Before I was a runner, I was a writer. I used to write A LOT. And one of my biggest fans was my Grandma Bentley. Every time I talked to her on the phone or would visit, she would ask,”Have you written any poems lately?”
“No. I’ve been bad, Grandma. Sorry.”
“Why don’t you write me a poem?”
“I don’t care. Anything.”
But I was too busy. Being an English major always sounds cool, but nobody wants to pay you for it. After I graduated and was no longer required to write, it fell by the wayside. Grandma was always on me about it though.
Then Jason helped. I’d talked about starting a blog to get back into writing. He tricked me into it by saying he was going to start a blog, and it was going to have more readers than my blog. Of course, I had to prove him wrong. That’s what husbands are for.
So we have the Hospital Hill races coming up this weekend, and I was thinking of how I would word it on my Status (even with just a simple social media blurb, us English major obsess over creating well-crafted, grammatically-correct, witty Facebook updates). I had a few rhyming lines pop into my head. They just kind of floated around in my brain.
Then Grandma was admitted to the hospital this past weekend. And even though her test results didn’t show anything, she was really sick and her heart in A-fib. Then it became critical. They figured out it was pneumonia. She’s been sedated and on a ventilator now for a few days.
And suddenly the poem was fully born. It was a somewhat disjointed, messy process. But when these things come to you, you just have to let them out. To write it down and get it out and see what you’ve been bottling up for years.
It started out being about the race – we will run a 5k Friday night and then run the Half Marathon the next morning. You get 3 medals total (the 5K, the half, and the re-run medal) and bragging rights for life. Hospital Hill is my favorite race. Although my racing history has its ups and downs, I’ve always performed very well there.
But as verse spilled out, it went a different direction. See, the hills are metaphors for overcoming life’s obstacles (I warned you – I’m professionally trained to do stuff like this). They suck, but once you’re over them, you feel awesome. You are a BAMF. Running and life are always a struggle but rewarding ones.
Some of my life’s hills were overcoming running stereotypes. I competed in high school but wasn’t fast or a scholarship athlete. I also strength training just as much as I put in mileage. I had to look past what people told me was a runner and find my own definition.
I found my strength was pacing longer distances and literally conquering hills – and Hospital Hill is 13.1 miles of pacing up hills. So for me, it’s home.
This one’s for you, Grandma.
The Hospital Hill Run
5K Friday Night
Half Marathon Saturday – Alright!
Oh, what a thrill!
As we conquer the hill
Not once, but twice
(those extra medals will be nice)
Here I start steady and slow
but when I pass you, you’ll know
A race isn’t won in the first mile
It takes hard work for quite awhile
Society scoffs at my thighs of thunder
But I’ve got a PR time to plunder
“Runners should be fast and thin.
Those are the people who usually win!”
Just because I have lots of muscle
Doesn’t mean this chick can’t hustle
I still get a medal and a shirt
And my body will feel less hurt
If it isn’t right running strong
Then I’ll gladly always be wrong
Tomorrow I’ll still walk down the stairs
with happy muscles and few cares
My knees might be a different story
but they’ll still bask in post-race glory
I’m a pacer not a racer
but you can bet
These determined legs aren’t done yet
Up the hills I run faster
For I am…
…The Hill Master
Anyone who has the heart,
- the courage to finish and even to start -
and knows we always have it “funner”
should be proud to call themselves
Happy National Running Day!!!
I don’t always run, but when I do, I make sure I get a large kick-ass medal for it (and a t-shirt).
Ok, I lied. It seems like Jason and I are always running. We had 4 half marathon in 5 weeks this spring. And we still have one more coming up in June. But this year, it wasn’t our fault that we were so heavily booked with races.
It was the medal’s fault.
The Heartland 39.3 Series started 3 years ago in the Kansas City area. The challenge is to run 3 local half marathons in 4 weeks. A race on the first weekend, the next weekend off, the second race the third weekend, and the last race the fourth weekend. But did we mention it’s accumulative? So the more years you run it, the better swag you get. Last year, we got a regular-looking medal. This year, we were to get the UBERMEDAL. And a tech shirt. Next year we get a button to add to the UBERMEDAL and a Nike running jacket. After that, I’m hoping we get free knee surgery.
For two years, this series was Rock the Parkway Half Marathon (in KC suburbs on Ward Pkwy), the Kansas Half Marathon (in Lawrence where KU is), and Running with the Cows (in Bucyrus, a.k.a. the middle of Farmville).
This year it was a bit different. Instead of running the Kansas Half in Lawrence, it was changed to the Garmin Half Marathon in Olathe. And due to the race change, the dates were a bit off. Now it was 3 halfs in 5 weeks.
Which was great news for us except that, uh, there was this other awesome race I’d wanted to do for awhile – the Lincoln Half Marathon in Nebraska. It sells out the DAY registration opens, and since I was born there and have family there, it was a must. It, of course, fell on one of the Heartland Series off weekends.
But no matter! 3 half marathons in a row? We can do it! We’ll be fine! As Jason has famously said on several occasions, including our first half marathon together, which we trained for for 4 weeks. Not only did we train for only 4 weeks, we started dating, too. We definitely didn’t know what we were getting into.
Do you mean the racing? Or the dating?
The Heartland 39.3 Series started with Rock the Parkway on April 12th. We were not the only ones who had a horrible start to the series. It was hot and humid (around 80 degrees), and no one had time to acclimate. I also was recovering from shin splints and hadn’t really tapered my workouts that week.
But we made it through and got this delicious looking medal and cool Nike tech shirt. Slow or fast, we still passed! Half marathon one and definitely not done.
