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Race Recap: Iron Girl Half Marathon, Columbia MD (2012)

April 30, 2012

What a weekend! I met a legend – Jean Benoit Samuelson, PRed a half by nine minutes (yes, nine), ran in another state and made it home for brunch at the Royal Tavern on Sunday.  I’d say it was a success.

Race Schwag - Iron Girl Half Marathon

Due to a logistical snafu, my husband also booked a dj gig the day before I planned to run the half marathon so I traveled to Maryland by myself.  (We have one of those dry erase calendars that was used mainly for our business at first, but now we use it for our personal life.  I’m not sure how we lived without it.  But we both neglected to mark our events on the calendar, and thus we had a conflict.)  Truth be told, I had a wonderful 24-hour Carrie-vacation full of me-time, hand-sewing, reading, writing, walks in the rain and relaxation.  (And after his gig he spent all night playing video games.  Score for both of us!)

View from my room... Catching up on some sewing.

I opted to stay at the race hotel (Sheraton), since this was the first out-of-town race other than Ragnar that I’ve ever done.  (And we all know there’s not much sleeping for Ragnar races – who needs a hotel?)  When we travel, we normally opt for independent B&B’s or hostels, but it was really nice to park the car on arrival and not have to use it again until I left.  When I needed to pick up my packet, I simply walked downstairs.  Ditto for dinner.  Ditto to see Jean Benoit Samueleson speak.  And the starting area was a two minute walk from the lobby.  While it lacked the charm of a family run establishment, it was handy and convenient.

Easy race access - The Sheraton, Columbia MD

After I picked up my packet, I made sure to arrive early to see Joan Benoit Samuelson speak.  Yeah, I was the girl who sat in the front row.  Why sit a few rows back when you can be so close to a legend?  She was everything I thought she would be and more.  (I’m going to devote an entire post to Joan-isms and things I learned during the meet-and-greet.  Let’s just say I called my husband and said, “In 20 years I want to be just like her!  Ok, I probably won’t have a gold medal, but she’s awesome!”)

Meeting Joan Benoit Samuelson

A few weeks ago I started to float the idea of running without a watch for this race after a I PRed a 5K, naked.  Just in case I lost my nerve, I brought my Garmin to Maryland.  I didn’t want to wake up on race day and have a freak-out:  “OMG!  I can’t do this without GPS! How will I know when to push it, and when to pull back?”  Enter Joan.  She told a story about meeting a running buddy who was struggling with a marathon goal.  She said to him, “Throw out your watch and run by feel.  Run your own race and you’ll run faster.”  And who am I to argue with the first female gold medalist and a woman who’s still running sub-3 hour marathons?  She answered my question before I even asked it!

A surprisingly tasty dinner in the hotel restaurant...

After dinner I went back to my room to jot down some Joan-isms so I would not forget them.  I sewed for a while, read for a while, and while I was perfectly content with my day, I started to get really antsy in the hotel room.  It was raining outside, but I’m a big fan of running/walking/hiking in the rain, so I grabbed my rain jacket and headed out to explore the lake.  Downtown Columbia is actually a very cool suburb.  The city has done a smashing job with their outdoor space. Trails and paths dominate the entire town (something you don’t often see in the car-crazy ‘burbs) and it seems that outdoor-living was a big part of the town’s planning.  A path ran right past the hotel so I walked along the lake for a while, saw some turtles and tons of ducks (I’m like a kid when it comes to that kind of thing), took some photos and enjoyed the fact that I was out and exploring.  Once it started to get a bit dark, I headed back to the room for, yes, some more sewing and set out everything for the next morning.

A sweet outdoor space in Colombia, MD

I didn’t get to bed as early as I hoped due to a VERY loud wedding a few floors down.  (Dear Sheraton:  It’s not so awesome for guests at the official race hotel, who need to be up at the butt-crack of dawn for an endurance event, to be kept awake due to a party downstairs.  My room was vibrating with bass from the DJ for four hours.)  So, after not much sleep, I woke up in the AM feeling a little bit groggy, but mostly pumped and ready to go.  I gobbled a half PB and banana sandwich and chugged some water.  I looked at the Garmin and said, “Not today sweetie.”  Because I was doing this thing solo, I didn’t bring a camera to the start/finish and snapped a quick mirror-shot before heading down to the festivities.  (Classic)

Forever in a running skirt!

