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Race Report: Eugene Women’s Half Marathon

First time all three kiddos have seen me in a running race. No wonder I have such a big-for-me smile on my face!

The title in my iTunes of my playlist for Sunday's half-marathon was titled Return to Eugene because the race--the inaugural Eugene Women's Half--covered much of the same paths as the Eugene Marathon I ran last year. Despite setting my personal best at that 26.2'er, I wasn' t sure I could PR at 13.1. I was hoping to run 1:45, which would mean averaging 8:00-miles. I was motivated and excited, yet my workouts during the week--8 x 800 and a 3-mile tempo run--told me my pace wasn't quite up to snuff. My numbers weren't radically off, just enough to let in a scintilla of doubt. Yet a great night's sleep, no race jitters, no aches or twinges in my legs or glutes, and beautiful weather meant conditions were prime for a PR.

I felt relaxed at the low-key starting area, chatting with several runners including a Masters runner who had come down from Anchorage and Laurie, the cutest mother of  four ever. I had met a bunch of fun moms the afternoon before at my reading (see photo below), and one of them, Meredith, and I started running together. We both wanted to go out conservatively--in 2007, I blew my legs out in the Hippie Chick Half by going out way too fast. Yet we marveled at how effortless our 8:20 pace felt. Like we could run it all day long, barely breaking a sweat. Ahhhh, gotta love adrenaline and caffeinated gum!

I picked up the pace earlier than planned, amping up my speed to 8:05 by the first mile-marker banner, then settling to my 8:00 target soon thereafter. The race "crowd" was ideal--sparse enough to ensure no bobbing, weaving, or jostling, yet enough runners to keep the competitive juices flowing. As the course veered off near mile 4 to make a little loop, we got to see the leaders dash past us, an inspiring jolt. I eddyied out around 4.5 to take in my first GU and some nuun-flavored water from my belt. When I resumed running, I felt as fresh as a filly. I was surprised, but went with it, quickly catching up with the cluster of runners I'd been with before. I spied a man running in a pink skirt, bleach-blonde wig, and sparkly bra over his shirt, and I immediately set my sights on running him down. I'm not a fan of guys running women's events (call it a hypocritical bias), so I was irked by his get-up. About 1.5 miles later, as I gunned past him, I gave him a snide piece of advice, "If you'd shaved, you could run faster."

I kept the pedal down, and I was proud of myself for gaining ground whenever the mostly table-flat course went up an incline. I averaged 7:56 and 7:54 for miles 6 and 7, yet the week's self-doubt creeped into my head as I wondered if I'd be able to maintain my pace. I did a quick mental-scramble and called up a tactic my pal Julie of the Chubby Mommy Club loves: I mentally "chunked-up" the remainder of the race. Math is never my strong suit, but I figured I had two 5Ks left. Somehow that seemed more do-able than the second half of a half-marathon.

But as the group of women I'd been running with gained ground on me, and a few more passed me, I knew my pace was dropping. Still, 8:09s or 8:14s weren't too dispiriting. On long runs, I often have a strong finishing kick, so I reassured myself I could pull some sub-8:00s at the end to salvage my 1:45. I paused at mile 9 for another fuel break. Starting to run again, I was a mare, not a young horse fresh out of the gate. I admitted to myself I was also disappointed for another reason: This was the first running race my entire family was at (somewhere!), and I had pinned my hopes on them being at mile 9 or 10. Some of my sizzle fizzled when I didn't spy any familiar faces in the pockets of spectators.

Basically I hung on for the rest of the race, buoyed in the final 1.5 miles by encouraging one young runner to stay on my shoulder. I finally spied the fam about 150 meters from the finish line, but by then it was too little, too late. (Note to self: Give them a few cheering pointers between now and the Portland Marathon!) I crossed the line in 1:48:00 exactly, an 8:14-mile pace. It placed me 10th in my age group (a tough crowd to beat in Tracktown, U.S.A.!) and in the top 100 (92nd) overall. I'm proud of my effort, and feel it sets me up well for my marathon in five weeks.

