I’ve been racing a lot lately as I continue to prepare for the Indy Monumental Marathon in November. Racing helps me get good speed or marathon pace workouts done more easily than when I do the workouts on my own. In addition, races have helped me get through the grind of running so many miles.
My first 16-mile long run of this training segment was scheduled for Sunday, September 16th. When I browsed through RunMichigan.com, I made a note that there was a half marathon at Belle Isle that day. The Detroit Women’s Half Marathon might be a good way to get through most of that mileage for the day.
In the past I’ve felt a little torn about the exclusivity of a women’s only race. I feel like running is such an inclusive sport that I don’t like the idea of excluding anyone. At the same time, I understand that women’s races are intended to celebrate women with an empowering, supportive vibe.
Way too many stories have been in the news lately about women getting attacked while running. It’s not fair that we can’t go out for a run by ourselves without worrying about our safety. I shouldn’t have to worry that it might not be safe for me to go to the track by myself. That running the pretty dirt roads alone could be a bad idea. That I have to look suspiciously at any guy who runs by me on the trail if it’s getting a little too late in the evening. That a pre-dawn run is just asking for trouble.
When I heard that a local woman was attacked while doing a track workout on Labor Day, it hit way too close to home and I got really pissed off. It made me realize that I shouldn’t feel funny about this kind of race at all. In fact, I stopped hesitating and signed up for it while I was still fuming about the news. Maybe we do still need something that’s all about “girl power” now and then.
I didn’t make an extra trip to Detroit for the expo the day before the race, so I got my shirt (and the buff seen below) when I arrived early the morning of the race.
Because I planned to run 16 miles total, I decided I would run three miles before the race. It was warm and the humidity was ridiculous – 99%!
I started my run around 7:00, figuring I’d take it easy and finish with at least half an hour to spare before the race started at 8:00. It was beautiful to see the run rising over the Detroit River.
Even the slow, easy run was enough to work up quite a sweat. This might be a tough day! I hit a porta-potty along the race course on my way back to save me the hassle of waiting in a long line near the starting line. I used baby wipes to get rid of some of the sweat, swapped my bottle of water for a fresh bottle of GU Brew, ate a couple of chews, then headed to the start.
I wanted to see if I could run all 13 miles around an 8:00 pace, which is my goal marathon pace. That meant I had a goal time of 1:45. I was pretty fortunate that there happened to be a woman pacer for that specific time, so I lined up right behind her.
The pace felt easy as we started, so I made a point of staying behind the pacer. I didn’t want to start too fast while my legs were fresh and pay for it in the later miles. A woman pacing a 10K group was with us for the first few miles before splitting off where the races separated. Otherwise, there was a group of three of us sticking with our pacer Rebecca.
It was nice to have people to run with and conversation to provide some distraction. There was some brief talk about carrying pepper spray, an alarm, etc. in order to feel safe while running alone or with a baby, and I have a feeling that it’s not a topic that comes up too often amongst men runners. Other than that, this was really like any other race.
Belle Isle is as flat as can be. After an opening stretch through the middle of the island, we ran a couple loops around the exterior before cutting back in on the way to the finish.
It was nice to run by the Detroit River and see the RenCen in the distance, as seen in the picture below. The race was kind enough to provide free photos and the photographers got some great ones.
When I hit 16 minutes right on the dot two miles into the run, I knew our pacer was doing an awesome job. She kept nailing the 8:00 pace mile after mile. I could tell when one of the women was starting to struggle based on her breathing, and she dropped from our group about six miles into the race. Three of us continued together for most of the race. The other woman’s pace increased over the last few miles, leaving me alone with Rebecca. I am extremely thankful that I had her there to keep the pace so consistent. All I had to do was follow along. The half marathon had just over 300 finishers, so this race was fairly small. There weren’t many people around us most of the time and I’m sure it would have been a struggle if I had run most of the race alone. Having people around helps me maintain a good rhythm and helps pull me along when things get difficult.
I had a bottle of GU Brew in my hydration belt, but I knew it was hot and humid enough for me to supplement that with some water. Although I was sweating a lot, half of my shirt was soaked due to my lack of skill when it comes to drinking out of a cup while still running, haha. The heat certainly was a factor and made things challenging. There was a slight breeze when we ran east on the south side of the island. While it was refreshing, it also meant we had to fight the resistance. It was minor, but when I started to get tired, little things like that were noticeable.
