Race Recap: 2015 Just a Short Run (JASR) Half Marathon

Saturday, March 28, I ran the Just a Short Run (JASR) Half Marathon at North Park. The course is two loops of the five-mile lake loop I've done regularly on training runs (and was the course route for the Spring Thaw 10 miler I did last month) preceded by 3.1 miles that includes a big hill, the only significant hill in the course, though the lake loop is small rolling hills.

This was my 4th half marathon, 3rd race this year, and 3rd race this year in sub-freezing temps. Pittsburgh's seasonably cold temps mid-week gave way to an arctic blast at the end. When I woke Saturday morning, it was 14F and felt like 3.

This was a fantastic run--probably my best race ever!--and proved to me how ready I am for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

Pre-Race: 14 Degrees & Race Day Outfit
The "feels like 3" note on my weather app scared me enough to dress in all my cold weather layers that I've worn on the most bitter cold days. I wore fleece-lined tights with windproof pants over top; a warm, lightweight long sleeve top; a heavier weight running hoodie; a windproof jacket; cold weather socks; a hat; thin gloves; and mittens that flip open. All except the socks and mittens were from Lululemon. Their layers have kept me warm and comfy all winter long--and hold up very well to weekly washing--and they didn't fail me on this day either. I also brought my face mask but decided it wasn't cold enough to wear it.
Before the start of the JASR Half Marathon

I got to North Park early and found a parking space in a small lot close to the start line at the Boat House. I sat in my car to stay warm and to put on my bib (I use industrial strength magnets to hold my bib instead of pins, and they can be a pain to put on because they're so strong) and get my stuff ready. The race started at 8:35 a.m., so I left my car to head over around 8 a.m. While walking over, I realized I should use the bathroom and ducked into the Rose Barn, where registration was being held, to use the indoor bathrooms. Everyone had the same idea, and the line was really long. While waiting I took an energy gel and a Salt Stick cap. I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the start line in time, so at 8:20 I bailed on the line and headed over to the start. I found a porta potty with a short line and then got to the start line with about five minutes to spare. I saw Joanna and talked to her for a few minutes, did my dynamic warm-up stretches, and got in line at the end of the pack, behind the 11:27 pacer (for a 5:00 marathon).

Race Goals
My main goal was to practice the fueling strategies I posted about last week. I had to change some things because of the cold temps. I plan to carry a handheld bottle during the Pittsburgh Half Marathon but couldn't carry it during this race because my hands would be too cold carrying a bottle. So I wore a water belt instead and had my bottle filled with Nuun. My goal was to stop at the first few water stations and then use my own water bottle for the rest of the race. But the nozzle in my bottle froze, so I had to alter that plan a bit.

My training has been going so well that I've been thinking of changing my goal pace to something faster (maybe 10:55 instead of 11:00), but after talking with people I think it's better to keep a 11:00 pace and then increase after mile 10 if I'm feeling good. To practice that, my secondary goal was to run an easy pace until mile 10. If I felt good, I then planned to speed up to close to race pace (11:00), but only if I felt good. This was to be just a training run, and I didn't want to push it if my body didn't feel like it.

Miles 1-3
1: 11:44 (includes the McKinney Road hill), 2: 11:08, 3: 11:03
It was 16F at race start, but I really didn't feel cold. I thought the Spring Thaw race (9F) felt 100 times worse. At the start line I took out one of my gels and kept it in my hand since I planned to take it after 30 minutes and didn't want it to freeze. I love the flip-open mittens because I was easily able to hold a gel and keep my fingers warm under the mittens.

I ran the JASR 5K last year and have since run the route on training runs, so I was familiar with it. What surprised me was how easy the big hill up McKinney was. It's about a quarter of a mile and climbs 137 feet. Last year when I first experienced it for the 5K training, it felt like Mt. Everest. I kept behind the 11:27 pacer but could very easily have flown past the group. You could tell the runners who don't train on hills, who were wheezing and walking up the hill, while I was easily running up barely out of breath. It felt awesome! I did wonder, though, if I had overdressed as I quickly heated up and felt a bit hot. Later, though, I was happy for my layers. Once at the top, the 11:27 pacer took off on the downhill. He was flying! I could easily have kept up, but I reigned myself in. My goal was to go easy, so I slowed down and let the people I passed on the uphill pass me on the downhill. Per my fueling strategy, I took my first sips of Nuun 15 minutes in. I also walked through the first water stop about 15 minutes later. I had my Garmin set to show heart rate and tried to keep my heart rate close to my max easy heart rate or slightly above. I felt really good and could easily have gone faster, and it was a bit of a struggle to put the brakes on and let people pass me, but I kept to my strategy. I never looked at my pace until it showed me the split, and I was surprised my pace was so fast in miles 2 and 3. As we neared the 5K finish, I took my first gel and then walked through the second water stop.

Miles 4-8
4: 11:34, 5: 12:00 (includes the Ingomar Road hill), 6: 11:32, 7: 11:50, 8: 11:08
The 5K finish was at the Boat House, and after passing it I started the first 5-mile loop around the lake. I felt really strong, tackling all the hills with ease and keeping my heart rate easy. I walked through the next water stop and then planned to drink from my own bottle after that. On the hill up Ingomar Road, which is about a quarter mile and climbs 58 feet, I came up to Chelsea, who was running the 30K. She was cold and had recently completed a challenge to do 235 burpees in a row (!), so she was not feeling any love for the race. I kept to my fueling strategy to have a second gel after 45 minutes, which I warmed up in my hands 10 minutes prior to taking, and sipping on my Nuun every 15-20 minutes. As I came past the finish line at the Boat House to start my second loop, I felt really strong.

