Holiday Half-Marathon Running Race Report

woman runner after half-marathon
Spoiler alert: I finish the race with a smile on my face!

The last few years, I've been lamenting lost speed. ("Speed" being a relative term, mind you.) As each year vanishes from the calendar, minutes have compounded on my race times. I couldn't believe I ever used to routinely finish at or below 1:50 for a half-marathon, and it seemed like sub-2:00 hours was becoming a slippery goal to grasp as well. Taking an honest look, I had to admit my times are now routinely 1:58 or 1:59. Fine times...just not what I'd been capable of three, four, or five years ago.

But thanks to numerous track workouts with my training partner, Molly, and core-strengthening barre-style classes at The Refinery, I decided I might have a glory-days-ish time in my (aging) body. So, at the urging of Molly and a few other friends, I jumped into the Foot Traffic Holiday Half, a popular Portland 13.1-mile race that was, oh, 4 days away from when I committed to running it. (Molly and I are both training for a January 19 half-marathon, so this impulsive decision wasn't quite as foolhardy as it sounds.)

So, after an abbreviated taper and a trip to a unique local craft store for some holiday-themed adornments (including a 2-foot, flannel, patchwork Christmas tree quilt), I was eagerly bouncing at the starting line with about 2,000 other racers. Surrounded by runners in reindeer antlers; elf hats; Santa beards; candy-cane-striped socks; blinking lights; and penguin costumes, I am giddy.

The 75-cent flannel tree I sported on my back.
The 75-cent flannel tree I sported on my back.

The gun sounds, and we are off. Fittingly, the first song on my playlist is titled YOUNGBLOOD. While the fluid flowing through my veins doesn't quite qualify as young, I feel surprisingly peppy and nimble as I dodge red- and green-outfitted runners as we zig and zag through narrow side streets. By the time we connect with the main thoroughfare that most of the out-and-back race is to be run on, I settle into a surprisingly comfortable 8:35 pace.

Not wanting to put too fine a point on it, I set my time goal as, "closer to 1:50 than 1:55," which translates to anywhere between 8:23 and 8:46 per mile. The misty chill makes for ideal running conditions for this Pacific Northwest gal, but I sense the quilted tree pinned to the back of my Saucony Sonic ViZi Vest might make me overheat so even before 2-mile marker, I toss my gloves at cheering-from-the-sidelines Molly.

The course wends its way north on a road I often trot; running along a familiar stretch of road lets me push my pace with confidence. A mile after Molly, I practice a trick honed in training that allows me to be more Zen without slacking off: Pretending my eyes are binoculars, I mentally twist them to narrow my field of vision. I'm still aware of my surroundings, but I'm less distracted by them.

The miles click by, my music, a Mile-4 Jet Blackberry GU, and orange Nuun fueling me just right. Never once do I think about letting my foot off the proverbial gas; not once do I second-guess my intentions or goal. I feel strong and at ease; I'm pushing the pace, but not to a place I immediately want to vacate. I'm exuberant.

After the turnaround, I jockey with a woman in a royal blue tee and another in a patterned skirt--the race has more than twice as many women running as men, and it's a delight to be surrounded by so many strong women. As we hit the lone hill of the race under the St. John's Bridge, I pass the two women I'd been trading leads with. Surging on a hill enhances the spring in my step. I gleefully high-5 Joanne, my kids' beloved kindergarten teacher, as she's heading out and I'm nearly Mile 8.

women after running half-marathon
Couldn't-be-cuter elves--then there's me--in finish area.

When I slow to a walk to take in another GU and more Nuun at Mile 8, Bryan, the husband of a mother runner friend, makes me laugh as he yells out, "SBS, I've been following that dang Christmas tree on your back this whole time; didn't realize it was you!"

Only occasionally glancing at my aqua-blue Soleus mini, I know my pace is staying pretty much where I want it. "Closer to 8:23 than 8:46," I silently repeat. Just before Mile 11, approaching the aid station where my friend Sharon is working, I shout out to her to pass me a bottle of Nuun I'd left on her porch. Forever thoughtful, Sharon remembers to exclaim, "Go, Champy, Champy, GO!"

One more GU, the Nuun, and I mentally hunker down to push through Mile 11, knowing adrenaline--and a slight downhill--will carry me through the final mile. Needing a boost, I encourage a few women to hang with me, but I don't get a taker until the final quarter-mile. Ultimately she sprints past me, but by then I'm busy whipping my arms in the air to get a cheer from the crowd. I'm in giddy-overdrive as stomp on the finish mats.

My official time ends up being 1:53:12--closer to 1:55 than 1:50. Yet I'm as jolly as the Santa and the elves I pose for pictures with. My mood stays elevated all afternoon (heck, ever since!), especially as I peruse my race stats on There, in the glow of the computer screen, I realize my Holiday Half finish is the fastest half I've run in almost 3.5 years. Ho, ho, ho!

runners after half-marathon race
All that running has made Santa more svelte--and more of a hipster.


17 responses to “Holiday Half-Marathon Running Race Report

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  2. Nice run, SBS! I forget how similar our “speed” is. 🙂 I have not raced a half marathon in 3 1/2 years and it was my first long race since the baby. I only did 3 weeks of speedwork, so I wasn’t sure where to set my time goal. I decided my perfect race goal would be a 1:50, next goal 1:55, final goal sub-2. I was happily surprised with a 1:52:41. Still not where I need to be to qualify for Boston, but getting me closer!:-) I love your race reports. They always make me feel I am right there with you! I ran the Eugene Holiday Half. It was beautiful! I hope to meet up with you sometime!

    1. Yowza, great way to jump back into racing post-babe, Kelly! I, too, hope our paths cross this year. I want to run Eugene WOMEN’s Half, but can’t find any details online. If you hear of any, pls let me know. xo

  3. It was so fun to see you out on the course – thanks for yelling at us!! 😉 Great race time too!! Bryan “enjoyed” racing with you too. 😉

    1. Did you share link with Bryan so he can see he got props in race report!? I loved seeing you and your gals out there, too, Julie. Happy 2014! xo

  4. Although I loved the reading the race report, my eyes were immediately drawn to your AWESOME saucony gloves!!! I WANT THOSE!! 🙂

  5. What an awesome post and what an awesome race!!! Congrats SBS!!!! I’m also running a half on the 19th and you can bet I’ll be thinking about this post to keep me mentally focused and strong!
    Go ‘gate! 😉

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