Saturday, May 26, 2012

Harper's Ferry Half-Marathon: Race Recap

Two weeks ago, our family unit was in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia to cheer DJ Research on as he ran the Harper's Ferry Half-Marathon.  He ran a great race, and as soon as he crossed the finish line, I congratulated him with a big juicy smooch and asked, "Can you write a race recap for my blog?!?"  Because being a guest blogger on Run 'Ama, Run! was exactly what he was thinking about as he poured his blood, sweat and tears into that crazy hilly course.

Well, the DJ is awesome, so write it he did (and because I'm Yoda, talk like that I do).  And here it is:

Two Fridays past, Ama, Nugget, and I braved Beltway traffic on our way to Harpers Ferry, WV. I had been wavering for some time about whether or not I wanted to run a half marathon this season, but a few weeks ago, Ama gave me a little nudge and there we were, crammed into our little Toyota heading west with a handful of Gu and a new pair of race socks.

Harpers Ferry was host to the second annual Harpers Ferry Half Marathon. Here’s the race description:

“The half marathon course is almost completely enclosed in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the preserved Civil War era towns of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry. The route includes close to 1000 feet of total elevation gain and 2000 feet of total elevation change. You will experience a mix of trail, road, and crushed gravel paths. You will view the confluence of the Two Rivers- the Shenandoah and the Potomac. The steep uphill portions will test each runner’s strength and will. The fun and challenging downhills will be a wild ride you’ve rarely experienced in a run. Breathtaking views of the rivers, historic buildings, mountains, scenery will stimulate the senses and inspire you to reach the finish line.”

Sounds nice, right? If they had TV commercials, I imagine someone would say, “it’s not just a race, it’s an adventure.” And it was.

The race started on a grassy Civil War battlefield, followed by a gravel path and a short distance on forest trail. This gave way to road, which in turn, gave way to sandy riverside paths. About five miles in, we hit the cobblestones of Harpers Ferry’s historic streets and meandered through town a bit before turning around for the return trip. We ran grass, gravel, packed dirt, road, sand, and cobbles (?!). And every bit of it was beautiful. 

I loved it. There are so many reasons why the Harpers Ferry was a great race – the participants were few and all very supportive of one another, the volunteers and spectators were enthusiastic and numerous, the panoramas were beautiful, and the course itself was challenging without being tooo challenging.
The best thing was that it didn’t take itself too seriously. The starting line was a piece of duct tape. I think the winners got a DVD. We were just 200 people out for a leisurely 13.1 mile run.

But there was also this:

It’s kind of amazing how easy it is to skip over this line from the race description: The steep uphill portions will test each runner’s strength and will.

As I passed one runner about halfway up the first major incline he said, “This hill’s a booger.” Yeah. To say the least. And I should point out, the above chart is from my Garmin. The elevation chart on the race website – the chart I vigorously studied pre-race – portends something still difficult but distinctly less angular. Pre-race, I had the romantic notion that I might be able to finish the course without walking. That idea was shattered by the end of mile six. And again at the end of mile eleven.  And maybe one or two other times in between (that idea was well and thoroughly, little tiny bits).

Actually though, while it was bad, it wasn’t soooo bad. Like I said, I studied up ahead of time, so I had some idea what I was in for even if I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. There aren’t too many hills where we live, but Ama and I don’t shy away from those we have. I could have been better prepared, but I was probably better off than quite a few of my fellow runners. Frankly, the hills were my favorite sections of the course; I loved the challenge. And suffering is less terrible when it’s done with other people.

Coming into the race, I would have been stoked to break two hours. At my first half marathon last fall, the Hershey Half, I finished in 2:01 but with the exception of a few rolling hills, the course was relatively flat. And while on the one hand, I was really happy simply to have finished, on the other I was secretly a little disappointed that I hadn’t run just two minutes faster. For the Harpers Ferry Half, I was in much better shape.  But those hills…

Somehow, I PR’d. And pretty comfortably I might add. I remember finishing mile 12 at around 1:37, and thinking with a huge smile, I could walk to the finish and still make it in under two hours. Of course, I had completely forgotten about the last remaining short-but-still-horribly-painful hill, so that last mile was a bit of a slog, but I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:48:49.

I’d preceded this race with some pretty long training runs, so I wasn’t worried about making it to the finish line. The one big question was how much the hills would slow me down. Before the race, I’d made a pact with myself that I would powerwalk the inclines if my heart rate got up too high, and use that reserved energy to fly down the declines. If there was one thing I could say I owed the success of this race to, it was that – allowing myself that it was okay to walk if I needed to and having prepared enough beforehand to know I could be aggressive on the downhills.

But if I’m really being honest, everything went right that day. My race strategy worked right. I fueled right. I paced right. Given my current athletic ability, I honestly don’t think I could have run this one any better.

Far and away, this was the best race I’d ever run (it was only my fourth), but given how well I did, how much fun I had, and how beautiful a day it was, this was probably my best run of any kind, ever.


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