(May 2014) Door County Half Race Recap

The Door County half marathon was yesterday and, despite an ominous weather forecast, things went just about perfectly. The weather, the shade, and the hills (because what comes up must come down), all combined to make a truly great race experience. Woo! The course is hilly, but not crazy. It’s absolutely beautiful. You’re in the woods and on the coast – what more could you want? Unless you want streets crowded with spectators, in which case maybe this isn’t for you. But I’d challenge you to try it. Stinkin’ awesome.

Going into Saturday my goal time was 2:25. There was a 2:25 pace team and I figured that if I paced myself behind them, even losing sight of them for a little while in the first few miles, I could make up the time on the second half and meet them on the home stretch.

Here we are, waiting to begin!

Mile 1 – 11:30. We began in 40 degree temps and rain-free skies. Right from the get-go I paced myself slow. Really, really slow. So slow that I was surprised to find out at mile 1 that my pace was 11:30. I thought it would be slower. But I felt good and trusted my breathing and my body to dictate the pace. I knew that in the miles to come I’d be picking it up. Still, the first few miles of any run are always painful for me. I’m stiff, I’m sore, and not warmed up yet. I could see the 2:25 pacers in the distance but knew I’d be well behind them for awhile.

Mile 2 – 11:50. I decided to walk through most of the aid stations this race. I was looking forward to the aid station before mile 2 already, needing a short break to stretch my tight calves. A little stretching and some water helped, and I was on my way. Starting to lose sight of the pacers.

Miles 3 & 4 – 11:13 each. Huh! I was still holding back and in “warm-up” mode during mile 3, but I must have been feeling good because I was picking up the pace without trying to and, apparently, hitting an even groove. There was a port-a-potty break in there somewhere. All that hydration wasn’t “sweating out” as quickly as I had hoped. I lost sight of the pace team entirely and tried not to feel defeated about it. Lots of race to go… Also, halfway through mile 4 was when the big hills started. Grunt.

Mile 5 – 11:38. Still climbing, but the highest peak comes at Sven’s Bluff, just about a quarter way into mile 5. Guess who was there? Pirates and their pirate ship. The volunteers handing out water and gatorade were dressed as pirates. A much-needed spirit-booster after that incline. Luckily the course’s hills, though steep in places, always give you a reprieve. I decided to let the hills guide my pace – slower uphill and smooth on the downhill. This is when I started a mantra to go with my breathing pattern. In for three – “Yes you can!”, out for two. “Yes you can!” I imagined my sub yoga instructor’s voice because he would always say that when guiding us into a difficult pose. He’d say “Yes you can,” and, wouldn’t you know it, I could. Things were feeling so-so here, so I needed the mental boost. Thanks yoga!

Mile 6 – 10:46 More hills and downgrades. Still feeling like I’m pacing myself slowly, but the clock says I’m making good time. My friend Jayne’s family was there cheering all of us on during the race, and they were on the sidelines somewhere in mile 6. What a shot of joy they were every time I saw them, but especially here. I was feeling weary from the hills and I knew I was the last of our group to pass them. No matter, they were so excited and so positive. Thanks guys. You made my race amazing. Also thank you to the random guy who said “Nice pace, 72. Nice pace.” He probably said that to everyone, but I took it to heart and thought, “He’s wearing a track jacket, he must know what he’s talking about. Keep it up, self! Track-jacket guy says you’re doing great!”

Mile 7 – 10:44 All gently uphill. Feeling AWESOME because I’m over halfway done and got into the “it’s all downhill from here” mindset (even though it was most certainly NOT all downhill from there). Best part – I ran into a friend from my grad school internships who was running her first half. It was so fun to hear her say that she was enjoying herself and making good time. She does CrossFit like a champ, but said she wasn’t able to train like she would have liked – a pretty good testament to the importance of proper/regular strength training! (Side note – she rocked all 13.1 miles. Way to go Lindsey!) Catching up with her and seeing a friendly face gave me an energy boost, and I continued on my merry way.

Mile 8 – 11:08. Another water station, more hills, and a gel station that I did not use. BIG MOMENT FOR ME. This race was all about “trusting the training, trusting the process.” Meaning, only drink water (no gatorade, no gels/chews). So far so good, I had zero side stitches. However, in the back of my mind I knew that my debilitating stitch in the Fox Cities half didn’t start until mile 10 (after I had eaten a gel and drank gatorade – and after starting too fast). Bonus during this mile? I caught a glimpse of my 2:25 pace team up ahead.

Mile 9 – 10:40. A mix of hills, but nothing too bad. The pace team is clearly visible and I’m just trucking along. I started to “reel” in runners ahead of me, passing them bit by bit. This is a great feeling, by the way, especially when you pass people who passed you early on. You really do feel a sense of “turtle and the hare” validation. Run on, turtles of the running world.

Mile 10 – 10:14. That’s right. This negative split thing is genius. I’m closing the gap on the pace team and starting to realize that not only am I going to catch them, I could pass them. What the what???

Mile 11 – 10:21. “Let It Go” starts playing in my headphones and I start to cry immediately. Hey, there were a lot of things going on. I was about to pass my pace team, which meant I was going to finish before 2:25, and I was going to do it stitch-free (I was pretty sure), and I was proud of myself, and that’s an amazingly emotional song because it’s all about letting go all the crap that holds you back from being yourself and doing wonderful things. So, yeah. I cried. But then “TikTok” came on, and surprisingly no more tears were shed. Anyway. I came up behind my pacers and shouted, “Way to go pace team! Thank you!!” because I really was grateful for all their energy and for being so stinking great at keeping an even pace for so long. They rock. They recognized me as I passed by (I had told them my plan to start slow and finish fast, but hit that 2:25 mark) and cheered me on.

Mile 12 – 11:05. This included a brief “I’m gonna finish before 2:25″ walk, because I was happy and giving my feet a little break before pushing through the final mile-point-one.

Mile 13.1 – 11:35 (10:32 pace). This one hurt. Endurance-wise not so painful. I wasn’t huffing or puffing. My feet, on the other hand, were feeling every single step. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. Somewhere at exactly .4 to go people on the sidelines starting saying things like “only .4 to go, right around the corner!” To which I must reply, suck it. There were several corners still to go. I HATE it when race finishers come back and tell you you’re almost there when you really are not. “Almost there” to me means that you can see the finish line and you have .1 miles to go before you cross it. Anyway. I finally rounded the final corner, saw the finish line, and made the decision to book it. I gave it all I had – within reason, of course. No need to pull anything. But I pushed, and I crossed the finish line, and it felt awesome. It would have felt even more awesome had the medal hander-outer actually handed me my medal instead of staring at me blankly expecting me to just grab one off her arm, but whatever.

The time on my phone’s stopwatch said 2:24:00, and my official time was 2:24:40. Goal achieved. That was a PR by exactly 8 minutes. In September I’ll try for 2:20 at the Fox Cities half-marathon. If I can shed 8 minutes in 7 months, here’s hoping I can drop 4 minutes in 5.

This was a great race. The perfect run. No pain (except for the foot pain in the final mile). No stitches. Progressively faster. A strong finish. What more can you ask for? This is a GREAT race.

Of course, we had to stop and enjoy a post-race free beer before heading home. Also, we needed a bathroom to change out of our disgusting race clothes. Double bonus.

This footrace weekend coincided with another pretty popular race - a pony race - weekend. Had to bring the finishers medal to the Kentucky Derby party and enjoy a mint julip as a reward.  Obviously.