Saturday, June 16, 2012

USA Half Marathon Championships

I raced the USA half marathon championships, held in conjunction with Grandma's marathon and half marathon, in Duluth, MN this morning. This was my first time running in an elite national championship. Realizing that I was racing against runners who are much younger and eons faster, I had no expectations, other than to run the best I could on the day. There was no pressure of trying to achieve a time standard as when I was aiming to qualify for the trials, and my finish place was irrelevant as I clearly was not going to make it into the top 10. I gave myself a range of 1:18 to 1:23; I truly had no idea what to expect after a terrible Bolder Boulder, a 10k last weekend in which I was vomiting from a stomach bug, and being exiled from Boulder on Tuesday due to heavy smoke from a raging fire just north.

My thoughts on the race:

  • The race started at 6:25 am which necessitated a 3:45 wake-up call so I could get to the bus that transported us to the start line. My scatological friends were quite concerned that the extra early start would impede my ability to, you know, go. Rest assured, dear friends, this was not a problem, as I am able to go on command race morning and is thusly listed as a special skill on my resume.
  • I am a morning person. An extreme lark by the standards of a quiz I recently took on the New York Times website. But, even for me, waking up at 3:45 is too early. I went to sleep around 8:30, which was no easy task given that it was still very light outside, and who goes to bed at 8:30, anyway? I was concerned about my alarm going off, so I slept terribly. I jolted awake every few hours thinking it was surely time to get out of bed. Nope, it was only 12:45 then 1:30 then 2 and then finally I fell into a deep, deep blissful sleep right before my alarm startled me out of a dream that I can no longer remember.
The sun rises very early, 4:45 am!
  •  Confidence is everything during a race, and normally I bring a lot of it to the start line. Today I lacked confidence and this affected my performance. My confidence was in the gutter for the reasons mentioned above and a few others: I had not raced a half marathon since last August, my ribs are still a bother and they flare up from time to time, and I just did not feel that I had the training in my legs. I started out well and hit the 5k mark in 18:24. Even though I felt good and my ribs seemed fine, I panicked and backed off and hit the next 5k in 19:00. I picked up my pace again over the next several miles and was able to finish the last 5k in 18:24 (ironic that I hit the same time as the first 5k). While I am pleased to have negative split and finish the race feeling strong, it is a reminder that I need to always believe in myself and my ability to perform.
  • The Grandma’s marathon course rocks! The point to point course is scenic and well paved. The mile markers are easily visible. The aid stations are well stocked. The volunteers that I met throughout the week and encountered on the race course were enthusiastic; it is obvious that the people of Duluth embrace this race.
  • I am a sucker for bridges. Duluth is a port city on Lake Superior. There are draw bridges everywhere. Awesome.
  • This is a big race was a small race feel. The finish area, in Canal Park, was the location of the expo and lots of hotels. The days before the race, people were milling around, the roads were closed off, huge tents were set up and there was a palpable excitement in the air. 
The group that came in this bus are fully invested in the race!
  •  There were special needs tables for the elites, highly unusual for a half marathon, but much appreciated due to the high humidity. That meant I got to practice my water bottle arts and crafts. The bottles were placed on the tables in alphabetical order, so, of course, mine were last in line. I did, however, fully appreciate the extra effort I put into decorating my bottles, because I was able to get a visual on the bottles well before I was at the table making them much easier to grab.

  • The pasta dinner the day before the race lasted from 11am-9pm. Yes, you read that correctly. It must be the longest pre-race carbo loading meal in the history of racing! What a brilliant idea. When I walked by prior to the technical meeting at 1, there were actually people already there. The extended hours ensured that the seating area was never overly crowded and the lines for food were non-existent.
  • The women’s race had its own start. That kept the start line congestion to a minimum. When the gun went off, the top women were away immediately. It is remarkable, when running against people who are so much faster, how quickly they pull away. They are just gone. I needed binoculars at the one mile marker to see them.
  • I am pumped up and itching to run another race soon. The local coffee shop had a chalk board with one simple question scribbled on it, “Why do you run?” People wrote their responses: “For my dog” “To lose my ass” “To stay in shape” “To get skinny”. I wrote: “To run fast”. Yes, I love to run for running’s sake. But, ultimately, I want to test my limits in training and racing and reach my goal of running fast.


  1. I love to hear the praise for my favorite race! I ran the half marathon again this year. I have run more times than I can remember. I have also run the full marathon three times.
    Glad you had a good experience in Minnesota, come back anytime!

  2. You are the person who sleeps at 830pm and that's quite early for other people, but if you are a morning person that is okay at least you can exercise in the morning and can do again in the evening before going to bed. That's a cool routine for me.