The Heartbreaker Half is quite the epic event. Everything, from the location to the planning, is incredible. What wasn’t incredible was the lessons I had to learn the hard way that day. If all conditions were optimal, this would have been an incredible day, as the event is top-notch and the run absolutely beautiful. A clear day with temps in the high 40s didn’t hurt either. What did hurt was the approximately mile long climb just after mile 3 that completely changed my race experience.Running is generally all about being outdoors, but sometimes the most miserable races are the ones with no cover to utilize before or after the event. Based at Liberty High School, the Heartbreaker gave us access to a huge indoor area to prep and stretch as well as heated bathrooms. That beats a porta potty in 40 degree weather any day. Everything was set up inside, with a lot to look at before gun time. Bib pick up was interesting, as it seems the chips were set to certain races, but were not activated for an individual until you gave them your registration sheet. Pretty nifty and quick, except that I was the victim of a fluke accident and don’t show up in the results as I write this. I’m sure that will be rectified quickly. (Editors note: This has already been fixed)
The whole way out to the race, I had been telling myself to respect the course and the fact that I was on my 4th day of running after a 10 day break due to bronchitis. After looking at the previous years results, I knew in good health I could vie for the win, but my current fitness level was in question. However, my frame of mind before a run and after the gun goes off are two different things. Some habits are hard to break and a stubborn competitive streak does not abide well with the concept of conservative pacing.
So as we left the school and spent about half a mile in an industrial area I found myself in a pack of five out front. Then in front of the pack. The next 3 miles were amazing, the first flew by in 5:45, and the others just under 6 minute pace. We climbed several small hills into a rural area, then dropped down a large hill onto a gravel road. I maintained my comfortable pace out front, not breathing hard and feeling relatively smooth. At the base of the large hill, reality began to check in. The first half of the climb wasn’t bad, but as it leveled off and climbed again, I started to pay for my enthusiasm. I was definitely not ready for a prolonged hill climb at race pace. I quickly dropped back several spots and watched as two other men from the pack took the lead and pushed all the way up for champion of the hill honors.
After that climb was a long downhill and bronchitis came back for a quick hello as I was forced to slow to a walk for a coughing fit. At the bottom, I saw one of the coolest sights I have viewed in a race. An impossibly high trestle bridge arced between the hills, far over our heads. After we passed it, we ended up back at about mile 2, and turned right to make a loop we would have to traverse twice. It consisted of a couple long gradual hills and the long gravel downhill mentioned earlier. There were a couple of aid stations and I made use of them, getting water and a Hammer gel. Meanwhile, my energy levels continued to flag while my calves and hamstrings seemed to get tighter with every step. Apparently that front pack had built quite the lead, as after I lost them, I didn’t see any half participants until about mile 9. They seemed to come in droves, silently mocking my foolish ways and showing me that I had made a rookie mistake. I hung my head in shame each time I stopped to stretch, attempting to coax my muscles into enough limberness that I could get a decent stride out of them.
It was a lost cause, as I climbed the last hill on the loop, about a mile from the finish. It was ironic to remember how I felt 11 short miles ago, cruising at the front of the pack, versus on the way back, ten minutes behind the leaders. The volunteers and spectators clapped and cheered us through the last section, always a pleasure and a boost when finishing. The home stretch on the track was an element I was not able to utilize for a blazing kick, as I meandered out to lane three to avoid holding up any strong finishers.
I finished feeling fine as soon as I switched to walking, putting on some warmer clothes and heading in for an awesome post race spread. Cream of wheat, strawberry shortcake, fruit, and water made for a great energy boost. It was pleasant to sit inside and listen to the band. I talked about the experience with my sister, trying to pick at my performance and figure out how it went so bad. She told me to just be happy I finished, especially given the circumstances. It does seem silly, as I finished in 1:27:21 by my watch, 17th overall and third in my age group, to be frustrated. But it is hard to accept anything less than the best with a very competitive spirit and a desire to perform well, every time I go out. That drive has kept me running for many years, for better or worse.
The Heartbreaker Half ticks off all the boxes for being a superior event. AA Sports did everything right to ensure it would go smoothly. Pre and post race elements were in place and well above average. The course was well marked and supported, and the scenery is in a league of its own. I am actually a bit ashamed I been racing for so long and missed this event. I would recommend it to anyone, providing they like hill running or know to slow down enough to make it tolerable.
You can find the full results here.
Half Marathon Winners
1. Dave Harkin 45*, 1:16:52
2. Eric Dolezal 32, 1:17:54
3. Jonathon Sipling 37, 1:20:22
1. Jill Ponder 44*, 1:22:53
2. Katarina Mueller 23, 1:27:52
3. Audrey Huelskamp 16, 1:28:50
1. Mike Grimshaw 49, 1:23:21
2. Paul Fischer 48, 1:26:29
3. Cor Van Niel 47, 1:32:01
1. Karen Leahy 46, 1:36:52
2. Kimberly Workman 42, 1:37:40
3. Rachel Gaidrich 42, 1:42:05
‘*’- denotes Masters