Nittany Valley Half Marathon – RACE RECAP

Long story short – I started out too fast, wasn’t as prepared for the hills as I thought, and got my ass handed to me.

If you’d like the long version, stick around.

Originally I had planned to make the trip to State College solo and stay with my brother and sister-in-law, but earlier in the week Tall One decided to go with me so I didn’t have to worry about driving home after the race. Isn’t he a nice guy?  So, Saturday we loaded up the car and made the trek over to State College. It rained the whole way there, and continued raining for most of the evening. Luckily the weather report promised that by Sunday morning it would be clear skies and sunny but freezing cold!  We got to my brother’s late Saturday afternoon and my sister in law had everything a runner would need the day before a race: pasta, garlic bread, lots of water and CAKE!  We spent the evening hanging out, watching college football, eating cake, and playing with their pet bunny.

Bunny in a box!

Bunny in a box!

Isn’t she the cutest? She’s about 3 pounds of fluff and sass and is awesome!

We went to bed a little later than we normally do, but the race also started a little later than most (10 AM) so it all balanced out. I slept pretty well and managed to sleep in until almost 7, which never happens. The cats are normally clamoring for breakfast right around 6 every morning so it was nice to sleep in peace ;-).

RACE DAY

I got up, had my cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter and coffee and started to get ready. It was  cold which really doesn’t bother me – I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was the WIND, but more on that later.  There was no Saturday packet pick up, so we had to leave a little earlier to get that taken care of. Pick up, and the start line was on campus at the Snyder Ag Arena, which meant absolutely nothing to me. Luckily, it meant something to my brother (a Penn State alum) and he was able to navigate and get us there without any problems!  As soon as we got out of the car, I noticed just how bad the wind was – the arena is on top of a hill and it seemed like the wind was coming in every direction making the already cold temps feel worse.  We got inside and I picked up my timing chip and shirt (no bibs for this race) without any trouble. I was really excited to see that the indoor facilities were available for use and I hopped in line to use a bathroom with flushing toilets and running water! It was amazingly wonderful to be able to stay inside until the start!

Bundled up, and ready to go! I also wore a fleecy hat and gloves that I put on later. Also, my good luck charm!

Bundled up, and ready to go! I also wore a fleecy hat and gloves that I put on later.
I also tied this good luck charm to my shoe – I repeated that mantra to myself over and over again during this race!

 It was just about time to start heading outside. When we pulled into the parking lots, I was looking around for a start line and didn’t see one so I wasn’t sure where exactly to go. In the email we received from the race director the day before the instructions literally said “follow the crowds” so that’s what I did. The wind was really whipping at this point, so I said goodbye to Tall One and my brother and followed the crowds.

We all stood around waiting for the start, trying to stay warm. One good thing about being short is that all of the taller people around shielded me from the wind! Without any warning, the race started and we were off! 

Miles 1-3: The first 3 miles does a bunch of loops around the back part of campus around the agricultural department, so it was a lot of cows, sheep, pigs, etc. and thanks to the rain on Saturday it was muddy trails and frozen mud puddles.  This was by far the easiest part of the whole course. I made a BIG mistake along this stretch by going out way too fast. My breathing was hard, and my legs felt really heavy – had I looked at my watch I would have seen that I was running 9 min miles and I would have eased up. I really just thought my breathing was hard because it was damn cold. I always try to not look at my watch, because I normally run better that way but that didn’t work out so well this time. 

SLOW DOWN!

SLOW DOWN!

Someday I’ll learn to find a balance. Right around mile 3 you start a nice downhill that takes you off of campus and onto the highway. The highway that is also open to traffic the entire time, where all of the runners are crowded onto the shoulder/bike lane, with their backs to oncoming traffic. Fun.

Miles 4-6: The race website mentions somewhere that there are 3 water stops along the course, but doesn’t say at what mile markers, just on what road they are on. That doesn’t mean much to someone who is from out of town, but luckily I found this blog that gave me a much better idea of where to expect the stops. I knew the first one would be coming up after mile 4, so right at the 4 mile mark I started to take my first gel. It takes me a while to get those down so I start early. Right around 4.5 was the water station and the road/shoulder was so uneven here that I decided to stop and drink rather than try to choke it down while running. The hills started here as well, and they were the gradual kind that you can see from a distance (but not when you are actually on them)  and really do a number on your legs. Somehow I forgot about that part of the elevation map during my training. The shoulder of the road also started to disappear along this stretch and there were a lot of times I was running in loose gravel trying to keep my balance. I wasn’t 100% prepared for these climbs, and it was made even harder by the lack of space and the wind that just wasn’t letting up.  At some point, we were also running next to the airport and the wind here was just brutal. You are on top of a hill and I felt like I was being pushed backwards.  The shoulder is nonexistent in many of these places, so I tried to run on the road when I could. This was also difficult because I had to keep turning around to make sure there were no cars coming. Most of the traffic that came through was really nice about slowing down and moving over to give us some room but there were several that were flying along and staying as close to the shoulder as they could.