The next weekend was Easter. We took it easy by doing an Easter Egg 5k with our family and eating lots of food. Despite shin splints, I pulled off 3rd in my age group out of 84. It was def the boost I needed to get over my Rock the Parkway failure (at that time, my slowest half marathon by 4 mintues).
Next weekend was the Garmin Half, which was completely new to us. It had this dorky Wizard of Oz theme, but it turned out the medal GLOWED IN THE DARK! Hey, I don’t have a glowing medal yet! The shirts weren’t flashy either, but they fit very nice and the quality of New Balance can’t be understated.
Then the Lincoln Half the next weekend, whose medal was also fantastic! Surprisingly, I managed to only run this race four minutes slower than the Garmin. I hurt the last 3 miles, but it wasn’t horrible. The medal was totally worth it. The shirts, however, weren’t our favorite. With a slimmer fit and bold wrap-around design, it reminded me of a biking jersey. They were nice, but I wish they hadn’t been so, uh, patterned and looked more like the previous year’s shirt I saw people wearing.
Then the finale: Running with the Cows. Last year’s race had gone pretty well. I remembered that even though the route is out and back, it’s uphill both ways. Don’t ask me how. It’s something about those rolling country roads. I ran with my friends Jen and Sam, so I had people to distract me. I also had Jason trying to beat me and Jen, which he almost did, until we caught up with him at mile 11. So even though I was dying from allergies / recovering from bronchitis, I ran a fairly fast race.
This year was the complete opposite. I ran almost 30 minutes slower. It was hotter. I think the route got more uphill. All I know is it was a 2 hour and 20 minute struggle. Luckily, Jason found me around mile 3, and we ran together just like old times. We also hurt like hell, so it really was like that first half marathon we half-assed. Except I really did feel better during that half than this one.
Besides being baked on shadeless, paved country roads, everything hurt. All my training and racing had caught up to me, and my body was like It’s time to slow down.
Slow down? You mean like not run next week but go to CrossFit four times instead?
Ha ha. No. Slow down. Like Stop. Moving.
Even though this race is tough, being at the end of the series and being hilly a good chunk of the time, it’s VERY well run. The hospitality of the race staff and student volunteers from Queen of the Holy Rosary Wea Catholic School CANNOT BE PRAISED ENOUGH. They are FABULOUS.
So you drive WAY south until you see farmland. Then you drive a little bit more. Then you park on a gravel road by a field. If you’re lucky, you’re parked by a farmhouse or a silo or something so you at least have some sense of where your car is. This place makes Smallville look heavily populated.
School buses drive around and pick up runners and drive them to the start. The start is at the Catholic school. There they had very polite volunteers who were great at organizing the gear check. The amount of port-a-potties could use a little work, though. Since the school bathrooms were closed to the public, there were hundreds of runners hoping to make a pit stop before the race started.
This race has grown A LOT. Hundreds of runners do this race because it’s part of the Heartland 39.3 Series. It also hosts a 5k, which is popular too.
But I think the real secret to the success of the race is the food. It’s not just a line with milk, rolls, and Gatorade. It’s an ENTIRE cafeteria FULL OF FOOD: homemade desserts, food from vendors like Goodcent’s Subs and cinnamon rolls from Corner Cafe Bakery, and local cider from Louisburg. Plus my favorite vendor of all: Chik-fil-a.
Last year, they handed out ENTIRE fried chicken sandwiches. I remember taking the sandwich with both hands, looking at the sandwich much the way a squirrel admires his beloved, hard-earned nut, mumbling thank you, and shuffling off in half delirious, half ravenous state.
This year, we ran so slow that not only were the sandwiches GONE, but the entire tent – prize wheel and all – had already packed up and left. I found out in a very heartbreaking manner.
I kept stumbling around in a painful stupor.
“Where’s the Chik-fil-a?”
“Where are you going?” Jason asked, trying to keep up.
“Where’s the Chik-fil-a?”
“Are you ok?” Jason dodged a small child.
“Where’s the Chik-fil-a?”
I finally spotted a guy with a plate full of food and perched on top the food – a shiny, foil wrapped Chik-fil-a sandwich. Mustering as much mental power as I had left, I asked, “Excuse me, sir, where did you get the Chik-fil-a?”
“There’s a tent. Out there.” He pointed outside the school doors.
I went back outside, and Jason and I circled the area like hungry vultures.
“I bet they left,” Jason finally said.
In epic movie style, I fell to my knees crying, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!“
Every time I had hurt like hell, which was over half that race, I thought of the Chik-fil-a awaiting me. And now not only had I set a new slowest half marathon time by several minutes, had everything below my waist hurt (except my quads; they were surprisingly bad ass that day despite doing 400m of lunges in CrossFit that week), but now I HAD NO CHIK FIL A.
To make matters worse, I began to realize the guy I’d asked hadn’t even been a runner. He was some greedy bastard who was eating all the runner’s hard earned food and MY CHIK FIL A. If I hadn’t just run the worst 13.1 miles of my life, I might have snatched his sandwich and ran off laughing maniacally. Or at least hobbling away quickly in the opposite direction.
“Let’s go get our medal,” Jason said.
And this was why halfway through the race when I joked it might be faster to run to my parent’s house than back to the finish, Jason had said: “Hell, no! I want my medal.”
Not only did we get a finisher medal for the Running with the Cows race, we got our UBERMEDAL for completing the Heartland 39.3 Series for the second year in a row.
So this story does have a happy ending. I found a coupon for a free Chik Fil A sandwich later in my race packet. I mean, WE GOT THE UBERMEDAL!
Feeling a little bit like a Hobbit, holding my precious medal and stroking it, lamenting the lost second breakfast of Chik-Fil-A, and trying to keep my curly hair in a pony tail, we had finished our journey. There and Back Again. With the Cows.
