An unexpected PR on a perfect fall morning! {NCR Half Marathon Race Recap}

You know what’s cool about today for me? It’s the 2 year anniversary of when I ran 13.1 miles for the very first time. And now today I get to recap my new half marathon PR! 

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My very first half marathon in 2013!

Earlier this year I started setting some goals for myself for the fall. These goals did NOT include running a marathon, but rather focusing on shorter distances. Ultimately I wanted to do more halfs and possibly run myself a new PR. My best time of 1:45:27 happened last September at the NCR Half Marathon, a small race that is part of my run club’s Grand Prix Series. I also did not intend to compete in the Grand Prix Series this year, but now that I have 3 of the 4 necessary races under my belt…hey why not.

This year the NCR Half just so happened to fall on the day when my training schedule told me that my long run should be a very convenient 13.1 miles. And even better? The race is on the very same trail as the upcoming marathon so I would be able to practice on familiar terrain.

100 people showed up to run on Saturday morning and as usual I loved seeing some familiar faces, especially my friend Michelle who I’ve been doing my long runs with lately. The Baltimore Road Runners are a fun and welcoming group and the weather was absolute fall perfection. In my tank top and shorts I was more than a little bit chilly as we walked to the start, but after jogging around for a half mile I felt warmer and knew I’d be comfortable for the race. It was set to start at 8am and right around that time we all lined up on the trail facing north. The course is a double out and back, which I remember really disliking the idea of last year, but it ended up not being so bad.

PR thoughts had been in the back of my mind, but during the first several miles they all went out the window. I wasn’t feeling particularly well and even though I was coming off a couple days of rest my legs felt like lead. I even debated calling it quits when I got back to the start. In hindsight, I should have considered that it just takes me a lot longer to warm up now that my long runs are getting into the mid-teens. By the time I was three miles in and nearing the first turn around, my energy level had started to improve.

Then I realized as the leaders were passing me going in the opposite direction that I was the second female. I got way excited and as a result mile 4 was my fastest at 7:25. After that I had to remind myself to rein it in because I still had a long way to go.

From mile 4 until mile 11 I was feeling pretty great. When I race I like to pick out another runner up ahead, pace with them awhile, and then try to pass them because it gives me something to focus on when I’m getting tired. No one had passed me so I knew I was still the second place woman, but this was reinforced by several people who screamed it at me as they passed me going the other way. Even though I already knew, it still gave me a boost to hear it.

There were plenty of water stops with friendly volunteers, but I hadn’t stopped at any of them until mile 12 when I was suddenly very exhausted. I drank about 3/4 of the cup and dumped the rest of it over my head; it was freezing cold and helped a TON. The trail was crowded with people out enjoying their mornings, but there wasn’t anyone from the race that I could follow for the last couple miles; the guy who finished in front of me was like 2 minutes ahead. Because I run that part of the course all the time and know it like the back of my hand, I entertained myself by running from one landmark to the next. When a familiar bend in the trail appeared up ahead, I knew I was almost done and when the red, digital readout of the clock appeared I literally said “OH THANK GOD” and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish on tired legs.

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So I PRed by nearly 2 minutes, held on to second place and first in my AG which is great for the Grand Prix Series, but then this is also the first time I’ve run a half marathon with my average pace under 8 minutes. I don’t know which of these things is most exciting for me. All of them, I guess.

After sharing high fives and congrats with some of the guys who had finished at around the same time as I did, I visited the table that was set up with snacks and drinks. I helped myself to Gatorade and water and then there was also bagels, cookies and bananas which I appreciate for other people, but can’t eat without dire consequences. I had a lunch date and couldn’t hang out long, but it was nice to catch up with friends and cheer for other runners crossing the finish line.

Such a great day. 🙂

How do you pass the time on long runs? Did you run or race last weekend? How is your fall season going?

xo,

Salt

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Race Recap: Zoo Zoom 2: I finally got to wear my cheetah pants edition.

Zoo Zoom was yesterday and for some reason I was SO FREAKING ANTSY during the week leading up to it. I am finding that I am much more chilled out going into a race that I’ve never run before. Less pressure I guess. Where it was nice having an idea of the course (HILLS HILLS HILLS) that lay ahead of me, I was very happy with my performance in last year’s race. It was my goal to do better this year. Hence…nerves.

It was also my goal to wear the pants that I bought for the event last year, but wasn’t able to because it was like -11 degrees outside. No really, it was apparently the coldest Zoo Zoom on record. This year it was somewhere in the upper 30’s. The leggings are thin and I was definitely feeling the chill, but I knew I would warm up quickly as I ran. I packed a pair of sweatpants to throw on over them just in case. As I got ready I held my eyeliner pencil in my hand and on a whim drew some cat features onto my face. After the great kilt debacle of 2014 I swore I would never theme myself out for a race again, but eyeliner is so unobstrusive and how many other times during the year do I get to run through the zoo dressed as an animal?

