Post-Mortem: Harder ‘N Hell Half Marathon

Now that the race is over and I’ve had some time to think, I have thoughts about what worked and didn’t work about the training cycle. Overall, a lot of things worked, since the race went well for me.

Race Report
All Harder ‘N Hell Half posts

Good Things
Hill work. I really think running up and down the hills at Chester Bowl was helpful. My legs felt extremely strong and I felt confident going up hills. Running hilly trails helped, too.

Running the entire course at once in training. I don’t need to do this every time, but since I’d never raced a half marathon, I wanted to make sure I was capable of it. It really boosted my confidence, especially since I’d been sick only a week or so before I did it.

Running by feel for most training runs. Since my GPS watch hasn’t been working very well, I used my phone to track my runs and just tucked it away somewhere. That means I had no idea what pace I’m running until I finished the workout. This helped keep me from “racing my training” or getting hung up on the pace, so my runs were more relaxed. I ended up kind of running by feel during the race, too, thanks to not starting my watch on time.

Running my own race. Yes, I noted when I passed people. But I didn’t make any special effort to get by anyone, nor did I worry if anyone passed me. I got passed at the end and didn’t really care. I got passed by a million people at the beginning and didn’t care.

Bad Things
Testing out only one source of food. Because when that food made me want to barf I thought I was in big trouble. It ended up being fine as I just ate at the wrong time in the race, but I should have had some other options for refueling.

Obsessively running the course. I ran the first few miles of the course way, way, way too often. I was obsessed with those stupid stairs, and they were a non-factor. I took them more slowly during the race than I had the last time I ran them, because guess what, other people took them slowly! It’s like I was surprised I wasn’t the only slow person in a race packed with elites. Test-running the whole course was good, but running it too often made me a little bit sick of it. One shouldn’t be sick of trails, they’re too freaking gorgeous.

Not warming up. I was too worried about other things and didn’t take the time to even run a half a mile to get some kinks out. The slow beginning helped me warm up, but there was plenty of time for at least some strides.

Abandoning strength training. I can’t believe my back didn’t hurt during the race! I was doing so well with yoga, but of course I had a lot more time during the summer. There was no reason I couldn’t have done push-ups on a daily or near-daily basis, at the very least.

There are other things, of course, if I want to nitpick every last detail, but these are the first few things that popped into my head. I worked hard in training; I was lucky not to be injured or sick (too often) and to have great race day weather; and there are things I can work on for next time. I didn’t come away from this race thinking “I’ll never do THAT again,” and I smiled almost the whole race. I’ll call this race a victory.

Harder ‘N Hell Half Training: Week 12

Race week!

Monday: 4.3 mi, paved trail (Lakewalk)
Tuesday: 4.2 mi, paved trail (Lakewalk, 6×400 @ 9:51 average)
Wednesday: 2.9 mi, road + trail (Chester Bowl)
Thursday: rest
Friday: rest
Saturday: 13.5, trail (RACE!)
Sunday: rest
Total: 25.2 mi

I took it easy this week, obviously. I only did a little bit of running on unpaved trails, and the Chester Bowl trails aren’t exactly technical. It was a little bit chilly Monday when I ran on the Canal Park end of the Lakewalk (I’ll be going there more frequently now as I like the path, the tourist season is basically over, and parking is free again), but I was more bundled up than usual, wearing long sleeves and tights. It was actually misting but I wasn’t bothered that much. The wind was a bit strong at times but I was planning on going slowly anyway so I didn’t care if it slowed me down.

Tuesday I probably ran a little too hard. 9:51 average pace for repeats the week of a race? Yeah maybe that works for non-slow people. That’s over a minute faster than my 5K pace. Although between that workout and the fast-ish end of the race I threw down (11:40 over the final half mile or so), I’m excited to see what I can do in a 5K. I felt fine after the race, except I got back to Brighton Beach in the dark. Time to invest in a headlamp, or plan better.

