Race Recap: Ghost Town Half Marathon 2015

I ran the inaugural Ghost Town Half Marathon yesterday, May 25. The course was on the Ghost Town Trail, a flat crushed limestone rails to trail, from Dilltown to Black Lick, with a net elevation loss. It was near Indiana and was an easy hour's drive from Pittsburgh. The course followed a creek and was very pretty. It was 75% shady, and it did go past what I assume are remnants of a ghost town. There were all sorts of critters on the trail. Some people saw two separate snakes, but they must have been chased away by the time I came through. I saw lots of millipedes, butterflies, and even a red salamander--I had to keep my eyes on the trail to keep from stepping on them!

I ran this race exactly like I wanted to so was happy with how I did, even though my pace didn't reflect it. My goal was to run the first few miles at an easy pace, then pick it up to a moderate pace in the middle, and then "unleash the speed" for the final 5K. Given the heat, my plan was to run by effort and heart rate rather than pace. My second goal was to be mentally strong the whole race, to not quit when it got tough, to stay in each mile, and to fight for every split.

Race Outfit
I wore my Skirt Sports Gym Girl Ultra Skirt (review here) and Lululemon Sculpt Tank in Regal Plum, Energy Bra in Clear Mint/Grey, and run hat in grey stripe. This was a perfect outfit for a long, hot run. The skirt stayed put, and I didn't have to adjust it once. Everything was very comfortable and nothing chafed or caused me problems.

Packet pick-up was at Saylor Park, in Homer City, just outside Black Lick. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw I was about the 10th car there, and I was happy to see other runners. While I got a registration confirmation, I never got an email about the race. So I wasn't even sure there would actually be a race! I was happy to see it was a real race, though I was prepared to run 13.1 miles, race or no race.

There were bathrooms (basically, a permanent porto potty) there and at the start line. I went to pick up my bib and got handed a timing chip with the number 48 on it that I was to attach to my shoe with twistie ties. I was happy that I didn't have to wear a bib, since I don't like wearing bibs. Seeing that I was 48, I looked at the registration printout and thought there were likely only about 100 or so people registered (per the race results, there were 86). I immediately worried about finishing last and made it one of my goals to not finish last.
Before the race
There were shuttles to take us to the start line, and we were all wondering just how far we were running that day since the shuttle seemed to take a half hour to get to the start line. There was a pavilion there, and we all hung around waiting for the second shuttle with the rest of the runners. The vibe was very friendly and low-key. It felt more like we were all going for a group run than running a race.

My Garmin recorded the temp as 72F at race start, but it didn't feel too hot in the shade. Plus, the humidity was low in the early morning.

We all knew the race was starting late when it was 9 a.m.--the race start time--and the second shuttle wasn't there yet. Finally the shuttle came, but then everyone on it had to use the bathroom, so we had to wait for them. There wasn't a starting mat, so we all needed to start together. Finally we all walked in a group out to the 13 mile marker, about .25 miles up the trail, where the race was to start. After a moment of silence in observance of Memorial Day, the race director basically just said, "Ready, set, go!" and we were off.

Miles 0-3
Mile 1: 10:49 | Mile 2: 11:02 | Mile 3: 11:07
Immediately, the fast runners broke away so that those of us at the back of the pack had the entire trail to ourselves for the whole race, which was nice. For the first time ever in a race, I brought music, but I didn't plan on listening to it until it started to feel hard. Well, when you are by yourself with a few others on a trail, all you can hear is everyone's breathing, so I started my music in the first mile. I thought I wouldn't enjoy or appreciate the scenery if I were listening to music, but I was wrong. I still really enjoyed the course and made sure to look at everything, but the music really helped me keep my head in the game and stay focused.

My plan was to keep my heart rate in the 161-166 range, about 85-88% of my max heart rate. Well, that just didn't happen. The first few miles were in that range but then I ran the rest at a higher heart rate than I wanted. My effort felt moderate, though, so I wasn't too worried. The first three miles flew by.

There were three water stops, the first at mile 3. They gave out bottles of water, which was great because I drank a bunch then poured the rest over my head, neck, and back. They really helped keep me cool.

Miles 4-6
Mile 4: 11:21 | Mile 5: 11:38 | Mile 6: 11:54
I kept trying to keep my heart rate stable, even if it wasn't as low as I wanted, and while I did that for the most part, my pace just kept slowing. I was determined to run by heart rate, though, so I wasn't too worried about my pace. From mile 4 on, my heart rate was in the 170s. I knew that 171 and above was 90% of my max heart rate, my V02 max zone, and that I needed to just try keeping my heart rate down or I'd be in trouble.

At this point, I was still feeling good and still enjoying the course. I was just running each mile as I'd planned, without thinking of how far I had to go. While the trail was mostly shady, there were sections in the direct sun, and those really zapped my energy. But overall, I felt like I was running just like I planned to and was pretty positive.

