In honor of the holidays, I am posting special blog posts chronicling 12 of my favorite running races from 2012 and the somewhat funny lessons, or gifts you could say, that came from them (well…they’re funny now; at the time not so much).
On the 3rd day of running, Hospital Hill gave to me, 3 attempts at a half marathon PR (personal record).
This year was my third time completing the Grandfather of Kansas City races, Hospital Hill Half Marathon (there’s also a 5K and 10K). It’s by far my favorite local race and anyone who’s ever asked me about running has had their ear talked off about this race. I am determined to accomplish my fastest half marathon time at this race because it’s my favorite, it validates my title of Hillmaster, and I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a challenge. It’s a race where you feel you earn your bragging rights and gives you the confidence that if you can conquer hills, then you can metaphorically conquer life’s hills as well.
I discovered Hospital Hill in a special half marathon edition of Runner’s World featuring races notorious for the hills. I was surprised to find Kansas City was listed as hosting one of the hilliest races. Colorado, California, the famous Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon all came to mind – but Kansas City? Really? I got super excited because I am…
HILLMASTER. I earned this nickname in high school cross country because I took this dorky running article to heart. It was some Runner’s World high school supplement with little tips in it on how to be a successful runner (1. Move 2. Breathe 3. Try to do both at the same time…ha ha! Thought it was that easy didn’t you?) The article said think of the hill as your friend, befriending the hill in your mind so it doesn’t seem as big of an obstacle. As you approach a hill, say outloud, “You’re my friend, hill!” and after you conquer the hill you say, “That’s a good hill!”
It was ridiculous at first. I just made jokes about it – in practice I’d say “Remember, guys, the hill is your friend!” But then after joking about it, I started to think about it when I ran hills. Soon I loved hills.
Hospital Hill was everything I wanted in hills and even more – the even more being a tiny steep hill in the last mile of the race. It’s not a tough hill, but at the end of almost 13 miles, it’s a bitch. But the view at the top is worth it – the sprawling view of downtown Kansas City followed by a rewarding downhill finish with food, beer, water, music, finisher flip flops, and a giant finisher medal.
But the most exciting and rewarding finish for me would be to get my PR this coming June. I usually try to have a goal for every race – some races it’s to survive (the wooded madness of Psych Night with the Trail Nerds or the Monster Mountain in Colorado), some races it’s to try something new (the obstacle trail of Haven’s Wooded Trail Run in Leavenworth), and sometimes it’s for time.
The first time you run a race, try not to be hard on yourself – you don’t usually know how the course will feel physically and your performance will at least be a PR for that race. But once you start to repeat races, and if the course stays the same, you can keep improving and pick up running tidbits on how to better your perfomance. And these improvements might not necessarily be reflected in your end time, but you’ll notice how they positively impact your overall running or help you to have a less painful race experience next time (see upcoming entry about eating bacon for breakfast then running 7 miles).
Attempt #1 in 2010: I thought it would be cool to get a PR, but since it was my first time running Hospital Hill, I wasn’t too worried about it. This time I learned running with a friend makes the time fly (Thank you, Sam! Your enthusiasm keeps me going!), running up hills after 6 miles or so automatically makes them harder and more painful then running up hills during easy training runs, and there’s a hill in the last mile of the race just when you hoped it would all be over. I also was 3 minutes off my fastest half marathon time – suddenly a PR definitely seemed feasible. I also learned breaking in new shoes 2-3 weeks before a half marathon is a great idea – your feet hurt a lot less than using shoes with hundreds of training miles from the past 6 months on them.
Attempt #2 in 2011: I didn’t get in the amount of training I needed for this run (and I knew it), but also this was the year it was so humid and in the 80s at 7am. It was an awful race. Hardly anyone did well in this race. But I might not have felt so bad if I had been tracking my workouts better. At least I had lots of training time running up the Hospital Hill and the nearby area, especially doing hill repeats on that tiny surprise hill I now knew about. So training on the terrain and having a visual and mental feel of the course helped me during the race anticipate what was coming up and how to pace myself. I was still able to keep under 2 hours, although around mile 4 I was thinking about walking – something NEVER do. And I didn’t have Sam to run with to keep my mind engaged. But mentally mapping out the course, I kept myself going and used the pace group, too. I just had to keep in front of the 2-hour group, and I would be satisfied with my run at that point.
Attempt #3 in 2012: This was my best performance at Hospital Hill and only a few seconds off of my Hospital Hill PR – only I didn’t know it until the end. The weather was perfect, I was prepared to run by myself, I trained all spring tracking/planning each workout on a blank calendar, ran up a mountain in the Horsetooth Half race and was ready for hills, and broke in my new shoes for a little over a month. I was ready and so determined for my PR.
And that’s why I failed. Because mentally I was not with it that day. I gave up in my head. Each mile marker I looked at my watch and was disheartened – I wasn’t make the minutes per mile time I needed. Also, I felt really slow the first half of the race and not in the groove. At water stations, I began to take my time, walking and drinking my water then starting back up again. I stopped and took the time to open my energy gel and eat it. I overheard someone with a Garmin mention the mile markers were a bit off, but I had nothing to compare that to. I just figured I’d finish the race. I even let a girl with obnoxious pink tube socks doing that sprinting then walking technique that drives me crazy beat me up the Broadway Hill. Really? The Hill Master lets someone walking up a hill beat her? But then around mile 11, I realized how good I felt. For once I didn’t hurt after mile 10. I also did the math and realized how close to my Hospital Hill PR I was. I tried to make up for it, but it was too late. Girl with pink socks had already beat me, and the clock showed I was 30 seconds behind my Hospital Hill PR. AHHHHHH!
I was pretty irked with myself, my mind filled with “If Only I Had…” stuck in my head thinking of all the places I could have saved seconds.
But then all day I was able to use the stairs, bend over, stand around – and not hurt. My knees hurt some, but my muscles were for the most part pretty good. So I took the lesson of how much strength training and training up hills pays off. I also did get a Garmin running watch with my birthday money and that has made a huge difference in helping me understand how to get the time you want without necessarily running the same pace each mile – you have to take the terrain and where in the run you’re at for your pace each mile.
So even if you don’t accomplish your time goal, there are still other accomplishments you can get from races. Or lessons that you learn the hard way so you never repeat them again. But as long as you finish the race, it’s still an incredible accomplishment. Thousands of people run that race, but there are hundreds of thousands of people that don’t even run. So run on, run on!