On Sunday, October 12th I ended up running a half marathon that I had signed up for just days earlier. I’m glad I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to run the race as it resulted in a new PR by nearly 2:30!
Matt had plans to go on a long weekend road trip with his dad, so I wondered what I could do for my solo weekend. I was interested in seeing some fall colors, and I wanted to run somewhere new for a change in scenery. I thought about going to a park where I haven’t run before, but then I decided to browse through RunMichigan.com to see what races were coming up. I had planned to run 13 miles on Sunday and there happened to be a few half marathons that day. The Wild Life Marathon in Concord looked appealing, and after thinking about it a little bit, I decided to go for it. The race course was mostly along a flat, paved trail, so I figured it would be nice and scenic. The “flat” part of the description gave me the idea that maybe I should actually try racing it rather than using it as a training run, and I also liked that it was USATF certified.
Following my last triathlon of the season in August, I decided to concentrate on running for the rest of the year. I started to follow one of Higdon’s half marathon plans with the thought of aiming for a race in early November. I’d been averaging 25-35 miles per week for the last couple months and had a pretty solid base, and I felt like my recent speed and tempo runs had gone really well. After running a 5k PR at the end of September and consistently hitting faster paces than I was aiming for during speed training, I realized that I should reevaluate my goals. I had been training for a 7:50 pace for a half marathon because that was the pace of my PR in September of 2013. I hadn’t run a half marathon since then, and that race had been in the heart of marathon training. As I aimed for a 7:50 pace during training runs, I kept finding myself running closer to 7:40. I had a feeling that I might be capable of running a faster half than I had thought, and maybe this race would be a good way to test my current fitness level.
Concord is just west of Jackson, which is around a two-hour drive for me. I knew it wouldn’t be ideal to make the drive the morning of the race, especially since my hips always hurt after I sit too long. I started to look for hotels for Saturday night and realized there was an evening football game at the University of Michigan. That probably explained why I struggled to find any decent hotels near the Jackson area. I found one further west in Coldwater, which meant I’d have about 40 minutes to drive the morning of the race – doable enough. Once I found that hotel, I committed to running the race. Since the race was just a few days away, I had missed the opportunity to register online, but I could do so on Saturday at the packet pickup.
I decided to make a few detours on my way out west and enjoy the beautiful weather on Saturday. First, I stopped in Ann Arbor and did a bit of shopping. Next, I headed out to Jackson for the packet pickup and registration at a Comfort Inn. For last-minute registration, I was really impressed that the price was $55 and I was still able to get a t-shirt. Most races warn that there is no guarantee of getting a shirt when registering so late, so I was happy to still get one.
After the packet pickup, I drove to Concord to scope out the site of the race. I was hopeful that I could take advantage of the great weather and find some nice picture opportunities. I parked at the beginning of the Falling Waters Trail and was blown away by how beautiful it was. I definitely found the fall colors I’d been hoping to see!
I walked about half a mile down the trail and knew I should probably head back to rest my legs. I was really excited about the race after seeing how beautiful the scenery was. It confirmed that I had made a smart choice to run this race!
I took the backroads through the country to get to my hotel in Coldwater and enjoyed more of the fall colors. It was a perfect day to listen to music in the car during a really pretty drive. I had some dinner, prepped my stuff for the next morning, and rested in the hotel room.
When I got out to my car the next morning, I was surprised to find it completely covered with frost. It was a cold but clear morning that was just right for racing. As the sun began to rise, it made for another pretty drive. Concord is a small town – the kind that has some four-way stops and a flashing light or two. The race started at a high school, and parking was available in both the high school and middle school parking lots. I got there about 45 minutes early and was right by the starting line. Although large races have their own appeal, I sure love the convenience factor of smaller races. I was able to hang out in my warm car until I went into the school to use a real restroom – another perk. I prepped my stuff in the car and did a brief warm-up jog before heading to the starting line. The marathon runners started five minutes before the half runners, and the start of the half came quickly.
A note about the following race pictures – Dane Robison from TimeFramePhoto.com took the pictures, and web-sized digital copies were generously donated by the race sponsors. Pretty cool!
