Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Taming the Hills

In the quest to do 4 halfs in 5 weeks, I seem to have saved the most challenging ones for last - the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksbug, VA, on May 16th, and the Maryland Half Marathon in Timonium on May 23rd. I knew both of these had pretty significant inclines on the elevation charts, but it couldn't be that bad, right?

The motley crew of us headed down to Fredericksburg on Saturday for packet pick up and to get settled into our hotel for the night. My plan for this race was to support my friend and gym buddy, Kathryn, through her first half, one in fact that I had gently prodded her into registering for. Time wasn't important to me, especially knowing I had to hold back a bit with a half the next weekend as well. Kathryn's friend Jamie was also running her first half and had decided to try and run with us and Katie.

The race started with the firing of a musket. Oh yeah, this was totally up my alley! We wound our way around the businesses along Jefferson Davis Highway, and made our way towards downtown Fredericksburg and along the Rappanhannock River. This was my first time in the area and I really enjoyed the course. Unfortunately, we started out too fast, having got caught up in the excitement of the race. There was no way we could comfortably do that pace for 13 miles, especially knowing hills were coming up.

Around mile 8 or so, Jamie and I split off from Katie and Kathryn. I was so happy to know that she was in such good hands. Katie would get her over the finish line. Jamie and I picked up our pace a bit and continued our way through town. She grew up there and had actually worked at some historic homes in the area, so she was basically giving me a tour the entire time. What fun and a great way to make a new friend and learn about a new area.

Sadly, our time in downtown Fredericksburg was coming to and end. We hit a mile long incline by Mary Washington Hospital, and then another long, steep hill around mile 11 or 12. Finally we were back on Jefferson Davis and near the finish. We picked up the pace, grabbed each others' hands, and over the finish line we went. 3 hours flat. Not bad considering the hills we had trekked. We grabbed some snacks and met up with Jamie's family and waited for our friends. Once everyone finished, we cleaned up and headed out to celebrate before heading home. Another one, and in a couple of cases hopefully the first of many, was in the books.

Later that night and for the next day or so, I relived almost every step, and not in a good way. I felt horribly beaten up by this one, especially in my hips and knees, which had never really been an issue before. This had me really concerned heading into another notoriously hilly race so soon. I substituted a run for a bike ride to help loosen me up a bit, managed a 4ish mile run a couple of before the race, and otherwise took it mostly easy to rest up for Sunday's race.

As the week went on, I began to look at the weather forecast. The chances of rain for the weekend kept get higher. I had been really fortunate so far in that it had not rained for any of my Spring races. A far cry for the year before, where I got drenched in almost all of them. It was lightly raining when I left Mom and Dad's house early Sunday morning to meet up with the Loopers, and our dear friend Colleen from Philly. We met up and the sought shelter under the grandstands at the fairgrounds. We got lucky, it stopped raining pretty much as soon as the race started. The rain stopped, but the humidity hung around, so much so you could see the moisture just hanging in the air at times.

Again, I had no time goals in this one - just wanting to make it through unscathed, especially given how I had felt in the days immediately after the Historic Half. I started off with Katie and decided just to see what happened. We encountered our first noteworthy hill around mile 3, taking our time powerwalking up it. The community support was great. Families were out cheering and working water stops, but official and not. One group even had trays upon trays of Swedish Fish, what fun!

About mile 6 I started to hit a groove, and pulled away from Katie. It was pretty uneventful until about miles 7 and 8 when the long, steady, STEEP hills hit. I pulled myself along, powerwalking with long steps. All of the hours of squats and lunges were paying off as I hauled myself up. The race benefitted a cancer center, and signs of encouragement were along the shoulder in the really rough spots: "Think this is hard, try fighting cancer"; "I'm running for my parents, who can't"; "Survivors: Did you ever think you would be doing THIS". I got a bit emotional seeing those.

Once we got through the ugliness of those hills, we were treated to about a mile and a half of a straight downhill. This is where the race course differed greatly from Historic Half's - despite all of the uphills in Fredericksburg, we were never really rewarded with any good downhills. This was my time to have some fun and pick up some speed and time. It became a mental game in those final couple of miles. I was exhausted and my body was done. I was sightly energized as we turned back into the fairgrounds, knowing I was almost done. The last few yards were on the track itself. I did a slight sprint and was done. 2:54:33, my third best half time to date. Even more impressive when you consider that #'s 2 and 4 were on pretty much entirely flat courses.

I had done it - 4 halfs in 5 weeks. I am amazed at myself, but definitely happy to have a few weeks of rest before I start up my official MCM training.

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