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Race Report: Happy Girls Run Half-Marathon

Cyndie racing through the sagebrush at the Happy Girls Run Bend Half
Enjoying the trails, hills, and beautiful scenery Bend offered all the Happy Girls (thanks Marianne for taking the pic)

This race report written by guest mother runner Cyndie Pelto, a self-admitted half-marathon addict. (You may recognize Cyndie as one of the main helpers in shipping our Boston Marathon commemorative tees.) SBS recruited Cyndie to write this recap because, despite being at the Happy Girls Run Bend race expo for a third year in a row, Sarah can’t ever run the race because she’s MC’ing at the finish line.

There’s a women’s race series here in Oregon called Happy Girls Run with the clever tagline of, “Do what makes you smile!” Currently my top three smile-makers are my family, coaching Girls on the Run, and running with my girlfriends. I recently finished the Train Like a Mother Half-Marathon: Own It plan, nailing my goal time of 1:50, which made me super-happy. Two weeks later, I paced my BRF, Amy, to her first 13.1 finish; eight days later, I ran Rock ‘N’ Roll Portland half with a crazy-fun posse of gals. (Like Sarah said, I’m a bit of an addict…)

Me and the kiddos, post-race.  My son was under the impression we were in town for a Baseball Tournament.
Me and the kiddos, post-race. My son was under the impression we were in town for a Baseball Tournament.

No shocker, then, when my family was headed to our son’s baseball tournament in Bend, a lovely town in the high desert of central Oregon, my mind immediately sprang to the Happy Girls Run Bend half. I waited anxiously for the baseball game schedule to come out. As luck would have it, my son didn’t have to play until later that day--and I found myself registered for my third half-marathon in as many weeks! [Editor’s note: that’s four in five weeks, but who’s keeping track?] I figured why not: I was trained, healthy, and eager to see how elevation, hills, and trails would play a role in my pace. I was also happy that one of my best running buddies, Marianne, would be running the first half with me as part of the half relay she was doing with her sister.

Sunday morning started out cold and rainy. Maybe it was being on vacation with my parents and family, but I didn’t feel properly prepared for this race: I’d left my hand-held water bottle back home, hadn’t packed a long-sleeve tech shirt, and just didn’t feel like my mental game was locked in. I was wearing a cotton (!) shirt over my tank to stay warm, carrying a regular water bottle in my hand, and was a little bit more than worried about how the elevation was going to affect me (not to mention the horrible night’s sleep and even worse stomach issues pre-race).

Super Happy to meet up with one of my best running buds, Marianne Wilhelm.  We've tackled a lot of races and PRs together.
Super Happy to meet up with one of my best running buds, Marianne Wilhelm. We've tackled a lot of races and PRs together.

All those concerns washed away with the scattered raindrops when I arrived at the race. I met up with Marianne and her sister, and began to feel the excitement-butterflies flutter in my stomach in anticipation of the race distance I crave so much. Lots of smiles, hugs, posing for pics, then we headed to the start line.

Marianne and I ran the first half together, and I was so happy to have her by my side. My goal was to come in around two hours so we started out at a conservative pace, sticking right behind the 9:30 pace guys (the “Handsome Pacers” courtesy of Picky Bars), who were wearing sparkly skirts  and being super-supportive of all the women runners. At first I thought it was my imagination, then I realized the race truly did start by immediately climbing a giant hill. It was a far cry from the flat, fast halfs I had run in the last few weeks.

Whenever I started talking too much to my buddy, I found it hard to get my breathing under control so that shut me up (and not much does!).  I kept wondering if it would be this hard to breathe the whole race. I didn’t know if it was the hill or the altitude, but I kept plugging along.  Around mile 4, we summited a bluff and were rewarded with a spectacular view—so starkly beautiful compared to the lush Willamette Valley. Seeing the runners winding through the sage-brush-dotted trails brought a smile to my face, and a sudden ease to my breathing. And as luck would have it, the sun was showing glimpses of making an appearance. As we climbed hill after hill, I found myself really enjoying the challenge: It felt good to push hard, then let go as we sailed back downhill.

Picking up last-minute tips from SBS at the Expo on Saturday
Picking up last-minute tips from SBS at the Expo on Saturday

Since I’d only registered for the race days before, I hadn’t studied the route; I was pleasantly surprised when we turned from paved paths onto the dirt trails. I’ve never run on a trail before (I know: hard to believe for an Oregon runner) but I’d been wanting to try it. It wasn’t technical enough to intimidate me, just enough to where I needed to stay focused on where I placed my feet.

At the midway point, Marianne and I had kept the 9:30 pacers firmly behind us. We met up with her sister, stopped to take their pic, hand off my extra tee, and wave bye. I was feeling good, with plenty of energy and my breathing under control, so I figured it was worth trying to push harder the second half. It had to be mostly downhill, right? I knew my ability to push my pace in the second half was still there, thanks to all those negative-split training runs I had tackled in the Own It plan. I checked my Garmin, liked what I saw (8:45 pace), and took off. We were on a narrow stretch of dirt path, and I felt like I was constantly apologizing for weaving in and out to pass other happy girls. I tried to do it gracefully, but I wasn’t sure of trail running etiquette.  (Probably should read up on that, as I sense a new love brewing.)

Post-race brews with Mom and Dad, visiting from St. Louis
Post-race brews with Mom and Dad, visiting from St. Louis

As we racers made our way down out of the hills and into town, I passed 10 Barrel Brewing at mile 10 and yelled out to two guys cheering on the corner, “It is so not fair to have to run by this place!” I was ready to stop for a giant piece of pizza, washed down with something yummy. Instead, I said to myself, “only 5K left” and I turned on the gas. I was ready to be done, so I pushed my pace to sub-8:00. One last rather long climb up to Deschutes Brewery  (again, yum!) was hard, but I found a buddy to run with. We rounded the corner to find an awesome speedy downhill into Riverdale Park, finishing on a dirt trail, then a grassy field.  I loved the spectators and energy, which I needed since I had pretty much spent what I had at

that point; I loved hearing SBS cheering everyone in, announcing our names as we finished. I did a leap across the finish and immediately saw Marianne (beer already in hand, good girl). I was SUPER-thrilled with my time of 1:58, and I placed 17th in my age group, 69th overall! The sun was shining brightly, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. More smiles, hugs, and happy girls!

Now, just a few days later, Marianne, some other gal-pals, and I are already signed up for the inaugural Happy Girls Run half-marathon in Forest Grove, Oregon, about 25 minutes outside Portland. In addition to half-marathons, I’m hooked on Happy!

5 responses to “Race Report: Happy Girls Run Half-Marathon

  1. Cyndie! I was the gal that ran with you toward the end. You were awesome! I ran the second half as a relay and you were with me most of the time. And I thought I was kicking butt on my 1/2! So much so that my relay partner didn’t get to the finish line in time to cross it with me, but I had you to cross it with! In fact, there is a great pic on the HG website of us crossing together. Congratulations on a race very well done! Sue Henderson

  2. Wahoo!! You’re not just half crazy.. you’re about to be full crazy too. 🙂 Great race recap Cyndie. Can’t wait to do the Forest Grove one in September.

  3. Yay! Great race recap and a really fun race. I loved it and was happy we got to run the first 6.5 together. You are a rockstar Cyndie. And SBS, you MC’ing was awesome:) Hope you will be in Forest Grove too!

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