Grand Rapids Half Marathon Race Recap

2017-10-15 - grmarathon medal

The 2013 Grand Rapids Marathon was my first marathon, so of course it was a memorable experience. Little did I know that this year’s half marathon on Sunday, October 15th would end up being unforgettable in a different way. It was definitely an “experience.” Thanks to less than ideal weather conditions, I’m sure this one will remain pretty fresh in my memory for years to come.

I actually signed up to run this half in 2016. I thought I’d use it as a training run as I worked toward running the Richmond Marathon. When I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my foot in August last year, it was clear that I wouldn’t recover soon enough to run either race. The Grand Rapids Marathon is one of few races that provide the option to defer to the following year. I opted to pay the $25 fee to do so and this race was on my calendar for over a year.

One big reason I enjoy the Grand Rapids Marathon so much is because of Don Kern, the race director. He has a positive attitude and a great outlook on life that really resonates with me. When I considered signing up for the marathon in 2013, the humorous FAQ section on the website caught my interest and made me laugh. He sends newsletters every week as the race approaches, and they become daily updates when the race is 10 days out. He shares inspirational stories from his past marathons as well as tips to help alleviate any pre-race worries. Don has run over 300 marathons and has a lot of great stories to tell, many of which are documented in his book and the adventure continues…. It’s a great read about the adventures of an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things – such as setting the world record for the fastest time to complete a marathon on each continent.

As the race day approached, I fell into the habit of obsessively checking the weather forecast. It didn’t look good. It looked like it would rain, and it could be cool and windy as well. As people began to worry about the weather conditions for this year’s race, here’s what Don had to say:

“So here’s the deal. In case of bad weather, the race will be held OUTDOORS!

Ever run in the rain before?

Some people are asking me about if it’s possible the race will be canceled because of weather. 95 degrees. -25 degrees. Deluge thunderstorms. Wind. Rain. Fog. Whatever. We’ll cancel if there’s a disaster of Biblical proportions. Otherwise, plan on this thing happening. We’ve had 12 years of nice weather. What if one year we don’t?

Always remember–there’s more in you than you think. More strength. More determination. More guts. It’s all in there. Make it happen.”


Don’s advice helped me relax. He was right – I’ve run in the rain before and it was fine. Rather than going into the race thinking it was going to suck, I adjusted my mindset and looked at it as an adventure. As Don pointed out, if the weather was bad, we’d have a good story to tell. Boy, was he right…

Grand Rapids is more than two hours away from home, so I headed out the day before the race and stayed at a hotel. The drive out there was kind of miserable as it rained steadily the whole time. I went to the expo at the YMCA for the packet pickup. A pair of socks was included along with the long sleeve shirt. I found a nice short sleeve Brooks shirt that I bought as well.

2017-10-15 - grmarathon race shirt

2017-10-15 - grmarathon expo shirt

I walked around a mall for a bit, got my standard pre-race dinner at Noodles and Company, then settled in at the hotel for the night. Although I had come to terms with whatever race day conditions we faced, I still kept following all of the updates. A video was posted of Don out at a flooded spot along the race course.

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It was turning into an obstacle race at this point! We might have a few steps through a monster puddle, but we’d survive.

Although the forecast still didn’t look good, it was in the mid-60s and the rain had stopped when I headed out the next morning. Since the “velocity-challenged” racers were due to start at 7:00, I got to a parking lot by 6:45 to avoid dealing with road closures. I took a bag with post-race clothes to the gear check tent, jogged around a bit, and lined up in the corral. I happened to turn around and see one of my online running buddies Pete right behind me, so we chatted for a few minutes.

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We’re lucky that the rain held off prior to the race so we stayed dry and warm. As the National Anthem began, the first drops of rain came. Over the next couple minutes, a few drops turned into a steady rain just as we were about to start. I looked at the girl next to me and we both just laughed and shook our heads. I was thankful that it was warm enough and I was smart enough to wear my triathlon outfit since this was practically a duathlon! I can imagine it would be annoying to have a wet t-shirt and shorts weighing down on me for 13 miles.

In addition to the rain, we had a pretty strong wind to deal with as well. Shortly after we started the wind blew the rain sideways and I heard someone comment that it felt like pellets. This was going to be an interesting one!

