(be warned…it’s a long one. I guess I had a lot to say.)
On Saturday, May 11th, I ran the Journey’s Half Marathon. This event also has a full marathon and a 5K. The race is held in Eagle River, Wisconsin, which is a pretty small town, but they seem to really love this event.
I had been checking the weather for the few days before the race, and I knew that it was going to be cold. But I certainly didn’t expect that we would get SNOW! Seriously, Mother Nature is being completely unreasonable this year. I ended up wearing my tights, a long-sleeve tech T and and short sleeve tech T under my running jacket. I borrowed some gloves because I forgot mine. I wore my baseball cap because the forecast was still showing a chance of rain during the race…and because I knew it would help keep my head warm and the wind off my face.
I stayed at my cousin’s house in Park Falls on Friday night. His wife, Rachel, was running the full marathon. Because the full marathon started an hour and 15 minutes before the half marathon, we were up at the crazy time of 4:30 to make the 90 minute drive to packet pick up. Getting up four and a half hours before my race started really threw me for a loop as far as pre-race fueling (oooh…foreshadowing).
We drove to the high school in Eagle River and packet pick up was a breeze. They handed us our race bib and a bag with our T-shirt and all the annoying advertisements that get thrown in there. We also had a drop bag and a sticker with our bib number. This was the first time I think I’ve ever used a drop bag. The finish line was at a park, not at the high school and the start line was a 15 minute bus ride from the high school.
Here is my chariot from the school to the start line.
I ended up wearing my hooded sweatshirt for the bus ride to the start line and then threw my drop bag into the back of the pickup truck. Looking back, I should have kept my sweatshirt longer. I was freezing for the 30 minutes we stood around at the start line and I may or may not have taken my sweet time in the porta potty that protected me from the wind.
Prior to the start of the race, we all joined in singing America the Beautiful and a few words were said about the Boston Tragedy.
I had a few goals going into this race. I was hoping to run somewhere between a 2:05 and a 2:10, with a negative split. But, the big goal was to be as encouraging as possible to other runners and to thank all the volunteers and spectators. I had a few conversations with the other runners on the bus and at the start line. It seemed that there were quite a few first time half marathoners in the crowd. I love it when I get to talk to first timers. Their anxiety and nervous excitement is contagious! I also liked being able to talk with the other runners about different races they’ve run, which ones are good, which ones are bad, etc. There are a lot of races that I want to do!
When the starting gun finally went off, I hit the start button on my Garmin, and ….nothing! This happened last weekend too. I am getting so bummed. I like having the feedback of knowing what my pace is and how far I’ve run. I tried for a little while, but the only information it would give me was overall time. I decided to be okay with this (what choice did I have). I pulled the sleeve of my running jacket over my watch and decided that I would only look at it at each mile marker.
The first couple of miles were pretty uneventful. I ran with the same pack of people for about the first 5 miles or so. Then I started to have some stomach/GI issues. I think the 4 1/2 hours from the time I woke up to the start of the race really messed with me. I had eaten my typical white rice around 6:00 and then had a banana on the bus to the start line. But, for some reason, my stomach just wasn’t happy from mile 5 to the end of the race. I was fueling with my typical Craisins and water, but I probably took in fewer total calories over the course of the race than I normally would because of the discomfort.
I didn’t get any water at the first water station. I was trying to do all the things runners are supposed to do when approaching a water station. I was asking the volunteers “water?,” “water?.” But none of them were responding to me. One teenage kid handed me a cup. I looked in it and saw that it was Gatorade and just tossed it to the side of the road. I knew that drinking it could be a problem and I didn’t want to chance it. But, I wasn’t going to turn around and go back to the water stop, so I just kept running.
At the next water stop, there was an adorable little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old who gave me some water. I made sure to thank her for being out there on such a cold day.
I kept hoping that my GI issues would resolve as the race went on. I contemplated making a pit stop at a porta potty, but every time I saw one approaching, my stomach would start to feel not so bad. So I would run past it. Then, a quarter of a mile later I would wish that I had stopped.
I was glad I had dressed warm enough for the race. There was a pretty decent wind that would kick up every now and then. We rarely had to run into the wind, so that was a bonus. My hands just couldn’t seem to decide if they wanted to be warm or cold. I started with the gloves on and I finished with the gloves on, but I probably took them on and off 3 or 4 times during the race. Afterwards, I actually freaked out two ladies who saw my Raynaud’s-effected fingers. All my fingers were white to the first knuckle and three fingers on my right hand were white up to my second knuckle. It was a pretty bad case.
I stuck to my plan of just checking my watch at each mile marker. There were mileage signs posted for both the full and half marathon. I thought they did a great job with the mile markers. I was keeping a pretty consistent pace around 9:30-ish. At least, that is as accurate as I could figure. I can’t run and do math at the same time.
There were a couple of hills on the course (nothing like what the full marathoners had to deal with!), but I was able to keep running up them. However, I did curse myself for my lack of incline training. I also decided that this course would be much prettier in the fall. We basically ran through the woods the whole time (on back roads). But because Mother Nature has been so cranky this year, none of the trees even had leaves on them yet (there was still snow in a few places). In the fall, when the leaves are changing, this course would be beautiful.
