The 2014 Cleveland Half Marathon: A Gamble & a Lesson Learned

The Cleveland Half Marathon is my favorite spring race. I’ve run it four times. I also did the full a few years back. (It’s still my PR.) And the 10k was my first waaaaay back when. Sixteen years back to be exact.

Yet this year I was not looking forward to the race…thanks to an injury that put a serious damper on my training and spirit.

I battled a dull ache in my right leg for the three weeks leading up to the race. The doctor diagnosed it as shin splints, but no amount of rest, icing, compression or elevations seemed to help. I was super (SUPER!) frustrated with my inability to run. And I was an insufferable meanie to everyone – especially my husband who deserves a public apology. (I’m sooooo sorry for being a pill, honey!)

A week before the race, the doctor took x-rays and cleared me to run. But I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I weighed the pros and cons. Thought seriously about what running the race could do – make the leg worse, force serious time off, hinder any sort of training –  versus what not running it could do – add to the frustration, lead to a DNS, give me a case of the ‘what ifs.’ And decided to do it – promising myself that I’d pull over if it got bad.

Race day arrived with a chill. Fourty-six degrees in mid-May is cold…even by Cleveland standards. But the forecast had called for rain earlier in the week, so I was cool with the frigidness. My husband, mom, stepdad and sisters were my pitcrew for this one, and they kept me distracted from the cold as I waited to get going.

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C-c-c-can I run yet?!

A few minutes before the start, my husband took off on his bike. We’d brought it so he could meet me at a few points on the course…or take me back to the start if my leg failed. I looked around for my other Oiselle team birds and my friends Kelly and Bo, but it was so packed I couldn’t find anyone. I checked my shoelaces, pulled up my Oiselle arm warmers and said a little prayer asking that my legs get me through the race.

The gun went off – and so did I.

The first couple miles were quick and pain-free. I waved at my husband at the second mile marker. At that point I was still optimistic that it could be a good race…once I got the feeling back in my fingers.

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The arm warmer toss to the hubby.

By mile five I was finally warm. But my leg had started to ache a bit. Nothing I couldn’t run/deal with, but I started to worry. Then my stomach started to rumble. It wasn’t an I-have-to-make-a-pit-stop-right-now sort of grumble…at least not yet. So I put both aches out of my mind and focused on staying on pace. Amazingly, at that point, I was on track for a PR…and possibly even my long-time goal of a sub 1:45 half.

But that didn’t last.

By the time I hit mile eight, my pace had slowed because of my leg…and my stomach. At least they were taking turns making the race difficult.

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Mile 11. Am I there yet?

My worst split was mile 11, and by then I figured a PR was out of the question. Especially when I realized that my Garmin and the mile markers were off. I keep going but my leg and stomach continued to slow me down.

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Coming into the finish.

When I finally saw the finish line, I was happy and relieved. But I didn’t make the big push I usually do at the end of a race. I figured I’d lost 1:45, and there wasn’t a chance at a PR. So why risk more damage to my leg…or the possibility of an…err, accident?

This was the biggest mistake I made the entire race.

I crossed the finish line and looked at my Garmin. It said 13.33 miles and 1:47:53. The course had apparently been “long.” I dragged myself through the finish chute, collected my medal and food and met my husband. It wasn’t until I sat down an look at my Garmin that I realized my error. Amidst my aching leg and desperate need for a port-a-potty, I didn’t realize I narrowly missed a new PR…by 14 seconds. My PR pace was 8:11/mile. My pace on Sunday was 8:06/mile. Because the course was long, and I wasn’t thinking straight, I’d miscalculated.

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My husband’s attempt at cheering me up.

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My sister’s attempt.

Given everything that’d happened before and during the race, I should’ve been really happy with the outcome. My leg, while aching, wasn’t severely damaged. There was no embarrassing tummy theatrics. And I got to run the race. But I couldn’t help but beat myself up about those 14 seconds. The one time I didn’t sprint for the finish and it came back to bite me in the ass.

