Race Recap: Tobacco Road Half Marathon
I probably should have been more scared than I was – Two months before Tobacco Road race day, I wasn’t running at all. And hadn’t been really for a couple of months. And “training” for Tobacco Road consisted of peak mileage at just 45 miles a week – certainly not optimal for a stellar performance.
But I once read that a character trait of elites distance runners is to be delusionally optimistic. Well, I may not have the natural talent to beat Shalane Flanagan, but I got the whole “delusionally optimistic” thing down pat. I figure this is the healthiest I’ve been in years – That’s got to count for something, right?
So, as I laid out my race attire the night before, I was excited but not crazy nervous. I honestly thought I was going to have a good race. Even the weather forecast showing temps in the 60s with 96% humidity for our 8:00 am start time, didn’t have me too worried.
I had spent the day before my race with my parents in my hometown of Rocky Mount. Earlier, I got in a few miles walking around my dad’s farm with him and my dog, Sugar. Perhaps the little hike wasn’t the smartest idea, but seeing how happy my city dog was running through the woods made it totally worth it.
I still made sure to get in some good, easy-to-digest carbs throughout the day. I had a turkey sandwich on a sub roll at lunch and my go-to home-made lasagna for dinner. As I turned out the light to get in a few hours of shut eye before my 4:45 am alarm clock would buzz, I placed a little more bread on the nightstand, which I ended up nibbling on in the wee hours.
Around 5:30 am the next morning, with a to-go cup of black coffee in hand, I hit the road, along with my parents, headed to Cary to run a half marathon on the American Tobacco Trail. I had already consumed my breakfast which consisted of a chocolate chip cliff bar, a banana, coffee, and a cup of orange juice. No reason to mess with my traditional pre-race breakfast.
Fortunately, parking and traffic in to the race start were not issues as I had feared, and we arrived having had an uneventful trip. I did about a 10-15 minute warm-up which consisted of easy jogging and a few strides, went to the restroom one last time, and then, with about 10 minutes till the gun went off, I popped in to the front of the corral to join the elites who were lined up ahead of the 3,000+ other runners that day.
There were a few moments of “Oh crap. Is this really happening?” but I have stood at the start of several races feeling far more anxious about nagging injuries. At least, I didn’t have a sprained ankle or multiple stress fractures – yeah, it could be worse. Fortunately, I didn’t have too long to freak out because just a few minutes later, the race was underway.
It’s amazing how the nerves and butterflies melt away once you actually begin running in a race. I can hear the deepening of my breath. And the pounding of my footsteps. The cadence of my stride churning, quickly, and rocking me in to a state of relaxation as if I were a baby in a swinging bassinet.
The mind was no longer controlling my being but instead my body was driving me over the rolling hills as I ran away from the race start and towards the American Tobacco Trail.
My sedated state allowed me to ease in to the race at just slower than what ended up being my average pace for the half marathon. I was optimistic I’d have a good race – but I wasn’t stupid. I preferred to err on the side of caution given the weather and my minimal training.
From the start, one girl had quickly moved ahead. I let her go hoping that maybe she was going out too fast, but I was wrong – She was just a much better runner than I am currently. The distance between us during the race only grew. The only time I got close to her again was when I passed her going the opposite way on the out-and-back course.
Another elite, who I had noticed being decked out in a sponsor’s apparel at the start, was running close to me in the first mile. I wasn’t sure if she was fast or not, but given she had a sponsorship, I assumed she wasn’t slow. However, I could hear her breathing in the first mile – It seemed just a little too labored. I was right, and after that first mile on the highway, I never saw her again.
Once I hit the shady woods of the trail about 2.5 miles in, there was just one other girl around. I felt pretty confident at that time that we were in the money. Placing in the top three wasn’t one of my goals, but the race paid out some enticing prize money (1st – $750, 2nd – $600, 3rd – $450) and I’m not going to lie – I was excited about the idea of riding home with a paycheck in my pocket.
