I’m not sure where to even begin or how to describe this past weekend at Rise.Run.Retreat. So I’ll start with the most concrete — a recap of the Leaf Peepers Half Marathon in Waterbury, Vermont. We ran it this past Sunday, the last day of the retreat, and all 10 women crossed the finish line.
It’s been two years since I’ve run a race. After the Philly Half Marathon in 2014, I was on such a runner’s high. I had a really fun year of running and most of all, I finally felt like myself again. After having two kids and knee surgery, it took a long time to get my groove back. In Philly, I was so close to achieving a goal that I didn’t realize I cared about (running a sub-2 hour half marathon).
But then it was like Groundhog’s Day — another surgery (my shoulder this time) and plagued by a pesky Achilles tendon. I spent most of 2015 in physical therapy and not running. So when I finally started running again this year, I was nervous and tentative. But I took it slowly and focused on building my base this spring before beginning this training cycle at the end of July.
I felt confident with my training but that confidence was quickly sapped during our shake-out run on Friday. The hills in Waterbury surrounding the house we stayed in for the retreat kicked my ass (and lungs and quads and calves). The reason I was worried? Just look at this elevation chart for the Leaf Peepers Half Marathon course.
Yup, a 3-mile uphill climb to start and over 1,000 feet in elevation gain. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect on race day and I couldn’t shake the dread I was feeling. On race day morning, I meditated and reminded myself to embrace the suck because – it will suck.
Still, I’ve never showed up to a start line with so much doubt swirling in my brain. I kept joking that I would wait for everyone in the car. Natalie gave me a sweet pep talk. I’ve trained for the distance. Treat it as a long tempo. And most importantly, enjoy it.
The anticipation of these miles were the worst. When the gun went off, I started running with Kara and we began climbing. The first two miles weren’t terrible and I felt in control of my pace and breath. But I kept waiting and waiting for that dreaded hill around mile 2.
And when I got to it, it was relentless. Apparently, it was a 17% incline. I kept running as much as I could but had to stop and walk to the top, which was probably the same pace as if I were running. I pretty much wanted to stop and turn around at this point and the mental game began in earnest.
Splits: 8:58, 9:30, 11:43 (HILL!)
Once we came over the top of the hill, we ran on dirt roads and along rolling hills and flats. These were my favorite miles by far. The view was gorgeous (now that I could actually focus on what was around me instead of my burning legs). The changing leaves, the hills in the distance, farmland.
While I started to loosen up, my quads did not feel happy, even at this early stage. As I ran down a hill near 5.5 miles, I saw Jesica cheering. (She’s in her 2nd trimester of pregnancy and didn’t run the race.) Seeing her gave me a jolt of adrenaline I needed.
Splits: 8:51, 8:19, 8:28
Mentally, these were the toughest miles for me. I don’t know if it’s because this was the out-and-back portion of the race or if I was too focused on expecting my quads to tighten up and/or cramp but I had a hard time settling into a comfortable stride and pace.
There was a lot of bargaining going on and everything felt hard. I kept thinking that I just needed to make it back to mile 10 where Jesica was. Then, I could stop and walk the rest of the way back with her.
Since it was out-and-back, I also got to see the other ladies of Rise.Run.Retreat which was a huge help. I was excited to see everyone pass and it gave me an extra bit of energy. After all, I didn’t want to look like I was dying out there on the course.
Splits: 9:10, 9:05, 8:45
I thought that all the hills were behind me. Wrong. Someone forgot to mention there was another big hill at mile 11. When I came around the bend and saw people trekking up another steep curve, I swore out loud multiple times and walked again up a portion of the hill. My quads were cramping up and my knee/IT band felt like they were on fire.
Once at the top, the route takes you on trails for a mile or so. I tried to keep my effort even and steady but I felt pretty done at this point. My legs felt shaky and tight, especially on the downhill portions, and running up even the tiniest hill felt like a major effort. I just wanted to be finished!
Splits: 8:42, 8:47, 10:12 (Hill!)
The course takes you back on the roads for the last mile or so. As I came around towards the finish, I saw my husband and kids right before the final turn. I waved at them and made a beeline for the finish and crossed in 2:01:01 (13.21 miles).
Splits: 8:46, 7:40 (last 0.21 miles)
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised at my time on this super hilly course. Based on how I was feeling Friday and on the course, I was expecting a disaster. I thought I would finish in 2:15, 2:30 even. But, I was one minute off my PR.
For the most part, I didn’t look at my watch during the race and tried to run by effort. I have a tendency to get obsessed with pace. When I went back to look at my splits, I was surprised. They were faster than I expected and I was able to hold them longer than I expected.
However, I still felt like crap especially my quads, meaning there’s a lot of work I can do to get stronger.
But, it’s also left me wanting to run another half marathon this fall (a flat course please!) to see if maybe, just maybe I can PR…
Damn those races and endorphins can be addictive!
The race has reminded me how special race day can be, especially when you share it with friends. I have so much more to say and share about the weekend and the power of runner friends but I’ll save that for another post.
Most of all, I’m grateful. It’s been so long since I’ve run a race or even trained consistently. I’ve been afraid of re-injuring myself and not being able to regain my fitness. This race, while painful, did boost my confidence. It reminded me that I can suck it up and do hard things.
Hills or no hills — what’s your preferred race course?
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