When I arrived to the parking lot I quickly texted Mar…Yes THE Mar! This race was a last minute decision on her part and we would finally get to meet! Anyway she was still on her way. Then I texted Sara who was parked practically next to me and I was so out of it that it took me 10 minutes to spot her. We hung out in her car to stay warm and ran down our checklists of things we needed before heading over to the race village area. The start time was set for 8:30; nice because I didn’t have to wake up too terribly early to get down there and actually managed to get a solid 8 hours of sleep the night before which like never happens.

Right around 8:15 I ate my new favorite caramel macchiato GU (totally YUM and 40mg of caffeine…how nice to be able to eat my pre-race coffee) and ran into one of my run club friends. I had been wanting to warm up at least a little bit so we jogged together to the top of the hill. Then Mar was texting me and telling me she was there! I informed her of what I was wearing…in cheetah pants and lime green calf sleeves I was pretty hard to miss and as I suspected she was able to locate me about 30 seconds later.

There was precious little selfie-time so we all got into position for the start. The thing about Zoo Zoom: it’s chip timed, but awards are based on gun time. Or at least they were last year and I wasn’t taking any chances that they might have changed it. I staked out a spot near the front and with an airhorn blast we were off!

And guess what? I DIDN’T GET TRIPPED OR FALL DOWN. So already this race was going better than last year!

Mile 1: Downhill to flat. I found a comfortable pace and cruised along. Some people passed me and that’s okay. I wasn’t trying to kill myself in that first mile. Still as I was nearing the first mile marker, my watch was telling me I was running at around a 6:20 pace. Awesome, but woah there, Salt, slow down.

Mile 2 & 3: The Dreaded Druid Hills. These two miles loop around the outside of the zoo and are all rolling hills. I felt a little crummy during mile 2 for some reason (maybe mile 1 catching up to me?), but mile 3 I was able to pull myself together just before the nice downhill past the Buffalo Yard into the zoo itself.

Mile 4: The steepest downhill followed by the rudest uphill of the whole race. I’m glad I knew what was coming, but it still looked so ugly from the bottom. Someone had taken the time to write “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE” in chalk at the midpoint of the hill and I wanted to find that person and shake them and call them a dirty liar.

As I got to the top I laughed-screamed in triumph at a smiling volunteer, then continued on my way past the lemur enclosures and monkey house and up the boardwalk. I love running on the boardwalk and felt like I got a lot of my speed back there.

I was hoping the cheetah would be out like he was last year, but sadly he was not. Boo. Maybe he heard we were dressed alike.

Mile 5 (or rather .97): Past the giraffes and elephants and not an animal to be seen. Last year at this time I was definitely riding the struggle bus. This time around I felt AMAZING. Unfortunately I knew this was a feeling that would not last because I still had the mansion house hill in front of me. It was still rough, but the knowledge that the finish line was just over the other side made the climb a lot easier than last time. Man do I love a downhill finish!

At this point I knew I had a PR in the bag, but I didn’ t know by how much. I saw a “35:” as I rounded the bend and would have screamed out loud as soon as I saw the next number was a “1” if I wasn’t so winded. I finished much stronger than I ever thought I could and stopped my watch. Official time:

35:14

7:05 pace!! My gun time was 2 seconds slower. Thank goodness for that front of the pack start! This time would be good for a second place medal in my AG. And my splits:

Mile 1: 6:27

Mile 2: 7:23

Mile 3: 7:15

Mile 4: 7:33 – I looked back on my post from last year and my mile 4 was the exact same! Weird!

Mile 5: 6:36 – Even with that awful mansion house hill! Last year I was slower by a minute! I guess it paid to know that the end was right on the other side of the hill.  photo 4 One of my club friends was right behind me at the end of the race so I waited for him to finish and then a short time later we were cheering on another friend who had gotten briefly lost due to some poor course mark-age. Luckily a bike volunteer was able to get her — and a few others — back on track fairly quickly.

The Corner Bakery was catering the event again and had a yummy-looking spread of treats for the runners. I have a really hard time eating directly after I run so I didn’t try any of it, but later on I was kicking myself for not taking a brownie to go. Instead I chugged a bottle of water with pink lemonade Nuun and soon met up with Mar again who had a great time despite the rude hills and the fact that she hasn’t been running much since the Marine Corps Marathon. I saw Stacey from Run to Be Free finish (she was running this thing with a stroller…holy beastmode) and then Sara soon after. We headed over the race village to hang out, chat, and FINALLY get a photo! photo 2 One of my favorite things in the whole world is races with friends. So once again Zoo Zoom impresses (aside from the missing cone that threw off my friend!) The premium this year is an excellent gray long sleeved tech shirt. photo That slogan makes me giggle. The volunteers were great, the course is one of my favorites EVER (I have a love/hate relationship with those hills I guess), and the post-race food was top notch. Or so I heard from everyone eating it. Mar later posted a picture of pumpkin muffins that looked so good I could have licked my phone.

