Race: Santa Hustle Half Marathon
Place: Indianapolis, IN
Date: December 16, 2012
Oh…yes. You totally read that time right. And let me tell you…my finish at that time was as much a shock to me as it may be to you reading this. Because…let’s face it. When it comes to long distances I am not fast…but I can (under good conditions) normally endure and still have some kick at the end. So finishing a sub-1:50:00 half marathon was a huge freakin’ deal for me.
But I am once again getting ahead of myself. It is always best to start at the beginning.
And that, my dearest friends, starts on Saturday…the day before the race.
It was going to be one busy day, I figured. I woke up that morning and did an easy 1 mile run down and back from my apartment. Why did I run the day before a race? Normally I wouldn’t have…but I’m doing this Runner’s World Run Streak thing where I run at last a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. And I haven’t broken the streak yet. I wasn’t going to let my taper be the death of it. So I promised only 1 mile (normally I say that’s not worth lacing up shoes for and push out 2 miles…but not on race weekend) and took it easy on my legs.
With that done, I came home, changed, and packed up my run bag and my duffle for an overnight stay and then worked on putting everything into my running bag. Now…here was the thing. I wasn’t exactly sure how to even pack for this freakin’ half marathon. And here’s why…
The weather was awesome that weekend. A little chill in the air due to a strong wind, but not too bad for mid-December. And the Weather Channel was predicting clear skies the morning of the race…with a high of 54 degrees that day. That’s relatively warm for a December morning, yes? The only hitch…was going to be the strong 14+ mph winds on race morning. Hmmm…
I decided winter compression tights weren’t needed and left them behind. I was going to be receiving a shirt to wear during the run itself. So…the big question mark was what I was going to wear on my lower half. I packed a few options…my capris and two running skirts. As I had been having a little bit of an issue as of late with a very sore and tight left calf muscle, Friday night I ventured over to one of the local running stores and was sized for, and purchased, my first pair of compression socks.
Normally it’s not a good idea to try out new items of clothing on a race, particularly a long one like a half marathon…but I didn’t really have a choice this time. It was going to happen. So, the compression socks were packed, along with my other normal running socks in case I put the compression ones on and hated them. You never know! I packed my GU pack and some Sports Beans, my water bottle, and a headband for the race. Made sure my shoes were ready. And my roommate and I packed up the car and headed to Indianapolis.
From experience, we have learned the value of staying in the city the night before a big race. While Indianapolis is only a 2 hour drive, this saved a 4 a.m. wake-up to drive from our home to the race, find parking, and get totally stressed out (and perhaps show up late) as is what happened the year prior to this one when I was running in the Santa Hustle 5K in Indianapolis (the half marathon was added this year!). So, we decided to splurge and stay at the host hotel…the J.W. Marriott. The deal runners were offered on rooms couldn’t be beat. Besides, I’m a Marriott Rewards Member…might as well use it.
So, we made the easy drive this year the day before and checked into the hotel. Our room was awesome. We were on the 15th floor and were overlooking White River State Park, which just happened to be the start and finish point for the half marathon the following morning. Awesome. A room with a view. And what a beautiful view it was too. We hauled our bags up to the room and settled in briefly before heading back out to hit up the expo, which was actually at the J.W. Marriott in one of their expo spaces.
I have to say…as of late I have been quite disappointed with the race expos that I’ve been hitting up prior to half marathons. There has been next to nothing at quite a few of the last race expos that I’ve hit. Suck. Well, this one had to be one of the smallest (the Louisville Sports Commission being the absolute worst this year) with only a few vendors and races in attendance trying to vie for our dollars and our participation. So, it took me under 5 minutes to walk in, get my race packet and head out. With this being a race run in various cities, I sort of expected a little more…so I was disappointed.
I left with my packet, my tech shirt, and all of my money, and headed back up to the room. We were supposed to meet up for my traditional gluten-free pizza pre-race meal at Harry & Izzy’s with our friend Greg…but we still had plenty of time before that happened. So, we decided to hit the streets and do some shopping. Cathy and I hit up Hard Rock Café for a new pin for my collection. We then went over to Monument Circle and checked out the Civil War exhibit that was free to the public. That was pretty cool. And then we still had hours to kill, so we went to the mall and walked around some before deciding it would be okay just to go hang out in the room. It was getting a little chilly out and relaxing sounded like a good idea. I was supposed to be resting my legs…and here I was using them for all I was worth.
That’s typical me.
We did receive a call from Greg saying he was going to head to Harry & Izzy’s…so we headed out ourselves. Got to the restaurant, got seated (after about 4 attempts prior to that with tables not being ready as we were there between the lunch and dinner turnover). With a table now provided, we were handed menus and left to wait for Greg. He showed up soon after and before we knew it…we were feasting on delicious food, having great conversation, talking about plans…and even enjoying dessert. My gluten-free pizza, in case you were wondering, was topped with caramelized onion and mushroom…and it was delicious. I followed it up with lemon sorbet. Mmmmm.
