My 21st half marathon, and one to remember!
The lead up / Training: I’ve been working with Coach Jess for over a year and a half, and I feel like my running has gone from good to great! This year has been full of age group awards, new PR’s (10 mile and downhill mile), and the Mistletoe Half Marathon was the last race on my schedule this year. I’m so grateful for how well this year has gone. I’ve been training consistently all year, with the last real “break” in May after a disappointing finish at the Pittsburgh Half (two bathroom stops don’t make for a great race!)
I averaged 27 miles / week since May, with one week in September a shorter training week from my Kings Peak hike with Joel, and a week in October with little training from our Universal Studios trip. Those breaks helped keep me excited about running, and appreciating the journey of training! My longest run during this block was 14 miles, two weeks ago, and I did weekly workouts of 6-8 miles for the past three months, with a portion of that being speed or tempo work. The short story is, all this training really paid off yesterday!
Goals: My “A” goal going into the race was to get as close as I could to my predicted time from the V.O2 training system my coach and I use—which was 1:47:25, an 8:12/mile pace. That would be a PR for me, and I haven’t come close to that in YEARS, so it felt a little daunting. However, the V.O2 system is based on actual races, and my Turkey Strut 5K from 2 weeks ago was a near PR, so I figured my body must be capable of this, it was just my mind I needed to convince 😊
Any PR would be amazing, so I set my goal to be anything under a 1:48 (PR being 1:48:04 from Raleigh in 2017). A 1:47:59 is what I envisioned leading up to the race.
My “B” goal was to go sub-1:50, and a “C” goal was low 1:50’s. Just for kicks, I even added a “D” goal—to be faster than I ran in Pittsburgh in May, which was 1:56:22. A good day would also be a course PR for me at Mistletoe (1:52:40 from 2016), and no bathroom breaks would of course be a non-time-related “win.”
Gear: I wore my new white Pace of Me tank made my lululemon (after accidentally shrinking the red T-shirt that I was going to wear to match with my friends–ugh), green Oiselle shorts, holiday socks, New Balance Super Comp Elite shoes (so much better than the Altra’s I wore at Berlin!), Pace of Me visor to shield me from the mist (and potentially rain), Garmin fenix6 watch, Whoop band, and Airpods. In my pocket, I carried 2 Tums and 1 caffeine gum, and never ended up using those.
Fuel: I loosely followed the carb load plan by Featherstone Nutrition in the two days leading up to the race (I didn’t want to try for exactly 550 grams/day… easier to guess-timate and go by how my tummy was feeling). This meant a bagel with egg for breakfast, PB&J on a bagel for snack, rice with chicken for lunch, graham crackers as a snack, more rice or bread with meat for dinner, and very little fiber. It’s sort of fun eating so many carbs, but by day two, I was missing “colorful” foods—fruits and veggies, mainly. However, it was completely worth it, as I felt very energized my entire race!
During the race, I had one UCAN gel packet every 30 minutes—pineapple and strawberry banana were my two flavors of choice—3 in total during the race, and one gel 20 minutes prior to the race start, along with Nuun electrolytes. I took water from every water stop on the course, and one Gatorade (grabbed by accident).
Pre-Race: I rarely sleep well prior to a race, and this was no exception. After six green recoveries in a row on my Whoop band, I woke up at 5:30 to a disappointing 37% recovery score (not ideal for going after a fast time, but I told myself it doesn’t matter). I quickly toasted a bagel, added a bit of almond butter and some strawberry preserves, and washed it down with Nuun electrolytes. I took a quick shower and got dressed—I couldn’t believe the weather went from very, very cold earlier this week, to 50’s on race day! I think 50’s is perfect, so I could wear a tank and shorts and not be too hot or too cold. I felt calm, and was thankful I had prepped everything the night prior. My stomach felt fine—just needed it to stay that way!
My friend JD drove to my house so we could carpool to the race. We arrived around 7 (the race started at 8), and found a good parking spot on the street just behind the William G. White YMCA. We met up with two other ladies to give them their team wreath sweaters, then I warmed up in the lobby. JD and I did a shakeout run on the track at Hanes Park, and I threw in three 10-20 second strides. I felt very strong and fast during the strides—my first indication it would be a great race!