I felt pretty solid through the first eight miles of the race. The Thursday prior to this race I was supposed to do a workout with eight of the miles at marathon pace. I kept my pace easy instead, knowing I would save it for the race. Once I hit eight miles at an 8:00 pace during the race, I said anything from that point forward would be a bonus. At least I had nailed my workout. The mental struggle began by the ninth mile. I started to count down the remaining miles and tried to convince myself that I could keep it up for four more miles. Things started to feel difficult by the tenth mile. When I’ve run really solid half marathons in the past, I’ve been able to pick up the pace for the last 5K. Our tenth mile actually was a little faster, but I wasn’t feeling strong enough to keep that momentum going. The heat was getting to me, my left arch was a little annoyed, and my calves were getting tight. I wanted to make that final push, but instead I started to venture into survival mode. At times Rebecca would get a few steps ahead and I just tried to hang on. At other times I’d get a few steps ahead, but felt the struggle. I told myself that I really wanted to maintain the 8:00 pace, and somehow I managed to keep going. It was hard though! By the last mile, I gave it everything I had left and pulled away from Rebecca. It was a really difficult grind, but somehow I dropped to a 7:29 pace for the last mile.
I saw that the clock was about to hit 1:44 and I pushed as hard as I could to beat it. My gun time was exactly 1:44:00, and my chip time was a few seconds under that. The race announcer made a comment about how my last name was pretty fitting as I “bolted” through the finish line. The announcers have actually commented on my name at the last few races I’ve done, and it kind of cracks me up.
I was so concerned with beating the clock that I forgot to stop my watch, which is why the end of the race is cut off on these Garmin splits. It took a few minutes before I realized the watch was still running.
I was super pumped that I had achieved my goal. Although this wasn’t a PR, I was so happy about the results that it may as well have been a PR. I told Rebecca that I had to grab her for a photo to give her credit for my excellent race.
I’ve tried to follow pacers a few times but it has never worked out like this. Sometimes I want to start a little slow and roll into a race and I lose the group. Some races are so big that I haven’t been able to work my way through the crowd enough to stick with them. I felt like a pace group in one race was too crowded and congested, so I broke away. I’ve never followed a pace group all the way through a race. Rebecca was the perfect pacer for what I wanted to achieve in this race.
This medal is especially cool because it has a charm that can be detached and worn on a necklace.
I was very happy with the post-race food selection. I got some pancakes, a cookie, chips, and a number of other goodies. I also remembered that I had a piece of salted caramel chocolate from Sanders in my pocket, which was handed out at an aid station near the end of the race.
Because this was such a small race, I placed really well. I was second in my age group and the 12th woman overall! I typically don’t place that high in larger half marathons. Men were able to participate, and a few did, but they didn’t count in the age group results.
One thing I love about Epic Races is their “grab-and-go” approach to awards. I’ve waited an hour and a half after finishing some races this summer before I’ve received my award. Instead of waiting through a long ceremony, I was able to go to the prize table and choose what I wanted. They had a couple kinds of glasses and this water bottle, which I chose.
The more I thought about it, the more proud I was of my results. Although I didn’t do any specific pace workouts in the week leading up to this race, I ran my scheduled mileage so I would stay on track with marathon training. I ran seven miles on Friday, eight miles on Saturday, and the three miles before the race. I wasn’t exactly well-rested coming into this one. The heat and humidity were not ideal racing conditions at all, so the fact that I still managed to hit my goal pace in those conditions was huge. I realize now that I had to work a lot harder to make that happen.
Aside from being happy with my results, I was really happy with the race in general. I’ve done a few of Epic Races’ events and they always do a nice job. It was kind of cool to do a female-centric race for a change. The race announcer shared lots of inspiring stories about women racing that day who had lost weight, fought cancer, and turned their lives around in numerous ways. There may have been around 1,000 women there between the 5K, 10K, and half marathon. It turns out you don’t have to be a “girly girl” to appreciate a women’s race. In times like these, it was actually a really great place to be.