With this feature, we officially welcome Steve DeGenaro to the Casual Runner Team, so you can expect to be seeing a lot more of him around here. You can check out Steve’s previous contributions to Casual Runner: his First Mile and his Review of the Green Cathedral Half Marathon.
Event: 2014 Hilloween Half Marathon
Event Date: November 2, 2014
Event Location: Columbiana, Ohio
Glad to be back, Casual Runners! I am checking in after a close to month long hiatus with article three, about half marathon number two. As I mentioned in my last race recap, I couldn’t have asked for a better first half marathon experience, so there was a little part of me that expected the second to be a bit of a letdown. How wrong I was. I have a lot to touch on, so I won’t try and be overly-clever here. On to the recap!
Why I decided to run this race.
First, I liked the price point. Entry fee was approximately $33, which I feel is a great price for a race that gives out at least a shirt and a participation medal (we’re getting there, don’t worry!). I do see the merit to springing for the bigger races with more expensive entry fees. The venues are always well-decorated and well-attended by supporters. At some point, I would love to try that out. But for me right now, I am running on a budget so to speak. Any 13.1 mile length will suffice—as long as you give me a medal after I finish!
Second, I really wanted to close out 2014 having run multiple half marathons. Going into this one, part of me thought that the second half marathon was just as, if not more, important than the first in terms of making the leap from running a half marathon to being a half marathoner. One is checking something off the bucket list; two is a pattern or a hobby. Put another way, I could see myself running one marathon without becoming a marathoner (somebody feel free to throw this article back in my face in the future).
Getting there/the lead-up to the race
I had remained in pretty good conditioning following the Green Cathedral, so I just picked up where I left off from there. I gave myself a well-deserved three day rest, and then jumped back into training using essentially the same training schedule I used for the first: 3-4 shorter base runs with the long run on Sunday adding a mile each week, hitting 12 at the two week out mark and then scaling back going into the race.
I made two positive changes going from first half marathon training to the second. First, I decided that I was going to step up my base runs. Rather than doing 4 or 5 mile runs, I decided that I should just stay up in my conditioning and make 6 miles my base run distance. I think this little trick made for a sneaky way to add on miles and increase conditioning without feeling like you did. You can practically get to 20 miles a week on just three base runs of around 6 miles before even adding in a longer run. Maybe this is intuitive to everyone but me, but I think the difference definitely helped in the end.
The second is that I did not taper off as drastically as I did before the Green Cathedral. I had the bright idea that it would be wise to go into my first half marathon with a six day rest period. Suffice it to say I didn’t make that same mistake again. While I did wind up taking a 5 day stretch off within 10 days of the race, I made sure I didn’t completely back my mileage off the week before the race. And yeah, I suppose there is something to the argument that, at that point, one or two missed runs wouldn’t have mattered. But if nothing else, mentally I didn’t have that concern like I did first race.
That said, I did keep my two day pre-race routine from last in place: massive amounts of carbs Friday night and Saturday for lunch, and a Nalgene of water at least every two hours all day Saturday. I was fueled up and ready to run.
The race Expo
Everything was done on race day. It was held in the cafeteria of Columbiana High School. Nothing too complicated. One table for day-of registrants, and one for pre-registers. Depending on your perspective and whether you had your cup of coffee already that morning, the race organizers were either giving you a glimpse of the Promised Land or torturing you by setting out the post-race doughnuts. I also spotted the awards that they later gave out, as well as the swag bag they gave out to all entrants.
This one came with a couple of snacks (different brand protein bars), some sample Advil, joint freeze, and other first aid-type items, and flyers for upcoming races. Biggest draw was the long sleeve shirt. It’s a cloth long sleeve shirt. I don’t see myself running in this as much as I am in the tech t shirt I received for the Green Cathedral, but on the other hand, I do not have as many long sleeve shirts as I do t shirts. The black and lime green is a welcome addition to the wardrobe. Plus, having so vetted it, I can confirm it is comfortable for the well-deserved, post-race nap.
I am very much a creature of habit, even amongst runners. My thought process going into this race was that nothing was broke from the last race, so don’t fix it. Therefore, I wore a nearly identical outfit that I did for Green Cathedral, including my race shirt. Forecast called for cold temperatures and wind, but otherwise dry. So I felt comfortable going with under armor, compression shorts, shorts instead of sweats, and a winter hat. I was 90% of the time. Only thing I would have changed is a pair of gloves as my hands were icicles by the end. Need to add that to my wish list for Christmas. In fact, the only thing that really changed was that I had a new pair of running shoes, and even then I still used the same type, albeit different color, of Ascis I wore for my previous race. Like I said, creature of habit.
TMI Alert: Finally, I wore two very, very necessary band aids. To paraphrase the great Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz: “Those who know, no explanation’s necessary. Those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.” (Or you could just look at Mike’s issues during the Marine Corps Marathon).
The gun was scheduled to go off at 7am sharp. I was fortunate enough to schedule a race for the first day after falling back to Eastern Standard Time, so my 4:50am rise and shine felt like 6. I arrived 45 minutes before start, so I milled around the registration area for a bit. Despite the race being called Hilloween, I did not see a lot of costumes during the race. There was a group of three guys that were dressed up, however.
I am going to refer to these gentlemen as super heroes. Keep them in mind, as they are going to make an appearance later.