We said our goodbyes and Greg, who was heading out of town the following morning, wished me luck on the race. We departed back to the hotel where we watched a couple of cooking shows and I got my clothes out for the next morning…opting for capris…although I would continue to go back and forth on that even the following morning. We turned in at a decent time…and I had a rather good sleep, only waking up a couple times to check the clock. Finally, with only an hour before my alarm was set to go off, I got up and went ahead and got changed into my racing clothes. With the wind still a factor, I chose the capris still, then climbed back into bed to just rest until the alarm went off.
When it did, Cathy was up to get ready and I was getting us the first part of our morning breakfast that day. I had Corn Chex with me and Cathy had a granola bar. We ate those and lazed about in the hotel, watching the Weather Channel. I also made sure Cathy taped up my feet as my podiatrist had shown her. I wasn’t about to run 13.1 miles without my feet properly supported. I think he would have had a conniption. With that done…I looked at the temperatures again…looked at the capris…really thought about putting on a running skirt…then decided, once again, that the wind would be chilly so capris would be the way to go. That decision made, I began to slip into my compression socks for the very first time.
Now fully suited up…and with an hour to go to race time, I ate my banana, strapped on my fuel belt with my water and my GU pack and Sports Beans, and down to White River State Park we went. It was a brisk morning due to the wind, but not bad temperature-wise. And the walk made for a great warmup. That being said, the first thing Cathy and I noticed when we set foot on the bricks at White River State Park was how slippery they were. Super slippery. We made our way over the bridge and to the pace corral that I was choosing to run in, which this time was an 8 minute mile. Ambitious, perhaps…but that’s where I put myself. It was still rather sparse as far as runners go, but it was still at least 30 minutes before go time.
I did some stretches in the corral area, getting a kick out of some of the 5K runner/walker outfits. There was a guy dressed up as Santa pushing a cart that was done up to look like a chimney. Which…is awesome. And one couple made their jog stroller up to look like a sleigh. Some people get really creative. I did notice, however, that many of the serious half marathoners opted out of the Santa tech shirt and were just in regular running gear. It’s too bad…because these are the people who did come in first and it would have been nice to have the winners in the official race shirt. I mean, they don’t require you to wear the shirt, hat and beard, but at least wear the shirt. It’s all in the name of fun. I mean…this is the Santa Hustle after all.
With race time getting close, the announcer, a local Indianapolis DJ began going over some course information. At one point he said that there was only one water station between Mile 7 & Mile 8…but he meant GU station. And…he pronounced it G-U instead of like “goo.” We runners all laughed and said, “He’s not a runner.” It was funny. With all the safety precautions out of the way, they moved the corrals up…and we were getting prepped to head on out. And just as quickly as we had moved up…we were sent on our way…at exactly 9:00 a.m. How’s that for timing?
I took the first part of the race easy as far as getting out of the park. The bricks were very slick and the last thing I wanted to do was take a header into the pavement. Either way you slice it…that doesn’t sound like fun. And to be injured so early in a race would not due for me. Nope, nope, nope. So…I ran with my head here…meaning I took an easier pace…made sure my footing was sure…and once I hit the asphalt of West New York Street, I was free to pace myself as I pleased. Mile 1 was just ahead at that point and I was right in line with a runner who was definitely trying too hard too soon. His arms were swinging hard and he was just pushing with all his might. I wanted to say, “Dude…it’s only the first mile…chill!” But, I just ran my race.
By Mile 2 however, I was cursing my decision to wear capris. I warm up…fast. And now I was burning up in my long sleeve tech shirt, my compression socks and my capri pants. In fact, every bit of skin, save my face and my hands was completely covered. And it was in the mid-50s out as far as temperature went. I ran in races in much cooler temps in running skirts and short sleeve shirts (or even a singlet at one) and here I am covered head-to-toe. I should have known better. Yeah…I wasn’t happy. As I came into Mile 3, the sun was coming up and I knew we were going to warm up. I pulled my sunglasses down over my eyes and just did what I came to do…run.
The first half of the course was fairly simple and relatively flat. There were a few small inclines, but nothing more than running over a bridge or the like. I didn’t stop at the water stations as I had my own water and often had to remind myself to drink it. The first candy stop on this race (the Santa Hustle Race Series offers candy and cookie stops in addition to water stops) showed up between Mile 4 and 5 and I ignored it. Running is no time for candy…and I wasn’t sure I could eat it anyway. Nor would I want to eat candy with so many miles still ahead of me. I think a lot of runners were bypassing the candy, actually. I mean…when you’re going 13.1 miles…chocolate might not sit right and why take the risk of not finishing due to a candy stop? Not this girl. Nope.