If you don’t get the reference in the title, you’re either 1. not a Nebraskan 2. not a Husker fan 3. not a college sports fan or 4. All of the above, a.k.a. my husband Jason. He went to UMKC for academics not sports, or so he says.
We ran the Lincoln Half Marathon in Nebraska, home of the Huskers (Go Big Red!), Runza, and Arbor Day (no, really). Because I am numbers 1-3, it was a return to my roots race.
I was born in Lincoln, my parents both went to UNL, and I still have family and friends there. My grandma is always telling me to come visit; she’s been telling me about this race for a few years now. I decided to finally look into it.
In 2013, The Lincoln National Guard Marathon and Half Marathon was limited to 10,000 entries, and they sold out the DAY THE RACE OPENED. This is really impressive to me. This is also really confusing to me.
Kansas City has several races with 10,000-plus runners and NONE of these races sell out that fast. Rock the Parkway half marathon usually sells out in a few months but not in 1 DAY. Hospital Hill has a half marathon, 10K, and 5K in June. It’s currently the middle of May, and even it’s not sold out yet. Not only does it have the best race swag and an awesome course, it has distances that appeal to runners of all levels.
The Lincoln race is a half marathon OR a full marathon. The marathon course is also a Boston Qualifier. I’ve read and can now attest it would be a great place to try and BQ (Boston Qualify) because the course is very flat and fast, and there’s such great support on the course. But still, these are not two distances people just sign up for at a whim.
Also, this race is in Nebraska. NEBRASKA. Which I love, don’t get me wrong, but there’s not a whole lot going on there. It’s not on the coast of California. There’s no chance of getting a high five from Mickey Mouse. It’s not the oldest race in the nation.
So that leaves me wondering if it’s the finish that’s so appealing. You finish inside Memorial Stadium. Which to Husker fans is like entering the gates of Heaven. You not only finish inside Memorial Stadium, you get to finish on the 50-yard line of the football field. Which to Husker fans is like entering the gates of Heaven AND getting to shake God’s hand. Well, not really. That would be if former Coach Tom Osborne was at the finish line congratulating everyone.
So I definitely got A LOT more interested in this race. Not only would I get to visit my Grandma, I would get some of Grandma’s delicious cookies too! Oh, and find out why this race is so popular.
This year the race had 12,500 entries (they widened the trail) and registration opened at midnight on New Year’s Day. I set a reminder alert in my phone. Although we went out with friends on New Year’s Eve, I was pretty tired. But I had to stay up to register for that race!
Well, midnight finally came, and I was furiously trying to get the site to work on my phone. It wouldn’t come up. We got home, and I whipped out my laptop. Site still not working. Jason, who is a server admin when he’s not making fun of me for being a Nebraskan, took a look at the site and pinged the server (whatever that means).
“The site’s crashed. It has too much traffic,” he said.
“AHHHHHH!” I replied, “I can’t stay up much longer! I’m getting so old!”
1 a.m. and the site was STILL DOWN. I went to bed. I woke up at 6 am. My cats were demanding I feed them or they eat me. I decided to try registering again. Yippee! The site was up.
And they only had a little over 2,000 spots left. Damn.
But we were signed up! Not only that, this race gave us a three-in-a-row race opportunity. I don’t recommend doing this unless you are really crazy and really motivated to get medals. There’s a half marathon series in Kansas called the Heartland Series. It used to be 3 half marathons in 4 weeks. The way the schedule worked out this year, it was 3 halfs in 5 weeks, so you had a weekend off between each race. The series is accumulative from year to year. So each year you do the race series, the swag gets better. This year we were supposed to get an UBERMEDAL that had slots to add more pieces to it for future years we complete it. Next year we’ll also get a cool Nike running jacket.
But the Linconln Half fell right between one of our recovery weeks. So now we were doing 4 half marathons in 5 weeks. It was going to hurt. But we were committed. Think of the cool medals! Think of the new running shirts to add to my already large running shirt wardrobe! Think of how many times I’ll go to the chiropractor school and help my friend graduate!
We also looked forward to going to Lincoln to see my family, take my 10-year-old cousin to the Omaha Zoo, and pick up some of the awesome local beer we couldn’t find in Kansas (Lucky Bucket’s Certified Evil beer…it will certifiably get you happy).
Packet pick-up was well run. We stopped on Saturday morning on our way to the Henry Doorly Zoo. The hotel was easy to find, the tables were well organized so the lines weren’t long, and they had some cool race shirts available for sale. However, it wasn’t a big expo like some of the races I’ve done. There weren’t tables with free samples or running stores with a chance to buy last-minute items.
They scanned our bibs to activate the chip. My name said “Hillmaster.” I had totally forgotten about the customized bibs. Jason’s just said Jason, and I mourned the lost opportunity to have given him a funny name like SexyBeast or add my last name, Jason Hartz. (I haven’t changed my name yet even though I ran right by the county court house in the Garmin half marathon; I couldn’t ruin my splits!)
The morning of the race we definitely didn’t leave early enough. My family gave great directions so we wouldn’t end up getting stopped by streets closed for the race. But the UNL campus has the same problem as KU. Parking is a competitive sport. And we were losing. And the clock was ticking.
We found a Wendy’s, but it had a very blatant sign that it would TOW ANY NON-WENDY’S CUSTOMERS. What if I write a note promising to get some nuggets when I’m done? I promise you I could eat a hundred of those on any given day, maybe 200 after a race.