Wednesday I tried out a couple of pieces of gear I’d purchased. I was worried about getting cold so I bought some over-the-calf socks and some old man gym-teacher style tube socks to use as arm warmers. I wanted to try both pieces out to see how they’d work. The socks (the ones I wore on my feet, I mean) didn’t chafe and felt fine but they didn’t stay up. They were around my ankles pretty quickly, which also happened during the race. So much for keeping my calves warm and protected from itchy grass. The arm warmers worked fine, but I chickened out and wore a long-sleeved shirt on Saturday, which was dumb.

The race, I already covered.

Sunday I felt ok, but my hips and knees were achy. In fact, it’s 3 days after the race now and I’ve just finally started to feel like I’m not lurching around looking for my oil can like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. I have a massage scheduled for tonight and then I plan to start running again tomorrow. I’m trying to get my watch charger replaced and my heart rate monitor fixed, and then I can start really working on my base-building for next year.

Race Report: Harder ‘N Hell Half Marathon

Official Results:
Time: 3:51:24
Pace: 17:40 (Assuming 13.1 miles)
Overall: 118/142
Gender: 54/72
(Updated to include official results)

App Results:
App: Strava
Time: 3:52:18
Pace: 17:04
Distance: 13.6 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

A: 4:20:00
B: 3:59:59

What I ate the night before: Chicken tenders and fries
What I ate on race day: Large latte and bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 2 handheld water bottles, fun size Snickers bars

What I wore: Long sleeved tech tee, short sleeved tech tee, shorts, buff (as headband), over the calf socks (which fell down immediately), gloves
Gadgets: GPS watch, iPhone with Strava and MapMyRun running

What a great race. I am thrilled!

Race day I woke up before my alarm and tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. I got up around 7 and my friend (who was also running the race and who was staying with us) and I drove to get coffee. He was planning on leaving at around 8:10 to leave his car at the finish and take the bus to the start, but he couldn’t find one of his gloves, so he decided to ride with me to the start. I wanted that little extra bit of control, plus if it was cold then we could huddle in there. He drove to the finish line, I picked him up there (after making two wrong turns, one because I was zoning out and started driving to work, and one because I didn’t realize a street was closed), and we made it to the Spirit Mountain trailhead at about 9:05, giving us 10 minutes before the race briefing was scheduled and 25 minutes before the start. It was cold but not overly cold, and I realized I probably could have gotten away with a short sleeved shirt plus arm warmers. Eh. It wasn’t like it was the difference between winning and losing or anything. I didn’t do any warming up, which was dumb, but I don’t feel like it was a big deal.

The race briefing actually began right before the race was scheduled to start. I started my phone apps in advance because I didn’t want to be messing with my phone while running, especially since the pockets attached to my handheld were jammed full of stuff and my phone had to be wedged in. I didn’t realize once we went to the start, we would just… start. So my watch wasn’t ready, and it took forever to get the GPS to find a satellite, and then I realized at some point I hadn’t started it. I think I was about 0.4 miles into the race at that point but I had no idea. So the start was a bit rocky.

Mile 1: 18:30
This is a little messed up because as I said, I started the app before I walked to the starting line, so it includes that walking time. That means the distance is a little messed up, too, but the data from my watch is all kind of messed up since I didn’t start it on time and it was underestimating the distance. My watch had me running several 20+ minute miles and had an average pace of 18:17, which would have had me finishing in 3:59 (for a true 13.1), so that data is basically garbage. So, Strava it is.

Anyway the first mile was typical of a trail race, I gather, in that we were all bunched up. The stairway to hell was no problem because everyone else was going up it slowly, too. I let people go by me and went along at my own pace, and pretty soon I was basically in last place. Not a problem, someone had to bring up the rear.

Mile 2: 16:41
There’s a big descent here so it went by pretty quickly. I was a little bummed because there’s a couple of gentle descents/flats that I like to let loose on, but I couldn’t because we were bottled up, but I guess I made up for it by scaling the hills more quickly. I ended up in the middle of a running group somehow, which was awkward. Their leader told me they were aiming for a finish time around 4:30, so I told myself I hope I didn’t see them again. (Spoiler alert, I didn’t, but they were a fun group having a blast and I wished their time goal had been closer to mine so I could have joined them.)