We ran from the school’s parking lot through a neighborhood, down a hill, then hit the Falling Waters Trail a mile into the race. That’s when things got good. The sun was out, but it was still foggy and cool. I wish I had a picture that showed how awesome the fog looked on the water with the sun shining down on it. It was also awesome to see the sun rays breaking through the trees and the fog. It was absolutely gorgeous. It put me in a great mood to start the race.
I started the race a bit faster than I had planned because it sure didn’t feel like I was running at a 7:20 pace for the first half mile. Oops. I guess I got caught up in the excitement of the beginning. I was thinking more like 7:50-8:00 for the first mile, and I managed to calm down enough to hit 7:39. I made sure to slow down more for the second mile to make up for it. The plan was to run on the conservative side early, pick up the pace gradually, and hopefully run a negative split. That approach has served me well for a 25k and my last half, so I figure it’s wise to stick with what works. I enjoyed the sights for the first half of the race, and also played the game of trying to catch the people in front of me. Since the marathon runners got a head start, there were plenty of people out on the trail. It’s not that I was trying to beat people, because I was really out there just to reach my own goals. Having people to catch is a good way to stay motivated, distracted, and it gives me something to work towards bit by bit. Although it was a small race, there were plenty of people around. The marathon runners broke off at some point, and things definitely thinned out. I always seemed to have someone ahead to work towards though. The second half of the race is when things can sometimes get more difficult, especially as I pick up the pace, so it helps to have little things that keep me going.
I wore a hydration belt with a 21 oz. bottle filled with GU Brew. I took sips here and there, probably only finishing half of the bottle by the end of the race. I ate three Honey Stinger chews between six and seven miles, and luckily it seemed like that combo was enough because my pace kept dropping as I went. I was thrilled with my splits and think the race played out as well as I could have possibly hoped. Knowing that my training was on track for a 7:40 pace, I hoped that I would successfully hit that as long as I had the endurance. After 10 miles, I got more aggressive with my pace because I still had the energy. The one downfall was the hill back into town. That climb was enough to do me in during the last mile, and I was really huffing and puffing by the end. Still – I managed to run a 7:27 mile despite that hill, and I was definitely happy with that after 13 miles!
My official time was 1:40:46, which was good for a PR by 2:24! I was ecstatic.
That time was good enough to place second in my age group. The first place woman passed me in the final stretch with a strong sprint, finishing just three seconds ahead of me. So close! I didn’t have anything left to give, and she was able to surge in those final moments. In addition to the general race medal, I received a cowbell for the age group award.
It took a few minutes for me to recover, and after racing so hard I knew a cool down jog would be wise. I ran around the parking lot for a couple minutes, got into some warmer clothes, then checked out the food. They had bottles of water, pretzels, apples, bananas, donut holes, and several kinds of muffins. The muffins were nice and big, and I picked both blueberry and chocolate. Great for replenishing the carbs after the race. There was a table set up for Coulings Creations, and they had extra shirts for sale. They had several different designs available for customization, and they printed the shirts on the spot! They had short sleeve, long sleeve, cotton, and technical. They were reasonably priced, so I ordered a long sleeve technical shirt. It was ready 10 minutes later. I thought this was a really cool feature to have at a race. Although I like the cotton race shirt, it was fun to have additional choices.
I hung out for a little bit, then started my two-hour trek home. Listening to my music while admiring the fall colors made the drive go by fairly quickly. The pain did kick in as soon as I got out of the car though…darn hips. Really, I recovered pretty well after this race though and I guess it’s a sign that my fitness is at a good place right now.
I loved everything about this race, especially the part where I got such a big PR. ;) I know it falls a week before the big Detroit and Grand Rapids races, but it’s one I would definitely recommend. Everything was extremely well-organized, the price was great, and the scenery was beautiful. It’s nice to try a variety of races, but I personally enjoy the atmosphere of a smaller race where I can wait in my car if it’s cold and I can park close enough to be at the starting line in 30 seconds. Little things like that help cut down on my stress level, and amazingly I didn’t get nervous at all before this race. I’m glad I made that spur-of-the-moment decision to run this race!
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