Oshkosh Half Marathon Race Report

The short story: I reached my goal!  1:57:59!!

The long story:

I have a lot to say about this race.  But, I want to start with the fact that I had a goal, and I worked really hard for a long time, and I achieved my goal.  And I woke up the next morning hurting everywhere and paying for the fact that I reached my goal!

I’ll start at the beginning…

Tim and I headed to Appleton Saturday afternoon when he got off work.  We stayed at my cousin’s house, where we usually stay when we have events in that area.  We love staying there.  We love their kids.  And, Anne made these A. MAZ. ING. cookies. 

We were able to get to bed relatively early, which is a good thing because we had to get up by 5:00 for a 7:00 race start.  We were riding to the race with my cousin’s neighbor.  He was also running the half and he reached his goal of finishing in 1:45.  Speedy!

I brought my own breakfast (white rice) that I just had to heat up in the morning.  I knew that it was going to be cold, but I wasn’t prepared for how windy it was.  I dressed pretty warm: running tights with my calf compression sleeves underneath, tank, long sleeved T shirt, short sleeved T shirt, running jacket and vest.  I thought about wearing a hat, but decided to go with my ear warmer.  And, of course, my gloves.  I was overdressed by one layer.  I was cold waiting for the race to start, but once I warmed up, I took off my gloves and unzipped both the vest and the jacket.

I really think that this race should start at 8:00, instead of 7:00.  April in Wisconsin is still cold and starting later would be a bit warmer.  I can totally understand a 7:00 start time in August, but it doesn’t make as much sense in April.

When we got to the race, I hopped in the line for the porta potty.  It moved relatively quickly and I was able to get to the starting area, just as they were starting the Boston Marathon Tribute.  There were a handful of local runners who had been in Boston and a couple of them said a few words.  There was a moment of silence.  It was a really nice tribute.  Then, we sang the National Anthem as a crowd.  I loved hearing all those people singing.  Very moving!

I had decided to join the 2:00 pace group.  I have never run with a pacer before.  A couple days before the race, I had a nightmare that my Garmin didn’t work at the race.  I woke up with a ton of anxiety.  Later that day, I remembered that there were going to be pacers.  Anxiety gone.  Problem solved!

I briefly talked with the pacer.  She was this cute little blonde girl in a red shirt that had “2:00” printed on the back.  I never let that shirt out of my sight for the whole race.  I wasn’t going to let her get away.

The course was much more crowded than I remember from last year.  The first mile was really busy, but the 5K runners turned left after about half a mile.  I had hoped that things would clear out a bit after that, but it was still crowded.

The course runs through the cemetery and then there is about a mile of trail/gravel that includes crossing over a ditch.  There is a little bridge over the ditch, but it is not big enough to handle the influx of runners.  I ended up coming to a complete stop (you can see it on my Garmin pace graph).  The other problem is that the trail is narrow, making it very difficult to pass.  It is also muddy and slippery in spots.  I can only imagine that the condition of the trail deteriorated as the day went on.

Here is the map of the course.  The start/finish area is that tiny out-and-back on the right.  And, contrary to the depiction, I didn’t actually run ON the water.

I feel pretty confident saying that the 2:00 pace group was probably the biggest one when we started.  Like I said, it was really crowded at the beginning, but cute-little-blonde-girl seemed to have quite a following.  It was a really great group.  There was a lot of encouraging at the beginning.  People were chatting.  I didn’t say much.  Running a sub-2:00 half marathon takes me well out of my ‘conversational’ pace!

Our group had shrunk a bit by the half way point.  Our pacer looked at all of us and told us that we were still on a great pace to come in under two hours.  Two things crossed my mind at that point: 1. She still hadn’t worked up a sweat (and I hated her for that).  2.  Running 6.5 miles at that pace is a lot different from running 13.1 miles at that pace.  By the halfway point, I was starting to get tired.  My legs were feeling my hard effort.

By about the 10 mile point, the tiredness had turned into pain.  My quads were burning and I could tell that my posture was starting to sag. 

But, I kept that perky little blonde girl in my sight.  This wasn’t always easy.  The course was still a little busy.  (Part of that might just be running with a pace group, but our group had dwindled down a lot by 10 miles.)  The water stops were really congested and there weren’t enough volunteers.  There were two consecutive water stops that I missed because I reached out my hand for water and there was no one there to hand me any.  This could have turned into a problem.  I was really needing water and I knew that if I couldn’t get any at the next water stop, I was going to have to stop and wait for a cup.  And then my little blonde pacer would have gotten away from me. 

Around mile 11, I had to seriously dig into all the mental strength that I had.  Every fiber of my being wanted to quit.  My legs were on fire.  My breathing was no longer steady and rhythmic and I had to consciously think about my posture so that I wouldn’t let my shoulders sag.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to at least slow down and walk.  And I hated that my pacer was still having a conversation like this was just an easy Sunday stroll in the park.  I also knew that I still had a nasty uphill right at the finish and if I was right on my directions, the finish was going to be into the wind.

The only thing that kept me going was sheer determination to finish under two hours.  I knew that I REALLY wanted that goal.  And I knew that if I slowed down and succumbed to the discomfort pain I was currently going through, I would just have to try again at another race.  And then the current pain would have been for nothing! (And, I didn’t want to have to tell people that I gave up and quit.  That isn’t the example I want to set for my kids.)

At mile 12, I finally let myself believe that I might actually make it.  I was still remembering that damn hill, but I started trying to do math in my head.  If my Garmin said 1:49, all I had to do was run the last mile in under 10 minutes, right?  But what about the last .1?  And maybe the course is long.  And, how long did it take me to get to the timing mat at the start?  It is never a good idea to try to do math when you are experiencing burning pain…and you’re glycogen depleted.  I never really figured it out, I just tried to stay with the perky blonde in the red shirt.

