And they did! Just this past weekend at the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati.
I was a little trepiditious going into this race – as I drove into the city Friday night, I was reminded that not everywhere is as flat as the Chicago area. Actually, just about NOWHERE is as flat as Chicago! Out in Cincy, though, the hills were alive… with the sound of me cursing them, mostly.
I had intended to do hill training. Really meant to. Honest. Somehow that never happened – weather, lack of time, over-abundance of laziness – these all conspired against me. Which is how I ended up at a very hilly half marathon with nothing but concrete flatland miles under my belt.
Race morning came early – a 4:30am wake-up call to give me enough time to eat some breakfast. Seeing as how the hotel was less than a mile to the start line, I had time to kill. So, being the lazy camper I am, I grabbed my bagel and crawled back into bed with it. Remarkably, one of my new-found skills is simultaneous eating and sleeping (hmmm… now that I think about it, perhaps I can blame all my weight gain on “sleep-eating”…).
Finally, I grudgingly roused myself from sleep and got ready. The weather was iffy: low 50’s but rainy. Then, not rainy. Oops, raining again. Now just misting. What to wear, what to wear… After a couple of wardrobe changes, I settled on my cuter-than-cute running skirt and a long-sleeve tech shirt. With the temperature being so low and with there being some precipitation, I knew I wouldn’t overheat and I’d rather be too warm than too cold any day. Being cold makes me whiny, and believe me – no one wants that.
About an hour before the gun was to go off, we left the hotel and started following the mass of people down to the riverfront. Luckily, there wasn’t some other kind of gathering congregating at 5:30am in downtown Cincinnati. Imagine my chagrin if I ended up at, say, a morning service for recovering meth addicts, or something like that. But, I digress.
The air was buzzing with excitement down at Paul Brown stadium, where the morning festivities were being held. The morning was still dark – the sun wouldn’t rise for another 90 minutes – but that didn’t stop the music from blaring and the hubbub from, well, hubbubbing. We wandered in and out of the stadium, staying out of the rain, using the facilities (just like any good sporting event, there were lines for the women’s rest room!) and then finally made our way out to the starting area.
With just about 10 minutes to the starting gun, the corrals were getting a little tight. As I made my way forward, I got an overwhelming urge to use the porta-potty just one more time. I sprinted out of line, and found an almost unending row of them – and no lines! Huh?? What a rare sight! So, last minute business taken care of, I once again started (politely!) pushing my way towards the front portion of the corrals. I got as far up as the 9:30m/m pace group and couldn’t go any further without having to start hip-checking people, so I took my spot and began waiting for the gun to go off.
As I stood there, I reviewed my race plan in my head. Oh wait – that’s right – I didn’t really have a race plan. See – remember – I’m not actually “racing” this year … I’m just going to races and participating. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. So – my non-racing plan for the day: conservative through the first 5-6 miles of the race — I didn’t really train for this, so I wasn’t sure what kind of pace I could expect out of myself. Survive the 3 miles of uphill. Trust gravity and ROCK the 3 miles of downhill. And with those not-at-all-a-race-plan thoughts – I was off!
The first mile suffered from the too-many-people-too-little-space malady that is inherent with most races. The tip-toed dance around the walkers or people who seeded themselves too far up, the excuse-me’s and the death glares when someone cuts you off without a backward glance. It plays almost like a video game, and as frustrating as it can be, I choose to see it as s challenge to find running room (without tripping and eating pavement).
Bridges and state line crossings were the name of the game for the first 3 miles or so. Did you know that the Ohio river is rather wide? And that bridges across it would be considered Big Hills in the Chicago area? Well, if you didn’t know before, now you do. The course heads south into Kentucky for a spell, and then back into Ohio with some great views of downtown. At this point we’ve hit some hills, but nothing too major – just enough to wake the ol’ legs up.
My split times were all over the place — between the hills and dodging people, I had a hard time getting into a groove, but didn’t worry about it too much, figuring that if I just kept kind of moving along, I’d get where I needed to go. Knowing that the first 6 miles were just rolling hills, my main goal was just to stay strong and keep the legs as fresh as possible for the climb that was awaiting me.
