So, the Kalamazoo Half Marathon... The short version is that I ran it, I got a new Half PR of 2:05:22, and I wish I could have done better. You see, I had hoped beyond hope that I would come in under two hours. I dreamed, I went for it, I failed. I really wasn't ready for sub-2:00, but that's another story and you can read about it here. On to the report...
First, I will start out by saying the Kalamazoo Marathon and Half Marathon are AMAZINGLY well put on events. From the expo, to the race, to the post-race hoopla, this was FUN and WELL ORGANIZED. Really, I can't say enough about it. So, my own disappointment aside, I really had a good time doing this race.
For us, everything started with a long drive to Kalamazoo on Friday. Without traffic in Chicago, the trip should take about six hours. With traffic, potty breaks, lunch break, etc., it took closer to eight. The kids were happy as clams with about a week's worth of snacks and videos to watch. Hubby, my mom and I were happy rotating the driving and reading. For the most part, the trip was uneventful, albeit long. A prolonged lunch break in Chicago at a vegetarian restaurant called Victory's Banner was delicious (highly recommend!), however traffic heading out of Chicago caused much internal cussing and teeth gritting. Eventually, though, we made it.
The race stuff for us started on Saturday with a trip to the race expo, which was located downtown at the Radisson Hotel. Although on the smaller side, the expo was well-organized, had a ton of freebies, and a lot of race excitement going on.
After the expo, some lunch, and window shopping downtown, it was on to visit with family for the day.
Race day dawned cloudy and cool, for which I was grateful. For 10 days, like a nerd, I had been watching as the weather forecast flip-flopped from 66 and dry to 76 and t-storms. What we ended up with was somewhere in the middle. The high for the day was to be 77 with t-storms later. However, the morning was mostly cloudy and cooler with temps mainly in the 50s to low 60s - at least for the Half. In other words, darn near perfect.
We got to the Nazareth College campus an hour before the start, so that we could do the gear-check, warm-up, coffee drinking thing. The start/finish area had everything a runner could need, and it truly lived up to its name of Tent City. There were tents for everything: gear check, massages, results, post-race food, anytime food to purchase, beer tent, and then - sans tent: a ton of porta-potties.
Parking was easy, as the venue had parking lots galore and attendants with flags made choosing the perfect spot easy. (It was perfect, because you didn't have to think about it.)
Gear check was seamless with a tear tag from our bibs. Coffee was free at the table next door. Volunteers were cheerful and helpful.
Right on time, the marathon started at 8 a.m. Immediately after their start, they started announcing for the half marathoners to line up for our 8:20 start. There was no corral system, but runners were encouraged to find their spot in the crowd by lining up near the appropriate pace group. Wending my way through 2,200 runners to sidle up to the 2:00 pace group was no easy feat, but with a lot of "excuse me, pardon me's," I eventually made it. From there my plan was to stick like glue to the chick holding the sign.
The pacers were well outfitted with super bright pink and orange shirts (pink for the gal, orange for the guy), so it was easy to keep them in sight. Of course, it was easier still because - as stated - I insisted on running right on their heels. In fact, I am pleasantly surprised that I didn't trip one of them up in the first couple of miles; I really was determined not to lose them.
As I have never run with a pace group, I didn't know what to expect. I have to say that the hardest part of running with them for me was the crowd. There were a LOT of people on this course, and seeing as I was trying to stick with the pacers, there wasn't a lot of wiggle room to just move out on my own and find my own holes. The pacers would see a hole in the crowd and then dodge through it. Then the hole would close and those of us following would find ourselves cut off. So, then we'd have to find a hole and catch up. To be honest, I found that fairly stressful. The other challenging part of following the pace group is that we ran through the water stations. I have never done this before. I won't go through the details of the mess I created, but suffice it to say that there was a mess. To be honest, I don't know if I would do a pace group again. I guess I would have to see what their strategy was beforehand and decide from there. Our pacers weren't particular chatty or personable with the group - actually not really at all - so that didn't help. Aside from a cheerleader type, "who's going to come in under two hours? Rah!" to which a couple of us responded with a nervous, half-hearted "Maybe," they really didn't invest a lot of time in talking to the group.
Being as close to the pacers as I was, of course, I could hear them talking back and forth to each other comparing pace times. I know that for those first three miles we went back and forth between 8:55 and 9:09 pace. They sounded pretty happy with that and seemed determined to come in to the finish line about a minute ahead of 2 hours.
So, my race...
Mile 1: 9:07
Mile 2: 9:01
Mile 3: 9:02
So, the first few miles flew by fairly quickly. As I said, I was holding a pretty decent pace with the group, and it felt comfortably hard. I found it difficult to dodge through holes on their heels and run through the water stations, but I was doing it. The first couple of miles were on regular road with there being an ever-so-slight downhill in the first mile. Somewhere around mile 3, we got into downtown Kalamazoo, and with that came the red-brick road. That was a bit tough to run on, because the brick wasn't too tightly packed together - a lot of ankle turning potential. But check out this cool billboard:
Mile 4: 9:17
Mile 5: 9:15
Mile 6: 9:15
Somewhere around mile 4 is I believe the start of my personal downfall. Listening to the chit-chat between the two pacers, I gather that they somehow fell off pace a bit. That is supported by the split times on my Garmin. Pacer #1 had the GPS watch, while Pacer #2 had just a regular watch, and at one point Pacer #1 mentioned that she had lost the satellite. At least that is what it sounded like they said. In any case, it is apparent that we weren't going quite the 9:09 we needed to maintain for two hours. This is pure speculation on my part - to soothe the part of my ego that needs to be soothed - but since I started fading from the pace group around mile 6, I am assuming they picked up the pace a bit to make up for lost time.