I was soaked within the first few minutes. Although I tried to go around most of the bigger puddles, I realized it really didn’t matter. It’s not like I’d end up more wet than I already was. I used Aquaphor all over my feet and wore Injinji toe socks, so I hoped that my feet wouldn’t turn into a mess of blisters. We ran around some streets in downtown Grand Rapids to start, and one stretch through the busy part of town had a lot of spectators cheering us on. I give the volunteers and spectators a ton of credit. At least we got to keep moving and stay warm, while they were standing there getting cold and wet.

After five miles or so of running through the streets downtown, we veered off onto a paved path through Millennium Park. When I ran the full marathon, I really enjoyed running a long stretch of Indian Mounds Road. It’s lined with trees that can be really pretty at this time of year. However, the half marathon turns before hitting that stretch. I didn’t notice scenery much during this race, with the exception of one short area 9-10 miles into the race. We finally got some nice fall colors in that spot versus mostly green everywhere else. I realized that I had forgotten about the hills along the course. I mostly view this race as “flat and fast” but it does have a few little climbs to keep things interesting.

Pretty early into the race I knew that I’d roll along without any big expectations. I hoped that I’d run faster than I had at the Brooksie Way half a few weeks earlier, but that was the only real goal. I didn’t feel especially fresh or fast, aside from a part around the ninth or tenth mile when there was enough of a downhill stretch to help speed me up. The rain didn’t bother me all that much, and it came and went a few times. During the few brief moments when it wasn’t raining, I noticed that my face was pretty warm. The temperature dropped throughout the day, and it’s probably for the best that it was a little warm. I’d rather not be cold in the rain and wind!

Don had announced at the beginning of the race that they had been able to clear up most of the “lake” about seven miles into the race. By the time I got there, it had been raining for nearly an hour and was pretty flooded again. Someone was making a great effort to reduce it by sweeping it and using a pump, but our feet were completely submerged for several steps.

I had to hold onto my hat a few times thanks to the wind, but it didn’t seem to affect me too much until the end of the race when everything felt hard enough as it was. I didn’t look at my watch very often, but I seemed to be averaging somewhere around an 8:00 pace as far as I knew. I didn’t realize that I had a few faster miles mixed in during the second half of the race that helped me end up with a negative split. I felt like most of the run was quite an effort, but mostly sustainable. The last few miles felt more labored though. It’s understandable considering my training.

I normally like to follow a training plan for the half marathon that requires speed work and tempo runs. I’m normally used to running a specific race pace. However, I’ve been cautious this past year because I feel little tweaks occasionally from the foot that I injured. It’s been a year – how long can this linger? I’m very thankful that I’ve been okay running up to the half marathon distance, but it’s still frustrating. Most of my runs have been at an easy pace aside from racing every few weeks throughout the summer. I’m surprised that I was able to sustain an 8:00 pace for so long when I haven’t been running it during training. The end of the race felt hard, but somehow I kept going and even sped up a little. This wasn’t one of those races where I started slow, sped up, and felt strong through the end though. I battled the rain and wind and managed to keep going, but I didn’t feel great. Here’s a picture from the final stretch when I didn’t see the photographer:

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When I knew there would be a photographer at the finish, I faked a smile. The above picture reflects how I felt more accurately though, haha.

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I finished in 1:43:47 – around two minutes better than my time at Brooksie. Goal achieved! It’s clear that the heat and hills of Brooksie were more difficult for me than coping with the pouring rain.

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Here are my splits:

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As if I haven’t raved about Don Kern enough already, another awesome thing he does is greet every person at the finish line. He’s there to shake every last person’s hand, and I think that’s pretty awesome. Especially in those conditions.

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I was thankful for the heat blanket at the finish, because once I stopped moving I started to get cold. Although the frozen custard available in the food line looked good, I knew it wouldn’t be the best idea for me. I opted to grab a bagel, granola bar, apple, fruit snacks, and chocolate milk. I thought the chocolate milk would be a good way to get protein and refuel. I decided that was more important than the post-race beer, which I didn’t think would mix well in my stomach after a whole bottle of chocolate milk.

2017-10-15 - grmarathon beer tent

Eventually I went to the gear check tent to get my clothes. I was shivering by that point and my hands were getting especially cold. The race starts and ends by the YMCA, and they are kind enough to let the runners use the locker room. I got a post-race picture prior to changing.

