Jeannie and I arrived at Haddad Park a little early, in plenty of time to get our picture taken with the large Genesis group. There was also a smaller group of Genesis runners doing the half. A few of them were more experienced who had done half marathons previously, but another handful had never done a half. Those runners were especially nervous about scaling the cemetery hills, particularly in the stifling humidity. We all circled together before the race began. I then led a group prayer, asking for God to calm nerves and to help us all fall back on our training. That really seemed to calm the ones who were nervous. There are benefits of a Christian running group, and praying together is one of them. It was a very special part of the day for me — I made a difference in helping team members give their best.
The Biggest Loser race organizers split us into corrals at the starting line, though we could have easily all started at the same time. One of the race officials cut off the first corral ahead of me, so I was at the beginning of the second. A minute and a half after the first corral was released, my group began running. I started at my usual pace, and was eager to settle down for the few miles before the beginning of the hill. The problems began with my hydration belt immediately. This was the same belt that served me so well at the Hatfield McCoy race two weeks earlier. The elastic in the belt had apparently stretched, so the belt was loose as I ran. I tried to position it all sorts of ways to get it to stop flopping, but nothing worked. I attempted to tighten it while running, but was unable to do so. I finally stopped and walked, and took a couple of minutes fiddling with the thing to get one side tighter. I put it back on, started running again, and it was still loose. I began carrying the large hydration bottle it held to keep the thing from flopping. I started trying to pick up the pace on the flats to compensate for the time I lost working on the belt.
As I started at the foot of the hill at mile 4, my heart rate was high for just beginning to climb. Had it not been as humid, and had I not been pushing my pace to compensate for lost time, I would have been in better shape for climbing the summit to the cemetery. By the time I was at the end of the first portion of the climb, I was panting. There was a water stop there, so I stopped, got some water, and walked for a bit to catch my breath. More runners were walking at that point than running. While walking, I pulled off my hydration belt and tightened the other side. Finally it fit as it was supposed to fit as I started running again, continuing up the steep hill.
I looked ahead of me and saw runners winding up the road, and the top of the incline was not in sight. The course dipped, then went even higher. As we reached a plateau, I caught my breath and lowered my heart rate as I passed a few runners who were still struggling. Then the course had its final climb — I knew it was the highest point because I had run it in practice. I passed a few young guys who looked to be in pretty good shape physically, but they had given up to walk. When I hit the top, I threw both hands in the air and said, “Praise the Lord!” The course didn’t start downhill immediately however, but stayed in the cemetery and covered some rolling terrain. As we finally began to leave the cemetery and start the downhill descent, an ambulance was positioned beside the road. I joked with a runner beside me, “Great place for an ambulance!” She laughed.
While going through the cemetery there was a young woman who appeared to be in great shape. She blew past me and several other runners, devouring the hills. I was totally impressed. Around mile 10 I passed her — she was walking. The hills had done a number on her, as they had on so many of us.
The last two miles were especially challenging — I ran out of water, so I had to stop at the last aid station. Young, healthy runners were walking the home stretch. One young guy was bent over, losing whatever may have been in his stomach. The feelings at this point and the feelings near the end of a full marathon were very similar. I didn’t want to run, I didn’t feel like running, I didn’t have the energy to run, but I was determined not to stop.
At the Hatfield McCoy half marathon I had enough gas in the tank to give a very strong finish. For this race, I just maintained my pace to finish. When I crossed the line, I saw 2 hours even on the clock. Once my time was adjusted for the corral start, it was 1:58. It took me a few minutes to catch my breath and to get my head together before I even felt like talking to anyone. I downed a bottle of cold water and a couple of juicy nectarines. I was drenched — all the clothing on my body was soaked.
I was disappointed that despite all my training, and the excellent coaching I have, I still couldn’t set a new PR on this race. I felt like at the Hatfield McCoy half marathon, I had beaten Blackberry Mountain. At this race, the mountain beat me. I learned later that I finished first in my age group, which was somewhat of a consolation. I was still slower than I wanted to be. Even if the hydration belt hadn’t given me issues however, I don’t think I would have saved enough time to PR.
I enjoyed watching other Genesis runners finishing their races, and congratulated both 5K and half marathoners on their performances. I talked to other runners as well who had no ties to Genesis but were just acquaintances. Mixing with the people is one of the best parts of any race. Jeannie finished her half marathon walk in a very fast time — I was impressed that she could walk that course so quickly. After staying for the short awards ceremony, we said our goodbyes to the many friends who were there.
There is something to learn from every race, especially the ones that are disappointing in one way or another. What did I learn from the 2014 Biggest Loser Half?
First, check and recheck to make sure your hydration belt is tight. Elastic belts tend to stretch, so what is tight for the run before the race may be loose on race day.
Second, you can’t PR every race. Even professional baseball players don’t hit a home run every time they step to the plate. Even the best batters don’t even get a hit every time they step to the plate. Since Jeannie and I began working with Coach Kristie eight months ago, I had PR’d every single race until this one.
Third, races are much more complicated than mere distance. A 13.1 mile hilly race is more challenging than a 13.1 mile flat one. A 13.1 mile race with tough weather conditions is more challenging than one with comfortable weather. Every race is different, so accept your performance on each one for what it is and for who you are when you run it.