Getting Slower...

Getting Slower…

 My time started to suffer here, and I remember thinking that the hardest part hadn’t even come yet. I tried all of my tricks to distract myself. Positive affirmations, focusing on my form, focusing on my breathing and nothing helped. I kept hoping for a small reprieve from the hills and wind so I could try to recover a bit and it just wasn’t happening. My legs were already feeling trashed at this point, so I knew I was in for a killer second half.

Miles 7-9: Right around mile 7 I took my first walk break. I tried to hold off for as long as I could before walking, and this little section was really lacking in space so I slowed to a walk. A few runners passed me at this point, and I tried to rationalize my walk break as being a courteous runner to let people by. At this point, anything to make me feel better. Mile 7.5 starts the loooooong downhill section of the course, and I was able to get my breathing and form back and cruise down the hill (my splits don’t really reflect this, but I felt like I was cruising). Normally, I would try to take this easy (I have a fear of tripping, falling on my face and losing all of my teeth) but I figured I needed to make up all of the time that I could so I just went with it.  The downhill goes for about a mile and a half and after all of the hills before, this part feels like a dream.  For a minute, I thought that maybe I could salvage things from here and use the downhill to help power me up the last half of the course. Hahahahah, wishful thinking.  

It felt like I was going faster...

It felt like I was going faster…

At the very bottom of the hill is the next water stop at mile 8.5. Again, I had a rough I idea of where this would be so I took my gel earlier and planned to stop at the table for a drink. I was so surprised and happy to see Tall One and my brother waiting for me here! I said a quick hello, tried to look strong and took off again. Then the next round of hills started. These were the shorter, but REALLY steep kind and I finally threw in the towel and started to walk up them. My legs just felt dead. I would try to shuffle up the hill, walk a little and repeat.

Miles 10-13: At mile 10 the hill is so steep and long that you are better off  power walking up it than running. Everyone around me was doing the same, so I didn’t feel as bad about it. There is no shoulder at all along this entire stretch so you are also watching for cars to make sure you don’t die. Right before mile 11, I saw  Tall One, my brother and sister in law again! I tried really hard to start running again and look strong (I apparently failed miserably because later Tall One said I was looking “rough”, hahaha). I gave a big wave, and my brother told that the beer stop was just around the corner! Side note: Jain also mentioned that there was an unofficial beer stop put on by a local running club at mile 11. I was talking about it the night before, and was really hoping that it would be there again and it was!  At this point, I knew that it would take a miracle to not Personal Worst so I stopped, grabbed a Dixie cup full of ice cold Yuengling and enjoyed the hell out of that. Beer has never tasted so good! I thanked the guys, told them they were the best and took off again. Right after this starts another little downhill and then a flat trail, so again I thought just maaaybe I could pick it up, power up the last hill and finish strong.  Spoiler Alert: Didn’t happen.

Aren't we done yet?!?!

Aren’t we done yet?!?!

The climb started just after 11.5 and I was trying to tell myself that I can do anything for a mile! Didn’t work.  I saw my sister in law once more, about halfway up ringing the heck out of her cowbell and going crazy cheering for everyone! People loved her, and she was a total hit with the other runners! I couldn’t even attempt to look strong at this point but I gave her a big wave and told her she is awesome and carried on.  I tried to keep going, but the long gradual hill was just too much for me.  Right around mile 12 I picked up two ladies were run/walking their way up and said I was more than welcome to join them. I was SO grateful to see them, and I tried to hang on as best I could, but I had to let them go. I just couldn’t do it.  I got the worst side stich I’ve ever had around 12.5…it felt like someone shot me right in the gut.  In hindsight, it could have been the beer but it was so delicious that I didn’t care and would totally do it again! I got to the second to last turn, and tried to breathe deep and run but I couldn’t. I could hear my sister in law’s cowbell in the distance, so I kept shuffling along. Right at mile 13 I saw my family and Tall One gave me a high five and told me to finish strong. I was so tired, and over running that I nearly started to cry, but I just nodded and trudged on.

