Since it’s race week, it’s probably best to talk about my last race before I have another one to talk about, right? Last weekend, I ran the Grand Slam of races at the Runner’s World Half and Festival. The combined distance for all four races was 26.2 miles – those Runner’s World folk think of everything, don’t they? The first three races (recaps here) added up to 13.1 miles, so although we already ran three races, we were still only halfway there!
We woke up Sunday morning a little less pep in our step than on the previous days. I believe Laura and I both felt a little creaky, doing test runs in the hallway to see what our legs were going to give us to work with. My calf was not definitely not my hugest fan, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to run. I figured I’d head over to the start with everyone, and then decide in the first mile or two. The course ran right past our hotel, so it would be easy to drop off if I needed to.
A bunch of the Influencers met in the lobby of the hotel, sipping coffee and eating some breakfast. I had packed a Honey Stinger Waffle and planned to grab a banana from the breakfast. As to be expected with a hotel of runners, the breakfast ran out of bananas by the time I headed to get one. Runner emergency!! Although slightly bummed, I figured I’d be fine. I smeared some peanut butter on the waffle and called it a day. It was a chilly morning (low 30’s!), and I wasn’t looking forward to heading over the start line. Pretty sure I was in denial about the possibility of cold temperatures, so I didn’t really pack accordingly. My race attire included capris, a long sleeve, and an excellent fleece hat that was part of the race swag. I had a light jacket on until bag check, then I froze my butt off on the walk over the start line. The walk was about 15 minutes from bag drop, which is further than the races the day before. Not so bad, I just didn’t dress right. I’m so not ready for winter.
I didn’t have much of a race plan other than to see what my calf would let me do, and I knew I’d be a little tired from all the races – although being in “marathon training,” I haven’t been running much due to trying not to injure myself! Laura and I lined up around the 8:30 pace area, and after a lovely rendition of the National Anthem, we were off!
The start of the race was a little bit crowded and complicated by some random barriers in the middle of the road. We didn’t know they were going to be there until the people in front of us moved to run around them, which was a little chaotic in the start, but it was fine. My legs enjoyed the slower pace, with the first mile clocking in at 8:48. My calf seemed to loosen up and felt fine, so I decided to keep running. Despite the cold temperatures, we warmed up pretty quick and it was a great day for a run. Laura and I stayed together and chatted for much of the race, which helped make the miles fly by.
After reviewing the course map, we knew that there would be three major hills in the course – mile 3, mile 5, and mile 7. Once you get past mile 7, the rest is mostly downhill/rolling, so life is good. In the first few miles, we caught up with Heather and Jen, and Jen is apparently good at taking selfies on the run, a skill I certainly have not mastered.
As we rolled along through the first hill, I remembered some of the things about hill running I learned this weekend. I thought about pushing my hips forward to help my form and to propel myself up the hill. Deena had spoken about pretending a magnet is pulling you toward it, which makes you think that something else is doing the work, so I thought about that. The first hill wasn’t too bad, and it was followed by a nice downhill. Always a nice reward for the work you put in to get up the hill!
Starting in mile four, we dropped the pace from 8:30’s toward 8:15’s, a slight, yet noticeable change. Everyone once in a while, Laura or I would glance down at our watches and comment, “We’re picking it up…” It felt pretty good and manageable, so we just went with it. The climb at mile 5 was a long climb, so I just put my head down and pushed it. Sometimes all I want to do is get a hill over with, so I like to work hard to get up it. Not sure if that’s good from an efficiency status, but mentally it’s great to get up and over the hill feeling strong. Although the half course was mostly beautiful, this part of the course wasn’t the scenic and it was time to move on to something prettier!
I don’t know where this picture was taken, nor do I know why I look so concerned.
I lost Laura somewhere on the mile 5-ish hill, but she caught up and our chatting lessened as our pace dropped. We came down a hill that we knew would be leading up the dreaded mile 7 hill – also the last big hill on the course. I saw the hill in the distance commented that although the course was hilly, at least it was pretty! We past some railroad tracks and pretty building on the left – I would have taken a picture, but I’m really bad at that. Soon enough, we were headed up the mile 7 hill.
