Last weekend, I participated in the St. Luke’s Half Marathon in Allentown, PA. I signed up as part of their “Half and Half” – this half in April, followed by the Runners World Half in October. I had been eyeing the Runners World Half and when I ran the idea of doing BOTH by my sister-in-law, she was game to join me. Plus they had a cool sweatshirt if you did both and I am not ashamed to admit that I am motivated by good swag.
Some time in late-March/ early-April, I shifted my goal race from the Frederick Half Marathon on May 7 to this one. One of my training partners, Hadley, was training for the Loudoun County Half on the same day. She is faster than me and SO STRONG, so it was fun to reach a little bit to up this training cycle. We had already added speed work (thank you, Molly!!!) and hills to our regime and I figured – I’m working hard, I’m healthy and it’s finally time to retry for that sub-2 half.
Physically I felt good overall, but went to see my favorite sports chiro, Dr. Wong, the Wednesday before the race to work on my left foot which was feeling “off”. There was NO WAY that was going to stop me from my goal. Dr. Wong worked his magic on my foot while simultaneously helping me think through my race day strategy. We talked food, fuel, pre-race warm up mile, and water consumption.
On Saturday morning, I headed up to Allentown (about 3.5 hours from my home) and upon arrival, promptly wandered about the expo. It was a VERY well organized event and with some nice items and vendors. I picked up my race shirt (disliked, but I’m picky), bib (special color for the half and half), and sweatshirt (LOVED). I also grabbed two tanks, a shirt, a headband, and some fuel from the various vendors around the ballroom.
After checking in the hotel, I wandered around Allentown a little to get my legs moving. Luckily the rain that had haunted the forecast earlier in the week was no longer on the horizon and, though cool, felt good to get my legs moving. I headed back, grabbed a salad for dinner, and set out my flat mama before my sister in law arrived from NJ.
I read, watched girl movies and worked on my computer. When she arrived, the family had been at a water park for 2 days, we chatted for a while and got settled in for Sunday. I was so enjoying our visit and hated that we had to go to sleep without grabbing a glass of wine together. Between her 4 boys (!) and my 1, we rarely get to chat without tons of interruptions.
Race day arrived with a starting temp in the 40s and a clear sky. We drove over to the fairgrounds, parked easily and got to wait in a comfy gym with REAL BATHROOMS!!! We, of course, grabbed a picture before the start.
We had agreed from the beginning to run our own races. At around 7:50, I headed out for my warm-up mile while she stayed inside to stay warm before the race. The 5k got underway at 8am, with our race to follow. After my mile-ish, slow run – I found some friends to take my picture and this cute clown to snap a selfie with before seeding myself somewhere between the 1:55 and 2:00 pacers. I had originally intended to stick with the pacers, but decided I was a good enough self policer to watch my own pace.
At 8:10, the gun went off and we were headed on the road in a down hill start. I let the momentum carry me, careful to remind myself to run my own race. I knew the hills were rolling and I also knew, from studying the course map, that miles 7 to 11 had crushed gravel – the VERY THING that had killed my first sub-2 attempt back in 2014.
I know better than to “bank” miles, but I was also aware of the hazard of the gravel. So I ran at a good clip for the first 6+ miles, reminding myself to keep a little in my tank. I also tried really hard not to waste time passing people or weaving in and out. I did walk through the water stops to make sure I stayed hydrated. When I got to the 10k mark, I was pleased to see 54:44 – only 40 seconds behind my 10k PR. And I was still feeling good.
My pack of runners headed into the park with the gravel JUST as the leaders were headed back out – and onto mile 12. That still BLOWS MY MIND. The park was beautiful and picturesque. BUT THE HILLS AND GRAVEL WERE UNFUN. I knew I had to keep around a 9 min per mile pace, even with my first half being so strong, to make my goal. Just before we went through a covered bridge (very pretty, but this was not a race for stop and photo moments), I chatted briefly with a girl who was after the same time goal. We commiserated on the gravel and possibly going out too fast. Don’t you just love the running community?
We came out of the park and I felt how shot my legs were. I also knew that the last 1.5 miles was going to be ALL HEART. SO I kept repeating, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me…” (YES – I am a boy mom!) all the way to the stadium where we needed to finish.
I had read that there was an uphill climb and a 3/4 trip around the track oval before the finish line. And I decided it was time to leave it all behind. That this is what nothing in the tank was about. I pushed around that oval and SAW 1:57 on the clock. After sprinting over that finish line, I pressed done on my Garmin, looked down and realized – I DID IT.
TWO+ years after mentally eyeing the goal and 4 months of hard work lead me to my first sub-2 half marathon. My watch said 1:57:27, but the official time was 1:57:25. FOUR WHOLE MINUTES faster than my previous PR of 2:01:28.
I hobbled my way around to some benches, after grabbing a medal and heat sheet, to find my sister in law. She had finished out at just over 2:04 after an insane week of spring break.
We walked back to the car to head back to the hotel and I had to grab one last pic of Allentown before my long drive home to VA.
When I arrived in my driveway, my amazing neighbors greeted me with champagne and flowers. Hadley had also had an amazing race, coming in at 1:53 and change.
I’ve spent the past week taking it easy, resting my legs, and determining what the next big goal might be… Because this runner is no where NEAR done!