Mile 13.1: You make another turn back to the Ag arena where you started and mercifully the hills finally end. I rounded the last corner and crossed the finish line in 2:35:51 (An 11:53 pace) to more cowbell courtesy of my sister in law! A volunteer handed me a bottle of water (no medals at this race) and I the first thing I said to my family was “holy &*#$ was that hard – never doing THAT again!”.  It was still super windy and freezing cold so we made a beeline for the cars to get home, and showered so we could get lunch! Pizza never tasted to good!

Overall, I’m OK with the result. I knew this was going to be difficult, I just didn’t realize how difficult. I decided the day before that a 2:25 seemed like a reasonable goal time; I know that a 2:35 finish is way off of that, but considering the wind and the amount of walking I did at the end, this wasn’t a terrible time. Am I disappointed? Absolutely. I didn’t manage my pace properly at the start, and while I try to not look at my watch, my heavy breathing so early on should have been an indicator to back off a bit. I also was really under prepared for the entire course. I was so prepared for the last climb at mile 12 that I ignored the ones in the earlier part of the race. To be honest, that last climb didn’t seem nearly as bad as the ones that came before.  It’s always tough to put in weeks of time, and effort during training and then not be able to deliver on race day.  One of my fears when I initially decided on this race was that I would finish last…that didn’t happen, but I was damn close. I came in 514th out of 533 runners.

 This was a hard, hard, course.  A few years ago, I would not have even attempted to run this race, so that fact that I even attempted it was a win in my book. I’m proud that I didn’t give up, even though I would have rather stayed at the beer table  😉

 

 

NVHM – Reflecting on my Training

I’m still not 100% sure what my goals for this race are, but I wanted to reflect on a few things before this weekend.

I first decided to run this race (back in August), and I didn’t have any solid goals then, either.  At the time it was more about getting back into the training groove after taking some time off, and rebuilding a solid base so that I could rock the Pittsburgh Marathon in May.   I wanted to run a smart training cycle – listen to my body, don’t overdo it, and most of all HAVE FUN!  I feel like I really did that and then some:

I started to incorporate real speed work into my training. Not just a half-assed attempt at a tempo or fartlek runs, either. Real honest to goodness speed work.  And I liked it! For a long time, I would *try* (and I use that term loosely) to incorporate some speed into my training but I was going about it all wrong.  If I was doing a tempo, I’d get that first warm up mile in and then go out way too fast and burn out before I even reached another half mile. I learned how to gradually increase my speed, so that I could maintain that pace and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I learned to LOVE hills! I used to hate hills. All of them.  Then, earlier this year as I was training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon I decided that I needed to start incorporating some if I wanted to do well. I was also battling Achilles Tendonitis  at the time and wasn’t able to run much, so I figured what little running I could do would be on hills to get the most bang for my buck.  I showed up to that starting line with the least amount of training I’ve ever done for a race, was just grateful to be there, with had no time goal at all. I just wanted to have a good race, do the best I could on THAT day…and ended up setting a 2 minute PR and smashing my PR on that course by over 15 minutes! If you look at my training for that time by just the numbers – mileage and paces – I had NO business running a 2:18 that day.  I firmly believe that those hills had everything to do with it, and I’ve been hooked ever since! I look forward to my Saturday hill runs, and I now go out of my way to make sure I hit as many as possible. Hills are the best!

I listened to my body. This can be one of the hardest parts of training, but I feel like I’m making progress! No one likes to take time off, but this year I’ve learned what can happen when you try to keep pushing through and I’ve realized that taking one or two days off is so much better than taking 1-2 months (or more) off because I was stubborn.  

And, finally…my favorite part of this training:

I started running with a friend.  Prior to this fall, I had never run with anyone before and to be honest, I didn’t think that I would like it. Then I learned how wrong I was. Running with a friend is the BEST! We can’t always get our schedules to work out but I truly look forward to meeting up with Jennifer on the weekends and am so grateful to have found a new friend who shares my love of running (and cats!).

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At the ZooZilla 5K

 

To me, all of these things are so much more important than a number on the clock. I feel like I’ve made serious strides as a runner (ahaha, see what I did there?!), and am really starting to find my confidence and realize that I do have some speed in my legs! Would I like to come away with a PR? Sure! Obviously I would be thrilled, but I’m not going to get all hung up on that.  I’m going to show up to the starting line and do the absolute best that I possibly can that day, have a good time, and just be grateful that I am out there doing what I love to do!