A few days have passed since the race and while my leg is still sore, my sore attitude has dissipated. I’m definitely still bummed about missing the PR. It would’ve been awesome to get it, especially under such crazy circumstances. Yet I’m encouraged by my mind and body’s ability to turn in a decent race…despite everything. I can’t get those 14 seconds back, but I can take a valuable lesson from them: always, always, always sprint for the finish.

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As always, thank you, pitcrew! <3 

A Surreal Run with Some Birds

After a long hiatus, it’s about time I get back on the blogging “horse.” In my defense, part of my job is to help other people and companies write their blogs, so mine often gets (seriously!) neglected. Apologies to the blogosphere and those who actually read my musings about running. I’ll try to do better. Promise.

This past weekend can be summed up in one word: surreal.

I’m going to use that word a lot in my next dozen or so paragraphs of rambling. So if you have a serious aversion to it (like I do for the word “panties”) then it’s probably best to stop reading now.

Cool? Ok.

I got to hang with some super awesome, amazing ladies at the at the Yuengling Shamrock Running Festival, which was the Oiselle Team’s East Coast spring meet-up. (Check out more details about the meet-up from our fab team manager, Kristin.)

I didn’t get to Virginia Beach until late afternoon on Saturday, so I missed the morning activities and cheering on my fellow birds in the 8k. (Thanks, traffic!) However, I did make it in time for the team dinner, which was crazy fun…and a little surreal.

Ever sat in restaurant with a bunch of people you feel like you know? Not because you’ve meet them before, but because you follow them on Twitter? That was the team dinner. I had to remember to introduce myself to people. Not walk up and say things like, “Hey, Courtney, I totally feel your pain on the wedding planning craziness. I’ve been there, girl!” Or “Hollie, I think it’s so badass that you just won that half marathon! And that you did it while rocking your Oiselle runderwear.” I know I’m not the only one who felt like this. (Kristin, I volunteer to make Twitter handle/name badges for everyone for team training camp.) Weird social (media) awkwardness aside, it was so much fun to talk and dine with my fellow birds, and a great way to get pumped for the next day’s race.

As psyched as I was for the race after dinner, that excitement had faded by morning. Spending eight or so hours tossing and turning puts a serious damper on enthusiasm and energy. My husband, Spence, and I were a grumpy mess as we trudged to the starting line. Well, he trudged. I jogged because, unlike the previous day, it was not 70 degrees. “I’m cold and tired and my stomach has been bugging me all week. This is just great,” I thought as I warmed up.

Jogging to the start turned out to be a wise move as I made it to my coral about a minute before the gun went off. I remember kissing Spence goodbye and hitting the start button on my Garmin.

The next thing I remember is the nine-mile marker. I couldn’t tell you what the course looked like or whether there were a lot of spectators. I saw one of my Oiselle teammates around mile six or seven, but that’s all I can recall…aside from the split times my Garmin was giving me. Those I remember distinctly.

It is a rarity that I can run consistent splits. I’ve been a runner since middle school (which was a loooooong time ago), and running at a consistent pace is something I’ve struggled with at all distances. I even had a coach try to help me with it last year with no luck. So you can imagine my surprise every time I heard my Garmin beep and looked down to see a time that was within a few seconds of the last one. What’s wilder is that I wasn’t constantly monitoring my pace with the Garmin. I was doing it by feeling. That was surreal moment no. 2 of the weekend…and there were more to come.

Maybe it was the flat course. Maybe my team mates inspired me. Maybe it was focus. (I look scary intense in some race pics.)

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Maybe I do better when I have something like a lack of sleep to distract me. (After all, my previous PR happened last year in Eugene, just 48 hours after I had an allergy-induced meltdown.) Or maybe it was the amazingly tasty bread I ate the night before at dinner. Whatever it was, at the 10-mile mark, I was within striking distance of a new half PR. But getting it was going to take a feat to get it. And by feat I mean running negative splits for the final three miles.

As much as I’ve struggled with consistency, I’ve struggled even more with not burning out before the end of the race. I go out too fast. I admit it. I’ve tried to change. But it’s hard to change. But with three miles left to go in what was shaping up to be an uncommonly well-run race, I figured what the hell. If I end up in the ER because I crash and burn, so be it.