Playing Monday morning quarterback on the race, I decided I hadn't repeated my previous mistake of going out too fast. I just had to test myself to see if I could maintain an 8:00-mile pace for an extended period of time, and I discovered, at this point, the answer is no. I also realized, though, that I can test a pace and if it proves too aggressive, I can still pull through with a proud-of-it finish. Important lessons learned, and I've tucked them into my (running skirt) pocket.

The fun-and-fast posse from Washougal, WA, at Saturday's RLAM reading

33 responses to “Race Report: Eugene Women’s Half Marathon

  1. OK SBS, i do have a cow bell and will get the kids pumped…something else i also see in these posts is that you truly LOVE what you are doing…again, mental game is a huge part and for all the years and races you have run it still is a joy for you to do it…running for you isn’t a chore – it is a pleasure, a laugh, a motivator, a passion…each race is different and each race is new…there is were you get your kick and power – truly a characteristic of a soulful runner…looking sooooo forward to being there with the kids! jo.

  2. I have been anxious to read this race report. Your time goal and actualtime were pretty identical to mine. My half PR was from 2006 and it was a 1:49. I was hoping for a 1:45, but ended up with a 1:47:42 I, too, was happy with my effort, but still a little bummed that I wasn’t in the shape I want to be- yet!! I still am hoping for a 1:45 in the near future!! Good job and I love that you learned that you could still finish strong. That is an important lesson! I love training virtually with you and I think it is great that our PR’s are so similar. One of these days we need to go for a “real” run together! Go champy!!

  3. Awesome! I’m so excited to hear you took a couple breaks for fuel. I’m running my first marathon I’ve been doing the Galloway walk a minute of every mile. Am planning on walking through the aid stations at the event itself, but have recently been having some doubts about that strategy. Makes me feel better that a much more seasoned runner is taking a slow down & still finishing so strong.

  4. Your recap was an awesome account of an awesome race! It was so great to meet you at packet pick up. Earlier that day I had shared that chapter you read with my husband in a discussion about my goal for the race. I wondered what it would feel like to empty the tank. The pressure was on when you read that chapter. It worked, I PR’d!

  5. Sarah, Julie D and Meredith are both sweet good friends of mine. I so wanted to be at that race to cheer them on! I’m running my first half on Oct 17…can’t wait! I’m loving the RLAM book right now and wondering, where do I get one of those RLAM shirts?

  6. P.S. I trust you gals all noticed Phoebe, my older daughter, is sporting a Run Like a Mother tee!! It’s the size Small we sell–and it’s not huge on her 8-year-old frame!

    1. I swear by Jolt Gum before long runs and races. During my last marathon, I even chewed two extra pieces DURING the race. I don’t do caffeine in my non-running life. Just in the gum for an added kick. There are respected studies showing caffeine really helps an athlete overcome pain and push harder. GNC stores sell it–Spearmint flavor is tasty.

  7. What a great recap and whoa are you fast! Can I chime in about having your family see you and the tough logistics of it all? I have always been the spectator, up until Oct when I’ll do my first race. But, being a spectator is tough stuff–I joke with my husband that he thinks running a marathon is hard, try rounding up the kids to see him start and then two more times–somewhere near mile 10, mile 23 and then as soon after crossing as possible. I’m as exhausted as he is (almost!), but when I see his face when he sees us, I know that it’s worth the effort. And the kids got it down now. So, I can see where not seeing your fam when you hoped would sap your sizzle a bit. I’m still trying to get over the fact that at my first race coming up my family won’t be there to see me (scheduling woes), especially now that I’ve broken the boys in on how to be enthusiastic spectators! Great job on the half and I’ll bet you’ll kick butt at the marathon!!

    1. Oh, Jo, that’s a big bummer your race-prepped boys won’t be able to see you race! But I’m sure your race next month won’t be your last, so they can catch you again.
      Thankfully a good friend (also named Jo!) is going to help my husband ferry the kids around during Portland Marathon. Well, they actually might only watch me in one spot, but she’ll get them to rally. I’m all about cowbells during a race…

      Good luck next month!

  8. Great job on your race!! I still get teary reading about it and have so many emotions left from the race. Thank you again for letting me run with you for the 1st little bit! Thanks for your words of encouragement! Thanks for inspiring me! And if I had a running skirt, I’d pack all the lessons learned from this last half in there too 🙂 Filing in my brain and little zipper pocket of my capris for now!