Mile 3: 17:25
Uneventful. I was following a woman in blue patterned running tights and trying to keep her in sight the whole time. I think I might have had my first candy bar here, or slightly after. I felt a little gaggy from the bagel and cream cheese, which weren’t very good (from Starbucks. God I wish there was a Bruegger’s up here.) I had taken a couple of Pepto Bismol tablets pre-race as a precautionary measure but they hadn’t kicked in yet, I guess. I took my gloves off during this mile because my hands were getting warm and I’d need my hands free to unwrap my Snickers. I stuffed them down my shirt into my sports bra, so I am sure I looked a little lumpy for most of the race. Oh well.

Mile 4: 16:47
As I was crossing Cody Street I passed a woman who was cheering people on. She said “I’ve seen you out here training, great job!” It made me smile, it was a nice thing to say. I guess I am pretty distinctive looking since most people do not run wearing glasses, I’ve noticed.

Mile 5: 20:26
Yeesh. I tried eating another candy bar and nearly threw up. It was rough and I was slowed to a walk for quite awhile. I was pretty low for this mile, though I faked it for the race photographer. I thought oh man, I’m going to barf all over the trail, I won’t be able to eat anything the whole race, I won’t make it. It was depressing. The first aid station was at the end of this mile and I walked right through it, since I hadn’t consumed much of my water and I couldn’t imagine eating anything else. This ended up being a good idea because I got ahead of a bunch of people that way. I just kept moving and tried to will my stomach to calm down.

Miles 6 and 7: 17:50 and 17:06
I started feeling better at this point and the race turned around for me. I got passed by a few people fresh from the aid station while I was walking, but I ended up passing a couple of them when they stopped to pee. Another one followed me for awhile and didn’t pass me despite the multiple opportunities I gave her to go by. She finally rushed by me on the side, which was kind of annoying. I passed her when she stopped to take a photo, and but she seemed to keep me in her sights.

Mile 8: 16:47
I was still being pursued by the woman who rushed past me, and she got pretty close as I’d slowed down to eat a Snickers and I took the descent to Haines Road carefully. There were a couple of really slippery spots on the trail (like the first mile or so, which was covered in wet leaves) and the rocky descent down to the tunnel under Haines was one of them. I went slow and still nearly biffed it. In the tunnel I tried to really hit the gas and that was the fastest little snippet of the race, according to my Strava results. I was passed by a couple of mountain bikers on the gravel on the other side of the road. My pursuer was absolutely killing herself to catch me, which made no sense. I looked over my shoulder as I was heading back up into the woods and saw her bent over, hands on knees, stopped, at the edge of the gravel road and the woods. That was the last time I saw her. I did hear someone coming up behind me at one point but it turned out to be the winner of the 50k.

Mile 9: 18:07
Uneventful. Passed by the 50k 2nd place runner. I think I had another Snickers here, the last one I ate, and then I had a mint.

Mile 10: 16:24
Passed by the 50k 3rd place runner as I was crossing Skyline. Started to realize I wasn’t as far off my goal as I thought. I still thought I’d be over 4 hours, but I really couldn’t tell. I ran alongside a guy with trekking poles for awhile and we chatted. We talked about how nice the new boardwalks were; they had just been added in a few weeks ago by some fabulous volunteers. I asked him about his trekking poles and he said “They saved my life.” He had a total knee replacement and this race was the longest he’d run since then. I might have to look into them since he said they lessen the impact of downhills and my knees are pretty creaky today. He got ahead of me as we hit 10th street, but I caught up with him at the aid station at 24th Ave W.

