Rock CF Half Marathon Recap

Sunday, March 19 was the kind of day that made me question why I PAY to torture myself. Running a half marathon around an island on a cold, windy day with a real-feel of 10° didn’t seem like the best idea. Let’s be honest though – I’d be outside running somewhere even if I wasn’t doing a race and Rock CF is a great one that raises money for cystic fibrosis. The weather just made things more…interesting!

This was the third time I ran the race in person. I also have a medal and shirt from the 2020 COVID-era virtual edition of the race. I realized that this race has always acted as a test to see where I stand a month out from the Boston Marathon. I had a good run when I ran it for the first time in 2019 and last year’s race was a half marathon PR for me. I was curious how this test would go since I’ve been battling some tweaky spots that seriously derailed my marathon training for a few weeks. I’ll say that I didn’t quite ace this test, but it went well enough.

I missed several weekends of long runs thanks to my issues. I was really hoping that I could add some distance before and after this race to turn it into a solid long run day. Arriving at 6:30 for the 8:00 start allowed me to do so. I went to the middle school gym that acts as the home base for the race and collected my shirt with the cool shoes as lungs theme that they always have, plus a sticker and some gloves. Back to the car, then out to do a warm up run.

One thing I love about running Rock CF is getting to enjoy the gorgeous sunrise over the Detroit River. I ran out to the main road that runs along the east side of Grosse Ile where several other runners were doing the same thing as me. I ran out a mile then back to get to a total of two miles.

I had been worried about how cold it might be with the wind so I had plenty of layers on. I’m glad I ran a couple miles because that was enough to warm up and realize that I had overdressed. I had a buff over half of my face which was nice to start, but the wind wasn’t that bad and I didn’t really need it. I had a light layer of tights covered by pants and decided that I could swap to a single pair of tights. I also got rid of one extra shirt. Feeling ready to go, I started to run again since it was over a quarter mile between the high school parking lot and the start by the middle school. I continued to run out on the main road both to stay warm and to add more distance. I ended up with a total of 2.9 warm up miles so I would get at least 16 miles in for the day by the time the race was done.

I didn’t have much downtime between my warm up and the start of the race so I didn’t get too cold while I waited. At 8:00 we were off!

My ideal goal for the day was to see if I could run at marathon pace, which is usually around an 8:00 pace. I had missed three Sunday long runs in a row because of an issue around one of my knees. My first long run after that break was 15 miles the weekend before this race and I really dragged through it. I questioned if it could be too ambitious to hope for marathon pace but sometimes the energy of a race helps make it feel easier. This race would be a good guide to see how I might want to approach Boston after my snag in training. I had a big PR last year and I wish I could have truly “raced” this one, but I knew better. I needed to be smart, not cause the tweaky spots in my legs to flare up, and make sure I didn’t do anything that could jeopardize my race in Boston coming up a month later.

As we started to run north on East River Road, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of potholes. They had finally repaved the road! The roads were in terrible shape the two other times I ran the race. What a relief to be able to run on a smooth surface.

Things went pretty well to start. My pace ranged between 7:57 and 8:06 for the first six miles. A pace group made their way in front of me and I figured they might be running around the same kind of pace I was hoping for. I found myself lagging behind a little bit and eventually they got further away. I had to battle thoughts of how that was a pace I should be able to run easily. The competitive part of me wanted to run what I should be capable of running and keep up with them. I talked sense into myself though and knew that I wasn’t there to race all-out. No faster than marathon pace.

I slowed down for the second half of the race with my pace ranging between 8:10 and 8:20. I was a little frustrated because I’d really hoped I could pull off an 8:00 pace and realized I didn’t have it in me. It felt like I had to work fairly hard to even maintain the pace I was running. Marathon pace should feel comfortable and this felt like more effort than I’d hoped for. Rather than get frustrated, I took my usual approach of trying to put a sensible, positive spin on things. My previous long run had been pretty rough. I averaged over a 9:20 pace for that run. This was more than a minute per mile faster than that so it was a sign that I was improving. Maybe I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but at least injuries had faded enough that I could actually DO this. At the very least, my body was cooperating and I’d complete a 16-mile day.