2017-10-15 - grmarathon janet

You can’t tell from the picture, but I was totally soaked. During a triathlon, at least you have the benefit of drying off a bit thanks to the wind on the bike. Not this time! I started and finished totally soaked. I felt much better when I got into some dry clothes, but my hands were bad enough that I had to sit in the car with the heat on for a while before they got back to normal.

Looking back at the experience a week later, yes, it was hard and kind of sucked at times. But it was a memorable adventure, and having accomplished the race in such challenging conditions makes it that much sweeter. I had moments during the race where I smiled at the ridiculousness of voluntarily running 13 miles in the pouring rain. I also had moments where I was just trotting along, not quite suffering but not feeling great either. I feel good about the actual results of my race, but it also means more to me in the bigger picture. This race was a great reminder to keep a positive attitude, be adaptable, and try not to worry so much. The fact that it was so ridiculous and impractical is part of what made me enjoy it. It all worked out, and believe it or not, was actually pretty fun.

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz


Brooksie Way Half Marathon Recap

Brooksie Way is the ultimate hometown race for me. We live half a mile north of one section of the route, so that’s about as close to home as it gets! The half marathon starts and ends at Oakland University, and the course winds around the trails and roads I run all the time in Rochester/Rochester Hills. It’s a scenic course with good variety, but it’s also very hilly and challenging.

One thing that really draws me to the race is the sense of community. Between the 5K, 10K, and half marathon, over 3,700 people participated this year. I love getting to participate in a race in my town and seeing the race proceeds go back into the community in the form of mini-grants. It’s fun to see so many familiar faces, between running friends I know from the area and people I see at the gym and on the trail regularly. The Chevy Running Club from my work takes part in the Team Challenge and draws a pretty big group too.

As much as I love this race, I was kind of surprised when I realized I had only done it twice – in 2011 and 2012. I had to look back at the last five years to remember why it had been so long. The race conflicted with family plans in 2013. In 2014 and 2015, the course was altered due to construction and took runners up a brutally steep hill that I hate during the later miles. Because of that, I bypassed the race those years. I signed up for last year’s race, but a pesky stress fracture derailed those plans. After a five-year break, I was pretty excited to get back to it this year.

The race expo is held at Oakland University’s recreation center. This year they offered $15 discount codes for 2018’s race to the first 100 people in the doors both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. I got there about 10 minutes early on Saturday morning and was among the first 15 people, so I guess now I have a good reason to commit to next year’s race! It was nice to get there early before it got crowded. I picked up discount codes to a couple other races I may consider, and found some good deals on shirts…as if I need more. I found high-quality Brooks podium shirts for $10 a piece.

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In the past, the official race shirts were nice ones from Brooks too, but not these. I prefer the Brooks quality, but hopefully this one will be nice enough to wear regularly.

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I also stopped by the official Brooksie merch table and got an additional shirt in honor of the 10th year of the race.

2017-09-24 - brooksie 10 year shirt

The race was due to start at 8:00 on Sunday, September 24th. I got there a little before 7:00 and parked easily right on the race grounds. Typically, it’s the perfect time of year for a nice, cool fall race. This year was a different story though. We’d been stuck in a heatwave for at least a week. We were looking at potentially breaking a record the day of the race. The good thing is that at least I was acclimated as much as I could be. I had made a point of going out to run when it was extra hot in the week or so leading up to the race. Still, as much as I tried to be prepared, it’s never ideal for me when it’s nearly 70 degrees at the start of a longer race.

As I jogged around to warm up, I noticed that people were walking around inside the gates of Meadow Brook Amphitheatre. The race starts along the main drive into the venue. I’m not sure why it was open, but since it was, I decided to go in and explore. Meadow Brook is one of my favorite concert venues, and it was cool to see it looking so peaceful as the sun was rising. Some people were using the restrooms and some were warming up by running around the grounds.

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The Chevy group met for a photo at 7:45, then I wandered over to the start.

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2017-09-24 - brooksie start

The first wave went off at 8:05, and mine followed a couple minutes later. It didn’t take long to clear the shade of the trees and get out in the open with the sun. Fortunately, the route only took us into the sun during the early miles when it wasn’t too hot yet. Entertainment was spread out every mile or so, including a guy playing bagpipes and local news anchor Stephen Clark’s band within the first few miles. Someone was offering cider and donuts to the runners which made me laugh. I don’t think that would sit too well. The first few miles start out downhill, then we got some shade as we ran along the flat Clinton River Trail for a bit. I had a Foo Fighters song running through my head at that point, so I got extra fired up when I passed a guy playing an acoustic guitar while singing a different Foo Fighters song!

