That isn’t entirely fair. As I mentioned 8 months ago, I’m very interested in the FIRST program, and all that it entails. And I’m sure that, had I been truly following it, I would have seen a marked improvement in my running. Unfortunately, as it so often does, life got in the way. Sick dogs, traveling schedules, general sickness, all were factors, and I found myself entering “race season” woefully out-of-shape.
But I still toed the line at the inaugural Gate City Half Marathon in Greensboro. I did not know what I could do, but I resolved to give my all, or whatever resembled my all that day. And, if all else failed, I wanted to support a new local race, especially since it literally went through my neighborhood.
What else is there to say? The first mile was my fastest by roughly 35 seconds. You couldn’t help but run fast there, since it was mostly downhill. We dropped 100 feet in the first 1.4 miles, and then the uphills started. And they were relentless.
And by “relentless”, I mean “quite challenging when you are running much faster than you have in quite a while, over a distance such as this”. For anyone who was properly trained, they were no problem, though I’ll note that the winner said he was 30-60 seconds slower than expected. I’m deducting that from my time as well, it’s only fair.
Let me take a second and rave about the volunteer course marshals and police support. Every possible intersection had people blocking it, ensuring that we were safe. There was only one time when I wasn’t 100% sure which way to go, and that’s just because I’ve run on that road before, and taken a turn that the race didn’t use.
Having mentioned those positives, I might as well cover the negatives, before continuing with my race report. Packet pickup was unusual, but it’s probably because I’m used to larger races, and their expos. There was just a room at the Sheraton, and no sponsor tables, but since they chose to not include any running-related businesses or stores in their event, I’m not sure what their sponsors would have set up. Secondly, the race shirt is, in a word, boring. A white shirt, featuring a small logo over the left chest (slightly larger than an Under Armour logo), and a list of sponsors on the back. That’s it. Granted, I’m a brand-watching-maniac, but I like a shirt that identifies itself from a distance, rather than only when you’re within 10 feet. When browsing through race photos, plenty of other races were represented on shirts, and easy to spot, but the few Gate City shirts I saw were tough to identify. At least the medal was decent sized (hey RaceFest, take a hint!).
My final issue was with the aid stations. The volunteers were great, they always had water and Gatorade ready for us, but every cup was waaaaaaaaaay too full. To actually consume the entire cup, you’d have to stop completely. And every aid station had plastic cups, which made it difficult to crush the cup into a funnel. It almost seemed like they hadn’t consulted with any runners before decided on cups and cup-fillage. Additionally, despite the timing company owner saying that he “usually” waters down the Gatorade, it tasted full-strength to me. Not that I minded, but I’m sure others couldn’t handle it as well.
But back to the good stuff!
The course was a delight to run on. We went around the Greensboro Country Club, and then toured Kirkwood, where I got to see Lauren and Colby. Running up Lawndale was probably the hardest part of the course, and my slowest mile. It’s still easy to get caught up in PR’s and racing and overlook the fact that I just referred to a 7:56 mile as “my slowest”. There’s definitely something to be said for progress, and I can’t complain about running 13 miles at sub-8 pace.
The stretch on Pisgah Church was probably the biggest indication to me of how under-trained I was. I felt fine, in every way, but I had absolutely no extra gas in my tank to make any support of push. I was constantly getting passed, and there was nothing I could do about it. Apparently I barely missed a pit bull incident, glad the police acted quickly and were able to get him back to his owner (if that’s what happened, reports are still mixed).
Once we were off Pisgah, my pace picked up slightly on the rolling hills. I still had no extra energy, but I felt like my form improved, if nothing else. Saw one adorable scene on Worsham Place, a little boy pushing around his mini wheelbarrow, in imitation of his father who was spreading pine straw in the yard. These are always my favorite parts of local road races, catching random slices of daily life along the race course. There were little kids on front steps watching us run past, and adults in bathrobes, walking out for the morning paper, who might not have realized that a race was scheduled for that morning.
One of my favorite parts about a course that loops back on itself is the knowledge that, on the way back, I’m getting closer and closer to the finish. Returning to Lawndale was a welcome feeling, even with the hills, just because I was beginning to “smell the barn”. Having been passed a lot over the past few miles, I wasn’t sure if I could muster any energy to make a push to the finish.
Luckily, another runner pulled up alongside me, and apparently he wasn’t feeling that hot either. We ran side-by-side for the next couple miles, and his presence was quite welcome. We never actually spoke, but he would pull ahead slightly at times, and I would pass him on downhills, never truly competing with each other, just sharing the road and camaraderie.
The final stretch up Elm, and around Fisher Park, felt good. Really good. I spent most of it encouraging a female runner that we had picked up coming around Greensboro Country Club. She commented that I had far too much energy at this point in the race, and I can see her point. It was weird feeling like I had plenty more to give, because I hadn’t actually tried to give my “all” in a really long time. I could push myself to a certain point, and hold it there, but I didn’t have that next level that the truly fast runners have, that they can maintain till the finish.
And without that, this race wasn’t really that taxing to me, which is disconcerting. Not that I’m looking for awards or status, but I enter races like this in part to test myself. I’ll reflect more on that later, for now, I just want to finish up my race report before I run my next half marathon on Saturday.