So I gritted my teeth — quite literally according to the race pics — and went for it.

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7:48, 7:45, 7:42. Finish line. Surreal moment no. 3. New PR…by 30 seconds.

Even now, I still can’t believe it happened. It’s by far my best run race…so far.

Surreal moment no. 4: It’s only March.

The Longest “13.1” Ever: Annapolis Half Recap

November and December are usually “off” months for me. Eight chill(y) weeks where I can ease up on my training, relax during my daily run, and occasionally leave my (almost broken) Garmin at home.

However, this year, I thought I’d extend my fall running season. My thought process was that a longer fall season would (hopefully) lead to a better spring 2014 season…and maybe a BQ. I’ll trade four weeks of my off-season for 20 minutes off my marathon PR in a heartbeat. So I signed up for the Annapolis Half Marathon thinking a race would keep me motivated.

This plan would’ve worked out just fine, except I forgot about one important thing: fall = crazy, mind-melting schedule madness in the world of me.

Between celebrating our first wedding anniversary, attending family member’s nuptials, getting ready for the holidays, the craziness that is owning/running a business and having to fly across the country for work, I barely had time to sleep…let alone get in a decent run.

Oh, well. What can you do…except line up at the starting line and make the best of it.

So, that’s just what I did yesterday on a very chilly November morning in Annapolis.

I knew this wasn’t going to be my finest race given that my longest run since Akron was seven miles. Friends, Dave and Anthony, were running the race, too, so I thought I’d try to keep up with one of them for a bit. That definitely didn’t happen. I couldn’t even find them at the start…and they both ended up being way too fast for me anyhow. Bummer.

Fortunately, about a half mile into the race, I spotted a girl wearing a pink Oiselle Flyte shirt. She was about 100 meters in front of me, so I sped up to catch her. (Anyone with that kind of (fly) style is worth the extra effort!) The well-dressed runner’s name is Teresa, and it turns out she’s a major Oiselle fan, runner extraordinaire and a new Marylander. (Hey, Kristin Metcalf, I’m sending her your way!) She was great company for a few miles…until my stomach very rudely interrupted us. I knew I had to slow down a bit or risk an intestinal upheaval, so I bid my new friend goodbye and good luck.

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Yeah for new running friends!

The tummy hung in there from miles five to nine. But just as I was about to go back over the Severn River Bridge, with no port-a-potty in sight, it decided it had enough. The panic that ensued is one I wouldn’t wish on my worse enemy. But it’s one I’m familiar with. I’m sure you are, too, especially if you’re a distance runner. So I’ll spare you the icky details.

The running/potty gods must’ve been smiling on me, though.

As I was contemplating several messy/embarrassing scenarios that could unfold on the bridge, I noticed a park and what looked like a restroom at the bottom of a hill near the base of the bridge. I made it down to the little building, and the restroom doors were fortunately unlocked. Joy. Relief. No new embarrassing story to tell. Phew.

The pitstop cost me 15 minutes. And I knew there was no hope for a decent time, so I tried to just enjoy the final four miles. But those four miles were longer than expected.

Earlier in the race I’d heard a few people talking about how the miles seemed too short or too long. However, I’d been so focused on keeping my insides together that I didn’t bother checking my Garmin. (Plus, the old Garmin is on its last leg, so it’s not exactly the best gauge of accuracy.) Yet, in the final miles of a race I was ready to be done with, I started paying attention to my Garmin. Sure enough, a lot of the miles were longer than 5,280 feet.

I was not psyched.

When I saw my husband with (supposedly) two miles left, I was not in the best mood. But I was so happy to see him that I put on a smiley face and pushed through it.

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Only smiling because of that shadow/my husband.

As I neared the finish line, right outside the Navy’s football stadium, I decided to stop being grumpy. I know not every race is going to be a PR. But between my tummy troubles and the long course, I definitely got discourage. Add to that the fact that my good intentions of extending my fall season had backfired, and it made for not my finest racing moment. However, I’ve DNFed a race before and that was much worse than this. So, in the final stretch, I chose to just be happy to have finished another race…with my Oiselle distance running shorts intact.

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With Anthony & Dave at the finish.