Let me tell you – it was a doozy! I passed the 1:50 pacer on the hill, and he was chanting all the way up the hill. I wish I could remember what it was, but it made me laugh. This part of the hill wasn’t too bad – the worst part was that at the top, the course turned left and headed uphill again! I think it’s better when you can see the top of the hill because you know when it’s over and how much further you have to go. It felt like the next mile-ish was also uphill, which I suppose you could gather from the elevation chart, haha.
I was riding the high of pushing up the hill, with a random mile split of 7:46 for mile 7. I eased back to 8-ish pace for miles 8 and 9, which is about where I tell myself, “Just get to mile 10!” A 5k at the finish? Easy-peasy, right? Around mile 9-ish, we ran past a church that had a band outside. They were playing a lovely, but slow song, and I was definitely thinking, “I could use something more upbeat at mile 9!” But I appreciate their support on a chilly Sunday morning!
Around mile 9-10ish, someone had a sign that said, “This is the last hill, I promise!” She lied, but at least the downhills started around here and my legs started to move. My pace dropped the 7:40’s, and I started to think about my overall time. How close could I get to 1:45? Could I run sub-1:48? 1:47? Keep pushing and working those downhills. I could feel myself working a bit, and it felt good.
We ran up another hill at mile 10/5-ish, and a spectator was yelling, “This is ACTUALLY the last hill!” to which a runner questioned, “Have you run this before?” and she replied, “Yes, last year!” Okay, maybe we believe you. That and we were getting to the part of the course that I knew from the past couple races, which is nice and downhill. Mile 12 brought a really, really nice downhill (hitting sub-7:30’s here!), and I was pushing. Getting across the bridge, I saw Jess, Larisa, and Karla cheering – a nice pick-me-up in the final miles!
As I’ve said before, knowing a course is so helpful in the final miles, and I knew exactly what was coming. The hill by the Sands followed by a little downhill to get to the Steel Stacks. I kept my eye on the overall time and kept pushing. Mile 13 was a 7:26 mile, followed by a 0.1 at sub-7 pace – hooray!
A nice finish line, don’t you think?
Crossing the finish!
I crossed the finish line in 1:45:34, with an overall pace of 8:03! Definitely a negative split as evidenced by my pace at the 10k versus overall pace…
I saw Allie right after crossing the finish line, so I grabbed a bottle of water and a Subway chocolate chip cookie and met up with her. I’d been thinking about that cookie for a few miles – solid motivation! We found Laura shortly thereafter, grabbed our bags from bag check, and headed inside for some warmth. The bathroom sounded like a good idea (it sounded like a good idea for about six miles…….ha), so that happened. When I was drying my hands, I thought I saw someone familiar, so I walked over and ask if she was Allison (from Inverted Sneakers), marking the first time I’ve met someone in a bathroom. That’s not awkward at all…right? Location aside, I’m glad I got to say hi!
With Allie and Laura – post-race – we’re done!
After the race, we headed back to the hotel for some awesomely warm showers and packing up all our stuff. I need to remember to leave some room in my suitcase, but luckily everything fit nicely into the new bags that Runner’s World gave us! Allie, Laura, and I headed out to get some breakfast before parting ways to get home. A lovely cap on a fun weekend, and I appreciated the ride back to NYC with the rest of the New York RW’s crew!
Although the course is a bit hilly, I like how it mixes it up to keep it interesting. If a course is going to be hilly, I’d rather get them out of the way in the beginning and get some downhill action toward the end. The course is quite beautiful as well, and I enjoyed taking it easy in the beginning – I don’t necessarily look around when I’m racing, and it was great to be able to take in the views. I really do love this race weekend, as it’s a fun challenge to do so many races in a short period of time, and I’d love to come back to actually RACE race again.
Next up: NYC!!