There are two main reasons I ended up in Dublin, Ohio for the Warm Up Columbus Half Marathon on Sunday, February 18th. First, I was at the halfway point of training for the Glass City Marathon and Hal Higdon’s training plan calls for a half marathon race at that point. Second, there are very few half marathons around this area in the middle of February. The only half I found in Michigan was in Mt. Pleasant. That one sounds like a nice race, but a chunk of the course is on dirt roads. With all of the snow we’ve had lately, I worried that the dirt roads could be icy due to daytime thawing followed by nighttime refreezing. I came across the Columbus race when I searched for races in neighboring states. It would take 3.5-4 hours to drive there, which I considered doable. Higdon emphasizes that it’s not necessary to race a half on that specific day just because it’s on the schedule. I was curious to test my fitness level though, and hoped to turn it into a fun adventure.
I had never been to the Columbus area and didn’t know much about it. I know that it’s enemy country – home of THE Ohio State University. That meant I would NOT dare to wear any of my University of Michigan gear during the trip. Aside from that, I’d heard good things about the Columbus Zoo. Matt had to work and wasn’t available to go with me, but I was up for the solo adventure and a chance to take some fun photos.
I left home early on Saturday morning and got to the zoo before 11:00. Admission was half-off because half of the exhibits are closed during the winter. I knew to expect that, but it was still a bummer to walk past a bunch of empty exhibits. The zoo was not very busy and I’m sure the weather played a role. It was around 30°F but the real-feel was colder. I enjoyed the aquarium and reptile exhibits because I could warm up inside!
One of the polar bears was pretty active, so that was a highlight for me.
After a couple hours, I was so cold that I reached a breaking point. I had gloves, but they weren’t thick enough and my hands were frozen. I had seen most of the open exhibits by then, so I’d had enough. I’ll have to visit the zoo again sometime when it’s warmer and all of the exhibits are open.
Early packet pickup took place at a Fleet Feet running store nearby, so I went there next. After I got my stuff, I went to see a waterfall a few minutes away from my hotel. I had checked TripAdvisor.com prior to my trip and it listed Indian Run Falls near the top of the list in Dublin, Ohio. It was beautiful! A short path through the woods takes you to various observation areas. I may have spent 20 minutes or so taking in the view from different vantage points. It had started to snow, and it made things look even more gorgeous.
When I had almost reached my hotel, I got sidetracked when I saw a sign for an ice cream store. I hadn’t eaten much besides snacks all day so I was tempted. I had never heard of Graeter’s Ice Cream so I looked at Yelp in the parking lot before going in. It had great ratings, which was apparent when I saw the long line inside! They make their chocolate chips (more like chunks) in a special way and it tasted amazing. There are several locations around Columbus and one around Cleveland, so it will definitely be on my radar when I’m around either city in the future.
I settled at my hotel for a bit until I went out to pick up dinner. Noodles and Company is one of my standard pre-race meals and there was one close by. I spent the rest of the night relaxing while watching the Olympics.
I had chosen to stay at the host hotel which was located right by the start/finish line. There were a couple of other hotels along the street as well. Nothing beats the convenience of staying right by the starting line. We’ve done it for a few other races, and it’s always nice to have access to a real bathroom and head outside just minutes before the start of the race. I went out to my car 45 minutes early to make sure I was dressed appropriately. The snow from the night before hadn’t accumulated, but it left the roads wet. Since the temperature was around 30°F, there were a lot of slick spots. I had been debating if I could get away with shorts, but ultimately went with tights so I’d have a buffer in case I wiped out!
I went back outside 10 minutes before the start of the race and did a very short jog out on the road to test the surface. I didn’t even attempt to run in the parking lot because I slid around too much. The road wasn’t a whole lot better. There was a lack of traction in spots but I didn’t fall, so I hoped I wouldn’t during the race either.
A unique thing about this race, which might be a deal-breaker for some, is that it involves multiple loops. One-mile loops. Around what is essentially an office park. That meant I would run the same course THIRTEEN times. I weighed the pros and cons prior to signing up. After I survived a 17-mile run on the treadmill the previous weekend, I figured I could surely handle one-mile loops.
The race offered 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon distances. A half might seem crazy enough, but looping 26 times would really be a challenge. Because the course was exactly a mile, the 5K and half runners started 0.1 miles from the finish, and the 10K and full runners started 0.2 miles back. We started three minutes before they did, so that helped stagger things a little bit.
After some announcements, I took off with the 5K and half runners at 8:00. I remembered to hit my lap button at 0.1 miles so the splits would line up.
The route took us counterclockwise on one side of the road past my hotel, by some office buildings, behind Graeter’s and Max & Erma’s, and by more office buildings. The highlight of the “scenery” was probably a man-made lake between office buildings.
