Saturday, November 19, 2016

White River Half Marathon: Sometimes Being Nuts Pays Off!

Spoiler photo, but I wanted it to be the featured picture
As I mentioned here, I registered for the White River Half Marathon the afternoon following the Bass Pro Marathon, mainly because I'm nuts, but also because I hadn't gotten to run a half this season and this was a fast course that I could trek to on race morning with one of my favorite people.

It was hard to know how to set a goal for this race, since it was 13 days after the Bass Pro Marathon, which came 28 days after the Prairie Fire Marathon.  Again, because I'm nuts, I decided I would try for a half PR as long as I felt okay once I got out conservatively.  Of all of my PRs set prior to this season, I felt that my standing half PR was the strongest and would be by far the most difficult to beat.  I've done halves closely off of fulls before, with my second best half time in 2015 coming 6 days after the Dallas Marathon on a slow course, and the half time that stood as my PR from November 2010 to April 2015 coming at the 2010 Route 66 half marathon 2 weeks after the 2010 Bass Pro Marathon - so this wasn't completely uncharted territory (i.e., I have been nuts for years).

After I ran the Tiger Trot 15K at 6:20 pace in September, I thought that 6:20 pace would be a reasonable pace for me to run for a half in the condition I was in if I was rested, on a good course, with competition, and in ideal temperature.  I ran the Tiger Trot 4 days after a 24 mile training run, I ran alone from mile 4 on in the event with no men or women in front of me, it was 70 degrees for the race, and about 2 miles of the race was run on dirt roads with huge rock chunks which killed my splits on those miles (without those my average would have been more like 6:15).  Also, historically I have been able to run around 25 seconds per mile faster in halves than in fulls run at the same fitness level.

However, I wouldn't consider being 13 days off of a marathon an ideal "rested" state, and I also knew I needed to count myself lucky to have held my peak through Bass Pro, and that it was unlikely I was still holding it.  I had a good enough workout on the Tuesday before the race to know that my legs weren't dead, but it was short enough that I really didn't know how they would respond to racing a half.  My coach told me to go out conservatively and aim to negative split, and this was my exact email response to him about that and the race:  "I'm a big fan of negative splitting. I'm also not sure I could go out too fast even if I wanted to, as it takes me awhile to warm up even if I jog 2-3 miles before, so that won't be an issue! I felt good on my uptempo running today and 6:19 pace felt brisk but sustainable, although I can also tell I'm not 100% recovered from Bass Pro (which I expected and I don't imagine there is any way I could be) - but hoping I'm in good enough shape that I'll be able to rally for a solid half after a few more recovery days. Regardless it will be fun!"  Perhaps I should have included the disclaimer "(unless I completely blow up)" at the end of that!

My friend Amy was also running this race, and when we ran together during the week before the race we discussed race plans and goals, and decided to work together to break 1:24, which was something neither of us had ever done, but both felt like we could if everything came together.  I kept the caveat of "if I feel up to it after I start out conservatively" in there, as I knew it was quite possible my legs would refuse to drop below 6:30 pace - and if it was really reaching to dip into the 6:20s at mile 3-4 I was not going to try it!  I also mentioned that worst case scenario, I would run it at marathon pace, and that would not be anywhere near my slowest half.  I made a pace band targeting a 1:23:50 (6:24 pace) and hoped and prayed for the best, but I didn't have the most confidence in myself and kept looking at old half splits to halfway reassure myself.
On race morning, Missy and I set off on our journey at 4:00 a.m. - another data point supporting that we are both nuts!  Add to that, it didn't seem that bad getting up at 3:50 a.m...just 10 minutes earlier than 4:00 a.m. which I did for several long runs (including 22 and 24.3 milers that I ran before work = more data points for nuts).  I had my Generation Ucan with almond milk and a caffeinated Nuun on the drive down.

The 2-hour drive down flew by, and we arrived at the race site to park, pick up our packets, and warm up.  It was 34 degrees with a wind chill of 28, and since we really haven’t had any cold weather yet this year it felt horribly cold!  We complained about the cold and questioned how we ran in much colder conditions throughout last winter for most of our 2 warm-up miles (the obvious answer is by being nuts).  I decided to wear my thickest mittens (I had 4 different options for gloves/mittens, as I knew I’d run in shorts and short sleeves and be fine as long as my hands were warm).  About 10 minutes before race start, I shed my warm-up pants and jacket, and headed to the starting line, where Missy and I proceeded to huddle together for warmth while waiting for the gun!  I had on my pace band on targeting a 1:23:50 finish time, but I was thinking more about just running hard to get warm than anything.  I didn’t feel pressured or anything, and had no nerves leading up to this race – just ready go out and see what happened.  I think I also felt like I had a good excuse if I ran poorly ("Oh, my legs just didn't have it after those two marathons.")