Mile 11: 17:55
I stopped at the aid station at 24th Ave W to fill up one of my water bottles, and then I kept on going. There was food there but I decided I wasn’t going to eat anything else. I saw the woman I’d seen earlier (the one who’d seen me training), she appeared to be a friend or family member of the guy I’d run with. He stayed at the aid station a little longer than I did but he was soon coming after me. I thought he would get by me but he didn’t. I saw him finish and he told me he ran out of gas in the last few miles. I got passed by the 4th place 50k runner (who looked really miserable), the last one to pass me for the day. I really started to pick it up out of the aid station, I really wanted to get to Enger Park and start the downhill part of the race. I drank a little too much water and felt sloshy for a few minutes but my stomach calmed down.

Mile 12: 16:55
I realized at this point that 4 hours was within my grasp and I was really motivated. I knew the last bad hill was ahead of me heading into Enger, and I was ready to attack it. I passed a guy on the hill who was absolutely SUFFERING. I felt really bad for him, and told him it was the last bad hill and then it would be all downhill. I wanted to ring the peace bell at Enger but this tween girl seemed to be hogging it so I just kept going. She rang it as I ran by. I passed Twin Ponds and had a moment of sadness for the woman who was struck by a car and killed there earlier in the week. I didn’t know her but many people I know did, and it was a sad, preventable accident that has resulted in criminal charges. I passed a guy here as we crossed Skyline and started to open up a bit.

Mile 13: 14:15
I was flying at this point. It is a fairly steep descent but it was manageable and I was running it perfectly, no tripping or slipping. I passed a few other people here, including the only half marathoner to pass me back. A friend of mine lives just down the road from one of the road crossings, so I’d told him to be out cheering, but he wasn’t. Oh well. I didn’t need encouragement at this point, I was practically grinning. I was checking my watch to see my pace rather frequently, and I knew I was going to make it under 4 hours. I checked the actual time just to be sure, and confirmed it. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was where the actual finish line was. I mean, I knew it was in Bayfront, but where, and what was the path to get there? I was flying over the pedestrian bridge across the highway, but started to lose energy a little bit (and got passed) when I was running along the train tracks.

The rest (0.5 miles according to Strava, who knows what it really was): 11:40 pace
So the finish line wasn’t visible until the very, very end. That was a little bit annoying. I ran along Railroad St, turned at 5th Ave W, turned again and starting running through the Bentleyville tunnel, and then FINALLY saw the finish line. Since I was so far ahead of my expected finish time, no one was expecting me. In fact, my husband said that my friend’s parents had just asked when they expected to see me finish, and he said “Between 1:30 and 2… or right now” as I had just come into view. I saw the clock, saw I was well under 4 hours, and blew through the finish line with a smile on my face.

I wrapped up in a blanket right away to keep warm, even though I hadn’t felt cold at all during the race. I sat down for a little while and heard about how the race went for my buddy. He said he finished in about 3:02, which was a little over his goal, but he had a blast just as I did. He reminded me to go get my swag, which I hadn’t noticed. Instead of medals, we got a mug with a little spoon, which I used to get DELICIOUS chicken wild rice soup. I should have eaten like three more helpings. I felt pretty amazing right after the race and was surprised to see how easily my stomach accepted the soup and bread. My husband drove me back to Spirit Mountain to pick up my car, and then I went home to shower and get the snot and salt off my face.

I was pretty tired the rest of the day, probably because I needed more food. I had another latte (pumpkin spice, because I’m unashamed to be basic) while I was picking a friend up from the bus station (he was covering the Bulldogs-Gophers hockey game Saturday night) but I was really dragging. I tried to nap, but I couldn’t. I barely made it to the hockey game (UMD shut out the stinkin’ Gophers, so that was great!), but once I ate some glorious fries, I perked up again.

I am pretty pain free. Only a minor blister or two, no chafing, no muscular soreness, but some joint soreness and stiffness. My hips and knees aren’t pleased. I thought my back would hurt more since I didn’t do a good job working my core during this training cycle.

