Before Sunday, I hadn’t toed a starting line since November 23, 2014. That breaks down to 448 days, nearly 15 months. So maybe it was good my best running friend, Molly, and I take too long warming up, performing coach-prescribed strides, lunge matrix, and flexibility drills, leaving us to dash to the half marathon starting area with only about a minute to spare before the start!
In a light drizzle under grey skies, I cross the starting mat to run 13.1 miles through the countryside a mere 20 minutes west of downtown Portland. Molly and I had agreed to run separately but before we even hit the 2-mile mark, I hear her upbeat voice say, “I’m used to running beside you, so that’s what I’m going to do!” On the drive over, we had joked we were Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan so it felt right to run together.
We slog it out up a nearly steady, mile-long hill to Mile 4, then slow to a walk to drink water from the aid station and ingest a GU Energy Gel. (Root Beer for her; new Cucumber Mint down my gullet!) Molly takes off down the backside of the hill, while I take care not to jam my pin-and-plate ankle. (Bri, the beloved coach I’m working with to train for Boston Marathon had cautioned me to take it easy on the descents.) The scenery is lovely: wide-open, verdant fields dotted with gorgeous weathered barns and bordered by fir trees in the far distance. An utterly charming cottage on the left; a row of extravagantly espaliered fruit trees on the right.
The plan is to ease into the race, then start dropping the pace every few miles. But my coach and I hadn’t bargained on how hilly the rest of the two-loop course is. I ditch the plan, replacing it with, “Stay at a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) 5 until Mile 10, then dial up the pace for final 5K.” I focus on effort, rarely looking down at my GPS. In the 448 days since my last race, I have forgotten how much mental intensity and resolve it takes to keep my foot continually on the proverbial gas. Hill and after hill, and I still have to maintain the intensity on the flats. I keep my gaze forward, watching Molly in her aqua blue tee nimbly cut a path through runners in more Valentine’s Day-appropriate hues.
A major hill greets runners at the end of the first loop, which I quickly realize means it’ll also taunt us on the approach to Mile 12 before turning toward the finish line. While I remain committed to running RPE 5, I give myself a new goal: sprint for the finish after that motherloving hill. A misplaced aid station means I ingest my next GU (Jet Blackberry) a half-mile before following it with water. A Tastefully Nude GU at Mile 11 provides a much-needed carb-boost, and I conquer the long-dreaded hill more quickly than I anticipated (read: dreaded).
Turning the corner, I set my sights on a few male runners ahead of me. Giddy-up! As if on cue, Ariana Grande comes on my playlist, encouraging me to Break Free. A quick glance at my GPS tells me I’m finally breaking 9:00. The musical motivation continues as Alicia Keys tells me I’m a Girl on Fire, and that’s what I feel like as I hit the track for a half-lap approaching the finish arch. Molly high-5s me after I cross the finish line, and I bask in a sweaty glow I realize I’ve missed these last 14 months.
The conclusion to this half-marathon race report: After nearly 1,800 feet (!!) of climbing, Molly finished in 2:05:10; I ran 2:07:30. We finished 4th and 5th in our age group of 21 women.