The next 3 weren’t all that memorable – a little industrial, a little bit of downtown Cincinnati, a few crowds cheering as I ran by. Net downhill rather than uphill, but felt very rolling in nature. Legs, amazingly enough, were still feeling pretty fresh and rarin’ to go. And then – the uphill started.
The middle of mile 6 began “The Climb”: about 2.5 miles of nasty uphill. This was the part that I had dreading because I hadn’t prepared for it in the least bit. And it kicked my ass. Handed it to me on a platter, in fact. But – I was expecting that, so it didn’t crush my spirit. Like an audio loop playing in my head – “just keep moving, just keep moving” – I knew that I needed to only make it through this section and then I’d be close to home free for the rest of the course.
Luckily, the uphills came with some scenery to take my mind off the fact that it HURT like HELL and that my knee, hips and legs in general were screaming at me. My labored breathing did nothing to assure any of my fellow runners that I was going to be okay and not just collapse and cry uncle on the side of the road, but I climbed upward anyway. And then Eden’s Park – looking much like the Garden of Eden to me – suddenly appeared. And the hills flattened out and all was right with the world. Made it. Whew.
It was then that the race started in earnest for me. I couldn’t believe how easy the flat-land running was; quick turnover meant a quick pace and it didn’t even feel like much of an effort. Not having reached the 9-mile sign, I knew I shouldn’t push too hard, but couldn’t help it – I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that good at that point in a half marathon before, ever.
The 9th mile brought a somewhat cruel twist … you could see all the way up the street, and while not a hill, just a gentle incline, it was mentally a chore to work through. See, the downhill was near; I knew it. And I wanted to be there SO BAD. And that kept me going.
And then…. WHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE………!!!!!!
Major downhill. Like head-over-heels, somersaulting down downhills. FUN downhills.
I was totally surprised at the number of people I passed – I was literally weaving in and out of people who were putting on the brakes, trashing their quads trying not to go too fast. Me? I couldn’t have had more fun if I put my arms out at my sides and made airplane noises as I wheeled downward (and believe me, I gave some thought to doing just that… I was having an awesome time out there!)
Aside from a bit of flat and then a small uphill heading into the Finish Swine (it *is* the Flying Pig half marathon, after all), the last 5k was fast, fast, fast! And oh-so-enjoyable – I think I must have had the biggest grin on my face the entire time. It’s a wonder what 3 miles of downhill will do for your attitude during the last part of a half marathon.
And so, with a rush (though the very end had an unexpected – and therefore evil – short uphill) my first half marathon of the 2009 season was over. And I had beaten my pie-in-the-sky goal by a couple of minutes, even! I bopped along through the medal and water crowd, then finally got to the food tables. JACKPOT!
What an awesome spread! I just wish I had a box or bag to fill because it turned out that I wasn’t even able to carry everything I wanted. My eyes must have been as big as saucers as I kept coming to more and more tables filled with all sorts of delicious goodies, from Doritos/chips/fritos/cheetos to 3 different kinds of animal cookies (regular, iced and frosted, no less!), yogurt in a tube, ho-ho wannabes (the little debbie’s version, perhaps?) and even more that I can’t even recall anymore. I stood there thinking, “Yes. This is the reason I race.”
After that? Get a picture taken, then wander about fruitlessly attempting to figure out how to get back to my hotel (finally found a cop who pointed me in the right direction). Hoof it (uphill!) back to the hotel. Shower. And then – the long drive home, back to the land where curbs can be mistaken for hills. And I don’t think the big grin left my face the entire time.
This race turned out to be a great re-introduction back to the half marathon distance; I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy racing it, in fact. And this race was just plain ol’ FUN. I don’t think I’ve ever had any race speed by as fast as this one did – I was almost surprised a couple of times that I had already hit mile markers! That’s the kind of race it was.
And I think it’s kind of given me a half marathon fever – I was just strolling around teh interwebs and such, not even looking for anything in particular and found one for this weekend. Oh, and then next weekend, too! Oooo… and a 10k/5k double race for Memorial Day weekend… I got a fevah…
I suppose I can’t call this my “season of no racing” anymore, huh….