Event: 2015 Green Cathedral Half Marathon
Event Date: September 13, 2015
Event Location: Youngstown, Ohio
Why I decided to run this race
Two personal reasons prompted me to return for a second running of the Green Cathedral. First and foremost, this race holds a special place in my heart as my first ever half marathon. When I last ran this race, I had no idea what to expect as to how 13.1 miles felt, so I ran the race merely for completion. Now, with additional races under my belt, I wanted to run this race with something other than a survival mindset—and with other races to compare it against. I (understandably) felt like the Green Cathedral’s course is incredibly challenging; at the time I ran it last, it was 100% accurate to say that the race was the hardest half marathon I ever ran (hey, hardest out of one can still be the hardest!). I wanted to see if that claim held up now that I’ve ran other half marathons (Spoiler Alert: it is really hard!).
The other reason that I wanted to run this race was because I needed to keep pace with my New Years’ Runsolution of completing six half marathons in 2015. The 2015 Green Cathedral gave me five for the year.
Getting there/the lead-up to the race
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, I was nervously soldiering through the final stages of my training regimen, hoping that I had done enough to make it across the finish line!
This year? No fretting was needed, as I not only knew that I can complete a half marathon, but all I needed to do was do an occasional run every other day to pass the time between this race and my previous one (the 2015 Emerald City Half – check out my recap here!). Although, due to feeling a little soreness in the bottom of my feet again, I took a week off to heal up (and had the opportunity to further product test Icy Feet—they were perfect for the pain in my right foot).
Between the 8:30 am start time and the race being held in my home town of Youngstown, I got to sleep in relatively late for a race day: 7:00. Yes, running half marathons for a hobby also means that you think of 7:00 as “sleeping in.”
Race day called for a wet autumn day. To work around this, I wore a long sleeve Under Armor underneath my tech gear shirt, shorts, arm band for my Nike run app, and iPod nano.
The race Expo / Swag review
The Green Cathedral does not have a traditional race Expo. Instead, packet pickup was held on the two days prior to the race at a local Dick’s Sporting Goods store—a trend that I am noticing more and more local races are doing (like, for example, the Emerald City Half in Dublin, Ohio). The two dates (Friday from 2 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) offered a lot of flexibility for pre-registered runners to get the bibs and gear.
As with last year, the Green Cathedral offered limited swag. Entrants received Dick’s coupons, a draw string bag, some samples of topical pain relief cream, and the complimentary tech shirt. What the race lacks in quantity of swag, however, it makes up for in quality. This year’s shirt was a twist on last year’s shirt (which was white with lime green vents). This year, the shirt was lime green (befitting the Green Cathedral’s name) with black vents. A+ shirt.
Because I was fortunate enough to be attending a half marathon in my home town, I was able to sleep in and arrive at the race’s start time closer than I typically do. All I had time (and needed) to do was survey the snack booth for one last power bar before going off to the races.
Along the course
The course layout is one big loop in the shape of a T that traces the edges of Mill Creek Park’s two lakes—Lake Glacier and Lake Newport—and the river connecting the two.
The first mile of the course eases you in to what is to come later in the race. From the starting line, runners glide down a sloped bike path (hold this thought for later) and briefly into the park proper. The course immediately turns out onto the street, and the first mile-mile and a half consists of residential streets.
Eventually, the course winds into Mill Creek. A downward slope brings the runners into the park for the second/third mile that also doubles as the flattest portion of the course. The half marathon cuts north along the western bank of Lake Glacier before turning around and heading south.
By the third mile marker, the course hits full gear. From that point forward, the Green Cathedral offers a non-stop, up and down experience over the next ten plus miles. It kicks off very dramatically right away; runners climb almost 150 feet in elevation between mile marker 3 and 4.
Miles 5 through 8 follow along the east bank of the river and Lake Newport. And while there isn’t any hill that is as bad or steep as the one in the fourth mile, it maintains the course’s hilliness: each mile has at least one hill featured. Race Icon. The highlight from this portion of this course is the first of two glimpses of historic Lanterman’s Mill.
At the eighth mile marker, the course turns right onto a bike trail and crosses over the water. At this point, the course doubles back north along the west side of the lakes. Runners get a brief respite for the final push towards the finish line. The two mile stretch does not have as many hills as other parts of the course, but instead was more “mogul-ly.”
The hardest part is in the final 5k. The course has at least six substantial hills between the tenth mile marker and finish line. Two particularly devilish stretches come to mind. The first occurs between mile markers 12 and 13 and is a stretch with two hills separated by maybe 100 yards of flat. Both hills are two of the steeper ones on the course, and one adds to the challenge by following a bend in the road (which will force you to either run the outside of the curve or adjust and cut across the street to take the shorter path).
The second is the final three-tenths of a mile. Remember that comfy bike path that eased you into the race? Run back up it. And run back up with full view of the finish line; even though the race is in a park, this final push has a clear line of sight. Seriously, look no further than this course if you need to prove that all uphills are twice as long as downhills.
Last year, the Green Cathedral and I introduced you to the concept of SWO: the shiny wooden object. Once again, finishers received a medal fashioned out of old trees from the park.
Essentially the same design as last year, but with two changes that I could perceive. On the one hand, this year’s medal had more detail to it in the design. On the other hand, I noticed that this year’s finisher medal for the half was smaller than last year’s (and smaller than the one that the 5k winners received this year). Not to knock the people who placed in the 5k, but why not make all of the medals the same in size, but distinguish by writing on the medal itself?
The post-race experience
The organizers had a mini-ceremony where they announced the top three finishers overall and for each age and sex division. (Spoiler: I was not among them; my time on the podium has come and gone. There was also a raffle drawing for a gift basket comprised of extra tech shirts and other goodies. I did not hang around for very long, however, because of the inclement weather.
By pure coincidence and laziness careful and deliberate forethought, I used the exact same playlist that I used for my first half marathon. So I had a familiar playlist to jam to as I attacked the numerous hills that the course had to offer. That meant lots of Eminem and Lord of the Rings.
Looking back now
Now having experienced it twice, I am comfortable saying that the Green Cathedral is certainly the most challenging half marathon that I ever run, and I am fairly confident that it is one of the more demanding ones in the country. I was glad to revisit the place where I ran my first half marathon, but two is more than enough for this Casual Runner.
That all said, the Green Cathedral offers a lot for runners. It has a low entry fee, so it does not break your race budget in a way that a larger race will. The organizers consistently put out, in my opinion, an excellent complimentary shirt. The course’s numerous hills would be useful for somebody training for a longer race. And, while I am 200% a wimp now, I won’t discount that many runners seek more difficult courses for the fun or challenge of it.
In short, Green Cathedral is a smaller, more community-oriented race, but one that fills a niche in the race calendar. If you are looking for an affordable, yet challenging course, that offers pretty good swag for the price of entry, consider running the Green Cathedral.
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