I am really glad I put in all that grueling training. I felt really prepared for the race, took all the hills in stride (huffing and puffing, but considering I barely made it up some of them during the first few weeks of training, it was an improvement), had plenty in the tank at the end, overcame nausea, and didn’t bonk. I’ll recap the training cycle in a later post, but suffice it to say, while it wasn’t perfect every week, it did the job.

I will definitely run this race again. It’s very low key, the volunteers were great, the trail is gorgeous, and it’s a perfect way to wrap up a distance racing season. (Of course I only ran one longish race, but that won’t always be the case.) Maybe next year I’ll run the 50k! Or try to beat this year’s time in the half, I don’t know. Thank you, Wild Duluth Races, for a great race!

Harder ‘N Hell Half Marathon Goals

Tomorrow is the race. I’m not sure what to think. On the one hand, whatever, I know I’ll finish the race, and I know I won’t be blowing anyone away with my speed. On the other hand, I want to do well. I don’t want to bonk, I don’t want to slow down too much on the hills, I don’t want to slip and fall on wet leaves, I don’t want to freeze during the race.

My plan is to be in last place, or very close to last place, at the beginning. Since I’ll be one of the last finishers, why not start there? Then I can take the stairway to hell at my own pace. I bought a bag of Halloween candy so that I have bite-sized Snickers to bring along with me. Then I don’t have to fumble with wrappers, I can just unwrap the whole candy and stuff the wrapper back in the pocket of my hand-held. I also hope to not stop at any aid stations for longer than I need to fill my water bottles. And I really, really, really hope I don’t get passed by too many of the 50k runners (they start earlier).

Time goals? Eek. I am going to be mostly running on feel, but I’ll have my watch on me to check my average pace. The problem is, I don’t know exactly how long the race course is. I don’t think it’s 13.1 miles exactly, I think it’s longer, or at least my various GPS devices have measured it longer. So if it’s 13.3 miles or 13.6 miles, then I’ll have slightly different average paces I need to hit. Whatever. So, here we go.

A Standard: 3:59:59
B Standard: 4:20:00

I ran the course in 4:23 back in September, so I rounded down to 4:20 for my B goal. On fresh legs, I can surely shave 3 minutes off my time.

Under 4 hours might be a pipe dream, but hey, I like to challenge myself. Assuming the race is 13.5 miles long (that’s what my Strava measured), that’s a pace of 17:46. I ran a pace of 19:28 back in September. So that’s a big chunk of time to shave off. Oh well.

As long as I finish strong, don’t accidentally trip the 50k front runners as they blow by me, don’t barf or have an upset GI system, and don’t hurt myself, I will be happy. Ok if it takes me 6 hours I won’t be happy. But it won’t.

Harder ‘n Hell Half Training: Week 11

Not a notable week.

Monday: rest
Tuesday: 6.4 mi, road
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: 4.9 mi, trails (Hartley)
Friday: 4.8 mi, road
Saturday: rest
Sunday: rest
Total: 16.2 mi

Ugh. Not the best, but I ended up not being too sick. I am told this is normal taper nonsense, but I think it has more to do with school stress ending than with tapering. Sunday I did go to Itasca State Park before leaving Bemidji, but I didn’t do any serious hiking, just enjoyed time with my family on an unseasonably warm day.

My brother and me crossing the Mississippi

My brother and me crossing the Mississippi

I’m pretty excited for the race, but also nervous. I want to do well. I don’t think I’ll do as well as I want to. I don’t want to freeze my butt off, but I also don’t want to get too warm. I don’t quite know what I’m going to wear but I am zeroing in on it.

I would have preferred another 9-10 miles on my legs last week, but rest trumped extra miles. Like I said last week, there’s not much more I can do to improve my fitness from here on out. Good sleep, good nutrition, and no grueling activity. Figure out the logistics. Breathe. Etc.

In Sickness and In Health

I have a cold, kind of. I think. Right now I have a cough, feel tired, and feel like I have the beginnings of a stuffy head.

I am also a less than a week out from the Harder ‘N Hell Half Marathon.

These two facts are incongruous.