The smooth surface of the road didn’t last all the way around the island, unfortunately. There were a few rough patches but still nothing as bad as the east side had in the past. Despite the cold, it was a pretty, sunny day. I couldn’t wait until the wind would be at my back though. The wind was noticeable enough heading toward the west and on the west side of the island to make my already challenging effort feel more difficult. I tried to look forward to running around the airport which I knew would come somewhere around ten miles into the race.

I was a little disappointed when I got to the airport and saw that we just ran an out-and-back stretch on the runway. In the past we got to run through the hangar which was a cool moment and a great spot for the photographers to capture fun race photos. Oh well! Shortly after I left the airport I came to a spot where music was blasting. Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” was playing and that helped lift my spirits for the couple of minutes that I could hear it. I don’t run with music very often and thought it could have been nice if I had it during this race considering the boost I got. There weren’t many music spots or spectators along the course which could have helped distract me from how hard it was to maintain my effort.

Eventually I made it back to the east side of the island and knew I was in the final stretch, even if that was at least a couple more miles. A friendly guy greeted me as we ran near each other and after the race I realized we had the same shoes. We both had last year’s Boston edition of the Brooks Launch which is sort of unique so I thought that was fun.

Mile 13 was around an 8:13 pace and I dropped to an 8:00 pace for the final stretch after that. I still didn’t push myself to the max, but it didn’t feel easy either. While I usually have a bunch of smiley race photos, I didn’t get any of those this time!

This was about the closest I could muster for a smile between feeling wiped out and running in the cold!

Here are the final stats from my Garmin. There was some elevation but the race is pretty flat. My watch had me averaging an 8:09 pace overall. I didn’t hit my goal of 8:00 but this was still pretty decent.

Here’s how my splits broke down. I stayed fairly consistent for the first half of the race, slowed down a little, then stayed fairly consistent in that range for the second half.

Here are the official results. 1:47:11 was my time which broke down to an 8:11 average.

When I got to the gym I ran into a couple of friends who I know from Instagram but hadn’t actually met in person. It was nice to meet in “real life” and hear how their races had gone. I collected a bagel and a chocolate chip cookie then headed over to the Athletico tent. They were working on people and I figured that might be helpful considering all of the issues I’ve been battling. I had to wait a little bit then had a great woman named Joan work on me. I told her about the hamstring issue on my left side which she confirmed, plus she also mentioned my hip flexor and QL. The QL isn’t really even on my radar, but whatever it is, she dug in and struggled to get it release like it should have. As I already knew, she suggested that seeing someone about these issues would be helpful. I finally had a physical with my doctor later in the week, got a prescription for physical therapy, and will see someone a couple weeks before Boston. That’s not enough time to solve my problems prior to the race but at least it will be a start!

I left the gym nearly an hour after I’d finished the race and dreaded going out into the cold with my sweaty, wet clothing. I figured jogging back to the car would help keep me warmer than walking. Since I didn’t feel too stiff I decided to keep it going and add more miles to the day’s total. My fingers were frozen and felt pretty bad until I made it a mile out then turned around. I realized I had been running into the wind and I felt much better on the way back. With two additional miles I managed to get 18 in for the day. Since I was worried about how I’d missed several big long runs for my Boston prep, getting 18 miles in gave me a little more confidence.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t nail marathon pace at this race and I realize that I may have to adjust my goal pace for Boston. Despite that disappointment, I was pretty happy that I’d managed to run 18 miles that felt SO much better than the miserable 15 I had run the week before. I had worried about losing some of my fitness when I took a couple weeks off but I had put in a solid nine weeks of training prior to that and I knew it wouldn’t completely fade. I’m going to look at this race as a sign that my fitness is building back and maybe I’ll still be in decent shape for Boston.

– Janet

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