Also…and maybe my most favorite part…all the proceeds go to zoo conservation and animal care. The best kind of do-gooding! I will most definitely be zooming again next November!

In other news: Zoo Zoom was my final race of the year! I set out to run 14 races as part of the 14 in 2014 challenge. Zoo Zoom was number EIGHTEEN. Despite some obnoxious injuries I’ve put in so many more miles than I ever thought I could. I was actually considering a Turkey Trot, but looking at our weather forecast for the next several days I’m pretty glad I didn’t commit to one. This is the perfect high note to go out on and I’m looking forward to so much more fun in 2015. photo 3 How many more races do you have in front of you this year? Have you ever run through the zoo? Do you love my pants?

I hope you are all having a great start to your holiday weeks! Turkey awaits! If you’re into that sort of thing. Be sure to check out Zoo Zoom recaps on Mar and Sara‘s blogs too! (I totally snort-laughed when I read Sara’s blog title.) Xo, Salt

Race Recap: NCR Half Marathon

AKA the half marathon that I almost didn’t run.

The NCR half was one of the final races in my run club’s Grand Prix Series and, well, I really didn’t NEED to run it. I have already logged the 4 required races for the series and topped my AG in all of them so anything beyond that was just a bonus. But I have the Baltimore Half next Saturday and I did want to get in one 13.1 trainer beforehand. This would be a great way to do it. Unfortunately my foot was not in agreement.

I was hurting. In the week before the race I was one click away from emailing the RD and signing up to volunteer instead. As part of the series we have to volunteer for one race this season and I figured if my toes wouldn’t cooperate I might as well help out.

After a couple days rest things started feeling a little better though, so I decided to go for it.

Race time was 8am on the NCR trail. The course would take us a little more than 3 miles north, turn around, run past the start and then south for a little more than 3 miles, turn around yet again and back to the start again. I’d be lying if I said I was wild about this idea, but the weather was downright chilly, and a bunch of friendly people were out to run. And $2 entry. I can’t say no to $2 entry.

As has become my always-routine, I ran a warm up and my foot felt like hell at first, but loosened up a bit as I went. This would only be the second organized half marathon I had ever run and my longest run since May so I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. My club has a bunch of very fast folks and at the start of the race I had to remind myself over and over again to not get too overzealous; let people pass me and conserve my energy even if it meant I fell all the way to the back of the pack. I would be running for a long time.

Honestly I think I took a nap for the first several miles and really did feel like I was dead last until the leaders started passing me, the turnaround was right there, and I realized I wasn’t doing nearly as badly as I thought. At that point I started concentrating more on who was in front of me and pacing them. There was this guy in purple shorts that I followed for awhile. His gait was very relaxed which kept me relaxed. And then an older man who I followed for several miles and I think he got really tired of me. Next I started gaining on a girl in pink compression socks. I was feeling great. My playlist was really fun and I was singing along and having a blast. I sailed past the starting line again knowing that I only had half a race to go, a fact that put a huge smile on my face.

Nearing the second turnaround, I noticed I had made up some time on the leaders…well the women anyway. (The guy who won finished in 1:17:57 and no one else was really even close.) I could feel that I was pacing everything just right. The last 3 miles were a blur and before I knew it I was passing the finish clock with a new half marathon race PR. Not bad considering that I almost didn’t show up.

Why do I always do well in races where I almost don’t show up? I should almost not show up more often.

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And my happy little splits:

1    8:32    1.00    
2    8:21    1.00    
3    8:11    1.00    
4    7:48    1.00
5    7:50    1.00    
6    7:59    1.00    
7    7:56    1.00    
8    7:52    1.00
9    8:03    1.00    
10   8:03    1.00    
11   7:51    1.00    
12   7:56    1.00
13   7:47    1.00    
14    1:18    .18  

SO HAPPY with the splits. One thing I have been working on during my blog break is running by feel and it has really shown in my times lately.

I ended up 6th female overall and 1st in my AG, which doesn’t make a difference in the final standings, but it sure is nice to see all the little 1’s after my name! The final race of the series is a cross-country 5 miler and after the cross country debacle in June that kicked off NotBeingAbletoWalkapalooza 2014 I think I’ll get my volunteer credit at that one instead.

Run club events are always fun so beyond the PR I’m so glad I went out that day. Great weather, happy people, plenty of refreshments, and although I thought the logistics of the course would be awful, it was actually quite pleasant. The icing on the cake came as I was walking up to my car and who should I see, but my sweet little B and Mr. Salt! He had gotten confused about where the finish line was so they didn’t see me run, but it was so awesome getting a big hug from my girl after a great race. Followed up by a giant Starbucks because some things never change.

Baltimore Half…I’m coming for you! I want that crab medal! I hear it doubles as a bottle opener. I wonder if I can use it to get a cork out.

xo,

Salt