I honestly had three goals going in to the race – a sort of good, better, best scenario. Best case scenario, I break 1:20:00. It would be a stretch – I’d have to have an amazing day, but I believe I will break that 1:20:00 threshold some time (perhaps this is my delusionally optimistic side speaking again). 1st back-up goal was to PR, which would mean running faster than a 1:22:36. I thought this was a very reasonable goal. In the fall, I ran a 1:22:46, just ten seconds off, on a much harder course on uneven dirt paths with a bad case of plantar fasciitis. And lastly, my just “good goal” was to have a solid, clean, healthy race with a hard effort.
My A-Goal was off the table in the first couple of miles – I knew it wouldn’t be a fast day. My pace felt easy, but I wasn’t running at a 1:20:00 pace, and I didn’t want to press down on the gas pedal so early in the race. If my body naturally found a quicker pace that was one thing. But I wasn’t going to try to force myself to hit a faster pace when I didn’t have the confidence I could maintain it for 13.1 miles.
So, I was going for my B-Goal, break a 1:22:36. My Garmin showed some slower miles, but I honestly thought it may have been confused by the forest. One time I looked down and I was supposedly running at a 5:50 pace. Thus, I was really running more by feel – I didn’t put much weight on the time my Garmin was displaying and perhaps, in retrospect, that was a mistake.
I went through the halfway point still feeling fresh. After I turned around on the out-and-back course, I knew I’d be running at a slight uphill but the next couple of miles still felt fast. I loved passing by all the other runners who were still heading out and I appreciated all of the words of encouragement. I saw the smiling face of friend Jeanette around this time which was the highlight of my race.
It didn’t start to get tougher until around mile nine or ten when I believe the incline became steeper (at least it felt that way!) and the heat and humidity began taking its toll. I began dumping water on the back of my neck and on my head in an attempt to keep more core body temperature down. Unfortunately, the race baths made my singlet feel heavier and I wished I had only worn a sports bra.
Around this time, I picked up a guy who was struggling on the incline. Glad to have some company, we started working together. I remember telling him that we just needed to make it to the highway where I was hoping it would get easier on the pavement. I think our conversation went something like this…
Me: Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods?
Him: Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet?
Me: In the clear yet, good.
Yeah. I think that’s how our convo went. Anyways, another guy ran up on us a little while later so there I was, running with two guys and just a few miles left to go. I was a lucky girl. Seriously, I remember being thankful that I didn’t have to run the rest of the race by myself. Somehow, the rolling hills that we ran over on the way out, seemed steeper on the way back in. In short, I had had enough and was ready for the race to be over.
Fortunately, my pace the last three miles of the race was faster than my average pace for the entire half marathon. I was concerned that I would blow up on the humid day with my minimal training so I was glad that that wasn’t the case. However, did I hit my “better-case” scenario of breaking 1:22:36?
I did not. I was actually shocked when I saw the clock as I charged up the hill to the finish line. I shouldn’t have been – I had a watch on my wrist, but I hadn’t really been paying attention. Turns out my watch probably wasn’t lying and those few slow miles cost me. I finished in 1:23:31 (Strava Link) and 2nd Place Female out of 1,360. A respectable time, especially given the weather, but slower than I wanted.
However, I still hit a goal – I ran a solid race, and I know I put down a hard effort. As I was talking to my parents just after crossing the finish line, I could feel my legs starting to cramp up. I needed to keep moving or I was going to have a problem. So, I did my cooldown jog and was fine, but I was sore for days after. I knew my body did some work.
Back in Rocky Mount and after a hot shower and a nap, my parents and I had a celebratory beer at the new brewery, The Koi Pond. It was so amazing that I almost wanted to move back to Rocky Mount. Located in a circa 1835 mill house, The Koi Pond has all of the old house character and charm that I just absolutely love. Find me a brewery this beautiful in Charlotte – or anywhere for the matter. The Koi Pond is not just a cool spot for – let’s face it – the pretty uncool Rocky Mount. It’s a cool spot period. And the beer’s not bad either. The Accidental IPA that I enjoyed was a great way to finish a good day.