The course was measured from the left edge of the road, so I tried to stay there as much as I could. Traction was a bit of an issue for me for at least 2-3 loops. Every now and then I’d run along the curb where it wasn’t slippery, but it was at an angle that was not ideal for extended periods of running. Eventually the road began to dry out as people kept running on it. It helped that the sun came out as well.
I knew that congestion would be a big factor during this race. With over 400 people running the same one-mile loop on one side of the road, there’s no avoiding it. Around 100 people each ran the 5K and 10K, so a lot of the people cleared out before the later miles of my race. The half had the most people – 186 finishers. It looks like 50 people were strong enough (crazy enough?!) to run the full. There was one water/Gatorade stop just after the finish line. Of course that was the busiest area, so I really had to pay attention and dodge people there. I had my own bottle of GU Brew so I didn’t make any stops. I think one thing that distracted me from the monotony of multiple loops was constantly dodging people – and allowing myself to be dodged as well. Everyone was in it together and it’s just how it worked, so I didn’t let it bother me…aside from the one time when someone came to a dead stop in front of me at the aid station. I tried to veer away from the aid station during the following loops. It wasn’t always possible to stick to the left side of the road, but I sure tried, even if it meant running by the curb now and then as I passed people.
There weren’t any stretches of the route that bothered me, so that also helped me tolerate the loops. I noticed the wind a little bit on one stretch, but it was pretty minor. Although my watch shows that there was some change in elevation, this course was pretty much as flat as could be. No hills to dread with each loop!
The most excitement along the course occurred by the finish line. Music was playing and plenty of people gathered there to cheer. The aid station was nice and loud as well. The rest of the course was pretty mellow. A few people were scattered along the rest of the route to support friends or family members.
For the most part, I didn’t pay much attention to the scenery. I was there to work. I didn’t have a specific goal for the race, aside from wanting to run hard. I figured at a minimum I wanted to maintain my goal marathon pace of 8:00 miles, but of course I hoped for better. The main goal was to see what I had in me halfway through my marathon training. I didn’t watch my pace too closely and mostly ran by feel. I managed to stay pretty consistent. I counted the laps and hoped I’d have it in me to pick up the pace during the later laps.
Somehow my pace sped up gradually. I still don’t know how that just happens…but I’m glad it does! Once I counted the 10th lap, I told myself that after that lap I only had two left. I figured with less than 5K left it was “go” time. I really picked up the pace for the last couple miles, giving it everything I had left for the last mile. I was pretty tired by then and struggled a bit with fatigue. Aside from making my nose run, the temperature had been fine for me. However, the faster I ran the more I noticed that it was hard to breathe in the cold air. I pushed through and had a solid finish.
I didn’t realize that results were based on the gun time. I started about seven seconds back from the line, so the official results and my Garmin differed slightly.
I was really happy with my time. Although it wasn’t a PR, it was the fastest half I’ve run in three years. It tells me that I’m really on track with my training.
I had to take a few minutes to recover after crossing the finish line. The cold air and my fast finish weren’t a good combo, so I had to try not to hyperventilate or have a coughing fit. Eventually I was fine.
Water, bananas, and granola bars were supplied at the finish line. Bagels, pizza, and warm drinks were available inside the convention center part of the hotel. The pizza was really good. A couple people were available to look up results, and age group awards were on a table. I wasn’t quite speedy enough for one of those.
Since I was done before 10:00 and checkout was at noon, I had enough time to go back to my room and shower before starting the drive home.
This is obviously not a destination kind of race. The route is not scenic or especially exciting. The name “Warm Up Columbus” mostly refers to warming up for upcoming races like Boston, the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus, or in my case, Glass City. This race is great in those terms. It was well-organized and I was really happy with my experience. I might not go out of my way to run it as a goal race, but it was a great way to experience the race environment and test my current level of fitness.
This race also helped me realize what I still need to work on prior to the marathon. For one thing, the tips of my toes ended up hurting by the end of the run. They were sore, but luckily I didn’t have any blisters. When I double the distance, it could get ugly. I will try different shoes for my upcoming long runs and see if one pair is more ideal than another for longer distances.
I also need to make sure I hydrate enough. I only drank about 10 oz. of my GU Brew during the race. Just like the shoes, it worked fine for a half, but I have to make sure I drink a lot more during a marathon.
Other than that, I think I’m on track. A race calculator predicts that I can run a 3:33 marathon based on this half marathon time. I’m training for a 3:30 marathon, so I’m pretty close. I need a 3:40 to BQ, meaning I probably need at least a 3:37 to actually get into Boston. Here’s hoping the second half of training continues to go well and all of the pieces fall into place on race day.