On Sunday, March 24th I went to Grosse Ile, Michigan for the Rock CF Half Marathon. It’s a race that has been on my radar for years and I’ve heard great things about it. It raises money to fight cystic fibrosis and offers a flat, fast course. It’s also one of the earliest half marathons of the year around this area. When I mapped out my training plan for the Boston Marathon, it called for a half marathon the weekend of this race. I figured it was a good excuse to finally get to it, and a $10 discount on Black Friday motivated me to sign up early. It would be a great way to test my fitness three weeks before Boston.
My friend Jeff realized he also had 13 miles on his training schedule the day of the race so he and his friend Don signed up as well. Grosse Ile is about an hour south of us. When Jeff offered to drive the three of us down there, it sounded like a good plan to me. In addition to the half marathon, a 10-mile run and 5K also took place. The race strongly encouraged us to park in a lot and ride shuttle buses to the middle school where our race started and finished. Parking wasn’t available at the middle school, but they did mention that the high school nearby had limited parking. We decided that we’d try the high school rather than ride the shuttles. We got there extra early to play it safe and there was still plenty of parking. That gave us time to pick up our packets and get ready for the race without feeling rushed. It was dark when we arrived and we walked 5-10 minutes on a back path in the moonlight to get from one school to the other.
We went to the middle school gym to get our packets, which included a shirt and a pair of gloves. Then we went back to the truck for a little bit where I got all of my race gear sorted out and ate a pre-race snack.
I headed back to the school with a little more than half an hour to spare to make a bathroom stop before lines got long. After that I got distracted when I saw the beautiful sunrise over the Detroit River.
We really lucked out with a beautiful morning. It was around 34 degrees at the start of the race with little to no wind. Because Grosse Ile is an island and much of the race is run around the exterior, I’ve heard that sometimes the wind has been a nuisance for runners in past years. I was thrilled that it wasn’t a concern this year.
It was fun to run into several running friends before the race started. Some were planning on racing hard while some were using the race as a training run for another race. I fell somewhere in between. I hoped to run the first 10 miles at my goal marathon pace and pick it up for the last few miles if I had it in me. I lined up near the 1:45 pacer and ended up running just in front of them for the beginning chunk of the race.
During the pre-race talk the announcer said we should watch out for potholes on the course. That was wise advice because there were plenty of rough patches. I spent a lot of time looking down but really enjoyed the view when I looked up, especially on the east side of the island. I could even see the Detroit skyline off in the distance. There were a lot of nice houses across from the river. Taken from Google Maps, the picture below shows what the course looked like as we started the run, although the sky wasn’t quite as blue for us.
I had never been to the island before so it was fun to explore. Aside from a golf course and airport, most of the course was residential. A few people came out to cheer for the runners, but it wasn’t a spectator-heavy kind of race. There wasn’t much entertainment along the course, but the aid stations were enthusiastic and groups from local schools had made some entertaining signs.
I was aiming to run an 8:00 pace to start and was 3-4 seconds under that for each of the first five miles. Most of that time I was near a guy who was steadily running the same pace as me. That’s one thing that’s nice about the race environment. While marathon pace workouts can sometimes seem intimidating to nail during training, it seems to come naturally during a race. Being around other people running the same pace sure helps.
Sometime during the sixth mile I looked at my watch and realized I had sped up a little more than I intended. The guy I’d been running near must have increased the pace and I had kept up with his rhythm. I let that guy go as I tried to keep my pace under control because I didn’t want to speed up quite yet. Jeff and Don had started behind me and around that point they caught up. We talked for a minute and eventually I watched them drift further ahead. It was kind of nice to have them and another friend just far enough up that I could still see them. It’s not that I was aiming to catch them, but having people around who I knew gave me something to watch, which helped keep me distracted.
My pace got a little faster over the next couple miles, but I wasn’t too concerned because I often end up running 10-15 seconds faster than my goal pace when I’m doing marathon pace workouts. I was still within my usual range, but I did consciously try to slow down at times. By the time I’d run nine miles, I felt comfortable with speeding up. It was a good sign that I was still feeling good that far into the race, so now it was time to pick it up.
One big highlight of the day was getting to run through an airport hangar 10 miles into the race. I’ve never done that before and I thought the picture below was pretty cool. The race provided free low resolution downloads of our race photos which I really appreciated. They uploaded them really quickly too!
I still felt pretty comfortable as my pace increased. I decided to start picking it up even more and caught up to Jeff and Don. We gave each other words of encouragement and I continued to push on. When I had a mile to go, it was time to give everything I had left. I nearly sped up to my 5K race pace. It’s something I manage to do whenever I run a successful half marathon and I’m still not sure how I pull that off. 5K pace feels rough enough during a 5K, so I don’t know how I do it 12 miles into a race! Having a woman on my heels who seemed to be suffering based on her constant moaning also motivated me to break away. By the time I hit the corral that sent us toward the finish line, I was really pushing. I managed to drop to a 6:33 pace for that last .1!
At a minimum I’d been hoping to maintain an 8:00 average for the whole race, so I was pretty happy to average 7:46 and finish with an overall time of 1:41:36.
Looking at my splits, I ran the race as ideally as I could have hoped. I was disciplined early, gradually picked it up, then still had energy left for a push at the end. I haven’t executed all of my half marathons that successfully, but I’ve done it a number of times now and it’s awesome to feel so strong at the end. A race like this makes me feel like the half marathon is my favorite distance. Everything just seemed to click!
Jeff and Don finished shortly after me and we got a group photo. They had done a long run the day before the race, so it’s great that they did so well on tired legs.
We chatted with some running buddies until I got cold enough to collect my warm clothes from gear check. I grabbed a bagel and a couple chocolate chip cookies to go, then headed back to the truck. We stopped for a nice breakfast as we headed toward home and refueled all of those calories (and more) that we had burned.
I’m really glad I finally made it to this race. Although it seemed like it would be a long drive to make, it wasn’t that bad – especially with good company. I really liked the course and it’s nice to know that they raised money for a great cause. Having such a solid run made it an even better experience.
After the race I looked back at my previous half marathons to see how this time compared. This race was just three seconds faster than a half marathon I ran in the Columbus area last year as I prepared for the Glass City Marathon. It blows my mind how consistent some of my race times have been. My last two marathon times were only five seconds apart! Considering how I ran a Boston-qualifying time at Glass City following that half marathon, I’m hoping this race means I’m in good shape for Boston as well.