    1. Oh, I tell you: No matter how I do in a race, I’m emotional afterward. I made the mistake, I think, of reading my book after I got back to the hotel (kids were swimming in pool, so I had one eye in book, one on kids)–it’s Francine Prose’s book about Anne Frank. I was waterworks, crying into towel wrapped around my neck!
      Definitely do NOT beat yourself up over the half, Meredith: H2C took it out of you. As I wrote to Christina on Facebook wall today: Gotta give yourself ample recovery after a race. Dear Julie D. can attest: Skirt Chaser 5K thrashed her legs the evening before long training run. Go easy on your mind, and on your body!!

  9. Great run and race report… my fav was “fresh as a filly”, i’ll be sure to use that. Sounds like you are on track for a awesome October marathon, thanks for letting us follow along…

  10. great race, Sarah!! 10th in age group is freakin awesome!! thank you for ‘pacing’ me. I was amazed at how dialed in you were to your pace. I love what you said to dressed-up guy. thanks for your inspiration. 10.10.10 is our day.

  11. Sarah, it was great to meet you at the packet pick up, and thanks for signing my book!
    I had a great race. I have done two half marathons before, but both were walking. This one was almost entirely running and I finished in less than 2:40 so I was very proud of myself.
    I too need to give my family some pointers on where to be for cheering – they were there at the end which was nice, but somewhere in the middle would have been really great.
    Next goal – a triathlon!

    1. AWESOME job, Andrea. Way to RUN the whole thing. I trust you will boast to everyone you meet this week!
      I felt the layout of course wasn’t conducive to family being near halfway point. Jack and kids tried to find me in the park near mile 9 (where I was daydreaming they’d be), but they got there a few minutes too late. Then had to scramble to get back toward finish.
      But, yes, toward finish was nice…but not where I needed them at ALL. I saw one woman whose family parked ON THE HIGHWAY near mile 8. She seemed delighted to wave at them as she ran past….

  12. So much of it is in the mind, isn’t it? I enjoyed reading your psychological race report. That’s an impressive finishing time, too–well done! Your kids have a speedy mom.

  13. Excellent report, excellent race, excellent finish!! What I took from this post is that… 1) need to give my family pointers as I have a half coming up, my 3rd this year, and the only one where my entire family will be there, and 2) remind myself that as long as I finish, I will be proud!

    1. DEFINITELY have them make posters!! There was one cute family (dad and two little girls) whom I saw twice on course. They had a “Go MOMMY go” sign, and it was awesome. I also think the thing to do is to TELL them how much their cheering will mean to you. Phoebe, my reserved older daughter, watched me run Eugene Marathon last year. She had a sign, but she barely even moved it when I went past…and she basically whispered her encouragement. For my upcoming marathon, I’m telling my kids to GO BANANAS when they see me as I’ll need it to get my engines re-revved!

      You and I know how to pump racers up, but I realize it doesn’t come naturally to kids, surprisingly enough. At least not my kids. (Or husband. Argh!)

  14. Great report and great race! You know, that sparkly topped bra guy is the one in my race report that I passed and told if he “wore a sports bra he could go faster”, wonder how many “encouraging” (ha ha) comments he received?

    You were an inspiration & motivation to me. The thing that kept me going was knowing that it would only be a matter of time before you caught me and I couldn’t let it be before the first half because then I wouldn’t be able to go with you to the end. So, thanks for the push even if you didn’t realize you were doing it.

    Also, thanks for thinking I’m cute… 😛

    1. Laurie-
      Yes, as I read your race report, I figured it was same guy. By halfway point, he was probably ready to ditch the wig and women’s clothes and run NAKED! ha, ha.

      LOVE that you ran fast for “fear” of me passing you and then having to keep up. Ha, ha. Not likely speedster! It’s amazing how paces vary–you got me BEAT on your track workouts, but my pride is pleased our times weren’t tooooooo far off.


  15. Way to Chunk It Up, Sarah! You’re pretty fast for a mare, I’d say, and an inspiration to those of us who usually just run one 5K at a time. Enjoyed your reading, as usual, and sorry I missed you at the finish line. You finished waaay too early for me to even find you! Good luck with Portland.

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