Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mankato Half Marathon 2013 (Running Because .... Racing)

Mankato Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
2:15:03 PR!
Average Pace 10:18/mile

For most runners, I suppose the Mankato Marathon weekend was all about the big day of event.  But for me, it was way more than that.  Before I get into a race recap, let's start from the beginning... which would mean training. 

If you want to skip this part and get to the beef of race day, just cruise through the areas marked with a ---- symbol, ok?


OK!  So, what did I do to train?

Since I was already trained for the Chicago Half in September, this was a different situation for me... I didn't really have to "train", per se. 

Instead, here's what I ended up running to stay conditioned (plus my usual cross training stuff):

September 8th - Run the Chicago Half
Week 1 - Wed 3, post half break - week: 3 miles / accumulative: 3 miles
Week 2 - Mon 5, Wed 4, Thurs 2, Sat 10 - week: 21 miles / accumulative: 24 miles
Week 3 - Mon 5, Wed 4, Thurs 2, Sun 12 - week: 23 miles / accumulative: 47 miles
Week 4 - Wed 4, Sat 8, planned rest week - week: 12 miles / accumulative: 59 miles
Week 5 - Mon 5, Tues 3, Wed 4, Sat 8 - week: 20 miles / accumulative: 79 miles
Race Week - Wed 4, Thurs 3*, Sun 13.1 - week: 20 miles / accumulative: 99 miles
*More on this 3 miler below.

Ah shoot!  I'm just now realizing I should have put in 1 more mile, and I would have hit the 100 mark.  Dang!  Oh well!  On a more serious note, you can see in the above mileage log that I'm testing some new tapering strategies, which seem to be working for me.  Here are my ideas:

     - Every three weeks or so, I'm trying to do a lower volume week to let my legs rest and
     - Two weeks prior to a race, I'm trying to keep up my volume, yet do shorter "long" runs,
        thus helping my legs get ready for the big 13.1.

These theories seem to be working, since I am having far less aches / pains / muscle tightness, and the knee issue that almost knocked me out of Minnetonka this spring has seemed to be remedied - knock on wood.  I think I will continue to try this type of training schedule next year as my race season is quickly drawing to a close (boo Minnesota snow!!).

Anyhow.  The 5 weeks leading up to race week went well.  So, fast forward to race week.

In attempt to keep my legs "fresh" for Sunday, I had only planned to run a 4 miler on Wednesday, that's it.  And then ... peer pressure.  LOL!

This is where I need to state that I am a "pseudo" member of my gym's run club, although I hardly attend training runs with them.  Unfortunately, I'm not a morning runner and I attend group fitness classes when the club meets on Tuesday/Thursday night.  It's ok, they still love me... I think.  *wink*

Since I don't attend training runs with the group, when I got the race week email that they were having a "final training run and pasta feed" on Thursday night, I figured I shouldn't go.  But as soon as a few of the runners caught wind of this, peer pressure was the name of the game.

You can see where this is going.

Of course I ended up attending the pasta feed, prefacing it with a 3 mile run, and recreating this for my contribution to the pot luck.

I say this like it's a bad thing that I caved to peer pressure.  But how could a group like this be bad?!


So, on to race day!

Well, that starts out on a GREAT note!  Check out this weather forecast as of Saturday night.

What could be better than freezing temperatures, high winds, and chance for rain?  Hmm...

FYI, this is the point in racing where I always start to panic, since I never know how to dress for race day when it's cold.  Which means, of course, that I spent the evening asking for suggestions from no less than everyone I knew who was running, PLUS googling cold weather running dressing suggestions.  I finally settled on wearing my new Ink N Burn Skeleton gear, plus a zippered wicking jacket, wicking gloves, and a wicking neck gaiter.

Anyhow!  Race day.  Wake up call at 4 am.  Wahoo!

Why the early rise for an 7:30 / 8:00 am race?  Well, Mankato is one of the two events my gym offers a shuttle for each year (the other being Get Lucky in March), and we were required to board the bus at 5:15. 

Hooray - you know how I love getting up so early.  And even better when I am getting up prior to 5 am.  At least the friendly company on the hour long bus ride made up for it.  That... and a good cup of coffee, duh.

Despite it still being dark, the ride went by quickly, and it was about 6:30 or 6:45 by the time our bus got parked.  Yes, that arrival seems early for a race that has start times of 7:30 and 8:00.  But then... when you take into consideration that I didn't have to wait in line for the porta-potties... well, I'm definitely not going to complain.

Side note - I thought using a porta-potty in the dark was interesting.  Yeah... add cold to that equation.

Additional side note - there is something somewhat depressing about being up over 3 hours prior to sunrise.

Back to the story.

At 7:30, those of us running the half wished our 10K friends good luck, and cheered them on as they ran past us on the first 1/2 mile.  Then, we promptly scurried back onto our bus to warm up (as did a few crashers, who totally did not belong on the bus, but ok... we tolerated them).

Finally, it was time.  Minutes before the 8:00 gun time, I squeezed in between the 2:00 and 2:20 pacers, crossed my fingers, and tried to think of warm tropical locales...

Bang!  Time to run.

Amazingly, despite the rather large crowd and somewhat open corral system, plus the mix of half and full marathon runners, the race started of VERY smoothly.  It only took me 2 minutes to cross the starting mat, and I never felt like I was stuck behind a crush of slow moving people. 

Note: Apparently Mankato thought I was hot stuff
and put me on the front page of their website.

In fact, the first three miles of the race went extremely well as we coasted through residential areas and what appeared to be the main in-town area of Mankato. 

In those first three miles, however, I did notice my ankles and knees bothering me, which made me a little nervous.  This is when I made the decision that I was going to take the run mile by mile, instead of dwelling on the 13 miles ahead.  I usually try not to think about what mile I am on until 6 or 7, so this approach was very different for me.  (Which actually worked out well, because I now remember what strange things happened at which miles later in the race).

I was also trying, for the second time, a different pacing and fueling plan.  Since I learned in Chicago that I could for sure maintain a 10:30/mile, walk the water stops, and fuel with energy drink sips at each aid station, I decided to follow this plan as well for Mankato. 

Except that I ran my first three miles at what my watch instant read as a 9:30 pace. 

On the plus side, that meant I was warm enough to take off my gloves by mile three, and my jacket at mile four (which I tied around my waist for the rest of the run).  Also, all that blood flow must have been good for my ankles and knees, because they didn't bother me the rest of the run.

Somewhere in this stretch, those of us running the half proceeded to split off from the marathoners.  Around this time, I was pleasantly pleased that I had decided to forgo music for the opening of the race.  There were tons of people cheering, with crowds still heavy well into mile 4 and 5, a big surprise and something I never would have expected at a small town race.

In fact, at pretty much every mile marker through out the race, there were sizeable crowds with signs, cheering and yelling out inspirational things.  And being that I was dressed in a somewhat... recognizable outfit... there were a lot of things called out to me, which of course was great.  I heard lots of:

"Go Skeleton!"
"Great costume/outfit!"
"Nice bones!"  (This one I wasn't too sure about... seems a little dirty?? LOL!)

I even exchanged some words about my boney butt with a fellow gym runner, who leap frogged me a few times on course. 

Hey - anyone who tells me my butt looks boney (thus skinny) is DEFINATELY a friend of mine!

As the course progressed, I really began to appreciate whoever planned the route.  I loved running down the long hill around mile 5, and proceeding onto the trail surrounded by the occasional woods at mile 6-8.  The beautiful fall colors were breathtaking... even if it made my GPS watch cranky (you can see the odd effects on my splits below).  Whatever, it was worth it.

Just before we exited the trail, somewhere at about mile nine, I noticed that PFLAG was in charge of a cheer station there.  Seeing those rainbows just made my heart explode.  I'm so happy to know that a smaller town like Mankato is welcoming to that organization.  I also realized I must have been running shoulder to shoulder with a friend of the group - a young man I guessed to be high school aged.  As we plodded along the trail and prepared to cross the street by Burger King, I knew we were about to enter the most difficult part of the run - the dreaded out and back.  I decided to joke with the young man, and said, laughingly "Hey, I think I know a short cut at the Burger King!"  He responded with a "Yeah, if only I was carrying some money!"  We both chuckled, and I think both secretly wished we could make the stop, and then carried on.  I eventually lost the young man in the crowd.

At this point in the run, around mile 10 or 11, my body felt ok but my brain started to tell me that I could take a walk break and not lose too much time.  However, a part of me knew that although I lost the 2:00 pacer somewhere around mile 3, the 2:20 pacer had still not caught me... which meant I was on track for my dream goal - 2:15.  Knowing that 2:15 was in my sights, I refused to allow myself any unwarranted rest and carried on.

I enjoyed running through what appeared to be a petting zoo (no animals?), but did not enjoy the hills afterwards... or being on top of the levee with the wind blasting me.  BRR!

As I came back again to the Burger King, I heard my favorite cheer of the entire race:

"Why did the skeleton cross the road?  To finish a half marathon!"

Heck yes!  And with that I knew, I was going to do it.  I was going to run the whole thing.  Less than a mile left!!

Ok, ok, yes - this is when I started talking to myself.  Out loud.  I think I was mumbling a lot of incoherent jibberish that included "run... just run... keep going... almost there... come on... come on..."  At which point I noticed I began passing a lot of runners. 

My sister, upon discussion of my race the next day, claims I was likely only passing people because they feared the crazy lady talking to herself might shank them from behind, and thus they slowed to let her pass. 

Hmm... I suppose at mile 12 of a half marathon my hair would be a bit wild, and with the muttering to myself...

Interesting theory.

Since I had made it this far, I refused to ruin the streak by adding music.  I just continued muttering my incoherent, rambling mantra, and desperately searching for the finish line.

And then... the clouds parted and angels started to sing.

I could see the word "finish".

I yelled "YES" so loud that the guy next to me, in a running stupor, asked me if we were at the finish.  I sheepishly had to reply no, but that I could see the finish, and we were almost there.  We both smiled and fist pumped in victory.

As I approached the finisher chute, I saw some of my gym friends, cheering and waving.  I smiled, cruised by with ease, and kept on going.

And finally, there I was, pounding the mat with 2:17 on the clock.  With a 2 minute delayed start, I knew I had my 2:15 dream goal in hand and started to hyperventilate at the finish.  I had done it!!

When I walked through the finish chute to the medal station, a few medics gave me a sideways eyeball because I was panting so funny.  I tried to scurry out of their view and hustle to get some water.  No need for race day drama, I just needed a minute to catch my breath, anyway.

As I fought to get my breathing under control, I wandered around the finish line / party area and hoped I might see the infamous "wedding party".  Apparently, a couple was slated to run the half this year and go straight through the finish line and onto the announcer's stage to get married.  I never saw them, but I was able to find this photo online:

Once I caught my breath and grabbed every type of drink they had to offer (one bottle each of water, Gatorade and chocolate milk), I wandered back to my gym friends at the 13 mile mark and cheered for the rest of the finishers.  Amazingly, the first marathoner came in just behind me at 2:34.  Insane... but I sure am glad they didn't lap me on course!

Eventually, my gym friends and I wandered back to the bus to enjoy some post race chatter, a few final photos, and a long ride back home... with trivia games and prizes.  Wahoo!

Although the bus ride home was fun, I was certainly glad when it was over and I could proceed home to a hot shower and short nap.

Well, a nap, and a review of my GPS reports. 

Look at that steady pace!  Almost no red!

A nice downhill run.

I question these splits, since 1/3 of the race my watch was freaking out between
a 9:30 and 12:00 pace (due to the wooded areas of the run).  Also, my official time yielded
a pace of just over 10 minutes.  So, I think these splits leave something to the imagination.

Well, that's about it!

Before I go, since I didn't have many selfies in this recap and don't always get a medal post race, I thought I might yuck it up this time. 

Let's meme it!

Thanks for the idea, Ryan Lochte.  And yes, I own a grill.  Are you really surprised by that?

And that's the story of how race bib # 36 joined my collection.  Here's to another race soon... the Monster Dash Half next weekend, yipes!

***Also, FYI, there is a video of the race course on YouTube if you'd like to see it, just click here.


  1. Great race; way to PR & get your dream time!!

  2. I am totally with you about the importance of an effective taper! Too many try to rush in more miles near the end of their training cycle and it has a damaging effect on their race. The only thing you are trying to do in the end is freshen up your legs and have everything heal as much as possible so you can be your strongest. I wrote about tapering and entitled it “Your training is done!” It may be of some value to you.
    I absolutely love the photo of the girl trying to warm up in snow in a bikini.. hilarious and awesome! : )
    Is it not an amazing feeling to know a few miles out from the finish that you can PR!! That is the greatest feeling in the world.
    So proud of you for running a disciplined and controlled race and doing what needed to be done to get that time!
    Oh and you look just too cute in that medal eating selfie! : ) )

    Thanks so much for stopping by my site and I can’t wait to delve further into yours!!


    1. Thanks for the kind words! I've enjoyed reading your blog, too. I'll be sure to swing by again soon.

  3. Way to go on your PR!!! Have fun at the Monster Dash :)

    1. You could always join me and go for the double! ;-)

  4. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!! You kicked some SERIOUS butt out there on that course!!! I am amazed and inspired by how much progress you've made in such a short period of time. The world is your running oyster!!! And better yet, it sounds like you had a BLAST while running this race (as opposed to the death marches a lot of folks undergo during PR races). And WOW regarding the couple that got married right after crossing the finish line? Just wow!

    1. Thanks!

      It's amazing to think I "ran" my first half marathon (with the final three miles more of a death march) pretty much a year ago today, with a finish time of over 2:40.

      Now, I'm at 2:15.

      Next year...? We'll see!

      As for the wedding, I think my husband is secretly very happy he married me years before I took up running. ;-)