We couldn’t chance it though. There was NO WAY we would be able to walk back to Grandma’s after 13.1 miles. So we parked in a red faculty/staff lot. I was pretty sure the map said red parking was good to park in. But did they mean the lots marked red on the map or the lots marked red on the sign? Who knows. I might not officially be faculty, but I sure was gonna school people in how to run a half marathon today.
We also couldn’t find port-a-potties at the beginning of the race. One of the buildings was open though, so people were using the public restrooms, which I’m pretty sure all the runners appreciated a lot more.
I was surprised by the National Anthem. For being a race hosted by the National Guard, it was just a recording. No live band. No singer. The recording didn’t even have a singer. Surely the university could have helped them out with some cool music. Even the tiny races in Kansas usually have a live singer. It was cool though, watching the flag, hearing the anthem, and seeing Memorial Stadium in the background.
The race had a wave start. Pace groups holding signs with their mile times were everywhere. I went with the 8-minute mile people knowing I needed to find the 1:55 or 2:00 pace group. The race was very slow with starting each wave to make sure the street wasn’t too crowded. This was awesome, although Jason said it was almost 7:30 by the time he started.
We ran through the heart of downtown Lincoln before heading towards neighborhoods. We went right by the capital. We went right by a lot of places I had faint memories of – like the movie theater. I was trying to pace myself and enjoy the scenery. My first mile was right where I wanted it to be – 8:40.
But soon my stomach was upset. I wasn’t sure why. My only thought was maybe I’d put an extra scoop of protein in my smoothie. I packed my protein in a plastic bag without the scoop to save space. Who knows exactly what was in that bag. My breakfast smoothie sat heavy in my stomach – too much protein would take forever to digest.
Around mile 2.6, we hit our first uphill-ish incline. Or as uphill as things get in Lincoln. I focused on doing what I do best – conquering hills – and enjoyed being distracted from my stomach pain. I passed people, which lifted my spirits a bit.
We turned right at the top and headed down Sheridan Blvd, a street with lots of historic houses. I don’t remember the houses so much as the people. There were still people cheering us on! Most races the cheering crowd drops after a couple of miles. But not just a few people – the crowd was lined up all the way down the street. People had signs. People had music. People were passing out food as unofficial aid stations.
I’ve NEVER seen a race where several of the supporters have tables FULL of food for runners. And it was several people too. A young kid was passing out Dixie cups of water at one table. I was really touched by the Nebraskan hospitality. And then I saw something I knew for sure I’d never seen at a race.
A lady had a box of Kleenexes.
And the runners were taking tissues from her! Lots of them! Of course, a lot of these used tissues were then ending up in someone’s yard a few houses down, but it was amazing! I ALWAYS run with Kleenexes. I don’t know if it’s Midwest allergies or what, but I have to blow my nose when I run. It’s really, really weird. I always have a giant wad of them with me on a race. But see – I’m not completely crazy! Or maybe it’s just another Nebraskan thing.
I was in distress though. My stomach was not feeling good, my miles were over 9 minutes now, but I had to keep going. I knew I had to enjoy the first half of the race before my legs started asking, Why are we running another one of these? Didn’t we just run one of these? Do you hate me?!
Of course not, legs. I love you. I love you so much I use you ten times more than my arms, which is why I have the body of a t-rex. And right now I need you to keep moving because my stomach’s not getting any happier.
Mile 5 was coming up, and I was on the lookout. Grandma and Aunt Linda were going to be cheering us on, and Grandma had made a sign. I didn’t expect my Grandma to put anything sassy – like “Smile If You’re Not Wearing Underwear” – but I wanted to see her sign. I needed a some motivation.
We were at Mile 5, about to turn a corner, when I was engulfed. A sea of runners in the 3:35 pace group had caught up to me. This is a very popular group as females 34 and under must run 3:34 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I looked around me, but even though I’m built like a t-rex, I’m very short for a t-rex. I couldn’t see anything.
Once I got past the aid station and decided my stomach was not ready for energy gel yet, I figured I’d missed them. I kept checking the crowds, but it was way past mile 5 now. Shoot. I really had wanted to see them. We were on a downhill, and I focused on trying to be almost halfway done with the race.
The Lincoln course is very flat – it has a couple of uphill inclines. And you do go by a few nice parts of Lincoln, like downtown and the historic neighborhood. But there wasn’t a whole lot to look at. It was nice though there were still TONS of people along the course route. It was the most race support I’d ever seen.
Close to mile 7 we turned onto the trail they had widened. And by trail I mean a wide concrete sidewalk along highway 2. It. Was. So. Boring. And not scenic at all. When I think trails, I think of the technical trails in the woods, like what the Trail Nerds race on. Or I think of suburban trails where it’s black asphalt going through woods and parks. Nope. Just an over glorified sidewalk with a lovely view of the highway on the outskirts of town.
There were still lots of people though. And the aid stations were great. Most races have small cups full of water or sports drinks, and the volunteers have to keep shouting which drink they have. Here it was really obvious. The blue Pepsi cups had water and the green Gatorade cups had beer. Just kidding, they had Gatorade. But I was getting delusional at that point, so anything was possible. I also liked how they had lids and straws on the cups. I could still run and drink and not spill all over myself. There was also food like gummy bears or oranges to help you fuel.
Near mile 8 I started to feel…what is this feeling? I feel….I feel good! I feel great! Ok, not great, but my stomach had finally processed whatever it had been working on for the past half of the race. My legs were still holding up. It was time for some energy gel!
Miles 8 and 9 were great. At one point, we turned off the trail and got to The Hill. The hill is miles 8.6 to 9. Here is the one place they do need more support. There were lots of people at the top and bottom of the hill, but you need someone telling you to keep it up halfway through. The Hillmaster in me got all excited, and I went up that hill. It wasn’t as bad as the ones in KC, but it still was a hill. And I loved it.