I made my usual internal marking of the halfway point as I ran through 6.55 miles. I normally do this just so I know that I’m halfway there. I’m doing good. I’m getting there. As I came into Mile 7, there was a Cookie Stop, which I again ignored and kept on going. The GU station was also here. I thought about grabbing some GU, but I had yet to even touch the one pack that I had on me. I need to get better about fueling on the run. I tend to ignore it because I feel good…and I wonder how much better I might do if I actually fueled properly. And with my goal to run a marathon next year coming, I need to seriously work on that. I might be able to run a half marathon on cereal and a banana…but a marathon…I’m thinking…NO! Anyway, I passed it up and here was where the race sort of merged with a bike race that was going on. I’m not kidding.
There was a race official that directed runners to stay to the right and as we are running toward this massive hill (and probably the only massive hill in Indianapolis), bikes come zipping up past us on the other side of the dividing tape. Bikers hop off their bikes to run up this muddy incline as we runners take the road, around the bend, and up…up…up. Oh. My. God. Having a hill like this so late in the race is just plain evil. But…I crested it. Got a comment about my determination from the officer blocking the road at the top, which made me smile…and away I went. Not downhill. Not really. Minor. Nothing compared to the incline I just climbed. But, it wasn’t up…so that was nice. Just past Mile 8 a child was sitting on the ground and his dad was there. The boy was clutching at his leg, so I think he may have stumbled. The dad was on his cell phone, probably trying to get one of the ambulances on the course to head that way. They seemed to have the situation managed…so I kept on going.
The next couple of miles felt relatively easy. At Mile 10 I told myself all I had left was a 5K, and only then did I glance at my watch. I was making good time. Really, REALLY good time. Like…better than the Hershey Half Marathon time. If I could at least maintain my pace…I could possibly set a new PR for a half marathon. So…I pushed on, passing up another of the candy stops and making my way back toward White River State Park. The run was starting to feel harder now…I think the hill took a lot out of my legs. But…onward ever onward. Just after Mile 11, I was back in White River State Park, making my way down the sidewalks and into the last couple of miles. And here was where some issues cropped up. I noticed I was passing quite a few people who were walking. I glanced quickly as I passed and noted they were wearing the red bib numbers of the 5K runners/walkers. So, here we have half marathoners coming in at the same time as the 5K walkers. YIKES!
I dodged who I could on the narrow paths and started into my final mile. The last cookie stop was easily passed up. I was tasting the finish line now. As long as I could get through the obstacles of walkers, who would spread out across the entire path, making it hard for the half marathoners running for time to get through and pass, I was doing good. I did the best I could in the space I was offered. I even high-fived a little girl who held up her hand, and I rarely do that. But…this was all about having some fun and I was in my last mile!
I started over the bridge at White River State Park, seeing the race photographers and flashing a peace sign and a smile. Then, onward because I now knew just how close the finish line was. I wasn’t sure Cathy would be able to spot me in the runners/walkers coming in, but she did. She was waving my sign and shouting at me as I dodged some more 5K walkers and crossed that finish line. I had noted the time when I crossed and when I paused my Garmin, I had to look again. I was a good 3 minutes under my previous half marathon PR. REALLY? Because this race felt a lot more difficult than Hershey. But…that’s what it said. I received my Finisher’s Medal and began looking for my roomie in the throng of people at the finish.
Cathy came running over…”WAS THAT 13.1? WAS THAT 13.1?” I showed her my Garmin to indicate that it truly was. And we both just screamed. I made my way through the recovery area, picked up some water and a banana, and went to get my finisher’s photo taken. Then…I found Cathy…got a hug…and was handed my protein shake. I downed it and began the walk back to the J.W. Marriott so that I could hit up the shower, pack up, and head out to lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise, where I would get a delicious gluten-free veggie burger of some sort. I couldn’t wait.
The official results of the Santa Hustle Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:47:48, a brand new PR for a half marathon. That is how you end a racing season, my friends! YAY! I was 138/941 finishers overall. I was shocked to find out that I also placed THIRD (3/76) in my division. I placed in a division at a half marathon!! I was so excited and pleased. Of course, by the time I figured this out I was already done eating lunch and the race had packed up. I drove back to the park though, just in case. The volunteers with the race were still there packing up, but said that the post-race stuff was already loaded up, but that they would mail me my award. I was okay with that.
And so…there is a crazy year or running races in the books. And I went out on a very high note. Nothing like rounding up a year of racing with a new PR on a half marathon. That being said, I did e-mail the race organizers about the problems with the finish and the half marathon runners and 5K walkers coming in around the same time. So, maybe that is something they can improve on next year. For now, I’m still smiling about this finish. Awesome!
My next half marathon is in February…and I’m already training hard for it.