Tina quelled a little of my nerves by giving me some pre-race encouragement and pointers. She said 1) Don’t jump out too fast and 2) save something for the end. Even though I essentially knew this already, it was a nice reminder a few minutes before the start. I ALWAYS start off too fast – ALWAYS! When I saw that our first jaunt would running uuuuuuup the hill I had driven down an hour earlier, I was determined to throw ego out the window and be patient.
As the countdown neared I looked around and determined this was one of the more comical starts I had experienced. No one – and I mean no one – appeared willing to step up to the front of the pack. At most races, people are jostling for front position to get out quickly and start a tempo. Everyone at the Bald Peak stood at least 10-20 feet back from the line – almost in a conscious way to avoid overexertion. Or maybe everyone was just regretting their choice as the big climb was merely seconds away.
As we headed out of the starting area, we had a short straightaway as the hill loomed strong and mighty up ahead. I consciously ran slower than I would typically be comfortable with running (about 9 min/mi) and resisted the urge to pick up the pace as people passed me. I figured that I would either eventually catch them or they were going to beat me anyways. Slow and steady. This was a good internal conversation over the first 2 miles as they featured about an 800 foot gain of elevation. The hill just kept going. Each turn gave way to one more. And one more. And one more.
There was a short reprieve as we hit Mountaintop Road on the most southern portion of the course. We were greeted with a short and appreciated reprieve from the climb and were able to grab a few solid glimpses at just high up we were by glancing at the peaceful countryside below. The flatness was short-lived as we hit Ornduff Road and immediately up another hill – complete with a photographer taking our pictures (ugh- I think everyone looked like death by that point).
By that point I think I mildly blacked out, as for the next 6-7 miles, I felt as if the hills mostly died down and we started trading in mild uphill jaunts for longer downhill stretches. The rural running really made this race peaceful and there were a few great areas with some great vista views. The race was probably as perfect as it could be, but a light haze stunted just a little bit of the spectacular views of the surrounding areas. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a 9 out of 10 in the scenic department. I could try to explain it or just let this picture do the talking for me.
Throughout the course of the race my time progressively got quicker and I felt pretty good. I never really exerted myself, but hovered around 8 min/mile with a little reserve in the tank for that final push. In my head, I thought I remembered someone mentioning that the final 2 miles were beastly. As I passed through mile 11, and then through mile 12 while still continuing to run downhill, I became a little confused and concerned that something is amiss. Where is this hill I heard so much about. And then…
…there it was. It rose like a phoenix from the ashes. It was quite literally almost straight up – or at least it felt that way. My legs started aching, the blister accumulating on my big toe was screaming, and my lungs were low on oxygen. I noticed the two runners within view in the front of me were taking different tasks in moving upward. One was literally running back and forth across the entire span of the road to avoid a straight up climb. The other was running “sideways” by doing lateral shuffling. My choice? Walk. I hate to admit it, but I just had to. After a 45 second break, I made one final turn and noticed that I was a few hundred meters from the finish. I mustered enough energy to finish strong(ish) and was ecstatic for a break.
The post-race consisted of pancakes and bacon to fuel a lot of exhausted and satisfied runners. There was a raffle for some great items, including multiple pairs of running shoes, and the winners were chosen randomly by bib number so you knew if you had won immediately. Huber Timing provided immediate results as well. This was an amazing experience and a challenging race combined into one. Outside of my first half marathon, this race is probably the most proud I’ve been to complete a half. I felt I accomplished something difficult and was happy to be done, yet pumped that I knocked it off my bucket list. You should consider knocking it off yours on June 20, 2015!
Full results can be viewed here.