After racing the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon pretty hard, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I ran the Brooksie Way Half Marathon in Rochester Hills a week later on Sunday, September 23rd. I would like to follow my Indy Monumental Marathon training plan as closely as I can, but I’m trying to listen to my body so I don’t end up with an injury. I considered the week in between the races a “limbo” week. Based on how I felt, I knew it wouldn’t be ideal to stick to the plan. There was a combination of feeling the need to recover from one race while also laying off enough to prepare for the next one. I didn’t do my strength or marathon pace workouts during the week, but still managed to run a total of 28 miles at an easy pace throughout the week.
I stopped by the expo at Oakland University on Friday evening. Because the fit for women-specific race shirts varies and doesn’t always work for me, I often opt for a unisex shirt. I was surprised to find that the extra small I had signed up for didn’t seem to be an actual option at the expo. I can imagine that had to throw off the availability of shirts later into the packet pickup process. I couldn’t have been the only one who signed up for that size, meaning a bunch of people probably ended up with shirts that had been allocated for other people. I ended up with a women’s shirt after all. I still miss the days when this race provided Brooks shirts. I really prefer the Brooks quality over the types of shirts they’ve used in recent years.
I saved $15 when I registered for this year’s race thanks to receiving a coupon for being one of the first people to arrive at the expo last year. They did the same thing this year and also offered a coupon to people who donated canned goods at a Kroger table. Since it’s pretty likely that I’ll run this race again next year, I brought some food to get the discount code.
We had been warned that local roads would start closing at 6:45 on race morning, so we should arrive early. Traffic is usually bad getting to this race and construction on one of the main roads complicated matters even more. I am very fortunate that I come from the north because it seems like the majority of the people arrive from the south. Traffic from that direction was RIDICULOUS because there was really only one main entrance. I wanted to park in the lot closest to the start and was one of the last cars to get into that lot at 6:40 – an hour and 20 minutes before the start! Since I had to get there so early, I spent a lot of time playing on my phone in the car to kill time and stay warm. I ate one Picky Bar when I first woke up and had another one an hour before the start while I waited. Between the bars and eating a few Clif Shot Bloks halfway through the race, my fueling strategy seemed to work well.
Eventually I left the car to make a bathroom stop and to meet the Chevy Running Club for a group photo. Amongst the thousands of people I just happened to run into my half brother! We chatted for a bit before I went back to the car to shed my warm clothes. My tank top wasn’t especially warm, so I jogged around the grounds both to prepare my legs and to move around enough to stay warm. We were incredibly lucky to have a gorgeous, cool day. It was around 50 degrees and clear at the start. It was a HUGE improvement over last year when it was 70 degrees and humid to start.
The first wave of speedy people started at 8:00 and my wave followed a few minutes later. The wave start was very helpful and I didn’t have to weave around people much. There was a 1:45 pacer near the back of my corral and I started near him. I didn’t know if I could maintain that pace, but figured it was a good place to start. I had stuck with the 1:45 pacer at my race the week before, but that course was entirely flat. Brooksie is challenging because of the rolling hills that come in the second half of the race. As I suffered to finish in 1:44 at the previous race, I told myself there was no way I could manage that on the Brooksie course too. However, it was hot and humid at that race and it was nice and cool at this race. I figured I’d be ambitious for the first half of the race as it started downhill then see how things played out.
I had a great experience running with the pacer at the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon because she hit an 8:00 pace right on the dot mile after mile. A couple miles into this race it was clear that I wasn’t going to stick with the pacer. I heard other people comment about how fast he was going as he kept getting further and further away. I figured maybe he was banking time on the downhill stretch to make up for slowing down on the hills later. My pace was in the 7:50s and I didn’t want to push it more than that.
I got into a pretty steady rhythm running with the crowd on the roads of Rochester Hills, and we hit the Clinton River Trail around the fourth mile. It all felt pretty comfortable and uneventful running a route that was extremely familiar to me.
I always tell myself that the real hills start seven miles into the race even though I know there’s a bit of climbing once we come off of the Clinton River Trail. Sure enough, that first climb took some effort and was more significant than I gave it credit for. A quick downhill followed, but then there’s a gradual incline on the way to the hills. I was surprised to see that my pace that had been 8:00 and under had gone up to 8:19 on my way up Paint Creek Trail. Maybe some weaving and a little rolling in the Rochester Municipal Park got to me. I didn’t feel tired yet, so I was a little worried that I had slowed down that much before I’d gotten to the hard part.