The second water stop came at mile 6, and again I drank a bunch of the water and poured the rest over me, this time completely wetting all my clothes. At that point I was pretty hot, but I have to say it wasn't the "I'm hot and dying!" feeling like in the Pittsburgh race, and I felt like I was dealing with the heat pretty well. I do think all the hot and humid runs the past three weeks helped me acclimate. Also, I took a Salt Stick cap before the race and halfway through, and again I had no stomach problems. I really think they help!

Mile 7-9
Mile 7: 12:18 Mile 8: 11:40 Mile 9: 12:15
This race was going by really fast! I was doing a great job staying focused and mentally strong and keeping my heart rate stable. I was still feeling pretty good. There weren't any spectators and few people out on the trail besides us in the race. There were a few people on bikes with EMS shirts who kept riding back and forth to keep an eye on everyone, but basically it was just me out there putting in some good work. I really liked that! The crowds in the Pittsburgh race were fun to see and definitely helped me keep running when I wanted to walk, but I much prefer being by myself, especially when things get tough.

The last water stop came at mile 9, I think--maybe it was mile 10, and I took a break then. I had walked through the other two water stops, but in this one I walked a little longer. I had carried a towel around my wrist (a handana) and wet it with water then wiped off my whole face and neck, which was salty from sweat and dusty from the trail. That felt so good! I had carried a bottle filled with Nuun and had drank all of it by the last water stop, so instead of pouring the water over me, I just poured a little over my head then filled my water bottle with the rest of it. I got my heart rate down a bit on that walk and knew I had some work ahead of me.

Miles 10-13.1
Mile 10: 12:04 | Mile 11: 12:26 | Mile 12: 12:57 | Mile 13: 12:38 | final .1: 13:37
I felt like I could pick up the pace and got to work. It felt like I was doing a good job and putting more effort in, so it's frustrating that my pace doesn't reflect that. I started to pass people and ended up passing five people in that last 5K. It doesn't sound like a lot, but there weren't that many people to begin with. At this point, it was definitely feeling harder, but I just kept focusing, staying calm, and just kept fighting. Also at this point, many people were walking, which made me want to walk. I had a hat on and tilted my head down so that the brim covered my eyes and I couldn't see them.

I kept at it, but the last two miles...ugh. Mile 12 was tough for sure, but that last mile was just a killer and was really the first point in the race where I felt the fight start to go out of me. At mile 12.5, I actually took a very short walk break. I felt like I needed to in order to finish. But it was quick and when I started running again, I passed one more runner and just fought to keep running.

When I got to the point where the course left the trail and I knew there was only .1 to go, I tried hard to give it my all, but I had no gas left in the tank. I was done. My pace in that final push was 13:37, but my heart rate was 181, just short of my 184 max.

After I crossed the finish line, I basically fell to the ground while they cut off my time chip. Usually after races I try to keep walking to keep moving, but this time I just couldn't even stand up. I was so wiped out. I sat in the shade for a while drinking water before I could get up.

At a small pavilion nearby, they had bananas and packages of bagels and cinnamon bread, and I had both. I stayed a while to talk to the rest of the runners. Everyone that I talked to ran slower than they planned and thought it was pretty hard given it was an easy course.
After the race, happy to be done!

My official time was 2:35:24 (gun time, so probably only off by a few seconds). For all that I thought I ran a strong race and did a good job, damn if I didn't finish two minutes slower than the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Grrrr!!!! But that's okay. I knew my pace would be slower because of the heat, and I also promised myself I wouldn't get upset over my time, so I won't. 

My heart rate data tells a different story, though. It tells me that I was working hard the whole race. It also tells me that I met my goal of running the first few miles easy, the middle miles moderate, and then pushing hard at the end. It's just so frustrating that my pace doesn't reflect that!

I pulled the data for this race, the Just a Short Run (JASR) Half Marathon in March, and a training run from April. The JASR half was the one where I felt I did really well, running the first 10 at an easy effort and then finishing strong. Here's a comparison of those three, with the first numbers my heart rate and the second numbers pace. It shows how much higher my heart rate was in this race.

Also, I finished 69th out of 86, so I met my goal to not finish last!

Race Organization and Swag
This race was put on by the Gingerbread Man Running Co., an Indiana PA based running shoe store. This was the inaugural race, so there were a few mishaps like the late start. Communication could have been better. But overall, I thought they did a good job. I liked that they gave out whole bottles of water. They also had two GU stops, but I brought my own Clif gels so didn't have any GU. And the swag was really nice!

We got a cooler, a long sleeve Brooks tech tee, and a glass.
Cooler and glass
Long Sleeve Brooks Tech Tee

Overall and Lessons Learned
I thought this was a nice race on a nice course, and I liked that it was small and low-key. My main issue was the late 9 a.m. start, and then we were delayed another half hour, so it was pretty hot by the time we got going. I think it was around 80 when we finished. I'm not sure if it was the heat or that I didn't fuel properly after the race, but for the rest of the day I was completely wiped out. While I enjoyed the race, I probably would only do it again if the start time were earlier.

As with all races, I learned some things.

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