I was looking forward to this race for weeks. I loved the thought of running in the historic area of the Hatfield/McCoy feud. I also was fascinated by the thought of running up a mountain as a half marathon course. I saw it as a daunting challenge, something to be conquered. So as a regular part of my training, I often ran a steep hill (Shrewsbury Drive) near my house to prepare for the climb on race day. I nicknamed it “taming the Shrew.”
The events the day before the race add to the story of the race itself, so I’ll include them here.
On Friday, I drove down to Williamson to get my race packet and to familiarize myself with the surroundings. It was my day off, so I had the time. I had no problems finding the location. It was hot, humid and cloudy, and halfway there the air conditioner on my Honda CRV died. It wasn’t too uncomfortable with the windows rolled down, until a downpour forced me to raise them. The rain soon stopped however, just before I reached the spot for the race packet pick-up. It was just across the state line in Belfry, Kentucky.
I stayed at Belfry High School for an hour or so, looking at the exhibit hall and interacting with the people. The volunteers there were wonderful Appalachian folks, very friendly and hospitable. When I left on my drive home, it was sprinkling rain. I stopped at an auto parts store, purchased a can of refrigerant, and tried to get the AC working again. No success. So on the drive back to St. Albans I alternated between having the windows up and down, depending on the rain. It wasn’t much fun.
After having some dinner at home I settled down to relax for the evening and to get to bed early. I knew I’d have to awaken at 4:00 a.m. so I could eat, get ready, and make the long drive back to Williamson. The race began at 7:00 a.m., and I’d have to park at a designated area and ride a shuttle bus to the starting line. I didn’t stay overnight, though very affordable accommodations were available at the Williamson Fire House. I just wasn’t so sure how much I would sleep in a fire hall, so I opted to drive.
Shortly after 6:00 p.m., when I was nearly ready to go to bed, I received a phone call informing me a church member was very ill and had been rushed to the hospital. I was too concerned not to make a visit to check on the family, so I went. I stayed and talked for a while, then made my way back home. It was nearly 8:00 p.m. I considered just not going to the race the next morning just in case the church member’s situation took a turn for the worse. By 11:00 p.m. I went to bed, deciding if I didn’t get a call during the night I’d leave the next morning as planned.
At 4:00 a.m. the alarm sounded, there were no messages on the phone, so I went through my pre-race routine. I had a cup of coffee, a cup of Greek yogurt, and a banana with peanut butter. I then hit the road. It was a very cool morning, unseasonably so for June. Not having any AC was not a problem. The drive went smoothly, I found the parking area, and boarded one of the shuttle buses. I arrived at the starting line with 45 minutes to spare. I met a couple of Idiots there from the online Idiots Running Club – we all posed for a picture together. After making my last trip to the porta-potty, I got in line with rest of the crowd.
A shotgun blast started the race, which was understandable given it was a Hatfield/McCoy event. The temperature was a cool 57 degrees with the sun not yet having risen over the mountains. The first two miles were fairly flat and easy. I was able to maintain a decent pace. By mile 3 however, the uphill climb began. For the next two miles it was a very slow incline, hardly noticeable with the mild temperatures. The sun was still not shining overhead, though the daylight was getting brighter. After reaching mile 5, the ascent was much steeper, increasing in its severity through mile 7. I kept running, even though several runners were stopping to walk. “Good job” I heard more than one person say as I continued slowly chugging up the mountainside. When I finally reached the top I thought, “Thank the Lord!” All that time “taming the Shrew” was paying off.
The descent between miles 7 and 10 was substantial, but not so great as to prevent a good pace as gravity worked with me. For miles 11-12 the course was rolling, but still it was decreasing in elevation overall. At mile 12 there was another brief hill, but not enough to present a serious challenge. As I ran toward the finish in the town of Matewan, people were cheering along the route, and the sun was brightly shining from the sky.
As I crossed the finish line, I was surprised at the time showing on my Garmin. It read 1:49:15. My personal best for a half marathon had been 1:57:36, two years earlier at the University of Charleston on a completely flat course. I had just achieved a new personal record on an extremely challenging course! On top of the new personal record, I stood around watching other runners finish the race who had been behind me. I soon learned that I had placed third in my age group! It was a great day, and a huge achievement.
Looking back, doing this well on this tough of a course was mainly due to thorough preparation. I was prepared spiritually and mentally – spending time in Bible reading and prayer, before I run, is a critical part of my training. My head and heart just aren’t in the right place if I try to run without those two things. I was also prepared physically. Coach Kristie Cranford has been working with me for several months now, providing a regimen that combines running, strength training and yoga. This half was the first one I have run with her coordinating my training. Also, though the preparation was extremely important, the weather was another helpful factor. Getting a 57 degree morning in mid-June was a huge blessing. Running was so much easier than if it had been warmer.
My next half marathon is the Biggest Loser in Charleston, WV on June 28. That’s just two weeks from today’s race!