I was really disappointed no one cheered me on using my nickname going up the inclines and hills. I had some people at aid stations and during other parts of the race yell, “Yeah! Go, Hillmaster!” but no one did on the hills! If I had that bib for Hospital Hill, I guarantee it would have been a lot more popular. It was the wrong setting. Like wearing a Husker hoodie in Oklahoma.
Mile 10 and it was just a 5k left. Just a 5k. A very painful 5k. My legs had finally decided they had had enough of this. But I kept going. We ran by a Runza. But no one was throwing out Runzas. I would have run A LOT faster if someone would throw food at me. Especially Runza.
Mile 11 and we turned on 10th street. It would take us all the way back to the stadium. 10th was one of those streets that goes slightly up then down then slightly back up then down. The rolling incline kept me moving. I saw a girl in a Kansas City Marathon shirt. I wanted to say “Hey, KC Represent!” but she had headphones on. And I probably didn’t have enough breath to make a coherent statement anyway.
There were a few other people I wanted to say something to during the race. There was an old lady, had to be in her 70s, maybe 80s, running. But she too had her headphones in. I understand running with music – it’s the only way I survive the treadmill. But when I’m outside, especially during a race, it’s about the race. Maybe it’s because I ran cross country and track in high school where we trained and competed without music. But I distinctly remember talking more to runners in races past. Now everyone blocks out the world with their music. I miss the camaraderie, stories, and new friends I used to make. Even if it was just for a mile or two.
The stadium was finally in site. But we still had a mile. Then half a mile. But I feel like I can touch it!!! The made us run all the way behind the stadium from one end to the other, make a right turn (marathoners to the left! they were only halfway done!), and run back to the other end of the stadium.
I started kicking it in. I hurt. I wanted this over with. And this was the moment I’d run the whole race for.
A somewhat long time ago, a little curly-haired girl took a field trip with her kindergarten class to UNL. They got a tour of campus and got to see Memorial Stadium. In fact, they got to run on the field. 21 years later and I was back to run on that field.
My feet hit astroturf and cried out, “This feels so good!”
My legs hit the astroturf and cried out, “The finish line’s right there!”
My mind was silent. I’d left my sanity back there somewhere, probably around the mile where I realized no one was handing out Runzas.
The Lincoln Marathon sends you a short video of your finish. When I saw mine, it was hilarious. I’m the girl in blue with a black hat who comes out of nowhere. My high school coaches would have called this “Finishing Strong.” I call it, “Let’s Just Get This Damn Thing Over With.”
Once you cross the finish line and get your medal, they are pretty quick to clear you off the field. I was having none of this. I wanted to enjoy being on the field for a bit and figured Jason couldn’t be too far behind me. We hadn’t agreed on a meeting spot since we didn’t know anything about the finish, and he didn’t have his phone on him.
I kept moving from spot to spot on the field as the volunteers, mostly one lady who was very gung-ho about her job, tried to usher us off the field. I saw the Marathon winner come in. Even though this was another race I didn’t make my under 2-hour goal, at least I had finished before the marathon winner. Barely.
Finally I went into the finisher chute under the stadium seats. I was greeted by a table full of Pepsi. Really. This time the Pepsi cups actually had Pepsi in them. And Diet Pepsi. And Sierra Mist. And MOUNTAIN DEW?!!! NO WAY! BEST. RACE. EVER.
This is another thing I remember about growing up in Lincoln – it’s very much a Pepsi town. My family was always drinking Pepsi and playing cards. We got it at the Cornhusker State Games. One of my first words was Pepsi, although apparently I pronounced it “Pice.” I remembered how good ice cold Coke tasted during my summer trail half marathon, so I had a small cup of regular Pepsi.
It tasted FANTASTIC. Then after a minute the sugar hit me, and I felt really weird. What I really needed was water and something bland, like bread or a banana. For a moment I thought I was going to pass out. I opened my water bottle and drank it. Soon I was good again. Good enough that I had to try some of my signature Mountain Dew. However, it wasn’t as cold as the Pepsi, so I didn’t end up drinking more than a sip.
They also had chocolate milk, yogurt, bagels, bananas, and cookies for post recovery. None of those really appealed to me, and I can’t handle dairy anyway, so I decided to wait for the banana bread and protein powder I had in the car. But I was impressed by the spread. There were also small Gatorade bottles being handed out somewhere.
I found Jason behind me in the food line, and we hobbled our way towards the exit. I stopped and asked a guy to take our picture. We definitely look a lot more rugged than we did in our photo for Rock the Parkway, which was our first half marathon this spring. Three down now and one more to go the next weekend!
Our car was still in the lot. We drove home where my family both thought our running was amazing and crazy. We went to Valentino’s (another Nebraska thing) brunch buffet. There I finally enjoyed my post-race meal and an ice cold Mountain Dew. We needed to drive back home that afternoon, and I needed to stay awake.
So I’m still a bit confused as to how this race sells out in one day, but I definitely understand why it’s popular. The course itself is not only forgiving (we definitely struggled more the next week where our half was not as flat), but all the spectators and support were amazing. It was the best I’ve ever seen at a race. I would run it again, although hopefully next year we’ll get more of a break in between races.
But I definitely don’t want to wait another 21 years before getting to run on the field again. That finish was worth every step.
So I really wanted to PR at this race so the title would be “I’ll Get You My Pretty (Medal) and Your Little PR Too!” But I didn’t. So now I’ll just have to come up with more cheesy Wizard of Oz puns as I describe the very Kansas-themed Garmin Half Marathon: In the Land of Oz.