I’m writing this late at night from a hotel room in Bemidji (I’m here for a short hockey road trip) and I am either going to wake up with a full-blown, grotty, snotty, feverish illness, or I’m going to wake up feeling better. I can’t remember the last time I had a cold/sinus/whatever illness that didn’t cut me down hard, so I am thinking I’ll be miserable tomorrow.

Naturally this means no running. In fact, I probably didn’t shut myself down soon enough. I had a stressful past few weeks, academically, which culminated in a fantastic day on Thursday. I was full of adrenaline and riding high after my classmates and I nailed a presentation we had given (this sounds silly but it was for our senior design class and was kind of a big deal), and then Thursday afternoon I kind of crashed from the excitement. But still went out running for an hour and a half, in a bit of drizzle. After that I felt tired and cold, but not sick.

Friday I still felt ok, just incredibly tired. And I was sneezing some, but I thought it might be allergies. I was planning a very short run, until the night’s hockey game was canceled (there was a power outage at the arena, it was very bizarre) and I had significantly more time than I thought, so I ran 5 miles. My nose ran a lot but it always runs when I’m running. (Ugh that last sentence was stupid but I’m not sure how else to put it.) I found that I couldn’t really get warm once I was home, even though it wasn’t that cold in my house, and I ended up going to bed early and turning on my electric blanket to warm up.

This morning I woke up planning to run a short route before we headed off to Bemidji. I still thought I felt kinda ok, then I got up and realized that I should probably rest. Especially after I read the text from my friend who is running the race with me. He said he finished his run over the second half of the course in less time than he thought, and I looked at his time and it was… way better than what I can run. I am really glad he’s successful but also envious of the ease with which he runs. So I didn’t run today, which was a great decision because I’ve been feeling run down since the early afternoon.

I’m shutting myself down until I’ve shaken this illness. There’s no workout I can complete that will improve my fitness for this race, and I need my body to focus on healing itself. I hope that I’ll be well enough for at least a couple short runs later this week, but if I don’t run again until race morning, that’s fine. As long as I reach the starting line healthy and energized, the rest doesn’t matter.

Harder ‘N Hell Half Training: Week 10

Less than 2 weeks to the race. There’s not much else I can do to help myself, but a lot I can do to mess up. Pressure’s on.

Monday: rest
Tuesday: 3 mi, trails (Bagley) + 3.9 mi, road
Wednesday: 5 mi, treadmill (6×800 @ 11:19 pace)
Thursday: rest
Friday: 4 mi, road
Saturday: 6.6 mi, trails (First 3.3 miles of race course)
Sunday: 8.4 mi, trails (Magney Snively lot to Ely’s Peak and back)
Total: 31.1 mi

This was the last difficult week I’ve got planned before the race. I think my knees and hips will thank me.

I had to get creative with my workouts in order to fit in mileage this week. I had a lot of stuff due for school and needed to meet with my group. I ran before and after class on Tuesday to make the magic happen. Wednesday I got home late but still wanted to fit in a workout, so I tortured myself on the treadmill with some longer repeats. It kind of sucked.

I decided to ditch a longer run over the weekend in favor of two grueling back to back workouts, just like last weekend. Saturday went well, but I’ve now banned myself from the race course. It’s starting to irritate me. I need to look on it with fresh eyes on race day, not think “here we go again” with a groan.

Sunday was a gorgeous day, and I wanted to get up the North Shore to see some fall colors, but I didn’t have time to fit in the drive on top of a run. I decided to run from the Magney Snively parking lot to Ely’s Peak and back, which I thought would be easier than it was. Nope. 1154 ft of elevation gain, an ascent that felt never-ending to start the run, a descent that was steep enough to slow me to a crawl near the halfway point, which I then had to ascend, and it may have nearly killed me. My legs were beat to hell by the end of the run.

From here on out, I’m easing off on the difficulty of my runs. I’ll probably still do some trails, but nothing too challenging. I want my legs fresh for race day, but of course I want them to remember how to run.