I started moving my legs and followed the swarm of runners out of the little village square, through the entrance gate (a little cluster formed here, which would have made me mad if I was a legit runner trying to beat a time), and into a neighborhood development. The road was flat to slightly hilly, and I felt my body heating up. In the mid-40 degree and sunny weather, I was a little worried that my training jacket would get too warm fast.
I found a pair of women relatively quickly who were running at a speed comfortable to me, so I decided to follow them. This allowed me to take my mind off worrying about the time early on.
I told Dave after reviewing the course elevation chart below the day before the race that I was really glad the first 6 miles were flat or downhill. Others may have preferred to deal with the hilliest miles early on, while strength is still in full supply, but I knew I needed the opening miles to gain momentum. My legs needed time to adjust to the movement, my lungs needed to establish a comfortable breathing pattern, and my brain needed some endorphins to ramp up for the pain.
The first water station was set-up at mile 2. Although I felt strong and didn’t necessarily need the fluid, I decided to drink water and gatorade at all five stations to stay as well-hydrated as I could. I didn’t train this way, only with Gu, so I figured this would give me a slight advantage over my long training runs.
The first package of Gu followed around mile three, shortly before the race started living up to its name.
At this point, there were three buggies in my sight. Traffic was a little backed-up because a runner had evidently fallen and hit his head. He was laying on the road with several race volunteers gathered around him, waiting for an ambulance. Beyond this point, many miles of green, pastoral landscape followed, with the occasional farmhouse and buggy passing by.
Miles 3 to 6 flew by. The course was still flat or going downhill, the air was fresh, and I felt stronger and stronger. I left the pair of runners I initially stuck to behind and passed a few more people who had started walking. Simultaneously, I was also passed by a good amount of people who had started behind me and were now catching up.
When the 6-mile marker showed up on the side of the road, the race really started. There were long uphill stretches and the wind really picked up. Instead of regretting my choide to wear my training jacket, I began feeling extremely grateful that I did. It acted as the perfect wind-breaker, but the wind still made it hard to keep up my speed, especially uphill.
But somehow, the hills didn’t phase me nearly as much as I thought they would. In fact, the hills were the stretches during which I was passing people. Many slowed down significantly or even started walking. It dawned on me that State College was the perfect training ground for this race. Hills cannot be avoided in Happy Valley, and I guess I just really got used to them. This realization made me very happy and proud, and I was able to increase my speed even more.
Miles 7 and 9 brought more water and Gatorade, and I was on my last package of Gu when I finally reached mile 10. Miles 8.5 until then were a nice break from the hills. Because I had been feeling so strong during the entire race, I thought I could really dig in and get more speed out of me on the home stretch between miles 10 and 13. But once I got there, my knees and legs felt less good, and my hips were beginning to feel a little sore too. Also, we were back to an uphill climb, which at times, was pretty significant. I thought I better focus on what I have been doing instead of trying to push for more speed.
Mile 11 came and I still felt reasonably good. There were many spectators on the side of the road because we were back in a developed area. At one point, a little boy, maybe 6 years old, ran alongside me. I took my headphones out to hear what he was saying, which was “Don’t give up, less than two miles left!” He high-fived me with a huge inflatable baseball glove and off he went to the next person.
Finally, there was mile 12. I was still determined to finish strong and really ramp up the speed, but my legs were heavy and even the shortest hill was making me work a lot harder. Again, I had to focus on just keeping it up rather than pushing beyond my current speed. I began to think in songs: less than three songs and I’m there. I also allowed myself to envision the sweet moment of crossing the finish line with Dave there and hugging him in relief to be done.
Sure enough, soon I was back at the village gate with the clock tower. Because the village is windy and the finish line was in the town center, I had to concentrate on arrows on the pavement and pointing arms from the volunteers to guide me. The song I picked to finish to was “One More Time” by Daft Punk, for the simple reason that I finished my 8-mile run to it last week and really liked the feel.
I turned around my last corner and there was the finish line. I think if I had been able to see it from farther away, I probably would have been able to pull off a more significant sprint. This way, I started sprinting about 30 seconds before the finish. The last stretch led across grass, back onto pavement, and through the finish gate.
Here I am! Dave took this photo before high-fiving me and greeting me with a big hug. I was so happy to be done. When I caught a glimpse of the time, I knew I broke my personal record, which was all I wanted. I decided my time was somewhere around 2:29 because I wasn’t able to start running right when they started due to the line, and I also took into consideration the cluster at the clock tower. My last half marathon two years ago was 2:31:45.
Side note: I know I’m a slow runner, but I really love the sport and I’m excited to work on my time. I’m going to focus on a 10k distance for the next few months and try to reach a solid 9 to 9.5 minute pace.
So anyway, I was thrilled about how the race went, especially considering the hills and the wind.
The medal featured a buggy and some runners running uphill. Very accurate.
I stretched and told Dave about all the details of the race before we headed over to the post-race buffet.
Not the greatest offering for a vegetarian, but Dave was happy to eat this at least. I had the orange slices and a small piece of Strudel. We stuck around a bit for the live music and ambiance, and then headed back to the hotel, so I could shower, eat, and stretch.
Around noon, feeling a little lightheaded, but clean, we headed back to the village because free beer was to be consumed and little shops to be explored!
To be continued…