Everything was really well placed at the starting area.  Even though this was the inaugural event, I could tell that Tricolumbia was an experienced race group.  The MCs were great at giving handy directions and I easily checked my gear, found the starting line and got ready for the race.  Now the fun begins, right?  As my Ragnar race proved, I’m not very good at reading elevation maps.  When I see a little hump I think “small, rolling hill.”  No big deal.  I saw a semi-severe hill on the map at mile six so I figured that I had some work to do but it shouldn’t be that hard.  I should have learned my lesson at Ragnar.  The second the gun went off we headed up a modest hill.  Then down.  Then up.  Then down.  Then up.  Then down.  Then up.  Then down.  At around mile four, I just told myself, “Carrie – chances are that the hills are not going to cease.  We must be in hill-country.  Just go with it.  Run your hardest.  Use gravity on the downhills and make the hills your bitch.”

One of these days I'll learn to pay attention to elevation maps...

So how about that mile 6 hill?  It was one of those hills where you simply lift your foot and it hits the ground long before it should.  I was practically tip-toe running, jogging, crawling up it.  Someone had a sign about halfway up that said, “Make this hill your bitch.”  Thanks.  Do they have any idea how much I needed that?  Yep.  I saw the “end” and kept telling myself, “OK one more minute.  30 more seconds.  10 more seconds.”  I got to what I thought was the top and realized that my legs weren’t feeling much relief.  Why?  Because we didn’t get to the top, we just got to the “not super steep” part of the bitch-hill.  I kept slogging for a few more minutes.  (Dear Philadelphia:  We need more hills.  The Ben Franklin Bridge is great, but not good enough.  Cheers!)

Once I conquered “the bitch” I came to the halfway point and I saw my first glimpse at the time.  I was nearly delirious from that hill, so I don’t remember the exact time but it was 58-minutes-something.  And then it hit me – a sub two-hour half marathon was doable if I could keep my splits semi-even.  (Something I ALWAYS struggle with, even while wearing a watch.  And I haven’t been able to break the 2-hour mark.)  Due to all of the hills, I really had no idea what kind of miles I was churning out.  My effort level was definitely up and I was pushing myself with every step, but I wasn’t sure if it was pace related or non-stop hill related.  I actually laughed out loud and thought, “Joan – you are a legend!  Throw out your watch.  You’ll run faster!  I am running faster!”

I wish I could say the second half was less hilly than the first, but it wasn’t, so I just settled in for it.  I actually came to grips with it and started to enjoy the challenge.  The race turned into endless hill mini-challenges.  I did have my earphones in (gasp!) but I always keep the volume really low so I can thank volunteers and chat to other runners.  It was great to have that camaraderie with the other women, especially after nearly an hour and a half of non-stop hills.   I really started to feel my sciatic nerve flare up at around mile 8 (dreaming of my foam roller kept me going) so I just ran at a pace that felt right.  I mean let’s face it – if I listened to my muscles I probably would have just collapsed on someone’s lawn, so at that point I ran what I “felt” I could run without seriously injuring myself.

The homestretch was pretty epic.  When I came around the final corner I could see the clock, but barely.  This was what was going through my head: “Downhill to the finish!  Come on legs!  Gravity is your friend.  Just let loose.  Wait, what’s that?  Under two hours?  Awesome, but I can’t see the minute.  Who cares!  Sub-two-hours!  Oh crap, what if it’s reading 1:59:52?  I might not make it!  Who cares, still a PR unless I collapse right now.  No way.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  1:55?  I can’t have PRed it by that much.  That’s six minutes.  Is that possible?  On hills?  No.  No.  I can’t believe it.  1:52 – is that right?  That can’t be right.  I need to get new contacts.  It is.  It is right.  That’s a PR.  THAT’S A NINE MINUTE PR!  Take that bitch hill!  Take that GPS!  PR!!!!!”  I have not cried at a finish line, but I came real close with this one.  Real close.  One of my goals was to run a sub-2-hr half this year.  It wasn’t in my wildest dreams to come in 1:52:40.