Then I urgently needed the bathroom pre-race (we had about 15 min til the start) and was happy that happened prior to the race and not during!! I had a bathroom issue that I’ll spare you the details, so I wasn’t feeling especially confident walking to the start. I also hadn’t found my friends TM and KK, but finally saw them (in their matching red shirts!) and gave them a quick hug and a “good luck” then joined up with JD again. She and I had both said we might start with the 1:50 pace group, then maybe go faster if we were feeling good. The pre-race jitters started up for me again, but thankfully my friend gave me a nice little pep talk! So grateful for that, my friend. That really helped to calm me down and give me confidence to tackle 13.1 miles at a quick pace.
In the moments leading up to the start, I fidgeted with my newly created Half Marathon playlist. I added some new songs the other night, to spice it up a bit, and when I hit shuffle, my new favorite song came on first (“Bone Dry”–really digging electronic music right now, thanks to my Alexa playing it for me randomly). Another good omen of what was to come!
Race: I started behind the 1:50 pace group, figuring I’d go out at the right pace—not too fast—with them. The course had been slightly altered since I ran it in 2016, so the first mile had more downhill and flat(ish) sections than I expected, so I wanted to ensure I didn’t go out too fast. There’s a heck of a hill during mile 1 (Northwest Blvd by Hanes Park), and I was focused on keeping it steady and in control, as Coach Jess advised me during our pre-race planning chat. My watch was 0.1 off right off the bat (it beeped way before the 1 mile marker), which was a pain, but since I’ve had multiple races and training runs where my watch isn’t accurate, I wasn’t bothered by this. Mile 1 was 8:16 when I passed the marker. Mile 2 was so much climbing up Runnymede Road (that long a$$ hill!), I estimated 8:46ish…I had to do some subtraction of the total elapsed time minus mile 1, using my fuzzy brain skills while running somewhat hard.
I was hitting the lap button but then I stopped doing that to save myself from having to do math, and figured if I stayed with the 1:50 pace group, or ideally in front of them, I’d be good. I did not want to be relying on my watch for pacing, since it seemed to be going off at the 0.9 mile marker each mile, so I knew if I was in front of the 1:50 group, I’d be going somewhere in the range of my target pace of 8:12.
Staying with the pace group those first miles helped me not go out too fast, and helped me stay calm and settle into the pace. I wanted it to feel “comfortably hard”—like I was working but not breathing super hard just yet. At one point around mile 3, one of the two pacers (both older guys) yelled back “Everyone doing OK back there?” and I said “Yep!” and no one else said anything. He chuckled and said “Well at least we have one that’s doing OK!” which made me laugh too. I didn’t even bother looking around to see how many people were with us—just in my periphery I would say 8-10 runners at least, so we had a nice little group. I think there’s power in numbers and it feels easier to me to run with a group. However, I was out here to run my own race and go after my own goals, so I knew I wouldn’t stay with the pace group too long, if I felt good. And THANK THE LORD, I felt good. Not even a twinge of tummy troubles, didn’t need to pee, didn’t have any muscle aches or pains—so, SO grateful!!
I stayed with the pace group til around mile 5, as we approached the Graylyn area. I felt like I could go on ahead so I did. I ran with whoever was in front of me, and passed a fair amount of people. I knew my Best Running Friend (BRF) KH and her son would be up ahead on Reynolda Hill, and sure enough, I found them easily! She told me “You’re looking great!” and I carried that thought with me onto the greenway, then up the hill to the halfway point and the Wake Forest University section.
Another friend, HA, texted me as I was approaching WFU and said “Cheering you on today! I know you’re crushing those miles!” which made me feel really good. I thought, I really am crushing these miles! My legs feel good, I’m pushing hard enough but not too hard just yet. In this section, I leap-frogged with a girl wearing a Colorado 14ers shirt. She was running strong and I enjoyed spending a few miles with her, but eventually passed her and didn’t look back.
I stayed calm and focused and just rocked to my playlist. I was proud that I stayed present in each mile and didn’t worry too much about pace or time, but ran more by feel. I could just tell I was in the right pace range. Everything was clicking!! I felt so so grateful that my body felt good and I was running strong!
The tough part was all the hills. Oh. my. goodness. It felt like the course was 70% uphill. I am SO glad I’ve been strength training because my legs were able to handle it. I sped up on the downhills and my legs handled that well too.
My UCAN gels were perfect every 30 min. Every time I took one, I told myself I was eating a huge infusion of energy (which is essentially what it is!)
My BRF was positioned on the big hill (roughly miles 5 and 9) so I just focused on getting to her. She gave me cheers when I needed them most in that steep mile 9 hill on the way back. As I ran past her, I high-fived her and said “I hate this hill!”