After a nice prayer and the National Anthem, we were off!  The first mile of the race is downhill, so it would be easy to go out super fast, but I wanted to be conservative and was planning a 6:25.  Amy and I ran together, and a lot of people went out crazy fast.  We came through the mile in 6:24, but it felt like about 7:30 pace.  I commented to Amy that this was really like a 12-mile race because of that downhill first mile.

My goal was to keep my first 4 miles between 6:25-6:30, then if I felt good gradually speed up slightly to the turnaround at mile 7, then try to drop to a little faster from 7 to 10, and then push with all I had for the final 5K.  Miles 2 and 3 came by just as planned, and one thing I love about an out-and-back course like this is that you don’t lose time not running the tangents, you don’t lose rhythm turning, and your Garmin is pretty close to the course mile markers.  My Garmin splits and course splits were awfully close, which also eliminated the need for my pace band.

As we passed mile 3, Amy told me that she was going to maintain the pace we were at and didn’t feel good enough to speed up with me.  I encouraged her that she wouldn’t even notice dropping a few seconds a mile, but I could feel her backing off.  I set my sights on a man ahead of us and pressed on.  I pulled up with him around mile 4, and he and I came through mile 5 a bit faster than I’d planned that early (6:11), but it was a conversational pace.  I made myself back off a little, telling myself that I could speed up at the turnaround if I was still feeling so good, but mile 6 was 6:16 so also a little faster than I wanted that early.  I hoped I wasn’t dooming myself, but it was sure nice to have someone to run with and this pace felt sustainable.  We picked up two other men who'd been in front of us between then and the turn around.  They were all pushing, and I intentionally pulled back during mile 7 because I didn’t want to go too hard too early and in anticipation of dropping at the turnaround, and they all slowed a little with me too for a 6:22.

I felt fantastic at the turnaround, and thought to myself, “only 6 more miles!”  I challenged myself to finish the final 6 at 6:15 pace, and I thought I had a chance.  My math wasn’t the best, but I was thinking that if I could maintain that pace I could run a 1:22:5X.  When I made my pace band for 1:23:50 (6:24 pace), I also made one for 1:22:57 (6:20 pace), but then didn’t print the faster one because I thought that was too aggressive.  At mile 7 I was wishing I had!  I ended up not using the pace band I had on at all, but instead doing the math in my head at each mile marker on the course (which is never a safe bet during oxygen deprivation!).

When I sped up at the turnaround, one of the men stayed with me but the other two didn’t.  The one who did (man in red) was running right behind me right on me, making me do the work.  For several miles, we could see other runners who were going out while we were coming back on the course, as miles 7-13 were miles 2-7 in reverse.  There were a lot of runners I knew in the race, so it was very fun to hear them saying my name and to encourage them.  Several told me that I was first female as well.  Around mile 8, which was 6:17, I took off those thick mittens I had to have, and held them the rest of the way because they are my favorite mittens (my favorite thick gloves were lost at Bass Pro and I was not making that mistake again!)!

At mile 9 (which was 6:12), I was feeling pretty good about a strong finish, but I thought it was going to be really close between a high 1:22 and a 1:23.  I told myself that I could do 4 miles at 6:15, and that if I didn’t make it in the 1:22s, it wasn’t going to be for lack of trying.  The man in red continued to pace off of me.  I slowed up a little bit at a couple of points to try to get him to come up beside me, but he wouldn’t, and I didn’t want to break my rhythm too much.  We were reeling in another man, which helped, and having man in red right behind me was better than running alone but I still wanted him to come up beside me or even let me draft off him for a bit.  I knew that if he stayed with me to the end that he would out-kick me, being a male, and if he had been female I would have likely run a little more strategically.

At mile 10 (6:19), I looked at my watch and figured that all I needed to do to run a solid 1:23 was run a 20 minute final 5K (6:26ish pace), which I felt extremely confident about doing.  I was thinking that I needed to run 6:10 pace for the final 5K to get in the 1:22s, though, and I wasn’t quite sure I quite had that (in retrospect, at all of the mile marks I was counting on the final 0.1 taking me 1:00, but actually I only needed to allot 40 seconds at most for it, but that is where my math went wrong).  I pressed on, again telling myself that I was going to give 110% and I was feeling so blessed to be on PR pace.  The funny thing about this course is that I thought it was decline from miles 2-7 and I was worried about coming back up it.  Then miles 7-13 also felt like decline, which is physically impossible since we ran the same road in opposite directions.  I guess I am so used to running hills that flat seems like decline!  But, seriously, run this course; it feels like decline in both directions (the opposite of the Frisco trail, which feels like incline in both directions!)!

