RR: Ikea Montour Half Marathon
On Saturday I ran the Ikea Montour Trail Half Marathon. As always, I wasn’t sure how the race was going to go. I haven’t run a half marathon since a disastrous Baltimore Half Marathon in 2004. I’ve been having really good long runs recently, but I wasn’t sure what pace I could sustain for 13.1 miles. My goal was to break 2 hours but I wasn’t sure if it was a realistic goal or not.
I was up at 5:45 with my best-thing-since-sliced-bread boyfriend, Chris. I got ready while he went on a coffee run and then we went to pick-up my friend, Steph, who was also racing the half. We got to the start/packet pick-up/chips around 7:15 for an 8 am start. I was pleased to see the shirt wasn’t the t-shirt I was expecting, but instead a long-sleeve Brooks technical shirt. Nice, I’ll take that! We hung around and stretched and met up with my friend Kasey and a friend of hers, David. I love the pre-race atmosphere… all the runners warming up and chatting and anticipating their potential. Love it.
I start the run with Kasey and David because we’re all hoping to break two hours. Kasey’s PR is 2:04; I’m not sure of David’s PR, but I think he has a 3:40 marathon time floating around somewhere. It isn’t too hot of a day, but it is HUMID. At this point I’m just thankful that the forecasted rain has held off, but I’m not sure how the weather is going to factor in.
The gun fires and we’re off. The first mile is a long downhill with a net elevation change of 300 feet. Everyone goes out insanely fast and our first mile is 8:03. If I were racing by myself, and not with Kasey and David, I would have gone out conservatively and tried to leave some to push at the end. Kasey and David are more even-split people. I figure I’ll keep up with them and it’ll be a bonus if I have some kick at the end. Miles 2 and 3 are 9:01 pace, Mile 4 goes through a 500 foot tunnel and my Garmin cries Uncle, yielding unreliable readings. This is where I start to slow down. I’m not sure if it’s the humidity, but now I’m starting to second-guess myself about going out too fast. As a psychologist and a runner, I know that running is just as much a mental sport as a physical one, and I can’t start psyching myself out. I use some time-tested mantras (“Who’s a runner? Kat’s a runner!”) but I’m digging too deep for this early in the race. Around miles 5, 6, and 7 I’m starting to question my ability to meet my goal (splits: 9:08, 9:10, 9:18). To add to this, Kasey cramps and needs to stop to walk. I keep going and David stays with her but I’m really regretting my race strategy. An additional factor at this point was poorly placed water stops- no water between miles 5 and 9! Argh!
Mile 7 is the turnaround for the out-and-back course. A turnaround not just physically but mentally. At this point, I start flying and suddenly I have a bit of a kick in my step again (mile 8: 8:42). I realize at this point that the last few miles must have been a gradual uphill (my Garmin later confirms a 300-foot climb) and maybe I can make up some time on the downhill. From here on out something happens and my mind becomes focused and sharpened. My legs and breathing start to hit a rhythm. The pack has spread out and I keep finding people I can play mental games with: I just need to pass the girl in the blue; there’s a rubber band between me and the guy in the black shirt and he’s pulling me to the finish line.
The course has been devoid of spectators and was sparse on volunteers. It was amazing to start to see non-running humans around mile 12.75. The winners were cheering us on and I made eye contact with one guy (my race angel) who said “You’ve got it, girl! Finish strong!” He was wearing a JFK 50 mile shirt, an endurance race that happens in my home state of Maryland, and the realization I only had a little bit left to go, feeling a home-court connection, and finally being cheering for helped me kick it into high gear. I ran hard towards the finish and found Chris and Steph at the finish line cheering me on. Chris is one of my biggest supporters and it was so awesome to see him cheering for me and bringing me home. I finished in 1:58:06, beating my goal of coming in under 2-hours.
I got a medal, which I was really excited about (yay bling!). I was also excited I was able to break 2 hours on a trail run in disgusting conditions (runners looked like swimmers at the end). I found out Steph came within two minutes of breaking her PR of 1:40 and likely would have without a porta-potty break. Kasey and David came in at 2:02, a 2-minute PR for Kasey, even though she didn’t meet her sub-2 goal. Overall it was a really great morning with really great people. I’m starting to realize there is no other way I’d rather spend a morning than racing with friends.