Half Marathon Reviews

Race Recap & Review: Loudoun Half

1:59:08!

I finally did it — a sub-2. It’s been two years since my first half, and back then I wanted to sub-2 at my next one. But I didn’t get there that first spring season, then I psyched myself out in the fall, then I got injured. I spent all last year coming back, and just enjoying the run — including five half marathons.

Sunday’s half was my third this season, and my third in five weeks. I pushed myself at the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon on March 12, hoping to sub-2 there, but the hills were just a bit too much. Still, that race earned me a 50-second PR, and I definitely felt accomplished.

Two weeks ago I ran Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco at a nice, easy pace. It was one of my favorite races.

In between San Francisco and Loudoun, I rested … a lot. It was more than I usually would have, but I listened to my body, especially after two days of hard work removing massive shrubs from my parents’ house and planting new ones. I ended up with five runs in the two weeks, but I made sure they were all quality runs, including a great speedwork session on the treadmill of 3/4-mile intervals at 8:57, 8:27, 8:12.

My final run before Sunday was Thursday. I did 3 miles with a faster 1.5 miles buried in the middle. It felt hard — my lungs felt heavy — but I had forgotten to take my allergy meds the night before.

Flash forward to race day.

IMG_9098When I woke up to my alarm at 5 a.m., I immediately noticed I had some gas cramping going on. Not a good sign. I brushed it off and ate my breakfast — my usual cheerios + bagel. I got dressed and was in my car at 5:35 for the 25-minute drive to Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Va.

I arrived right at 6 as planned, and there was ample parking. I walked, what at the time seemed like a long walk, to get my packet. There weren’t too many folks around yet, so it was a snap, and I picked up my friend and co-worker John’s bib too. He had just texted he had arrived, and we met up in a few minutes.

Next was finding the bathrooms. Everyone seemed to be walking toward the field, so we started down that path, then saw a magical sign about indoor bathrooms. We backtracked a bit and found those. There were zero lines.

I needed to toss my race shirt in my car, so after the pit stop, we walked — in what didn’t seem like that much of a walk now — back there. At this point, I realized I was still having gas cramps — not enough to not run, but enough that it would hold me back if they kept up. It was 30 minutes to race start.

I knew I would need to hit the bathroom again, so we walked back there. In all, we were probably gone for 10-15 minutes from that area. When we got back, there were a million people and a super long restroom line. I didn’t want to wait, so I went back to the field to try to find these “restrooms at the concession stand” that I’d seen on a sign. I figured they would be porta potties, but I was fine with that.

I stopped to ask a volunteer for directions, mentioning the lines were crazy inside. She wasn’t sure where to go or if the concession stand ones would even be open. Praise the lord, a lovely lady a few feet away chimed in, said they were open and that she’d just been there and there were zero people there. Score!

A short walk later, I found them. They were indoor restrooms, with full plumbing. There was no wait. I did my thing, and noticed I immediately felt better. The gas cramps seemed to be subsiding and going away.

I met back up with John, who hadn’t originally wanted to make the trek to find new restrooms. I told him of the no-line oasis I’d found, and we walked back so he could dash in for a minute. When he came out it was nearly 6:50. We walked back to his car so he could stash his stuff. He did a minute of jogging around the lot, then it was time to get to the start line, which was like 300 feet away. I’m pretty sure we got there at like 6:57, 3 minutes before the start. This is why I love small, local races.

John gave me a hug and we separated. I had a throwaway long-sleeve on and decided I didn’t want to run with it at all, so I tossed it to the side at the start line. It was slightly chilly at the start — around 45 degrees. I warmed up by the first mile.

At the start line, I noticed my gas cramps seemed almost completely gone. Maybe I can do this sub-2 thing after all, I thought.

The National Anthem was sung, and a little after 7 we were off.

I wanted to run my first mile around goal race pace — 9:09s — or slightly faster. I didn’t want to start doing sub-9s early on and risk going out too fast. I hit the first mile at 9:04. Perfect. From the elevation chart, it looked like there was a decent climb into mile 2. I thought it could end up being my slowest of the race. I focused on keeping the same effort, running any declines strong. There didn’t seem to be much uphill in that mile after all. My watch beeped at 9:03. Sweet.

There was a little bit of downhill the next mile, and I wanted to take every opportunity to hit the downhills hard and start adding a little cushion to my time. The next two miles flew by: 8:55, 8:54.

IMG_9097Shortly before mile 4, there’s a slight uphill so you can get on the W&OD. I’d been looking forward to this section of the road the most, knowing it’d be mostly flat or a little downhill overall. It seemed like there was some uphill here from what I was seeing ahead of me, but my elevation gains/losses don’t show it, so it could have been an optical illusion. After two sub-9 miles, I told myself to dial back the pace just a bit. There were still a lot of miles to go. Mile 5 rang in at 9:02.

Up until this point, I’d skipped the previous water stops. I was starting to regret it, knowing there wasn’t another one until before mile 7, when the food station at mile 5 ended up having water. I grabbed a quick gulp and powered on.

I hit the remaining three water stops, but never felt I needed Gatorade or my blocks, so once again, I ran a half only drinking water. If it hadn’t been a goal race or my stomach hadn’t been messing up before, I might have chewed up the blocks, but I just didn’t feel like it.

I felt really good in the next mile and noticed a bit of a downhill slope. I decided I wanted to sub-9 for that bit again and did. Mile 6 ran in at 8:53, my fastest of the race so far. At this point I was about 50 seconds faster than a sub-2 pace. I had my pace band again this race, and was so happy I did.

