Wow – I can’t believe I’ve got my third half marathon in the books, and what a race it was! I signed up for the 50 Yard Finish Half Marathon months ago and have been looking forward to crossing a finish line in the middle of a football stadium ever since. And while this race was not without its hiccups, it was by far the coolest race experience I’ve ever had.
Starting with packet pickup, which was in the Buffalo Bills’ indoor training facility. I drove out to Orchard Park on Friday evening after work to pick up my race bag and check out the scene. I don’t know if it got busier, but it was fairly quiet while I was there, and I was able to breeze in and out in just a few minutes.
Race morning dawned hot and sunny, and hubby and I loaded Peanut into her car seat for an early morning drive to the stadium. We were running late – of course, with a young toddler – and got to the stadium in just enough time for me to stroll up to the starting line. Before I even had a chance to appreciate the fact that I was about to embark on my third 13.1, they started playing the Bills’ song (“Shout!”) and we were off.
We started out on the roads near the stadium but soon veered into more charming territory as we entered the Village of Orchard Park.
Somewhere in the Village (this is not my home turf) I encountered these guys:
They were running the half while dribbling soccer balls. A fun tribute to the World Cup and they were having a fantastic time… but obviously I couldn’t let them beat me. I snapped a few pictures and pulled away.
More on-course entertainment, for me anyway: this sign advertising papillon puppies for sale! This wouldn’t amuse everyone, but I couldn’t help but burst into laughter, thinking of Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, one of Peanut’s favorite books, in which Fancy Nancy attempts to convince her family that they should get a papillon, because papillons are “so posh.” As I ran by the sign I kept hearing Nancy’s voice in my head declaring, “My family will see how happy we’ll be with a papillon puppy.”
Shortly after considering adopting a papillon for myself, I broke into my fuel. My strategy was to eat half of my Honey Stingers at mile 6 and the other half after mile 10, for a kick to the finish line. I slurped while I ran and I’m sure I looked utterly graceless, but whatever. The honey gave me a burst of energy for the long slog through the middle of the race.
As soon as I finished my snack, we approached the dreaded Chestnut Ridge Park. (It was a little bit warmer than the last time I was there.) I don’t know if I can really convey how much I was not looking forward to this part of the run. The entire race already felt uphill – from the starting line onward, it felt as though we were just running straight uphill with occasional breaks to take three or four strides on flat ground before the incline picked up again. I figured it probably couldn’t get any worse, but if the hills were going to kill me anywhere, it would be in Chestnut Ridge.
Then again, I also had a reason to want to be in Chestnut Ridge… because this face was waiting for me there! Hubby and Peanut were parked just before mile 7, ready to cheer me on to the second half of the race. I finally cruised up to the parking lot on Newton Road, hubby stuck his hand out for a high five, Peanut shouted “Mama!” and I was on my way. Seeing those two gave me a big burst of energy.
Just after I lost sight of hubby and Peanut (they headed into the park to find a steep hill to hike up in preparation for an adventure we have planned for next weekend – details on that soon) I saw mile marker 7, which was almost as welcome a sight as their faces… because it meant I was officially past the halfway point. And still feeling good. I started to consider whether I’d be able to meet my ambitious goal of finishing in under 2 hours, 30 minutes.
I wasn’t wearing a Garmin and didn’t have much of a race strategy, other than to run the entire distance (except for water stops at the aid stations) at as consistent a pace as possible. For awhile near the beginning of the race, I’d been running just behind the 2:20 pacer, but I’d long lost sight of him, which was fine. I wanted to PR (my previous best half marathon time was 2:37:02) but, given the conditions – the hills and the heat – I would have been happy with any time under 2:40. I know my normal pace, though, and I knew that I was doing well with my goal of running the entire distance, so I thought a time around 2:30 wasn’t completely out of the question.
We left the park and headed into open countryside. I buckled in and distracted myself with the scenery, which was beautiful. I needed the distraction, because I felt a blister starting to develop on one of my feet, and I was starting to chafe a little from the heat. At mile 8 I grabbed a water and heard the aid station volunteers shouting to hold onto the cup – so, unsure why, I ran with a little plastic cup in my hand for the next two miles. At mile 10 I realized what had happened – the aid station was out of cups and water. I scooped a little bit of melted ice and asked the volunteers if mile 12 had water. They informed me that that aid station had also run out of supplies, but more were on their way. I said a silent prayer that the water would be there by the time I arrived, then let rage carry me through the next two miles. (Permit me to vent for a moment? I might be a mid-to-back-of-packer, but I paid just as much for the race as the guy who won, and running out of water does an inexcusable disservice to runners who have paid good money and have every right to expect the support they were promised. Especially on a day like Saturday – I saw more than one ambulance on the course, and I ran by one runner who was stretched out on the grass being treated by EMTs. I made the decision not to carry water with me, as did many other runners, because aid stations were promised every two miles. There must be water. To run out is poor planning on the best day and is downright dangerous on a hot, hilly course with little to no shade. Okay, jumping off the soapbox.) In any event, it turned out okay. By the time I arrived at mile 12, so had their fresh supplies, and I was able to grab two little cups of water to get me through the final mile and change.
Approaching the stadium, woo to the hooooooooo! I have never been so excited to see a football field in my life. We ran down the long drive, around the fieldhouse and…
Headed into the tunnel! I could hear the finish line party up ahead, and I could see the turf. I was so gosh darn excited. As I ran through the tunnel I felt a burst of energy and I kicked up my speed to a full-on sprint.
But I still managed to capture a picture from the endzone as I ran to the finish line! This was the coolest racing experience ever. Bar none.
A volunteer hung a medal around my neck, I grabbed a bottle of water, and then staggered off to enjoy the finish line party with hubby and Peanut, who had seen my epic sprint through the finish line (and the embarrassing way I leapt in the air and screamed after crossing).
We chilled in the tent for awhile, then wandered around the endzone. As cool as an experience as this was for me, I think it was even cooler for hubby. He’s a life-long Bills fan and he compared the feeling of being out on the field to visiting the Sistine Chapel. I said, “I don’t know it was as great as all that,” and he solemnly replied, “For me it was.” I haven’t decided whether I’ll be running this again next year, but hubby will be at that finish line whether I’m crossing it or not. He’s not missing the opportunity to wander around his favorite team’s field again.
I crossed the line at 2:35:18 by the clock. I was pretty pleased with that time, given the hills and the heat – just to PR in those conditions felt like an accomplishment. So you can imagine my surprise when I got word of my official chip time…
Final time 2:24:30.
Under 2:30 – and well under – and almost thirteen minutes shaved off of my last half marathon! I knew the race had started late, but they must have started running the clock when we were supposed to begin – that’s the only way to account for the difference in my chip and gun times. To not only beat my goal time, but smash it, on a hilly course in the baking sun… that feels good indeed.
How was your weekend? Any races run or goals achieved? Spill!