid before the hlls. The walk break ended up being only 15-20 seconds as I didn’t feel like I needed it as much as I thought. In previous years, miles 8 and 9 really beat me up. My hamstrings would be hurting going up the hills and then I’d battle a side stitch on the way down. I imagine that was all due to weakness in those little muscle that keep your body stable. This year, I took them in my stride and felt good throughout. I had the hint of a stitch throughout the race but that was likely due to the humidity. I always get a stitch when it’s super humid out. Mile 7: 8:18, mile 8: 8:19, mile 9: 8:35.
Mile 3 – 8ish photos
Mile 10 we continue to climb and I haven’t stopped since my walk break at mile 7. Previous years saw me have to walk a bit more to get my heart rate down. This whole run I focused on recovering during the downhills and on the flat bits. It seemed to be working. The backside of mile 10 is a long descent on Gervais Street before we start the death climb up Gervais Street for mile 11. My 10 mile split was pretty good – 1:22. I thought I was on pace to come in around 1:46 if I just hung in there. The Gervais climb got me, though, and I had to walk a bit of it as I got that pukey feeling that indicates that my heart rate is touching 200bpm. Super happy to make the turn on to Pickens for the last 2 miles. Mile 10: 8:41, mile 11: 8:19.
The last two miles are always tougher than I expect. I did pass quite a few people at this point, but equally I got passed by those who had more gas in the tank. By the time I made it on to Main Street, I knew I wouldn’t get 1:46. I ran my best without blowing up, but there wasn’t much speed left in me. Mile 12: 8:44, mile 13: 8:25, final 0.2 (long course by my watch): 7:32.
I crossed the mat at 1:49:04. Honestly, I was hoping to be a bit faster, but I definitely felt stronger on this run than I have in the past. I felt like I handled the terrain well, and at no point did I blow up or feel really rotten. I enjoyed every bit of the run, except maybe the Gervais Street climb at the end 🙂
Since I came in 7th in my age group (35-39), I didn’t have to stick around for the awards, which I was super happy about. I did get to catch up with a few friends quickly – Trey McCain from Without Limits and Jeff Brandenburg. Then I headed to the Drew Wellness Center for a 1600m recovery swim. On the way home, I swung by Summit Cycles and picked up my Cervelo P2 frame, fresh from its carbon repair at Coastal Carbon. So in a way, it still was a swim bike run day for me.