Mile 11 was 6:14 and mile 12 was 6:11.  At mile 12, my poor math skills told me that I needed to run a 6:08 final mile to get a 1:22:5X.  I told myself that I could do it.  The man in red went around me at the mile 12 sign, and I told myself to hang on him, but I couldn’t.  I started worrying I was slowing, but I looked down at my watch to see that I was running 6:14 pace for the beginning of the mile.  I told myself I needed to get on him; that he was 1:22:5X, but I just couldn’t quite do it.  My pace dropped to around 6:10, and I kept telling myself I had to get it down a little more and also have a fantastic finishing sprint to get in the 1:22s (at this point, I was still counting the final 0.1 as taking 1:00) – so imagine my surprise when I saw the clock and that I had time to spare!  It did make for a 5:19 pace final 0.1 for me, though.  I cruised through in 1:22:37 officially!  The man in red must have run a 5:55 final mile if not better, as my 6:11 put me what felt like eons behind him.  He thanked me when I finished, and told me that he’d have never run as fast as he did without me, so in the end I was glad I was able to help someone, and also glad he was not a female. 

I was in shock!  I teared up a bit with happiness.  I thought that 1:23:5X would be a reach all-considering, and I’d completely ruled out 1:22:5X.  How had I just run a 1:22:37?!  Certainly not by my strength alone.  God has blessed me so greatly this season.  I’ve tended to find something wrong with each PR race – some reason that I could’ve gone faster and knew I could do better (too hot, too hilly, rocky dirt roads, no competition, stomach bug 9 days before, running alone, side cramp at 20, wrong turn, etc.).  But possibly the biggest blessing about this race is that I don’t feel that way at all.  I feel that everything went as well as it possibly could have; nothing could have been better nor do I feel I could've gone faster at my present fitness.  The course was fantastic, the weather was great, I paced well, I finished strong but not with too much left, etc.  I’m not sure this is a PR I can ever beat...although, I’m already planning to run this same race again next year (if I can shave off 3 seconds/mile that would give me a 1:21:58, right?)!  I'm feeling so blessed that my final real race of 2016 was my best performance of 2016, and I just can't stop smiling about it.

Amy and Missy were close behind me, notching second and third female positions.  Poor Missy was congested and sick, or I know she would have PRed (she was very close at Bass Pro, and this course was much faster).  Then, the idiots we are, Missy and I ran a cool-down back up the hill that was mile 1 to the post-race food and awards (they had a shuttle for people who weren't nuts).  Another blessing of the day was a fantastic girls’ trip!  We had some coffee and delicious homemade soup while waiting for the awards.  The announcer at the awards ceremony called my time "smokin' fast", which made me grin.  He also commented that we must have "some training group!" when Missy and I went up for our awards and also picked up Amy's (since she had to leave before the awards), telling him that we trained together.

Official results are posted here.  I have to note that the pace they have listed for me is incorrect; it should be 6:18 pace - that's not just per my Garmin but confirmed with calculators such as this one, which is my favorite.  Not to be nitpicky, but those 3 seconds per mile matter a lot to me!  Official race photos are coming!   

2016 racing is now complete.  I have a couple of strictly for fun/because I need more short races for ROTY, a Turkey Trot 5K and a Christmas mile and 5K, but those are not goal events, and it’s quite possible that I’ll run the Turkey Trot 5K in 5 days at the same pace I ran my final 5K in at White River!  

 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me - Philippians 4:13 


The best friends help you with your compression socks when your fingers are too cold to function!


Awards ceremony


  1. Definitely nuts! I can't believe you beat your PR by so much and it was one you thought would be hard to beat!!!! I am in awe!!!

    1. I think the half is my strongest distance, and the course sure helped! I'm definitely going to look into some more flat out and back courses for other distances. Surprisingly, Jon didn't tell me that I might never beat the 1:22 -- he did say that after I ran 1:24, but I really think he's been more optimistic lately, or he's just given up as a voice of reason because I don't listen, haha!

    2. Haha, I wondered if he said that again this time!

    3. He's supporting my crusade for a 1:21:5X in Arizona now, so I'm happy to say that his belief in me seems to have improved this season!