Rock CF Half Marathon Recap

After running the Rock CF half marathon for my first time in 2019, I knew this was a race to keep on my radar. I ended up running virtually in 2020 when it didn’t happen, and 2021’s race didn’t happen either. I’m sure it was a great feeling for many people to have the race return in person this year on Sunday, March 20. What a perfect way to spend the first day of spring!

I only have four weeks until the Boston Marathon so I’m pretty deep in my training right now. My schedule called for either a long run or a 10K/half marathon race. I waited until a week before the race to see what the weather might do. A week ago it was a snowy mess around here and I probably wouldn’t have driven through that for over an hour to attempt to race. Fortunately, things looked more promising for race day so I signed up.

The last time I raced was when I did back-to-back trail half marathons on Thanksgiving and the day after. I don’t tend to race much during the winter because I worry that there could be slick footing on the race routes. Plus, marathon training is usually pretty intense and most races during the winter are 5Ks. I typically need more mileage than that. Rock CF is one of the first longer distance races that takes place in this area as we attempt to leave winter behind.

I was anxious to test the fitness I’ve built during this marathon training segment. I’ve been feeling good and I’ve had the feeling that I should have more potential in the half marathon than I’ve proven so far. I wanted to really go for it and I hoped I could finally land a new PR.

Despite the 8:00 start, I arrived in Grosse Ile extra early. The high school parking lot is a 5-minute walk from the start and racers are warned that it fills up early. I’d say people were still able to get spots around 6:45 or a bit later, but I got there even earlier to play it safe. The walk was more convenient to me than having to take a shuttle from the other parking areas. I walked to the middle school to collect my stuff then went back to hang out in my car for half an hour.

“CF” stands for Cystic Fibrosis, which is why lungs are a theme on the medal and race shirt.

When I got out of the car to head to the start, I heard someone call my name. It was Michelle, who I met last summer at a triathlon. Our paces are pretty similar and we’ve been Instagram buddies since that race. It was nice to catch up with her for a bit in the parking lot then again as we waited for the race to start.

I also ran into Jen, another Instagram buddy, and her husband. We’ve been following each other’s adventures for a while now but it was the first time we met in person. It was really great to see her and chat for a bit. This is a race where I always see a bunch of people I know. I think everyone who likes the longer races is anxious to get back out there. Plus, it’s a really great race.

I fought the typical pre-race nerves and although it was a little chilly in the 30s with some wind, I actually felt comfortable. I had driven through rain most of the way that morning so we really lucked out that things cleared up and we had a gorgeous race day. The start was kind of strange because none of us could hear anything. I saw some people outside of the gates with their hands over their hearts and I was afraid the National Anthem was playing while few of us racers realized it. I don’t know if speakers were facing the opposite direction or what, but there was no starting gun and suddenly we just started moving.

Once we got away from the school I remembered how nice the course is. Grosse Ile is an island so we got to run along the Detroit River for a good chunk of the race.

I made a note last time that the streets had a lot of rough patches. That hasn’t changed over the last few years. It was pretty nasty for several segments of the race and I watched my footing carefully. Aside from that, I tried to look up as much as I could to enjoy the waterfront homes and the view over the river. I took these photos during a cool down run after the race. It was especially gorgeous watching the sun rise over the water behind some pretty clouds.

It’s also pretty cool to see the Detroit skyline off in the distance. It’s tiny in the photo below, but the RenCen is visible from the east side of the island.

We branched off to the west 3.5 miles into the race and became very aware of the wind. It wasn’t anything too crazy but it was enough to make things more difficult for a mile or two. I slowed down by about 10 seconds for those couple of miles and I want to blame the wind! We got to the west side of the island and ran along the water again for about four miles. The wind was still there but at least we didn’t have to run directly into it anymore. It was fun to see a boat or two out on the water and I enjoyed running past a golf course too.

I wore my usual fuel belt with an electrolyte drink and I ate chews a few times after I hit the halfway point of the race to help keep my energy from waning. I ran this race more ambitiously than I usually do and I could feel how hard I was working. My usual routine for a half marathon is to run a little faster than marathon pace to start then I gradually pick up the pace. That usually leaves me with enough energy to make a strong push for the last few miles. This time I was really on a mission to get a PR. I knew that my PR pace was somewhere around 7:35. I figured I could aim to run that pace evenly the whole race. That’s how I ended up with my marathon PR this past fall. I knew it could backfire but I also knew I’d have to work if I wanted that PR. I started with a first mile of 7:45 then dropped below 7:30 for a couple miles. A couple miles were around 7:40, then back to the 7:30s for a few. Somehow I managed to keep it up.

We got to change things up a bit nine to ten miles into the race when we ran an out and back segment at the airport and went through the hangar. I enjoyed that part because I got to cheer for some friends who were going in the opposite direction.

When we got back out to the road again I told myself we should get a boost from a tailwind as we headed east. Maybe we did but it sure didn’t feel any easier. I just noticed that I was getting warmer as we ran directly toward the sun. After 10 miles I finally stuck my gloves in my pocket. I spent the next three miles of the race cringing because I was pushing so hard. I started to think that I ought to have a better 10K PR as well because it seemed like I ran a lot of this race at that pace. I kept worrying that I’d get hit with cramps or start to crash because of it.

As I ran next to a guy I was impressed that he recognized me. It was Rob, another one of my Instagram running buddies who I hadn’t met in person. I was oblivious because I was hurting so much with two miles to go. I was impressed that he was observant at that point! I was paying enough attention to recognize Michelle as I caught up to her in the late miles. Once again, we ended up running a race within about a minute of each other!

The course is basically flat but there are a few little hills in spots. Of course one of the hardest hills came toward the end when I was already dying! Somehow I kept pushing but it didn’t help that we also headed into the wind right as we approached the finish line.

I felt beat up but I didn’t crash – and I nailed that PR!

My prior PR was 1:39:43 which I ran in Toledo at the Glass City Marathon in April of 2015. It’s been seven years but I finally did it! I shaved 50 seconds off that time. Here’s how it played out mile by mile:

I’m still kind of in shock that I ran so many miles in the 7:20s and didn’t completely fall apart. As much as I felt like I was dying, my last couple miles were my fastest of the race other than one out at the airport! Age group awards went three deep so I didn’t win anything, but I’m really happy with how I placed in general. Although that’s nice to see, it’s really just a race against myself and I won that race this time. That’s what mattered most to me.

I had to stop for a picture and bang the gong in honor of my PR!

I collected a bagel and a couple cookies, grabbed my warmer clothes from gear check, then headed back out to the river for some “cool down” running at a much slower pace in hopes that it would save me from getting too stiff. When I got back I saw Jen again and some other friends like Kurt, who helped me get through my biggest long runs back in 2018 when we were both training for the Glass City Marathon. I love getting to catch up with a bunch of friends at this race.

Obviously I’m thrilled with the results. After I ran close to a PR on a very hilly half marathon course in September, I’ve been feeling like I should be capable of more on an easier course. I’m glad I was finally able to prove that, especially after sitting with the same PR for seven long years. Despite some recent years that have been pretty tough, plus getting old enough to be considered a “masters” runner, it’s nice to see that I’m still improving. I’m telling myself that I’m stronger than ever. This race is a sign that I’m in good shape heading into Boston as well. I still have a tough week or two of training left before I start to back down. Hopefully things continue in the right direction so I have a solid race there.

– Janet

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