I was walking on air.  Food and beverages were plentiful after the race so I grabbed some goodies along with my finisher’s charm bracelet (love all-women races) and headed back to the hotel for some foam rolling BLISS and a lovely shower.  I was checked out by 10AM and home by noon for brunch, a beer, and a nap.  This entire experience has been surprisingly inspirational.  From meeting Joan, to really pushing what I thought was possible, to just enjoying 24-hours of me-time – this was a not a race I’ll soon forget.  And now I have entirely new goal:  Sub 1:50 half.

Iron Girl Half Marathon Medal - sweet bling!

Final Time:  1:52:40 (8:36 Pace)

Overall: 197/1617

Age Group: 33/272

For the record – nearly 30 years after her Gold Medal in the marathon, Joan Benoit Samuelson came in 6th.  Yes.  She is my hero.  She churned out miles at a 6:33 pace.  I can’t even fathom that kind of speed.  Congrats to the winner: Askale Merachi of Washington DC who crossed at 1:17:06.  Estrogen power!

What’s your half marathon goal?  Leave me a comment!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Cpf permalink
    April 30, 2012 7:44 pm

    Carrie – way to go friend! Sub150 will be here in no time

  2. April 30, 2012 9:16 pm

    Congratulations on your HUGE half PR! Guess that no watch thing was a good thing for you!

  3. May 1, 2012 3:25 pm

    Yay, congrats on the crazy huge PR – I’m so happy for you! I’m curious if you’ll start always racing “naked” from now on. I wish I could just put my garmin in my shoe or something, that way I’d have the mile splits to look back on later, but not look at them during the race.

    • May 1, 2012 9:39 pm

      I will probably be running naked from now on, but I agree – I’d love to see my splits just to know where I was speeding up and lagging behind. You could always set up a GPS app on your phone and leave it running, but not look at it? Do most of the apps “talk to you?” Or stick your garmin in your short pockets and just promise yourself you won’t look until after! 🙂

  4. May 2, 2012 4:46 pm

    Congrats! Sounds like an awesome race! Minus the bitch hill haha.

    I’m running Broad Street this weekend and it’s my first race longer than a 5K! I’m also doing the ODDyssey Half at the end of the month. I don’t really have any solid time goals right now, I’m just trying to finish. Maybe after Broad Street I’ll know my expected finish time for the half. But I’m really starting to get anxious/excited/pumped!

    • May 2, 2012 7:40 pm

      That’s a great way to ease into a half marathon! I’m running BSR this weekend too and contemplating signing up for ODDyssey. (I did the races back to back last year!) Heads up, if ODDyssey’s course is the same there is a BRUTAL hill at around mile 12.5. But that point you’re so close to the end that you’ll find the strength to get up it. (That’s what’s nice about Broad Street – basically one big 10-mile downhill!) Good luck and I’ll see you out there!!

  5. May 2, 2012 8:43 pm

    Awesome job! What a great time! And how cool to meet Joan.

    • May 3, 2012 7:37 pm

      She’s awesome! Passionate about gardening, sustainability AND running. HERO!

  6. Laura permalink
    May 2, 2012 9:52 pm

    Amazing! I’m so jealous you got to hear Joan speak… what an awesome opportunity. And way to follow through on her advice! I don’t think I’ve ran without my Garmin since I got it… it would be really interesting to see what happened. It would be hard for me- I like control! I’m not training for a half currently, but am hoping to go under 1:40 next time.

    • May 3, 2012 7:37 pm

      Maybe try it for a 5K or something! That was my inspiration. I did a “prediction format” race back in Feb. Basically the “winner” is the runner who predicts their finish time. No watches are allowed. I PRed it big time without even realizing how fast I was running… that’s what got me to thinking about it. At least for me, when I have a watch on I’m constantly checking my time to say, “OK, this is a good pace.” And I think I got comfortable with my “race pace” and didn’t push it. For this race, I ran as fast as I could!

  7. May 3, 2012 10:04 am

    way to go thats awesome! a sub 2:00 is one of my goals for the fall!

  8. May 3, 2012 12:21 pm

    Way to go! Congratulations on the PR!

  9. May 4, 2012 4:15 pm

    YES! Congrats, Carrie! Great recap – sounds like an amazing experience!! 🙂

  10. strawberryjamntoast permalink
    May 6, 2012 7:49 am

    Yay for a fab PR!

    And yay for this:


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