Monday, September 2, 2013

Guest Race Report: Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon

Not a running pic, but definitely a great pic of Beth!
I really love a guest post, as you can probably tell from the number of them we have had on the blog. I will often ask people to write on races that they have run, especially when I am not doing anything interesting myself. However, I especially love it when someone contacts me because there is something that he or she wants to say and a story that needs to be told. That is what my friend Beth Johns did with this report.

As a writing teacher I know that writing can be really good therapy, helping us process our experiences and gain perspective. Beth, being a very wise librarian, as well as a smart runner, knew that too. We all have bad races, and we can all relate to what Beth went through. She definitely can tell a good story. Enjoy!! 

Sometimes you embark on consistent training and things are going pretty well. Until race day, that is. I have had a disappointing race season this summer, and I can only hope it gets better in the fall.  It’s certainly shaking my confidence as a runner like it’s never been shook before.

I began training for a half marathon training this summer. The half is by far my favorite distance and the one that got me started with Team P back in 2005.  I’ve done many—I can’t even tell you how many. I’ve finished most of them in about 2:30, which is fine since I don’t train to run faster, just stronger. But in the last year or so I’ve finished around 2:45. Mostly, this was planned since the race was worked into my marathon training and therefore, a slower pace.  I have reasons for the other slowdowns, but that might take up another guest post.

Those who run with me know I’m a big believer in Hal Higdon’s training plans and incorporate them with Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method. I’ve been using Hal’s intermediate plan, which incorporates weekly speed work and shorter mid-week runs, weekly long runs and a few optional mid-distance races. My speed work has gone well, once I understood what I was supposed to do (thank you Lori!) and I usually complete my mid-week runs, in mileage if not days, one strength session per week and of course the long runs.

In May, I started training for the Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon.  I heard about this race on Facebook. It’s a road race that took place on August 25 in Baroda, MI and this was its second year. If you haven’t heard of Baroda, you aren’t alone. I hadn’t either until I Googled it. It’s a tiny town in the Stevensville/Benton Harbor area. There are a lot of wineries nearby, many of which you probably heard of (the location host, Baroda Founders Wine Cellar, Tabor Hill, and others). It’s a pretty part of the state once you are off I94, and one that I haven’t paid much attention to in the past. But it sounded like fun, kind of small (500 runners), and you got a wine glass at the end along with a taste. What fun!

One of the mid-distance runs in the plan was a 10K around the July 4th holiday in Whitmore Lake. It was a bit humid, but not terrible. However, I started out way too fast—10 something per mile. I kept that up for about 3.5 miles, then slowed considerably. I’m good at that pace for a 5K, but apparently not a 10K. That taught me to start much slower, even if the race is “just” 6.2 miles. My finish time was terrible, even for slow poke me—about 78 minutes. I was aiming for 70 minutes. Oh well, it was a training run and you learn from it.

The next race in the plan was a 15K a few weeks later. I couldn’t find one in Michigan, so I found a 10K that took place on Belle Isle and decided to do 3 miles just ahead of the race start. What a nasty, humid day—I was drenched after my pre-race 3 miles. But I started my race, did well for about 4.5 miles, then that was it. I did more fast walking than planned. So another really bad finish—79 minutes! I told myself that running 3 miles in 35 minutes just before race start probably did it, plus the humidity. Still . . . it shakes you and makes you doubt yourself, but I kept in mind that it’s only a training run.

I completed my other long runs leading up to race day, but sometimes not ending in the exhilaration I want to feel. I just told myself, “race day will be better.” In the past, my poor training runs had usually resulted in a good race.  

The big weekend finally came. I drove to Baroda on Saturday, picked up my race packet, and then drove the race course because the description on the website said it was “challenging” with few details and I like to get an idea of what I’m going to be doing, if I can. I read about a “big” hill at mile 8.  I noted many rolling hills on my drive—not too steep, but a lot of them. Think of a loop of the Mt. Hope Cemetery times six. The big hill looked challenging, but I approach hills by doing my best and just walking if it’s too hard. I always run downhill at a race. I can usually make up time somewhere else. It crossed my mind that I should dial down my expectations, but the course overall didn’t seem too bad. I planned on a 2:30 finish, give or take 5 minutes.

Course Profile -- Definitely some hills there

The next morning I got to the start line, felt good, well hydrated and fed, no aches, and was pretty confident about myself. I started out at what I thought was a slow, comfortable pace. Mile one was 11:21 according to my watch—a little fast, but not too bad. I was aiming for 11:30. Then the hills started. It felt like a lot of up and down and up and down on long country roads (2 to 2.5 miles each with a few shorter ones) with some flat spots and declines. I try to incorporate a hill workout once a week, so hills themselves don’t scare me. But it really tires you out when you haven’t trained on a series of hills like these for several miles at a stretch, even if they are small inclines. 

By mile 8, the big hill, I slowed some, but was still close to my goal. 1 hour 33 minutes had passed. I was happy with my pace, even though that translates to about 11:35 per mile. That changed shortly after when I got to mile 9. There was ANOTHER big hill, shorter, but just as steep! Or it felt like that anyway. After struggling up that hill (actually, I walked up most of the first hill and this entire one), I was done. I walked, tried a little slow running, but my legs just wouldn’t move quickly enough. When you are walking as fast as you are running, you might as well enjoy the walk. So I did that to mile 10, and then switched my Galloway method to 1:2 (1 minute run, 2 minute walk). This actually helped my mental state a lot because trust me, there was a lot of self-loathing going on inside my head! I contemplated never running a half again, maybe never running at all since it seemed like I was putting a lot of effort into little reward. I added more running seconds as I felt able. I did manage the last quarter mile non-stop, so I sort of looked like I finished strong. One thing I hate is finishing, but feeling like I’m going to puke or collapse. This is one reason why the Galloway method works well for me. So it was important to me to finish feeling good.

I finished this half at 2:44:15. To make matters worse, they ran out of medals! (I received it in the mail later.) Thankfully, I got the wine glass and the taste. I was beating myself up about my finish immediately after this race though. Without all of those hills in the first half or at least the big hills, I truly think I would have finished in 2:30, mostly running because I was feeling pretty good up to mile 9.

I am running the Detroit Women’s Half on Belle Isle on September 22. I’m still aiming for a 2:30 finish.  The course is two loops of the island, but from what I remember from the 10K, it’s mostly flat, so unless we have a hot & humid day, or some other disaster happens, I hope I can brag a little afterwards. I’m also considering the Brückeläufe in Frankenmuth in October—13.1 miles over 13 bridges. So I have a couple of options to hit that goal. I just hope if I don’t, I can avoid a mental complex about racing!  I’m not sure what I’ll do if it happens again—maybe have a meltdown on the course (not really).

The Michigan Wine Trail Half is a nice, informal race that will probably grow. They went from 100 last year to almost 500 this year. There were a few issues that I’ve already discussed with the race director, aside from the medal problem. He is very responsive to everyone’s comments, which is a good sign. They have a nice group of volunteers, too, who do a decent job of encouraging you. The race has a 4 hour limit, so it could be a good one for walkers, too. There is also a 5K with it called the “Galloping Grape.” I do recommend this race for a nice change of scenery, really pretty farmland and as I found out, a challenging course. I think I may run it again next year—but just for fun. Unless I start training on hills like crazy.

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