Sunday, September 26th was the day of one of my favorite local races, the Brooksie Way half marathon in Rochester, MI. I live just off the course and know it well since I run its roads and trails on a regular basis. In addition to that, it was my sixth time running the actual race. A few things were different this time around because of the pandemic. Rather than having the expo inside Oakland University’s rec center with a bunch of vendors, this time packets could be picked up outside on the grounds of the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre. I made the quick stop on my way home from work on Friday afternoon.
One great thing about this race is that I didn’t have to wake up by 4am and drive an hour or more to get there like so many of my other recent races. I still got there somewhat early because I know traffic can be a problem. I’d rather make sure I can park fairly close and kill time by playing on my phone rather than potentially getting stuck on congested roads.
Around 7am I had my second Picky Bar of the morning which is my go-to pre-race food that works for my stomach. Then I headed out for a warm up jog on Oakland University’s campus. When I ran the race in 2019 I did a “warm up” run of seven miles so I could complete a 20-mile marathon training run for the day. This time I was determined to truly give my best effort and RACE. The mile and a half that I ran beforehand was just to loosen my legs. Plus, I know that there is a porta potty out on the 10K course that will have no line versus the ones back on the main grounds. It was also a good excuse for me to check out the incredible sunrise.
The weather was about as ideal as I could hope for. Temps were in the low 70s and the humidity was pretty bad for the 2019 race. That slowed things down and made it a more challenging day. 50° with plenty of clouds made things perfect this year. I was hoping that would result in a fast time for me.
By the time I got back from my jog and grabbed stuff in my car it was almost 7:40 – the time when I was supposed to meet up for a group photo. This was my first opportunity to race as a part of Stellantis’ running team (aka FCA, aka Chrysler) after joining the company in June of 2020. It felt kind of weird not to meet up with the Chevy Running Club that I had been a part of for so many years. I’m so thankful for this new opportunity though where I’m actually a direct hire with benefits instead of being a contractor who was never going to get hired directly. The two companies compete in a corporate challenge every year at this race and I was hoping I could make a good first impression on my new team and run fast enough to help us win the half marathon division. We actually had 40-some people running the various races so obviously not everyone showed up for the photo.
My half brother Bob was doing the 5K and he hopped into our photo since he used to work for Chrysler. Now he’s on GM’s team though, so we’ve essentially swapped spots. It was nice to catch up with him then a couple of other friends once I went to the starting corral. One of the things I like so much about this race is seeing so many familiar faces.
Just like many of the years in the past, the 8:00 start of the race was delayed by 15 minutes because there was traffic on the course. More time to chat with people while I tried not to get too anxious since I wanted to get moving!
I lined up a little behind the 1:40 pacer who must have taken off because I didn’t notice him once the race got going. I think I was actually running splits that would have kept me close to that group but it’s very rare that I find a race where I can actually stick with the pacer. I didn’t really know what my goal time was anyway. I knew that my best Brooksie time was around 1:43 so I wondered if I could get close to that.
My pace was between 7:32-7:35 for the first four miles. I thought maybe that was a little ambitious. I usually start a little slower and speed up as I go. However, when I ran the course several weeks ago during a training run it reminded me that the downhill start can be really beneficial. I ran those miles faster than I normally would during training and I was still fine during the late miles of that run. Usually it’s not ideal to bank time by running fast early to make up for segments where the race gets harder. It could backfire with some major struggles later in the race. I said forget that though and decided to go for it. Because of the nature of this course it doesn’t make sense to try to run at an even pace. I was going to take advantage of the momentum I had going downhill because I knew I wouldn’t be fast no matter what when the uphill segments began.
My friend Carmen had another friend who was running the half marathon and she was kind enough to come out and cheer for us along with some awesome signs. I didn’t know where she’d be so luckily she cheered loud enough to catch my attention around a mile or so into the race.
Shortly after I saw her I also saw my friend Jeff spectating. I didn’t know he’d be out there so it was a fun surprise. I saw a couple other people I knew throughout the course too and it always made me smile. Another bonus for such a hyperlocal race!
I ran the fifth mile in 7:29 and I hoped this approach of running fast early wasn’t going to come back to bite me later. During workouts that pace usually feels pretty challenging but it came naturally during the race. Things just clicked. Afterward I realized maybe I wasn’t getting too far out of control after all. My half marathon PR pace is around 7:35. It might be more ideal to aim for that pace consistently through a race instead of slowly easing into things and having energy for extra fast miles at the end. There are so many ways to approach racing and even after this many I still don’t know if there’s a truly right or wrong way to do it. I guess it’s part of the challenge that keeps things interesting.