The other problem I had was that I started to have some back pain around the middle of the race. This was new for me. My lower back just started aching. It wasn’t a sharp pain and it wasn’t radiating down my legs or anything, so I wasn’t really worried about anything, but it was uncomfortable.
Sometime during the first half of the race, a deer decided to cross the road right in front of me! He jumped out of the ditch about 50 feet in front of me and just gracefully leapt to the other side of the road. I was running with about 6 or 8 other people and we were all just amazed at cool that was!
As the race continued, and I started feeling more and more nauseous, I made the decision to walk the water stations. Really, there was no reason not too. I wasn’t hoping for any time goal, and I just felt terrible. And walking through the water stations gave me more time to thank all the volunteers. Most of them were all bundled up in their winter jackets. I saw spectators with blankets wrapped around them. I can’t believe how cold they must have been. My hands were cold and was running a half marathon!
In sticking with my goal of trying to motivate people, I made sure to encourage everyone who passed me and everyone I passed. The super-fast marathoners caught up to me around mile 5. They were smokin! I said good job to every one of them. Runners are awesome! Each one of them gave me some kind of indication that they heard me. One guy showed a peace sign. A couple others did a thumbs-up. These are guys who are running 6:00-something miles and are trying to WIN this marathon and they are still humble enough to let people know they appreciate the encouragement. I know how good it made me feel to get that feedback from them and it reinforced my desire to make sure I thanked all the volunteers and continued encouraging other runners.
Around mile 9, I saw a couple running ahead of me. The girl was obviously struggling and the guy (I’m assuming it was her boyfriend) eventually ran on ahead of her. I caught up to her and slowed down to her pace for a little while. She told me that this was her first half marathon and that it really hurt! I told her that she was doing a great job, and that the feeling she would have at the finish line would be worth what she was going through now. She said she was discouraged that she had to walk so much. I told her to have a plan for the walk breaks. It was okay to walk, but sometimes it is easier to get going again if you have a plan. You can walk for 30 steps and then run again. She thanked me. I ran with her for a little bit more and then picked up my pace again. I really had no idea if she listened or cared about what I said. But, at the end of the race, in the food tent, she found me and thanked me for stopping and talking with her. She said that it really helped to have someone give her a little pep talk when she needed it.
I don’t think that I am all that motivating, but it made me feel good that this girl was able to push herself through the discomfort and finish her first half marathon. I think there will be many more in her future!
I didn’t have much left to finish strong. I think I would have done better if I hadn’t been dealing with the GI issues. But, I crossed the finish line in 2:03:41. I’m pretty happy with that. I really didn’t think I would do that well, and I certainly wasn’t trying to! Actually, it is probably a good thing that I wasn’t getting pace information from my Garmin. I think I would have slowed down. Instead, I just ran that pace that my body wanted to run on that particular day. (Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering if I could have gone sub-2:00 if I felt better.)
I’m pretty happy with where I finished in my age group. I’m never going to be one of those people who wins a bunch of age group awards. Unlike the two people I knew running the full marathon. Both of them came in under 4 hours…within 16 seconds of each other. One got 2nd in her age group…in only her second marathon. The other got 3rd in his age group…in his first ever marathon.
I wanted to stick around at the finish line and see them both come in. But, after finding a (real) bathroom and picking up my drop bag, I was freezing. I grabbed a couple bites of food and got on the next shuttle bus back to the high school. I was bummed I didn’t get to see them finish, but I was shivering so hard I couldn’t breathe.
After a warm shower and some clean, dry clothes. Rachel and I got back in the car to make the 90 minute drive back to Park Falls. From there, I loaded up my car and made the 90 minute drive home. I was pretty tired when I got home, but overall, pretty pleased with my race.
*Really easy packet pick up.
*Warm area at the high school to wait for the bus to the start line.
*Really great law enforcement presence at the intersections to direct traffic.
*I got to high-five a guy dressed in an Eagle costume (Northland Pines High School mascot)
*Free use of the locker rooms and showers. It was so nice to be able to clean up afterwards.
*Post race food was good and it was inside a tent that protected us from the wind.
*Everyone got their name announced as they crossed the finish line.
*The shirt is made of very flimsy (almost see-through) material. I certainly won’t be wearing it much.
*The weather. It was cold. It’s the middle of May. It shouldn’t be cold.
*The start line. The half marathon literally starts at the intersection of two county highways. The full marathoners have a place to stay warm before the start of their race. The half marathoners had to stand in the cold and try to stay off the road, because it was still open.
*Almost no crowd support. There were very few spectators, and a lot of them were pretty subdued. I think this is the only race I’ve ever run where I never heard a cow bell! However, there was this one guy, dressed in an American flag shirt standing at the end of his driveway. He was a very enthusiastic cheerer. He was yelling and jumping and encouraging like crazy. It made me wonder if there was something other than coffee in his mug!
Overall Grade: B+
I can’t fault them for the weather, but they do have control over the shirt. I would like more crowd support because it just makes the event more fun. A place for the half marathons to stay warm at the start line would be awesome.
I don’t know if I’ll ever do this event again just because there are other races I would like to do. But, I would recommend it. Especially if you are the type of runner who prefers a more quiet and contemplative course, rather than a race with a lot of noisy crowds.