Back At It

After I posted my Week 1 “recap”, I felt like a total jerk for whining so much.  Peanut totally gave me the side eye for that one.

Suck it up, Buttercup

Suck it up, Buttercup

 

Now that I’m feeling like myself again, I’m excited to get back to my training plan. I’m slightly readjusting my weekday runs to be Tuesday and Wednesday, since my root canal is scheduled for Thursday and I’d rather not run Friday, Saturday AND Sunday. No particular reason, I just like spacing things out.

Chilly, rainy fall weather has arrived and for the most part I LOVE it (yay for boots, sweaters and scarves!), but the runner in me doesn’t want to give up shorts weather just yet. 

Tuesday’s run was good. Not fantastic, but not terrible either. I did 3.5 miles at 10:51 pace but it felt like was sprinting for a good portion of it. Ohhhh wait. I was sprinting a good portion of it. Want to know why? It’s because I kept running into a pack of vicious, wild turkeys. Seriously. Anytime I came near these buggers, they starting freaking chasing me, and I’d have to book it in the other direction. Most of the time I was still a good distance away from them, but it didn’t matter – once they saw me it was game on. I didn’t bring my phone with me yesterday because I didn’t want to risk it getting ruined in the rain, but I really wished I would have so I could (try) to capture THAT moment. When they start coming after you, they mean business.  I’ve seen them chase a couple of other runners before and I normally try to avoid them, but I didn’t even notice them until it was too late.

 Today was GREAT – the plan was a 4 mile tempo run. 1 mile to warm up, 2 tempo miles, 1 mile to cool down.  I always have a hard time with speedwork – I start out so fast that I can’t sustain the pace and then burn out before I even have a mile in.  I didn’t really have a target pace to hit – I just wanted to make sure the second mile was faster than my first and that the second half of my second mile was faster than the first half.  Did you follow that? Good. I didn’t either. 

9:56, say what?!

9:56, say what?!

Going by that “logic”, or lack thereof, my run was a success. Admittedly, the second tempo mile was way too fast but I was feeling really good so I went for it. I know that I’m not going to be busting out some consistent 9:56 miles but it’s really encouraging to know that those times ARE somewhere in these legs!

I am so grateful that I’m feeling good again and am ready to tackle some great runs this weekend! I have new long run route that I’m very excited to try – I think it’s going to mimic the elevation profile of the NVHM really well!

Planning for the Nittany Valley Half Marathon

Official training for the Nittany Valley Half Marathon NVHM from now own…I’m too lazy to keep typing that out. And I always struggle with spelling’Nittany’, I always think it should be ‘Nittaney’… started Monday and I kicked it off the best way I know how – with a rest day!

Since I usually run Saturdays and Sundays I always like to take Monday as a day to relax and truly rest. It recharges me for the upcoming week of workouts and I love it!

For this 10 week training cycle I decided to wing it and try setting up my own training plan.  I usually take a beginner and intermediate plan and mesh them together – the beginner plans are sometimes too easy and the intermediate plans can be a little too high mileage for this cream puff.  This time, I put on my big girl pants and came up with everything all on my own. What’s been working for me over the last 6-ish weeks of base training is a format of 2 runs during the week, and two runs on the weekend with Mondays as a true rest and the other 2 days  are supposed to be dedicated to strength (key phrase here is supposed to). This has been working out really well except that pesky strength stuff  and I hate to mess with a good thing, so I’m going to see how the first 3 or 4 weeks go and reevaluate if necessary.

Here’s what the week should theoretically look like:

Monday – Rest

Tuesday – Easy Run

Wednesday – Strength

Thursday – Speed (speed work, that is. Not the drug. Drugs are bad, kids. Crack is whack… You get the idea…)

Friday – Strength

Saturday – HILLS (Unfortunately NOT the MTV series. Just good old fashioned inclines. Not the kind that take you to Mount Washington for stunning views of the city, either… I’ll stop now.)

Sunday – Long Run

One thing I’m thinking of doing is adding in a short treadmill run each week, just to help myself get used to them. For some reason, I just can’t seem to run well on them. I feel slow and awkward and all I do is watch the timer. I rarely make it past 3 miles. However, if this coming winter is anything like last year I won’t have any choice but to use one and I should be at least a little prepared. If I can make 5 miles on that thing, I’d be happy.

I haven’t set any firm goals for the race yet…I’m thinking don’t come in dead last is a good place to start!

Do you make your own training plans? What formula or format do you use?