I was able to pick it up a bit in mile 10, but I had a water stop issue around mile 11. I really wanted water, and I shouted “water” to the volunteers but neither of them extended their hands so I thought they had Gatorade, which I didn’t want.
I ended up STOPPING (didn’t really mean to. My body just wanted water!) and walking back to grab one. Uggggghhhhh. So I lost about ten seconds or more there 😆 I actually laughed at myself for doing that. Should’ve just waited til the next water stop but oh well! That was my only “mistake” (not really a mistake but not a great decision either) in the entire race! I then threw down a quick surge to catch up with the little group I had been running with.
Then more rolling hills, but I hung in there, and FINALLY hit the downhill section on Runnymeade Road. I passed a bunch of people and was running so strong! I was really surprised that I still had energy and loved this downhill section so much. I had yet to feel like I was slowing down, and just tried to keep up the momentum and pace.
A few more little uphills approaching mile 13, and this is where I finally started to fade (they changed the course so it wasn’t exactly what I ran in 2016 but it was close). After the final downhill, it felt so difficult to run a slight uphill, and the finish line still wasn’t in sight yet, though I could hear the announcer in the distance. The worst part was the finish line moved further away vs. years past. So when I passed the old finish line location, I still had maybe quarter mile to go! I saw my watch was almost at 1:47 and I wanted so badly to get sub-1:48!
I was fading, breathing hard, legs felt so heavy, and just trying to keep moving without slowing too bad. Finally got to mile 13 and gave it my best kick (which wasn’t too great… I was wiped!) but knew if I pushed hard I could get close to my PR. You’ve gotta goooooo–push it!
I had tunnel vision—I didn’t hear anything or see anything other than the finish line. Official time: 1:47:58. Whew! Couldn’t have cut it any closer!!
I was absolutely thrilled to see my time was under 1:48 and a PR by six seconds!!! And my friend was less than a minute in front of me, so she was right there at the finish and gave me a hug. (I almost didn’t see her, I was just breathing so hard. I put my hands on my knees and smiled in disbelief!) 🙂
That was SUCH and incredible race!! I feel so amazing and proud of myself, and so grateful to my coach for helping me get to this point. This half marathon PR means the world to me right now—I CAN get faster as I age, and my best times are still in front of me.
Post-Race Party: We got our gorgeous teal finisher’s medals, I texted my coach and my hubby, then we went back to my van to change into dry clothes and our festive sweaters. I had a moment where I nearly cried because I was so full of joy at what just happened. I had been feeling like my fitness was really improved—maybe my fittest in my life—but I just hadn’t had a race that really showed it—that is, until today.
We headed back to the VIP tent where our teammates were waiting, and I found my BRF with her son. She bought me a cold brew, since I forgot my wallet in the car (fuzzy runner brain strikes again!)
I saw TM and KK crossing the finish line, and got to give them some sweaty hugs 😊 And a quick pic with the Grinch!
I stayed for the after-party with the run club ladies, just chatting and eating and laughing. I am truly so grateful for that day.. for a race where I felt strong and executed just how I planned, and to my abilities; seeing so many running friends, and getting to laugh and enjoy this amazing running life. I am grateful that Javi took care of the kid-shuttling duties so I could be gone all morning and have no worries!
When I got home, I told my family how I did (Gabe told me he was proud of me and gave me a hug–nearly cried!) and Asher gave me a back massage with the massage gun. I discovered a tiny blister on the top of my foot–thankful it didn’t bother me during the race!
Results: I came in 8th of 49 in my age group (happened to be a very competitive age group this year, but all good—goals to work towards!) My fastest half marathon of the 21 half marathons I have run, and also a course PR for the Mistletoe (my third time running it was the charm!)
Recommend: This is an extremely hilly course, but I actually love it. It goes through gorgeous neighborhoods, Graylyn, Reynolda, and Wake Forest University, so it’s very scenic. And the afterparty is seriously a super fun party! The VIP tent serves up delicious sandwiches and cookies (and had heated lamps so we weren’t cold) Definitely an excellent goal race for the winter season. 10/10 recommend!
Next Up: I really don’t know–I need to do a planning session with my coach for 2024! Hoping for a fall marathon next year–maybe back to Berlin, or to Chicago if I get in?? Hoping to find out in a day or two.
Updated 12/13/23–I did not get into Berlin or Chicago. Going to try for NYC, but if not, then planning for Richmond Marathon next November 🙂