After taking a look around inside, I hit the track to a couple of warm up/pacing laps. As I still have not picked up a running watch yet, I use my iPod to roughly split my miles and need to rely on internal pacing. The warm up laps let me get a feel for how fast I should run.
Magical Moment (sort of!). Oh, and I found a penny—heads up—while standing around waiting for the race to start. Good omen.
Along the course
The course was a beautiful autumn run along country roads. Not well-attended outside of the start and finish area (in fact, I think the only spectators might have been the volunteers blocking off the roads and showing us where to turn). So again, I picked a more introverted course, but it didn’t really bother me. The view made up for it: rolling hills, lots of trees in various stages of coloration, and a clear blue sky. If I could describe the course overall in one phrase, I would call it Paul Harvey-esqe. I really regret not having a smart phone to take pictures.
As for my race, I have to go back a couple of days to set the table. Two days before the race, the race organizers sent out a warning that the course was challenging and the entrants should start out conservatively. To really drive this point home, the organizers sent out a picture to show the elevation changes. Accordingly, I developed a slower race plan. As an estimate, it looked like the first mile would have a large hill. But after I reached the top, I could stride it out a bit until around mile three. I would then buckle down for the next six miles to get through the remaining uphill climbs, and then just leave it all on the course for the final four miles.
When the gun went off, I made sure I was again positioned in the back of the pack. To ensure I did not start out too fast like I did last time, I stayed on my pace that I felt out during my warm up runs and chose not to pass anybody for the first mile. When I passed the first mile marker around 10:30 or so, I felt good knowing I did not start out too fast.
The race was not without hiccups, of course. Between mile 2 and 3 my iPod died. This would have freaked me out if this had been my first half, or if I had thought that I was running too fast. Thankfully, neither applied. I was able to accept the change, adjust my outlook, and advance through the race.
I hit my only major wall between mile 10 and 11 when I started developing a cramp in my abs. This had happened during my first half marathon, albeit much earlier in the race. I had set as a goal for this race to run the whole thing start to finish. But in the excitement of clearing the course’s major hills, I suppose that I went out too fast. I needed to take two very brief walking breaks just before the 11th mile.
And then some unexpected magic happened. The super heroes came running by just before the 11th mile. One of them gave me an encouraging pat on the back and said something like “come on now, don’t let the old guys beat you.” They then briefly slowed down and allowed me to pick up the pace with them. I described the cramp I had and they knew it well. One (I think it was Buzz, but it may have been Superman), said that he likes to talk to work out those cramps. So I ran with them and we talked about running: how many races we have done, which ones, and high school cross country. And it worked! So I need to say thank you to my super heroes for giving me a new way to stave off the race-day stomach cramp.
The course was laid out so that the finish chute was on the high school track, with the final tenth along the back curve. Coming into the stadium, I felt that I had been running at a PR pace, but the question was to what extent I would surpass my old PR. As I turned the corner and saw the finish line, I spied the clock and saw that my goal time was within reach, but it was going to be close.
(Insert internal monologue)
“Holy cow! You might do it.”
“Go break it!!!”
I did whatever a dead sprint looks like after 13 miles to make sure I was able to finish under my goal time. The clock showed that I had done it by 19 seconds as I crossed the finish line, and that wonderful euphoria of a runner’s high kicked in as I made my way through the chute. I felt good after completing my first half marathon, but that sense of accomplishment is magnified when you set a PR.
Sorry Mike, I never should have doubted you. I now see why you pick races based on medals…
My first SMO (which was technically a SWO) was nice, but man is it satisfying to receive something big like this. The medal sits just a little larger than the palm of my hand, and has some weight to it. Not hurt your back heavy, but bulky enough to feel like you just earned something (and hey, 13.1 miles is earning it). Keeping with the holiday theme, the part worn around your neck is an orange and black ribbon. Only downside: not comfortable to wear while napping.
The post-race experience
After every single person finished running (a very nice touch appreciated by this Casual Runner), the officials had awards in the high school cafeteria. Awards were given for overall finishes, the relay winners, and the top finishes by age bracket. Notably, the overalls and top team each received an apple pie as part of the award. They looked good enough that I considered trying to swap my medal for one. Almost.
And in the day’s biggest surprise, an unexpected name was called to the podium:
That’s right readers. I somehow managed to place 5th for my age group. Even more impressive, there were more than five runners in that age group. I know, I was as surprised as you. So technically I received two SMO’s. Not bad for a couple of hours of running. But just take it in folks, the first and last time I expect to reach “the podium.”
Looking back now
As I mentioned at the outset, this race far surpassed any “sequel”-like disappointment I somewhat expected for my second half marathon. I set a great PR, including meeting a personal mark that I had in the back of my mind as the first major milestone of my half marathoning “career.” I earned not one, but two SMO’s for the “price” of one. And, one was even for placing! That may very well never happen again. Even though the event was smaller than some of the other races on here, I definitely plan on returning next year.
As a final note, I want to share a thought that struck me as I drove home after the race. Encumbered by the day’s spoils, I couldn’t help but notice the relative size of my new bling.
Yes, I must admit that it was extremely cool to receive a medal for placing in the race. And yes I expect I will have far more finisher medals over my “career” than place medals. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that the relative sizes of the medals was a purposeful decision by the race officials—or that I hope it was anyway.
The point is, whenever you toe the line, you’ve already won. This race was a great reminder of the spirit of this website and the entire Casual Runner concept. I can’t wait to do it again next year.
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