Seriously. It’s a 10K, Half, or Full Marathon in Kansas that’s called The Garmin Marathon: In the Land of Oz. So of course, everything is Wizard of Oz themed. In case you didn’t know, Dorothy lived in Kansas. It’s the black and white boring part of the movie, which is pretty accurate.
The race kept the accuracy of the movie with the ever-changing Kansas weather blessing us on this fine race day. I woke up at the crack of dawn (5:00am) and checked my weather app. Sunny and already close to 60 degrees. Some humidity. For now…(ominous music)
Alrighty, I put on my gingham checkered dress and red running shoes and… just kidding. I put on my raspberry pink Brooks Ghost 6 shoes and a tank top. At least it was a blue tank top. There were plenty of other people in costume that day to make up for my lack of it. One guy was in a full body lion suit. I don’t know where he got the courage to wear that thing.
It was a very strange race for several reasons. For starters, it’s WAY out in Olathe, a suburb of Kansas City that’s kind of like the red-headed step child of all the suburbs. It’s a quirky, strange mix of lots of housing and warehouses and business headquarters. So by Oz, they meant Olathe. Which really made sense if you know Olathe.
The race starts at Garmin’s HQ, which is a very tall shiny building. Not green, but very shiny. And the goal was to run 13.1 miles by following the grey paved road back to the shiny tall building, cross the great and powerful finish line, and then we would be able to go home.
My goal for this race was to NOT SUCK. Or, more specifically, get under 2 hours and not hurt like hell. Rock the Parkway Half had gone terribly for me two weeks prior (read the sad but true When Your Half Marathon Feels Like a Full Failure).
The first few miles were great. They were fast and mostly downhill. I was optimistic, holding under a 9-min mile pace and feeling good. My shin splints were being suffocated into submission by my calf sleeves. My knees were all happy and well from the chiropractor a few days prior. It was sunny and pretty.
We passed the Court House, and I thought about stopping to change my last name. I hadn’t done that yet since we got married. No, I don’t have time. I thought. It’ll ruin my splits.
The scenery got boring fast – it was mostly neighborhoods. Then a park. 3 miles in I was wondering how long I could hold my pace for. Surely there’s got to be a real hill around here somewhere. The whole thing can’t be downhill.
Although, our bibs did say “Wickedly Fast Half”. Thinking Wicked immediately made me think of the musical so I had “Defying Gravity” stuck in my head for awhile but with the words changed a bit to be about running. “And you can’t stop my runnnnn!” instead of “And you can’t bring me downnnnn!”
After Mile 4 I turned a corner, and there it was: a hill! A rather large hill. It didn’t look too bad. My thunder thighs did their thing, and I zipped right up the hill only to find a second steeper hill on the other side. For a moment though, I just saw blank road.
Maybe we don’t have to run up it! I thought optimistically.
Then I saw other runners on it. Or not. Guess we do get to run up somewhere over the hill. It killed my time a bit, but no worries. I usually love hills but this year we have not been the best of friends.
Mile 5 was energy gel time. I had the foresight to check the aid station map and saw a lovely aid station gap between miles 5 and 8. Rock the Parkway also has this horrible gap. Mile 6.5-7 is the perfect time to take in extra carbs. By the time they kick in, you’re on miles 8 and 9, which are the worst miles in the world because you are over halfway done but not far enough to feel like you’re even close to being done.
You’ve also hit the over an hour mark, which is when your body starts wondering why it’s still moving. Hasn’t it been long enough? it asks you. Shut up and have some Gu! you reply.
So Mile 5 felt early, but I wasn’t in the mood to crash like I did at RTP, so I pulled out my Honey Stinger gel with 32 mg of caffeine. It was a pleasant change over my Cliff espresso flavored shot. This tasted like honey and went down smooth. The espresso gel always seems thick and pasty and gets brown all over my hands and face. I was impressed.
I also noticed the sky as I chucked my empty Dixie cup and gel wrapper into a trash can (please do NOT throw them at the volunteers or your fellow runners – if I want your leftover Gatorade spilled all over me I’ll let you know, but I’m not usually THAT delusional).
The sky was a pretty dark blue.
Mile 6: The sky is really dark blue.
Mile 7: The sky is a really close, really dark blue.
Mile 8: It’s gonna rain.
Mile 8.2: It’s raining.
When the wind started up and the clouds were moving in, I wondered if we would get a tornado. I also wondered why my weather app hadn’t warned me about this. But it’s Kansas, so if your weather app is accurate half the time, that’s pretty accurate.
A tornado would definitely make me run faster, I decided. I felt bad for the race spectators and volunteers without jackets.
My time was slowing down. My legs were starting to wear out, but my energy level wasn’t bad though. I decided if this wasn’t a wickedly fast race it would at least be a wickedly wet one.
We turned onto a paved trail going through forest. The tree cover kept us somewhat dry, and the change of scenery was motivating.
Mile 9: It’s definitely raining. The trail was now pretty wet. And so were we. And the trail was getting slicker. And I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere because all I could see were trees.
I just have to make it to mile 10 I told myself. Then it’s just a 5k. I was 5 minutes under my 2-hour goal. I got this.
Mile 10: And it’s still raining. Harder. Like I’m soaked. Oh look, it’s raining even harder now if that’s even possible.
Puddles everywhere. I wasn’t melting, but I’m sure anyone with green face paint was regretting that decision. I was glad I don’t run races with my iPod. And I was glad I’d decided to leave my phone in the car.
Wait, didn’t you get that really expensive LifeProof case for your iPhone? So you could go to Xtreme things with it?
I do Xtreme things, I argued. Sometimes I don’t run on the sidewalk. Sometime I take the stairs at work. Sometimes even I take my phone out of my purse.