I knew that Matt planned to take some pictures somewhere around Paint Creek Trail, so I was happy when I spotted him. Then it was time for the hills. We live right by the first one so I’m very familiar with its difficultly. I run it regularly though, so I told myself I could grind through it. With almost every climb, there’s a downhill stretch that follows. I think the rolling actually makes it a really nice course. Although it takes work to get up the hills, I gain quite a bit of momentum when I come back down. At one point I remembered one of my encouraging mantras – the downhills help me more than the uphills hurt me. My average pace on the hills was actually better than the one slow mile through the park and on the trail! I still don’t know what happened to me there.
I drank about half of my bottle of GU Brew during the race and grabbed a cup of water here and there. It was a HUGE difference from the previous year when I went through my full bottle and suffered from thirst due to the heat and humidity. The weather was PERFECT this year. As I worked my way up one of the last big hills, I heard a spectator say, “This is your payoff for the summer.” It was true. Most of my summer training had been pretty brutal as I dealt with the heat and humidity, but I pushed through. I was extremely thankful to have a cool day where I could see all of my hard work pay off.
Once I finished the last big hill, I picked up the pace. I felt strong and it felt good to get moving faster. I was on a straightaway that lasted for a couple miles before the last couple turns that approach the finish. I knew that someone from work planned to cheer for me, so I was really happy to see him. I questioned if I could maintain the faster pace, but just kept rolling with it. The big group of cheering teenagers that manned the water stop in front of Adams High School helped keep me energized. My strongest half marathons that I’ve run have always ended with a really solid final 5K. I had stopped looking at my watch and didn’t realize how fast I was going, but I felt great.
Then I was pleasantly surprised when Matt rode past me on his bike. I thought he would take pictures near the trail and head back home. I found out later that the pictures hadn’t turned out very well. He didn’t want to let me down, so he was awesome enough to head out and try to get more! He caught me while I was in a good groove just before I approached the finish at Oakland University.
As I made one of the final turns, I finally caught up to the 1:45 pacer. He was definitely ahead of schedule and I wonder if anyone had stuck with him. There’s a cruel uphill climb to the finish line, but I kept pushing with everything I had left. I was wiped out for a minute afterward, but thrilled with my fast finish.
Like I said, I didn’t look at my watch once I picked up the pace, and I had no idea I had picked it up so much. A 7:06 mile at the end?! I was pretty shocked when I saw these splits later. It’s always a great feeling to come in so strong. Despite the harder course, I actually ran a little faster than I had a week earlier. I guess that really shows what a difference 20 degrees can make for me. I was struggling and suffering as I finished the women’s race in 1:44 on a flat course, yet I got stronger as I went and felt great on this hilly course.
Although this wasn’t a half marathon PR for me, it was a Brooksie PR by 2.5 minutes! It was my fourth time running the race and it was my best one yet.
I was happy that Matt was there to help me celebrate, and we spotted our friend Carmen after she finished. She had an awesome race and her first PR in the distance in four years! I guess the great weather and some solid training paid off for both of us. It was nice to catch up with her for a little bit and celebrate how well it had gone.
We were able to stash the bike in the back of my car, then Matt and I headed to the corporate tent. Since I ran as a part of the Chevy Running Club, I received two bracelets for the tent. The granola bar, chips, and Rice Krispies Treat I got at the finish were okay, but nothing compared to the catered meal in the tent.
It was similar to last year, with food and beer from Rochester Mills. I got some rolls, a salad, pasta, etc. I was especially happy because I got to enjoy it with Matt. I understand why he wouldn’t want to wait around from 6:40am on if he had ridden with me, so it was cool that he worked his way there on the bike and I was able to share my other bracelet with him.
I love running Brooksie because it’s the big hometown race. I get to see a ton of familiar faces and run the roads and trails that I know so well. I like representing the Chevy Running Club and catching up with some people I know from work and some who I just know thanks to the club. This is one of those races where I feel like I’m missing out on a big community celebration if I don’t participate. Although I always have a good time, it’s a bonus when the weather is beautiful and I run such a solid race!
Running back-to-back half marathons so hard just a week apart took a lot out of me. This has been another “limbo” week where I haven’t exactly followed my training plan. I had to take a couple days off to recover, and I won’t attempt to run any kind of workout pace until next week. I have five weeks until the marathon in Indy and it’s time to crack down. I’ve had a great time racing throughout the summer and up to this point. It’s certainly helped me build my fitness and see where I stand. I’m feeling confident, but now it’s time to lay off the racing and stick with the plan. If things keep rolling like they have been, I’m looking forward to a solid marathon at the beginning of November.