Five miles into the race was the first taste of some hills, although minor compared to what was coming later. There was a quick trip through downtown Rochester and the park, then about a mile up Paint Creek Trail – the place where I run most frequently. That’s where we hit the halfway point and when I could tell I was slowing down. Even though the trail seems flat, there’s the slightest incline which I always feel when I’m already struggling.

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I was happy to see Matt at the end of the stretch on the trail. Notice the smile on my face in his pictures versus the photo from the race’s photographer, haha. It was good to see him, and he stuck around long enough to catch some great photos of a couple other friends too.

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My smile didn’t last long because as soon as the trail portion ended, the real hills began. Even though I’d done repeats on the first big hill numerous times leading up to the race, it didn’t feel any easier. Running that hill seven miles into a race is a lot different from doing repeats on fresh legs. From that point on, the rest of the race was a struggle. I was running with a 21 oz. bottle of GU Brew and was trying to conserve some of it. I realized that I was thirsty and should be drinking more, so I started to grab water along the course as well. Since I tend to spill most of it when it’s in a cup, I only got a few sips here and there.

I was mostly in survival mode for the last five miles of the race, where the most challenging hills seem never-ending.

After the tenth mile I came across a guy handing out small bottles of water. He was a savior and I was finally able to drink enough. I knew that Roland from my work would be spectating somewhere after 11 miles, so looking for him helped distract me for a bit. He has come out to cheer for me each of the three years I’ve run the race which is so awesome of him. Seeing him made me smile – especially when he showed me that his shirt said “Run, Janet, Run!” The next day he told me that another woman named Janet ran up to him for a selfie. It was nice to have that little boost when I was struggling.

Knowing that I was nearing the end, I managed to pick up the pace. The uphill climb to the finish line was brutal, so it was nice to see my friend Jeff from work cheering me on. He didn’t get a smile from me at that point though – I was just hoping my final push wouldn’t give me a heart attack! Somehow I faked a smile for my finishing photo though.

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This was a rough one. A month earlier the Crim 10-mile had been an ideal race for me. I started slow, finished fast, and felt strong the whole time. This race was practically the opposite. A 20-degree difference in the temperature at the start was probably a part of it. I’ve had the heat shut me down in a couple races, and luckily that didn’t seem to be the case this time. However, I think the heat and hills together were a rough combination. Although I’m very familiar with the course, the five-year gap since I’d last done the race helped me forget just how hard it can be. My splits show how I dropped off during the second half. I didn’t look at my watch much later in the race because I really didn’t want to know how bad it had gotten. Based on how I felt, I thought some of the splits would have been a lot slower than they actually were!

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2017-09-24 - brooksie results

When I saw that my final time was just under 1:46, I was pretty happy. It was similar to my 2012 time. I knew I should be happy with the results on a hard day, on a hard course, without having followed a training plan to truly prepare me to run a half. I was also pretty thrilled to see that I was fifth in my age group. When I race distances much longer than 10K, I usually don’t place within the top 10. We don’t have results for the Team Challenge yet, but I’m hopeful that my placing will help one of our Chevy teams score well.

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I took my time walking through the finishing chute and picked up a Rice Krispies Treat, granola bar, bag of pretzels, etc. A free photo booth was available so I got in line. It was a very slow line and I waited at least 20 minutes, but caught up with my running friend Carmen (read her post about the race here) as well as Jeff and Jenny while I waited.

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The photo above was texted to me within a minute, then I finally made my way to the Team Challenge tent. It’s definitely one of the perks of participating in the challenge. The post-race snacks at the finish line weren’t very substantial or filling, so it was nice to load up on some carbs provided by Rochester Mills.

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I chatted with a couple from work for a while and eventually made my way to the post-race tent that was open to everyone. There was another photo booth there where they actually provided a physical print.

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After spending a couple hours on site after the race, I finally headed home. Matt always picks up the best post-race treats!

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I was fortunate to have a lot of really solid races this summer, so I suppose I was due for a tough one. I know that the weather played a role in the struggle, so I’m happy that I did as well as I did considering the conditions. Even though I didn’t have the strong feeling that I did throughout Crim, I still feel like this was a successful race.

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz