What? Buffalo Creek Half Marathon
When? October 21, 2017
How far? 13.1miles
Where? Cabot, Pa.
|A||Mandatory: Thank volunteers||Yes|
|B||Mandatory: High five some people||Yes|
|C||Mandatory: Have a happy run||Yes|
This is the first time I used a training plan to specifically get faster, and not just tackle a new distance. I used Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 half marathon plan, which was my first introduction to speedwork. I’m one of those runners who really likes being on a plan: it makes me accountable (to myself) and gets me to run. This plan had me running five days a week, and while I did a lot of shuffling due to work commitments, I completed everything scheduled.
I also discovered that I love speedwork. I especially love track repeats; to me it’s like a puzzle, having to hit the right speed for the right time and making it all work together was a great mental boost. My last tempo run I hit really confidently, and my final track session, even though my last few laps were all alone in the dark, I hit every single pace I needed to and was really proud of myself for that.
This plan also had more miles than my previous one (for my first half), so a combination of more miles, speedwork and an easier course all led to a significant PR. I had a few other races this fall, but due to how they fell on the calendar and in one case, some significant heat, I didn’t PR any other distance. But this was my A race, so I’m not upset, just wondering if those times will fall in the spring racing season.
Woke up, had some coffee. It didn’t do anything. Got in the car to drive to the start (was about an hour away) and ten minutes before arriving at my destination, coffee kicked in. Bonus point: got to be the first person to use the port-a-potties.
I have to make special note of how awesome the volunteers are at this race. They have it down to a science, and having a group just dedicated to guiding people to parking spots was so efficient and amazing. Every volunteer at each water stop was smiling and cheering and the ones inside at packet pickup were just as excited to see me. Top notch volunteers!
The only note I’ll add (not that it affected me) is they touted having indoor bathrooms at the start on all their registration materials, but those were closed off. I don’t mind using the port-a-potties (and did again, just due to pre-race jitters), but some people grumbled.
The port-a-potty line was long, and a lot of people were in line when the gun went off, but it was chipped time. That did however, lead to more passing than normal in the first few miles. There’s no pacers or pace signs for this race, so the 700-800 of us lined up, kind of guessing where to be. While the above combined to a bit of a chaotic start, we all fell into place before mile two.
The race starts on the road, but then cuts over to the trail, which you follow from Cabot to Freeport. I’ve never been on this trail before, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! I did a lot of my training on the Great Allegheny Passage, and while that gives you a nice view of the river and industry, this was a great trail through the woods, next to a scenic creek, with the occasional cute farmhouse right next to you.
I don’t run with a GPS watch or even GPS tracking on my phone. The only time I did was using an old Garmin that my friend gave me for my speedwork. Otherwise, I run by feel. I knew where I was for my long runs, and I spent the first half of the race telling myself to “reign it in” when I felt I myself pick it up. I wanted to run the first half with my head as much as I could.
Because this race sells itself with the slightly downhill course, there were a lot of fast looking people at the start. While that was certainly intimidating, I kept repeating that I was only racing myself.
After you get onto the trail, it’s crushed limestone, and it’s pretty well crushed, got a tiny pebble in my shoe around mile five or so, but it would only bother me a few times when it got jostled around. The surface itself does change a few times, and I think it was around mile six that for a few miles it was this weird limestone/pavement hybrid that was rough to run on. To bookend the race, it also ends on the road, but that was pretty standard blacktop (freshly sealed this year!) and cement.
Aid stations are well marked, although they are in the mile that they are listed at, not at the mile itself (the station at mile two was actually close to 2.5), and they had GU listed as being available at multiple stops, but ran out at mile 7. I’m not a fan of GU, and had brought a honey stinger waffle instead, so I was set.
With four miles to go, I pick up the pace. My normal run with the Frontrunners is a four mile loop, so it’s just ingrained in me. Total autopilot, and more importantly, I don’t have to expend any mental energy to know I can easily run four miles. So I start to pick people off. I slowly increase my speed and keep consistently passing other runners, including some of those people I thought looked really fast at the start.
I had read comments about the last hill and how steep it is, and it was no joke. You exit the trail, then run up a switchback (for vehicle traffic) to get to the top of a bridge before running into downtown Freeport. Our Frontrunner courses start on hills, and have plenty in them, so once again I was prepared. Passing multiple people on that last ascent was a great feeling!
Came across the line in 2:19:26, lowering my PR by 9:49!
For me, the mental training and my mental health are just as important as the running side. I try to be open with my struggles with my mental health, in hopes that it helps to stimulate conversation and bring these issues into the light more. I fight the urge to be ashamed of it, it’s just the cards I’ve been dealt.
The last few weeks before this race were really tough. I’m not sure why, and honestly, there doesn’t have to be a reason, I was just really depressed. A couple big projects at work certainly added to it, but for whatever reason, I was going to be in a down cycle. I’ve lived through these before, and have worked out some coping strategies (running being one of them, and being on a training plan was great to keep my body and mind occupied and focused).
My running, especially my long runs, is time when my mind works through things. It’s nothing I can force; it’s like an extended therapy session. As try as I might, my mind could not work through whatever is currently there bothering me; it’s buried too deep. And that was disappointing to me. My last few long runs actually left me more depressed. I worked through some things, but was always disappointed I wasn’t making as much progress mentally as I wanted.
But that’s not how it works. And I know that. But that cycle continues and continued to bury me.
At the race, I got out of the port-a-potty line with about ten minutes to go before the start of the race. The last week before the race, I was doing a lot of mental math, trying to figure out exact paces and setting time goals for myself. I knew that I had to let that go and enjoy the moment. This was a new race for me, so I just needed to run it and have a happy run. I pulled up a four minute meditation I have on my phone for just this situation, and stood in the start corral, my eyes closed but facing the sun, and did my best to clear my mind.
I remember seeing a sign on the course that looked like it was a mile marker for the race. Turns out it was (shocker, I know)! I was surprised it said two miles, but I guess all the crowds at the beginning of the race made it go faster than I expected. The trail itself was also marked (with mile markers set on both sides of the posts), so each time I came to one, I played some mental math games, but still tried to center myself away from obsessing about the time I was going to hit.
As I started to pick people off with four miles to go, my mood lifted a bit as well. There was a pack of us who had run together (and done the classic passing and being passed around each other) and I left them behind as their paces fell off and I increased ever so slightly. I was pretty sure I was going to PR, but didn’t know by how much.
I want to downplay my PR. This is a fast course, they market themselves with that fact (even though that last hill stops a lot of runners), but to me, it’s almost as if I didn’t actually run my new time. I have to fight with myself to acknowledge that I put in the time and effort of a new training plan, with speed work, and ran a distance in less time than I have previously. I feel uncomfortable when people congratulate me, so even though I had promised to tell people how I did at the race, I partially dreaded that.
In the end, I was happy with my time and proud of what I accomplished. I keep working on these issues; it’s a process, not a quick fix overnight. But it’s good for me to have this experience, so I can be better prepared for it the next time. I keep working through therapy and maybe as this depression lifts a bit I’ll have a better view of things, but for now, I’ll just try to keep moving forward until I’m in a better state.
Grabbed some water and half a banana (pre-cut), which I discovered for me, is the perfect amount of banana. I have a real finicky stomach, and can’t eat for a while after a race, but then the hunger will hit me hard. I packed an extra honey stinger waffle in my gear bag in case I needed it on the bus ride back to the start (and our cars), but didn’t.
I stretched a bit, then started the drive home. Stopped three times to run some errands, because even though I had a successful race, still had to be an adult. One of those stops however, was at Sheetz for some food, where I traumatized a family twice. The first, when they had the audacity to walk between me and the counter when my number was called. Apparently, my face was just staring daggers at them, since they apologized and scampered off. The second time was when they walked past where I was sitting and witnessed me inhale my food. I never meant to traumatize them, but I also didn’t feel too bad about it either, this wasn’t their first time at Sheetz and they should know not to congregate in the way of the counter when that many people are waiting for their food.
A week off, and then jumping into volunteering for NaNoWriMo. Also the EQT 10-Miler the first weekend in November, which was the first race I used a plan for last year. Not looking to PR that, but just enjoy it and have a good time with the Frontrunners (some of us running, also manning a water stop, then probably getting together for brunch).
I will take this opportunity to say that I am a very dumb man. I’m not fast, by any stretch of the imagination, and probably will end up regretting my decision, but as of right now, I am signed up for my first full in the spring. I say I am dumb because I signed up for some very silly reasons: It’s a new distance to challenge myself with, and it’s the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh marathon. Arbitrary, I know, but things seemingly align, so why not, right?
I have the option to drop down to the half (or some in-between distance made of relay segments), so I’m planning to see how training goes and make that decision. I’m really good at sticking to training plans, and I’ve found what I’d like to try to tackle, so just like this race, I’ll run by feel and see where that takes me!