So I didn’t test out the waterproof feature of my LifeProof case, but I really did need both my hands free. One hand to wipe off my Garmin so I could figure out my time and the other to keep tugging on my shorts.
Once you’re soaking wet, shorts don’t follow the rules anymore. They get bunched up and stick. It’s awful. My hat was dripping water from the brim. Giant puddles kept attacking my feet, and they became squishy and heavy.
It felt like being in a water ride at an amusement park…forever. I wondered if a flying monkey could come take me away. Then I saw lightening. Nevermind. I’m totally fine here on the ground. Running under trees and past metal poles.
Mile 11 it got NASTY. It started Hailing. Granted the hail was the size of lawn fertilizer, but it’s falling from the sky, and by the time it hit my bare skin, that shit had some velocity going. I was really glad for my hat.
We were almost at mile 11.5 - should we quit now? Hail no! No one screamed or ran for cover. We just kept plugging along.
The hail stopped after a few minutes. The rain was letting up some. But the damage was done. I was right on pace – couldn’t go any slower and lose more time if I wanted 2 hours. GAH!
I was hurting now. And I was so wet. And I was tired. And I just wanted to be done. The last half mile we ran around a local high school parking lot, and I kept wondering WTF?! WTF?! WTF?!
Where’s The Finish?!
Finally, after my Garmin had almost hit 13 miles, I saw the finish. I had 2 minutes to get 2 hours. I tried so hard to go faster. The last few yards had yellow bricks painted on it, which was a cool idea except they were even slicker than the pavement.
I finished 2:01:12. My splits for the first 6 miles was 8:21 min/mile and for the second half of the race 9:16 min/mile. Ewww. This race definitely was a nice race the first half and a bad race the second half.
Next race I need to watch the pacing. Regardless, I got my finisher medal! Which I later discovered it GLOWS IN THE DARK!!! It’s a very unassuming-looking finisher medal, but once I figured this out, I liked it a lot. I didn’t have a glowing medal yet.
Although I didn’t get the time I wanted, I was glad I had the heart to finish. And the courage to brave the hail. And the brains to run a half marathon…no, wait. There’s something terribly wrong with that sentence. That’s why runners run in the first place – because we’re missing the part of our brains that tell us NOT to do painful silly things like run half marathons. :)
And with that we headed out because there’s no place like a hot shower.
There’s a big difference between a Difficult Run and a Bad Run. A difficult run is challenging, often pushing you outside your comfort zone, but you survive it and come out feeling like a BAMF. You have conquered! You are strong!
But a Bad Run is, well, BAD. So bad you think about swearing off running ever again. So bad you find it hard to take ANY pride in what you’ve just done.
My first half marathon for 2014 was a BAD run. It was not only the slowest I’ve ever run a half, it was painful and trying and ridiculously hard. And there wasn’t a single reason that stood out for having a bad race.
It was very ironic this was my slowest half marathon ever because I’ve run several tough races:
1. Gobbler Grind 2003 – first half marathon ever my junior year of high school. Didn’t know what I was getting into, didn’t cross or strength train, ate a bagel for breakfast, and my longest training run was 8 miles. Finish time: 2hr 10min
2. Gobbler Grind 2007 – first half marathon after 2 years of not running due to knee problems. It was cold, hadn’t run a race in years, and wasn’t feeling well. Pulled out 1:49, which is currently my PR (personal record).
3. Hospital Hill 2011 – It was HOT. I mean like 90-some heat index. Humidity was stifling. I’d spent less time training and more time drinking that spring. Pulled off 1:57 and was rewarded with a popsicle.
4. Kansas City Half 2011 – first half marathon with Jason, which we trained for in 4 weeks. FOUR WEEKS. It was a very painful half but finish time 2:11.
5. Horsetooth Half 2012 – first half marathon in Colorado. It was at altitude, the first 2 miles were up a freaking MOUNTAIN, and I felt behind on my training miles. Finish time: 2:08
6. Rock N’ Roll Half Dallas 2013 – I had a cold, knee problems, and my longest run was 8 miles on the treadmill. Also was under dressed for the weather which was colder than predicted when I packed. Still it was an impressive 1:51.
7. Rock the Parkway 2013 – My cold was now bronchitis. I ran on 4 diff medications including Prednisone and with a giant stack of Kleenexes. Despite this, I was only a few seconds off my PR so I finished 1:49 (due to being on steroids though, if I had PR’d, I wouldn’t count it. Sorry, Lance.)
8. Kansas City Half 2013 – was two weeks AFTER my first FULL marathon; def was tired and sore but the half flew by compared to the full. Was slow but never had to walk. Finished a few minutes after my 2-hour goal time, 2:02.
So I’ve had very physically painful and tiring races. I’ve run with injuries. I’ve run at altitude up mountains. I’ve run on little training. I’ve run with bronchitis on steroids. All of those races that should have tanked my finish time, but for some reason I still overcame all of that.
Rock the Parkway this year? Not so much. Finish time was 2:14. If I’d run my 1:50 goal, I would have been top 50 in my age group instead of in the 50th percentile. I was NOT happy with myself.
I couldn’t think of a reason why it happened. The weather wasn’t extreme. My shin splints didn’t hurt during the race. I’d eaten well. No drinking. I wasn’t sick. My training was more consistent this year. My muscles weren’t sore.
But I was tired – my body and my mind. Mentally I broke. I started at 9:40 min/miles for 6 miles. It was slow but being the first half of the year, there were some kinks to work out. Changing my goal to 2 hours was acceptable.
But mile 7 it went to hell. 11:40 minute mile my Garmin told me.
Wait…what? I looked at it again. F*ck.
