Monday, October 14, 2013

YMCA Johnstown Half Marathon (or the DC Half that wasn't)


We learned the Wednesday before our planned half marathon that it was going to be shut down by the government shut down (or, rather, postponed for a month to a date that we couldn't race).  Our training has been brutal, and it was even more brutal to think about all that training going to waste.

D found a new race for us- the YMCA Johnsontown Half Marathon in Pennsylvania.  This race was as 3 hour drive from our original race destination, with a lot less runners and frills (no medals, few spectators, fewer aid stations, fewer signs, etc), and a lot more hills.  It was also incredibly inexpensive, still open, and run by friendly volunteers.

"The world's steepest inclined plane," which we took to the start line.  It was free - a great race perk - but it was also a sign of what the race course is like."
I'm happy we raced, even though neither of us had the race we wanted.  The course was brutal, and neither of us had trained for hills.  It began with about 4 miles of small undulating hills (very doable), before plummeting down a steep hill for over a mile, only to bank back uphill for far too long, then back downhill, and then ended on two miles of pancake flat roads.

I'm not joking when I say the last 2 flat miles were the worst.  I pushed myself through the hills, and my legs, while not happy, were in a rhythm and pushing through the course on autopilot - but then I hit the flat empty road, and I lost all of my momentum.  My leg muscles were burning, and any shade that had been on the course gave way to searing, sun-soaked strip mall roads.  The temperature was in the mid to high 70s (how this happened in mid-October in PA, I have no idea).  There were very few spectators and one final aid station.  Some of the few people I saw were runners passing me.  My running mantra went from "go go go" to "make it end, make it end" - not pretty, but the thought of being able to completely stop and sit was what motivated me to keep moving forward.

Getting ready to race on quiet streets with lots of parking.  The race didn't start till 9am.
In the end, D and I were both far off from are PRs.  I think I was in my best running shape ever, but I was not at all prepared for the course that we ended up running, and I still finished more than 6 minutes behind my PR for the half marathon.  Final race time- 1:51:26.  There was chip timing at the finish line, but not the start line (not that shaving the few seconds it took to get to the start would make much of a difference).

I ended up running near a young female runner for much of the second half of the race.  She got in front of me for the last 2 miles, but I kept within about a city block of her and charged up alongside of her at the finish.  She was startled to see me near the finish line (I'm sure she thought she dropped me in the last mile), but she also surged.  My goal was never to pass her, but to have a target to keep me moving forward, and I finished a second behind her.  I didn't push to beat her in that last second, and I don't know if I could have passed her or not.  Even so, I think my last minute surge upset her, which was the last thing I wanted to do.  I often race other females in to the finish, and then usually one of us will congratulate the other on the strong mutual finish.

I hope I helped the runner shave a few seconds off of her time as well- the goal should be to find the best race in everyone, not to beat someone in a sneak attack -we weren't going to be in the top 3 females no matter what (had that been the case, all sneak attack options would have been considered :0).

Marathon header
YMCA Johnstown Half Marathon, 2013

What I loved about the race was that it felt like a race for true dyed-in-the-wool runners.  There weren't many runners, but among those there were people decked out in "marathon maniacs" shirts, and runners sharing old race stories.  There was a free, all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner the night before, friendly volunteers, and a free trip up a verticle incline.

What I didn't love about the race was the course (particularly the lonely, ugly finish), which left me feeling like I had nothing to show for all of my effort and I'd lost out on an opportunity to do some damage to my PR.  I really wish there had been more water/gatorade stops - it sure didn't feel like they were every 2 miles, as promised, at the end.  I admit I like cushy races with flatish courses, pacers, race medals, and tech t-shirts.  This race will never be one of those races, but hopefully it made D and I better, smarter runners.

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