So, I managed to stick with the pace group for six miles, and I am happy with that. I would have thought I could stay a bit longer, but I guess it just wasn't my day.
Some highlights from this part of the race: Around mile 5 a couple of things happened, one is we cut over onto a paved trail that ran alongside the river. This was a very beautiful part that involved a bridge or two. (See how memory fades when you don't write the race report right away?) Also, still hanging with the pace group, we ran through a GU station. Since I hadn't taken any GU until now, I decided to snag one as we went through, and - yes - I did try to ingest it while running - another new thing for me. That went better than the liquid refreshment, but it still didn't make a pretty sight as I bobbled the GU and my water bottle around.
Around Mile 6, I had a first, as we went over a shaky wooden foot bridge. Picture running on a trampoline for a couple hundred feet. The only thing that made that worthwhile at all was the collective Whoa that went up from all the runners around me.
Mile 7: 9:32
Mile 8: 9:31
Miles 7-8 saw me giving up a bit. I was feeling sorry for myself for losing the pace group, and I was getting tired. I decided to walk through the water stations, as I had nothing to prove anymore. Seeing my family at this point did a lot to recharge me but then I was faced with The Hill.
Mile 9: 10:34
Big slow down here, as the first of the two only really big hills presented itself. I ended up walking the first half of it, mostly again because I was pooped and a bit down on myself (yes, I can be that childish apparently).
Mile 10: 9:58
Mile 11: 9:37
Whew, reached the top! The next couple of miles were uneventful, as we wended our way through some nice residential neighborhoods. I was happy that we were getting close to the end, but - again - feeling really tired. The only nice thing was that I was actually passing people at this point. Hey, maybe it's not all bad!
Mile 12: 10:01
Mile 13: 10:03
Miles 12 and 13 presented me with the expected fade as I ran into uncharted territory (having only run 12 miles in training). Really, I am happy with my split times here, as they are a lot more modest of a loss than what I normally see. Right towards the end, too, there was - insult to injury - the last massive hill. By then I was annoyed that I had given up so easily on the first hill, so I decided to take this one on. With folks cheering me on, I pumped up the hill as fast as my tired legs could carry me, and then - once that was done - I rewarded myself with a walk break, just so I could choke back the lung that was threatening to come up. The fact that that all averaged out to a 10-minute pace makes me feel pretty smug.
Then it was just through one more very scenic residential area and on to the finish. Lined with spectators, the last half mile was something to remember.
So, that's basically the race. Afterwards, I headed straight to gear check to get my bag and then on to the massage tent. There, I got not so much a massage as a compression and stretching session. That was nice, although I would have preferred getting one of the folks doing more of a traditional massage. After that, I headed to the finish line to catch my husband finish the marathon. I cheered finishers on for over an hour before I got a call saying he was already done and waiting for me near the reggae band. (Apparently, he had crushed his previous marathon PR and I had missed him while I was being compressed.) Oops. We always seem to miss each other at the finish line.
So, other random thoughts from the race
Nutritionally speaking, I think I had a brilliant plan for carrying my Clif Bloks for "quick release." What I ended up doing was cutting the Block packets in half and then storing them upright in my compression short pockets as is. That way I could just pull them out and pop them into my mouth mid-run like tic-tacs. The unfortunate part of this system is that it doesn't work if you don't utilize it. Running with the pace group, I don't know if I was breathing too hard to contemplate chewing, or just concentrating so hard on following their lead (and they weren't doing GUs or anything until closer to mile 6), but I never took the time to eat the Clif Bloks until much later in the race. I ended up taking a GU around mile 5.5, and then two Clif Bloks at around Mile 10. That's it. Not exactly what I had planned.
Aches and pains speaking, I did great! This is the first longer race I have done in a while where I didn't feel like I had to nurse one pain or another throughout the event. I take that as a huge positive. Unfortunately, I still have a lot to learn about race recovery, because I now feel I am nursing aches and pains incurred during post-event exercise this past week. Ah well, I'll figure it out someday.
Really random observations on the event, in addition to what was already stated
1) There seems to be a huge support for minimal running in Kalamazoo, because I have never seen so many people run minimally in a race before.
2) I saw a ton of people in Vibrams.
3) I saw one man finish the marathon barefoot.
4) I saw one lady RUN across the finish (either the half or full event) wearing a boot (like from a stress fracture), and she had a decent time so she wasn't walking the whole race only to run the finish.
5) I saw one man run into a lamp post (honest!). He came away with a bloody nose.
6) I saw one person being supported on both sides around Mile 7 heading to the med tent - completely exhausted.
7) There were a ton of bands on the course, which made things festive
8) Volunteers were amazing
9) Crowd support was phenomenal too.
Overall, my impression of this race was super positive. Bottom line: This is a race put on by runners for runners, and there is a ton of community support and input. You can tell that the whole community has bought into this event. There are plenty of water stations and friendly volunteers. Porta-potties and signage on the course were well represented. And the spectators were great. It's been a while since I have run a race that was so well cheered by folks. The course wasn't the most scenic I have run, but it wasn't the worst either. In the end it was a nice, urban race, and I would definitely consider doing it again.
Congrats to Yo Momma (you're right; that joke doesn't get old) and Running on Cloud Nine for winning the cryocup giveaway! Contact me at ShannonAverageRunner@gmail.com to arrange delivery!