Well, this race is only half over. So I had a bad mile, time to take my Cliff espresso gel shot and get some calories and caffeine kicking.
Still 11:40 minute mile for mile 8. And my legs just hurt. It just hurt to move. Not a sharp pain or a you must stop now pain. Just a tired we don’t want to do shit today pain. I walked for a few seconds. Didn’t feel any better. In my head I was thinking
If Jenny has 13.1 miles to run and is at mile 8 then she has 5 miles to go. If she starts walking and does a 15:00 minute per mile pace for the next 5 miles that means it will take, roughly, A REALLY FREAKING LONG TIME TO FINISH.
So I started jogging and dying on the inside again. Waiting for my espresso shot to kick in.
I saw a girl lying on the side of the road with people around her. They were calling for a medic. I felt really bad for her, but it also sobered me up. At least I’m not there yet. At least I’m still moving, still breathing, have all my limbs. I can finish this. It might take forever and it might suck big time, but I am fit enough to finish. And I’m thankful I can even do this right now.
I then saw a daughter and her mom. They were in the starting chute with me where I heard them say they were running together. One of them wasn’t doing well, so they were walking. I saw them off and on walking then jogging then walking. But they were still going. We started together, I thought, we can finish together. I tried to keep them in sight.
I was pretty furious though when the 2-hour pace group passed me. Then a mile later the 2:05 group. This race is horrible! Why can’t I move? Why am I dying? I started thinking of all my other races and how I’d managed to pull those off.
I never run races with music (except the full marathon because that was A LOT of time inside my head). Jason wasn’t at my pace this year. I hadn’t run into my friend Sam. It was just me. Alone. And the angry voice inside my head. The crowd support was what kept me going now. The funny signs. People seeing my name on my bib and shouting “Keep it up, Jenny!”
It was not quite mile 10, and I was about to cry. I was SO MAD. Why can’t I do this? What is wrong with me? I LOVE half marathons – or so I thought. During full marathon training I couldn’t wait to do a half again. Well, here’s your half. How’s it going?
The 2:10 pace group passed me. Wait, 2:10. That’s not bad. I’ve done a few races around that time. I haven’t totally blown my race yet. Just keep moving, moving, moving, what do we do, we keep on moving, ah ha ha ha ha, I thought in my Dory voice. But it was only a matter of time before they slipped from my grasp.
But once you cross the 10 mile mark, you can’t quit. That’s only a 5k left. You think, Only a 5K?! That’s 3.1 miles! That’s a lot! Well, to the half marathon junkie it’s JUST a 5k. And this mental boost can do A LOT for your morale. Of course, once I converted that just 3 miles into time, it came out to 30 minutes or more at my current pace, then it sounded really bad. (as an English major, I am proud of all the math I did during the race, both with and without using my fingers.)
I thought about all the things I’d rather be doing then running. Usually it’s the opposite. Usually it’s I’d rather be doing this 5-mile run then studying for a test or sitting through a long meeting. Today it was maybe Jason should knock me up so I can’t run ever again (this is why I shouldn’t leave the kitchen). I’d rather be running the full marathon (almost). Hell, I’d rather be doing burpees in Cross-Fit (I was obviously in a VERY dark place at this point).
But I had to finish. I walked for a few seconds again. I was so worked up that I was doing that heaving, trying not to cry thing. I am going to finish this. Remember that GIANT ASS finisher medal? Yes. You want that. And beer. You can have whatever beer you want today but you just must FINISH.
There were more spectators now. We got a few downhills. But we also had a lot of uphill. The uphills sucked, but I love hills, and it gave me something to focus on. One hill at a time. I started watching the street signs and thinking about how many blocks we had left.
Finally it was 2 miles left. That’s 8 laps on the track. So I started focusing on finishing each 1/4 mile. The finish line was in sight for the last 1/2 mile of the race. That was torturous. It stretched on forever.
I saw the Chik-Fil-A cow on the sidelines. I waved, and it waved back. That cheered me up, but then I wished it was throwing out sandwiches. I would have run much faster if cows threw Chik-Fil-A sandwiches at me.
Then, the finish. I kicked it in. Leave it all on the course. I got my arms swinging and my legs flying as best they could. Finish, finish, finish, finish, finish, finish, finish. I passed about 20 people. Don’t you see the finish? It’s right there! You can breathe after you FINISH!
DONE! 2 hours 14 minutes. But I was DONE. I was so done with this race. I didn’t want to ever think about it again.
But Jason pointed out something very important to me. It’s still hard for me to accept, because I expect a lot out of myself. I’ve been running for years, and there’s a certain standard I strive for. There’s a lot of pride that goes into trying to beat my times each year.
He said it’s hard to run no matter what, but it’s even harder on the bad days. But those days test our character the most. It’s a true test of your love for running if you can finish on the Bad Days. It says a lot more about who you are as a runner when you don’t quit despite how difficult it may be that day.
So with that in mind, we have four more half marathons this spring. That’s 4 more chances for a PR. 4 more chances for a fresh start.
My runs still are a struggle, but I do have some ideas to help the next few half marathons go better. And the motivation to not have a race like that again is a huge help. It helped me on my 5K the next weekend.
That race also wasn’t going well, but it’s only 3.1 miles I told myself. I can do this. I didn’t get my fastest 5K time, but I got 3rd place in my group out of 84. THAT was pretty awesome. It reminded me that my hard work does pay off. And I appreciated it so much more after having that awful half marathon.
So when you have a Bad Run, remember it will make you stronger and better in the end. And when a race does go well, it will seem that much sweeter. As long as you give it your best, even if your best doesn’t feel that great, you are NOT a failure. :)