Then I got to the hill.  It isn’t even a massive hill, it is just a bridge over the river, but it might as well be Pikes Peak.  I was so drained.  My breath was coming out in grunts.  I was slouched over.  My legs felt like someone had taken a branding iron to them.  I just wanted to be done.

I somehow managed to get up the hill and then came the blissful downhill.  But, not too fast, because you have to make an abrupt right turn at the bottom of the hill.  No joke, this is a more-than-90-degree turn.  It is also where the spectators start lining up.  So, you have everything going against you.  You are desperately trying to take advantage of gravity coming down the hill, your legs are screaming from the punishment you have put them through over the last almost 13 miles, you need to skid to a stop and turn to avoid knocking over some fan holding a thermos of coffee (mmmm….coffee), and you still have to run to the finish.

I made the turn and started scanning the crowd for Tim.  I had told him to try to get a picture of me finishing.  I was kinda wishing I hadn’t told him that because there was nothing photogenic about the expression on my face as I neared the finish line.  I was giving it everything I had, which wasn’t much at that point (and it was into the wind).  There was no finishing kick.  There was no sprint to the end.  I was completely spent.  But, when I crossed that finish line and the clock read a time that started with a ‘1’ nothing else mattered.

Ok, that’s a lie.  I hurt like hell and I had to pee.  Those things mattered too. 

I was handed a water bottle that someone had taken the cap off of (I’m sure they were trying to be helpful, but I wanted to be able to put the cap back on later, and I couldn’t and I ended up spilling half my water.)  I got some chocolate milk.  I know it is the best recovery drink, but I almost always have to gag it down.  My stomach doesn’t want to take in anything that thick right after a hard effort.  Then I got my medal. 

I like it better than last year’s medal. 

My cute little blonde pacer came over to congratulate me.  I thanked her and I might have said something else, but I don’t really remember.

Even though the picture is blurry, you can still see the pain determination on my face.

Here is the ‘official’ finish photo.  Definitely hurting as I crossed the finish line.

I don’t know how many of you have ever taken advantage of running with a  pacer.  This was my first experience and I didn’t make the decision until right before the race.  I’m so glad I did.  I honestly don’t think I would have made my goal without her.  She made the process easier.  I didn’t have to constantly keep checking my watch to make sure I was on pace.  I just had to follow her red shirt.  I didn’t have to think about how far I had already run and what my time was and if my overall average pace was going to be fast enough.  I already said I can’t do math while I’m running.  I know I won’t run with a pacer every time, but if I ever decide to do something crazy (like run a sub-2), a pacer is an excellent idea.

Elevation:  I told you there was a hill at the end.  It isn’t long, but it is steep!

Pace: (notice the spot where I basically came to a complete stop about 30 minutes in…ditch crossing without enough room for everyone.)

Here are the splits.  The first mile was slow because of the crowding at the beginning.  The fourth mile was slow because of the ditch crossing and the crowding on the trail part of the course.  Some miles were pretty speedy because my blonde pacer was on crack!

Here are my official results. 

I’m pretty stoked to finish in the top third in my division/gender!  I still don’t consider myself to be a very fast running.  And the reality is…running isn’t about speed (unless you’re Kenyan).  It is highly doubtful that I will come anywhere close to this pace for another half marathon, at least not in the near future.  This race was all about setting a goal that was WAY out there and then doing everything I could to achieve it.  I learned a lot about myself in the process.

And then I celebrated with ice cream!

It is now a few days after the race.  The soreness was initially much more than I expected, but it is tapering off.  I didn’t run the day after the race, but I’ve done a couple easy runs this week.  I should have done some foam rolling…maybe then I would have had less stiffness.  Oh well.  I still find myself thinking about the race and I end up with a huge smile because I did it!  I’m proud of myself. 

PROS:

*I finished in under two hours!  Seriously, I will always remember this race for that reason.

*Each mile was marked.  The distance wasn’t the same as what my Garmin recorded (only off by a little), but it helps to know where you are and if the course is long or right on target.

*Pace groups.  Can’t say enough about my great pacer.  She certainly helped me to reach my goal.

*Post race food.  I already mentioned that I got water and chocolate milk before I even got my medal.  They also had a spread with bagels, oranges, bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, cookies and some other stuff that I didn’t indulge in.  There was also free beer.  Not really what I’m craving at 9:00 in the morning after a long run, but I grabbed one and had a couple sips. 

*Family events.  Last year we brought Jaden to do the kids run.  We skipped that this year because Tim was working on Saturday.  But I love that there are ways for the whole family to get in on the fun. Tim ran the 5K on Sunday and finished very well for his first race of the year.

CONS:

*7:00 am start time is too early for April.  I don’t know if there are specific permit issue that require the race to start that early, but 8:00 would be a much more reasonable time. 

*The course.  This just isn’t that great of a course.  The trail section is narrow and muddy (and can be slippery), the ditch crossing is horrible, and that last turn to the finish line is potentially dangerous.  And there are some sections that are pretty boring. 

*Water stations.  There just weren’t enough volunteers.

*Shirt.  I am glad that it was a tech shirt and that the design was better than last year’s horrible one.  But, it isn’t gender specific and it is huge on me.  Someone remind me to get a smaller shirt next year.

OVERALL GRADE: A-

I got a huge PR and reached my goal.  Everything else would have had to have been truly horrible for me to give it a lower grade.  Although the lack of water station volunteers was kind of a big deal.

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6 thoughts on “Oshkosh Half Marathon Race Report

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