Part of Hal Higdon’s Novice I training program requires a half marathon race to close out the first third of the schedule. Not 13.1 miles, but an actual race. Trying to find a race of this distance in the pseudo-South at the end of August proved tricky, but after much searching, I signed up for the third annual Little Miami Half Marathon in Morrow, Ohio.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been battling some IT band issues near my right knee. In fact, I cut out two short runs this week to give it a rest after a mid-week 5-miler felt like someone was stabbing the side of my leg with a Ginsu. And then I did exactly what you shouldn’t do – I read everything I could find on the Interwebs about it. After getting over a self-diagnosis of ebola, I decided to take a look at my shoes. I’ve tracked pretty much every single run on them on RunKeeper, and when I looked at the mileage , I’d put nearly 340 miles on this pair. They were pretty dead. (I should have taken a picture of them, but I didn’t think about that until now, and I’ve already donated them.) So, against all the rules of running, I bought new shoes two days before a race.
I know that my IT issues couldn’t be solved with new shoes, but I am convinced the wear and tear contributed to my woes. I’ve been doing some core training with a local kettlebell trainer, and I can already tell my hips/glutes were way out of shape – especially since I can noticeably see how big my quads have grown.
Saturday morning, I drove up to northern Kentucky to crash at my sister’s house for the weekend.
When I signed up for the race a few weeks ago, Louisville was in the throes of the heat wave that dominated early summer. I imagined this heat would continue through the rest of the season, and I would be running in sweltering humidity for much of the race (much like the July 4th 5K I slogged through). So it was a pleasant surprise that the forecast called for temps in the upper 50s and low humidity.
I woke up early Sunday morning and did a few stretches, still
freaking out worried that my IT band would suddenly snap in the middle of the woods and a rabid deer would attack me as I struggled to evade it.
With some trepidation, new shoes and an IT band strap firmly attached to my leg, I arrived in the tiny hamlet of Morrow (population 1,300) about an hour before the race start, picked up my packet and texted my friend, Matt, to let him know I had arrived. Matt was the only person I knew running the race, and because he’s much, much faster than I am at 100%, I knew he would blow my time out of the water at not-quite-100%. So it would be just me and 13.1 miles of the Little Miami National Scenic Trail.
When it was time to run, I said a quick prayer and took off. We all got a little compacted together when the course shifted off the road and onto the paved 10-foot-wide trail through the woods. I settled into a pace that was faster than my training runs, but I figured, that’s the point, right? Besides, I would walk if I needed to. This was, after all, just another training run on my way to the Marine Corps Marathon.
I found a good group of people to pace with (having no idea what pace we were running) and settled in. The trail was beautiful. We ran alongside the Little Miami River, and the canopy of trees overhead provided shelter from the sky – even though clouds were blocking the sun for us. I spent the first few miles concentrating on not supinating my foot on my landing – something that was evident from the analysis of my last pair of shoes. I felt good. My knee felt good. All was well.
At around Mile 2, the leader of the 10K runners was on his way back. He was FLYING. And as it turns out, he ended up breaking the course record with a 34:57 finish.
I was still concentrating on perfecting my foot strikes when I noticed the people around me. As is my wont, I gave them nicknames. There were the Parents – a couple in their mid-30s pushing a stroller right in front of me; and the Fit Kids – a duo of young, in-shape 20-somethings in front of them. I decided these would be my people. We clipped along at a good pace through the woods until one of the Parents had to trot off to the port-o-potty. I called out that they were my rabbits, and the husband shouted that they would be back. Now, it was just me and the Fit Kids.
The course is really flat with a few rolling hills tossed in for good measure. Just to make things interesting, race organizers threw in a climb as we approached the turnaround point. It was on this hill that Serious Grandma caught up to me. She was running. And she meant business. She pulled up beside me just as the lead runner was charging down the hill toward us. She called out to him that he was the leader, then proceeded to shout out the places to the next 30 or so people. It was sweet, and she gave me some motivation to keep pushing up that hill.
Matt passed going the opposite direction as I was still on the ascent. I guesstimated that he was close to the top 30, so I high-fived him and told him to keep going. The Fit Kids had started to pull away from me, and when I saw them coming back toward me, I knew the turnaround was close. I had told myself before the race not to let my competitive spirit consume me and to walk through the aid stations. Here we were at the fourth station in the race, and I hadn’t stopped yet. I decided to just see how far I could go. Besides, my knee was feeling good. Thank God.
The downhill lasted about a mile or so before we came back upon the generally flat course. The crowd had thinned out considerable by Mile 7, and I could hear someone approaching close behind. This would be the Trio – three ladies who were running smooth and steady. I joined them in silence for about a mile before I offered up all the Powerade I was carrying if they would help me push through the last three miles because the Fit Kids had left me in the dust. They chuckled, and for the next three miles, we ran together.
Mile 10 was approaching, and this was where I hit a wall in the Derby miniMarathon. When it arrived, I felt great, so I pressed on. Same with Mile 11. Somewhere in there, the Parents had passed me, stopped, and passed me again. The Trio had pulled ahead of me as I slowed down, but I was determined not to walk. I had two miles in me, so I was going to finish this thing running.
I felt great and was cruising right along until Mile 12 hit. To get back to the starting line, we had to climb a long incline I didn’t notice on the way out. I put my head down and quickened my turnover. I could hear someone behind me trying to pass, but I was determined not to let him/her get any closer than he/she already was.
The Mile 13 marker popped up, and we burst out of the woods just .1 miles from the finish mat. I could hear my sister, niece and nephew cheering for me from the sidelines. They had come to watch me finish (and made signs to boot), and that made me smile. I kicked through the very last part of the race and didn’t even look at my time. It didn’t matter. I was so thankful to have finished running the entire time and without pain in my knee. I met up with Matt and waited for my sister and the kids to come over.
I had forgotten to stop my RunKeeper app, so I pulled it out of my belt. Holy moly, it read 2:20ish and it had been a few minutes since I finished. I didn’t realize I had been running that fast.
OFFICIAL CHIP TIME: 2:16:29
That was just a little over a minute slower than my Derby mini time – a race I trained for FOUR months to finish. I know I’m not the fastest runner in the world, but this was great news to me.
Overall, the race was fantastic. There were plenty of aid stations, the organization was great (check-in was a breeze), the course was beautiful, and it was cheap. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone within driving distance. The only criticism I can offer up is that there were cyclists on the trail, and a few of them had no worries about weaving in and out of runners. I’m not sure if the organizers could even control this, but it was frustrating. Serious Grandma even yelled at a few.
So half-marathon #2 is under my belt.
Until next time, keep running, friends.