I didn’t want to burn out, so I just tried to aim for 9-9:09 minute miles. Mile 7 beeped at 9:00 on the dot, and mile 8 at 9:08.

IMG_9096Then there was a hill I wasn’t expecting. It ended up being the worst hill of the race, though thankfully it wasn’t too bad. Still mile 9 was my slowest of the race at 9:22, and my head went “oh, shit.” I could still lose this thing.

I wanted to gain my confidence back, so I set a goal of a sub-9 for the next mile. Luckily, there was a fair bit of downhill, and I hit it at 8:47. I felt back on track.

The last three miles were hard. I kept repeating the mantra on the Momentum wrap I was wearing: you got this. I thought about their “foot notes” I’d put on my shoes, too: Finish Strong.

I knew I would sub-2, but didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself. It only takes a bad few last miles to ruin your pace. I tried to keep as even as a pace that I could, with the hope I could speed up a little bit after mile 11.

Mile 11 chimed in at 9:13, but there was a bit of uphill, the second largest gain of the race for a single mile when I checked later. I worried I was losing it again.

I dug in a bit, aiming to get back close to 9s for when mile 12 chimed in. It came in at 9:04.

At this point, I pretty much knew I had a sub-2 in the bag, and I couldn’t believe it. I was running about 30-45 seconds faster than goal pace. But I was also getting very tired, very quickly.

It seemed like forever, but eventually the school came back into view. My watch beeped again, but I never looked down. Only after I finished did I realize mile 13 was the fastest of the race at 8:43. I’m not sure how I pulled that off.

We turned the corner, and it again felt like forever until we got to the track. John was waiting at the entrance to the track cheering me on. He knew I was going to sub-2. I smiled as much as I could, but I think it looked more like a grimace. I wondered why the finish line was all the way on the other side of the track. That seemed like forever away. At this point, I was breathing hard. In races, I always feel like it comes down to lungs or legs. One or the other feels like it can’t go any faster. This time it was my lungs.

I became one of those breathing-so-hard-I-sound-like-I’m-gonna-die people. I felt sorry for the lady in front of me. At this point I was nearly delirious. I just wanted to cross the finish line. It looked so far away.

Finally, I got there. Someone handed me a medal and John was there, telling me I did it, then asking me if I was OK. I put my hands of my knees and tried to get my breathing under control. I needed water and I needed to sit down. Both happened quickly, but not quickly enough.

John asked how it went, and I said I am never running fast again. He chimed in: let’s start with not running ever again.

Then John figured we were too close to the hustle and bustle of the finish line, and said we should move. Fine, I said, but you need to help me up. What I really meant was and also, can you carry me over there.

But that brief lie down did wonders. My breathing was back to normal, and the walk wasn’t too bad. I collapsed on the ground for a bit in the middle of the field, checked my splits, then we stretched.

IMG_9061John started doing crunches and a plank, and I looked at him like he was crazy. He’s in marathon training, so I get it, but I also don’t get it. We talked about our races a bit. John was saying math things to me about his splits and times, and I couldn’t compute them. He said when that hill came at mile 9, he was thinking, “But Kat said the biggest climb was mile 1-2.” In the end, I figured out he’d had a good race.

We eventually got up to see if we could find an official results table. On the way, I picked up half a bagel — I’m trying to eat more quickly right after my halfs now — and some more water. There was a results table. Even though I had my watch on me, it was like I wouldn’t believe I’d really sub-2’d and done so by a decent margin until I saw the official times.

When I read 1:59:08, I beamed, and then checked it a few more times before believing it. I took a photo in case I doubted myself later before the results posted online. It’s 1 minute, 40 seconds faster than the PR I set at Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. just five weeks ago.

Back to the cars we went, and I headed over to my parents because I needed to dig what I thought was one more hole, but what ended up being two, so my mom could finish her landscaping project. Surprisingly my legs didn’t feel that bad. They felt better than when I’d run Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. — thanks to fewer hills, I guess. I knew they’d feel worse Monday, though.

I dug the holes, then it was time to go home and nap.

I’m so excited and proud that I sub-2’d at this race. I ran a great race and kept up the pace in the last three miles. I’m still shocked that mile 13 was my fastest. And that I ran the last dash to the finish line at an 8:03 pace.

Love this shirt and medal.

Love this shirt and medal.

This was a great race and great course. The total elevation gain per my Garmin was 325, with the total loss 331 (I don’t know exactly why Strava’s data, which is synced from my Garmin, is different.)

The course support was exactly what you need for a half — water and Gatorade stops every 2 miles. Plus that extra stop at mile 5 that handed out gummies, oranges and water. There was GU somewhere on course, but I was too focused to notice it or care.

The race took place on a combination of neighborhood streets, medium-sized roadways where we had one lane to ourselves, and the W&OD. It was a great mix, and I never felt bored. Plus, the course largely avoided running into the sun, which is key for early hour races at this time of year. And especially true when I decide not to wear a hat.

There were spectators on the course, but they were mostly few and far between, with some groupings in certain areas. But it really felt like each spectator was cheering JUST you on because how small the race was. In all there were 671 finishers for the half. There was also an 8K, which took off a half hour after the 13.1 folks started.

The pile-up at the start lasted all of a tenth of a mile or less. I never felt like I needed to weave to get around folks.

One of the things I was expecting from this race because of its size and its use of a single lane most of the way was that I wouldn’t end up running much past 13.1. But my watch measured 13.25, which is about average for a half. This race had a lot of curves and turns, so it’s not too surprising.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun, easy going race for your spring calendar, definitely add the Loudoun Half!

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