Miles 9-13.1
9: 11:20 (Ingomar Road hill), 10: 10:58, 11: 11:02, 12: 11:09, 13: 10:51, last .35: 10:10
As I headed out for the second loop, I could not believe how good I felt. I knew I was going to have a good race overall, and I knew I'd be able to start running faster. Somewhere in mile 9, though, my stomach started to get slightly upset, but it was so minor it didn't bother me. The last half of mile 9 was the Ingomar Road hill, and I practiced the strategy Amanda told me she used to get up the last hill in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon course. I focused on a target--in this case, construction cones--and mentally imagined the target was a magnet and was pulling me up. I did that for one target after another for the entire hill climb, and that climb was so easy! I felt like I sailed right up.

The wind picked up on this side of the lake, but when it did I simply put my hoodie up. With my windproof layers and hoodie over my hat, I really didn't feel the cold at all. I think I was the only one, though, because everyone has been talking about how brutally cold it was. This is why I love Lululemon's running gear!

I hit mile 10 at the top of the hill and took my last gel. It was really tough to get it down with my stomach a little upset and just not really wanting to make the effort. It took me a couple minutes to eat it all. That's when I realized my water bottle nozzle had frozen, so I had to walk to unscrew the lid and drink from the bottle. Once I put the bottle back together, I was ready to go! I sped up to what felt like a moderate pace and would occasionally check my Garmin to make sure my heart rate wasn't too high. I'm usually a slave to my Garmin and focus on my pace, but I actually didn't monitor my pace too much. So it was very interesting for me to see later that I was hitting my 11:00 race pace really well. Shortly after, my stomach pain/nausea increased. It wasn't debilitating and wasn't anything I couldn't handle, but it was there. I have never had stomach pain from eating Clif gels in training, so I think it's more likely from starting to push hard and running long than from the gel itself.

I kept sailing along, feeling strong, my breathing more heavy, the pace a bit tougher, but feeling really in control. I even slowed down for a minute to chat with a woman who I see walking her dogs at North Park all the time. At this point I knew that I had this race. I was almost done, and I knew I could finish strong. There was one small obstacle, at mile 12.5. I noticed my heart rate was nearing my max, and I was approaching the last small hill. Normally, I wouldn't even register it as a hill, but I was breathing and working really hard, and as I started the climb it felt really tough. I decided to walk for a minute just to get my heart rate down. I knew I hadn't been running the tangents well and had more than .6 miles to go, and I wanted to finish strong. It ended up being a really good decision, because after a minute I started running again and was able to really run strong.

I didn't feel like stopping to walk and unscrew my water bottle cap again, so I also walked through the last water station, though just for a few steps. And then I turned on all that I had left. I was my biggest cheerleader at that point and kept repeating to myself, "You got this! You're so close! This is hard but you can do it." I kept pushing hard and crossed the finish line at a 10:10 pace.

Per my Garmin, I ran 13.35 miles in 2:30:53 for an 11:18 pace.

Official results were 2:30:50 for an 11:30 pace.

Finish line photo courtesy of Elite Runners.
Love how it looks like I'm buddies with this guy, and we're in the same position!
Post Race
After I crossed the finish line and caught my breath, I hung around to see if anyone I knew was crossing the finish line. Soon I saw Nichole finish from the 30K. Yes, that means that she ran 18.6 miles only slightly longer than I ran 13.1 miles! Despite everything going wrong, she ran a really awesome race--read her recap! I am in awe of her, Chelsea, Tony, and everyone else who ran the 30K. I could not imagine running 5.5 more miles!

As Nichole and I chatted, we grabbed snacks (they had the standard stuff--bagels, bananas, potato chips, and pretzels), checked our results, and ran into Mike K. who was running his 22 miler and who I'd passed a few times on the course since he was running the opposite direction. That's when I started to get cold. I headed to my car with my arms stuffed with snacks and water, and that walk was very long and cold. Once I got into my car, I blasted the heat and ate pretzels and drank water while trying to warm up. I didn't really warm up until I got home and into the shower.

What Went Well
I think this was the best race I've ever done in terms of keeping to my strategy and feeling strong and in control! When I think back to my first half marathon in 2013 and even my last one last fall, I'm amazed at how far I've come and how much I've progressed. This race was an aha moment for me in realizing that all my hard work really is paying off. I really am getting better!

My half marathon PR is 2:28, and if I would have let myself go a little instead of holding myself back, I'm sure I could have gotten a new PR. But, I wasn't racing for time, so I'm delighted with how this race turned out.

What Could Be Improved

Race Management and Swag
The race organizer was our local running store Elite Runners and Walkers, who also organized the Spring Thaw and Frigid Five Miler I did this year. Like I said before, their events are really great. This race included four events--5K, 8.1 mile, Half Marathon, and 30K--and their logistics made everything go smoothly. I was very grateful to the volunteers, who were out there for five or more hours handing out icy water. I made sure to thank them at each station.

The giveaways for this race were a pair of New Balance shorts (hence the race name, Just a Short Run) and Feetures! socks. I don't like the shorts as much as last year's. I don't wear shorts to begin with, but last year's shorts were long enough that I wore them out in public to the dog park (I don't wear shorts running.) This year's shorts are very short--so short that you can see my bad tattoo on my upper thigh, so I will not be wearing them out of the house.

All half marathon and 30K finishers got a medal.

What a great race!

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