After the fast downhill miles on the pavement we hit Clinton River Trail for a little over a mile and the asphalt and crushed stone surfaces didn’t seem to slow me down. I knew that once we turned off the trail things would get harder with the first incline. There’s a quick downhill afterward that takes us through downtown Rochester. I saw Jeff again at that point and told him that the easy part was over. A guy running near me jokingly said, “That’s not very encouraging!” I laughed and said, “Well, it’s true!” I think I’ve crossed paths with him while out running so I’m pretty sure he knew it too.
There was a quick segment on pavement through Rochester Municipal Park before we ran a mile on Paint Creek Trail with crushed limestone. Although the trail seems flat I know that there’s a slight enough incline and I started to slow down a little bit.
Somewhere around seven miles into the race the REAL hills begin with a straight shot up where we switch from the trail to roads. I live right by that first climb and ran it a few days before the race. It didn’t seem so bad then but it’s always a challenge during the race when I’m actually trying to go fast. I just kept talking myself through the tough spots by reminding myself how well I know the course and that I know what to expect. It definitely helped to have people out there encouraging us through the hills. I saw Carmen again which made me smile and she got a picture for me!
Somewhere around nine miles into the race I passed a spectator who was telling each woman what place she was. I think he said that I was the 16th place woman as I went by. I usually care more about how I’m doing in terms of my own personal goal rather than my overall placement but I was gaining ground on the woman in front of me and it was encouraging to think I’d jump to 15th place. It motivated me as I caught a few more women and kept counting myself one place higher. After all, I DID want to place well for the corporate challenge and the more women I passed the better my chances of moving up in my age group. Eventually I didn’t see any women in front of me that I could catch and I just hoped no one was coming up from behind to pass me!
There’s a fairly short stretch on a dirt road and most of the surface was in pretty good shape. It’s still a little hilly though and I was powering through and telling myself that once I got back to the pavement I would have a long stretch where I could fly. It still isn’t totally flat there either though and I grimaced at times as I kept grinding. I had been somewhere just above or below an 8:00 pace for the difficult miles which was actually pretty fast considering how hard it was, but I dropped back down to 7:40s then 7:30s for that straight shot before turning onto the final road. I wondered if I had picked it up too early and if I could actually maintain it. Jeff, who had traveled around to several parts of the course on his bike, was there again. He gave me some encouragement while I was just trying to hang on and I really appreciated him being out there.
When I turned onto the last road that would take us toward the finish I knew I had to keep pushing hard through the end. It was great to see Carmen there for more encouragement and I was excited to tell her I was going to have a PR for the Brooksie course! Then one last grind for the evil uphill finish.
I crossed in 1:40:22 and was pretty thrilled. I had shaved three minutes off my best Brooksie time. On top of that, I was less than a minute slower than my general half marathon PR and I ran that one on a totally flat course. I had no idea I could come close to that time on such a tough course!
I was pretty excited when I saw how well I placed in the race too. This was definitely my strongest Brooksie performance all around. Second in my age group meant I would probably be an asset to my Dodge Chargers team so one of my main goals had been achieved!
I got my medal, water, a granola bar, Rice Krispies Treat, and some chips before leaving the finishing area. I got some warmer clothes then headed over to the Team Challenge tent.
In the past we’ve been spoiled with some great catered meals in the Team Challenge tent but the pandemic spoiled that this year. Instead, we received a ticket for a free serving of mac and cheese from the House of Mac food truck.
I found the team leader from the GM running club and talked to him for a bit. It was my first time seeing him in person in a couple years and I broke the news to him that I had switched to the rival. It was really nice to catch up with him. Then I wanted to talk to the leader of my current team. I had met him the week leading up to the race but really didn’t know anyone else on the team. He talked about the achievements of some of the other members, including a woman who had recently run 200 miles. I definitely want to get to know some of these teammates!
While we were talking one of my running buddies from Instagram came over and introduced himself. Steve and I always seem to post pictures from the same local running spots yet we hadn’t met in person. It was really nice to finally meet him and chat for a while in person.
Later in the day I found a spot on the results page that listed the Team Challenge info. Sure enough, my second place age group finish helped my team come out on top! I’m glad I was able to contribute and be a valuable member of my new team. It’s actually the 11th year in a row that they’ve taken the win for the half marathon.
The following weekend a couple of Brooksie volunteers were back on the Meadow Brook grounds to hand out age group awards. I swung by and received a notebook and key chain. They also had boxes of old shirts for free so I grabbed a bonus one for this year’s race – as if I really need more shirts!
I’m really happy with the results of this year’s race and so thankful that we had perfect weather to help make it possible. I’m still in shock that I got so close to my half marathon PR. It makes me wonder what I might be able to pull off on an easier course right now. After having a couple of fall marathons cancel on me because of the pandemic, I finally decided on the Indy Monumental Marathon in early November. I’m hoping my third choice actually DOES happen. I ran the race in 2018 and my time got me into Boston, so I’m hoping I can capitalize on my current fitness level and pull that off again this year.