I ran my last half marathon three years ago, almost exactly. It was August. It was hot. It was humid. The course was flat, at least, but I was miserable. I hit my goal, inching across the finish line with absolutely nothing else to give in just under two hours. But I hated almost every minute of that race. I swore I’d never run another summer half again.
Then I spent a year injured, nursing a frustrated TFL that kept me from setting or meeting any of my running goals. And then I got deployed, where I spent almost a year running around the desert, learning about how I run in the heat. Then I came home and signed up for the Patrick Henry Half Marathon, thinking, fuck it, let’s just see what happens.
The truth is, I really needed a challenge. I needed a race to train toward. I needed to see if the mental toughness I had built through previous running endeavors was still there and I knew running another summer half would show me.
The Patrick Henry Half is by far the smallest half I’ve ever ran. This year, there were just under 900 runners. It’s held in Ashland, Virginia, about 30 minutes north of Richmond, and winds down some beautiful country roads. There are some rolling hills too, including one that seemed to go on forever after mile 11.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this race. My last long run, an 11-miler, was terrible. It was hot and humid and my weather app rated the running conditions as 3 out 10. It took me longer to run those 11 miles than I wanted it to take me run 13.1 on race day.
But we got lucky. The heat and humidity finally broke and it was 61°F when the race started on Saturday. That’s just about as perfect as it gets for an August run in Virginia.
When I started running, all those familiar race nerves came back to me. Most of them are pretty great, except for that one that makes me feel like I have to pee real bad. But then there’s the absolute joy that makes me feel like a frolicking farm animal released from the barn on the first day of spring. That’s the one I really, really like.
I looked at my watch a half mile in and realized I was going too fast. It’s a bad habit of mine, to start fast and fall apart in the later miles. I wanted to run an 8:45 or 9:00 minute mile, but I was closer to the 8:20-8:30 range. So I tried to slow down. But slowing down didn’t feel good. It made my legs feel restricted and tired. So I kept going. I berated myself, for sure, told myself I was going to pay for that speed later on, but I kept the pace, regardless of the sirens of my internal warning system.
At six miles, I was still keeping the pace. I felt good. Strong. I opened up a GU packet and sucked down a third of it and walked the water point between 6 and 7 miles, grabbing a water to dump over my head and down my back in an attempt to cool myself down.
Typically, during longer races, I briskly walk some of the later water points. I’ve found taking a 10-20 second walk break to grab a cup of water or gatorade, even though I always run with my own water, doesn’t hurt my time, and if anything it gives me a little boost when I start running again.
There were water points at 2, 4 and 6 miles, and then every mile after that. I skipped stopping at 7, but got gatorade at 8 and was sucking down a third or a quarter of a GU packet every mid-mile point after the 6th mile.
I got water again at mile 9 and dumped most of it down my back, skipped stopping at 10 because I was too busy doing runner math trying to figure out what my finishing time could be, and then I walked through the points at miles 11 and 12, dumping water down my back both times.
When I race, I set three goals. My A Goal, the one I don’t tell anyone about; my B Goal, which I tell everyone about; and my C Goal, which is usually just to finish the fucking race. For the Patrick Henry, my B Goal was to finish in under two hours. My runner math told me, around mile 7 that I was on track to definitely, absolutely, positively meet that goal. So then I rolled back to my A Goal, which was to get under 1:55.
I’m bad at math, you guys. I fucking hate math. It’s bad and I don’t get it and runner math is hard. So I spent about two miles trying to figure out how fast I needed to run the next however-many-miles in order to meet the 1:55 goal, all the while getting distracted by other runners, birds, cones, water points, cornfields, totally unrelated thoughts, that god damn hill after the 11th mile and my headphones falling out of my ears. Ultimately, I gave up and just hoped I’d make my A Goal.
Then, suddenly, after the 12th mile water point, I was headed to the finish. I don’t know why it always seems sudden to me, as if I haven’t been running for the past two fucking hours, but somehow it always sneaks up on me. My feet hurt and my back hurt and I was tired, but it didn’t matter. I rounded the last turn, turning down the final straightaway to the finish and smiled.
I crossed the finish with an official time of 1:52:21
It’s not my fastest half – that was a 1:50:30 fueled by divorce-inspired rage on a totally flat course – but you guys, it felt so, so good to run. I’m so glad I signed up for this race. August be damned, it was a fantastic run. Plus, I’ve been wanting to do a smaller half marathon for years and this local race was the perfect opportunity.
I’ll probably run it again. It’ll probably be miserably hot and I’ll spend 13.1 miles cursing myself, but, hey, that’s what runners do.