I believe I have found a new favorite half marathon course. As an overall race experience, the Blue Ridge still wins, but course-wise...I'm pretty sure this one wins by a landslide. This course was very gently rolling for the first 1.5 miles or so, then headed up a mountain. About 2 miles later, the course turns onto a packed dirt/gravel road, which goes 2 miles up to a turn-around. Then it's back down to the road, where you continue going downhill for awhile, and then the rest of the course is hilly. There is a long steep hill around mile marker 12, and then some more hills throughout the whole last mile. The course is challenging for sure, in fact it is the most challenging course hill-wise that I have ever run. But, since hills are what I'm good at...I loved it. Especially the looooong up-hill/mountain in the first part of the race. Some of the stepper downhills were quite painful, but luckily they were short enough for me to manage.
The Sandman 1/2 takes place in Wytheville, VA, which is about a 2 hour drive from Lewisburg. I was very lucky to have my former running partner be able to come with me and do all the driving! He was also my photographer and cheering squad for the day. I knew I would be too tired to drive myself home safely afterwards, so I am eternally grateful to him for helping me out. And hopefully he will be able to start racing with me again soon! Then we can go to more races together and split the driving. And maybe pace each other...
It was snowing when we left Lewisburg at 6:20 AM, and flurried on and off for much of the drive. It was also very cold. There were only about 40 runners at the race. The temp was in the low 20s, and the wind made it considerably colder. I didn't want to spend anymore time outside than I had to, so I only "warmed-up" for a minute or two. Just enough to get my legs moving. And then I bounced around a bunch on the starting line trying not to freeze to death. The race started with a simple "ready set go" and off we went. I took the lead in the first 10 seconds or so. I wasn't going out too strong, but settled into a nice comfortable pace. A police car led until we got to the bottom of the mountain, and then I was on my own.
I kept a good pace going up the mountain. I wasn't exactly sure how long I was going to be going up, but I wasn't too worried about it either. It felt good. The higher I got, the more snow there was on the ground. The last mile or more of the dirt road was completely covered in a thin layer of snow. I had to watch my steps pretty carefully to avoid slipping. The few times the road hair-pinned enough for me to glance back without really turning around, there was no one in sight. However, after I turned around at the top, it seemed like I ran past the first 2 guys pretty quickly. I thought for sure they would catch up to me on the downhill. But, I never saw either of them again until after they finished the race a few minutes behind me. Turns out, they don't like downhills any more than I do.
Once off the dirt road and back on pavement, there was a really steep downhill that was pretty painful to pound down. The race had 2 options; the half marathon, or a 9 mile option that skipped the 4 miles on dirt road. I started passing 9 mile runners around my mile 9 or so. The wind got really brutal in the last 3 miles of the race. I hadn't had too much trouble with the cold, but when the wind picked up, my fingers froze and started hurting. My face was hurting too. Muscle-wise, my legs felt great throughout the race. My feet and hips were taking a beating though. My feet because of the uneven dirt road (I run on pavement so often, they are really not conditioned for uneven terrain), and my hips from the downhill pounding.
coming up the hill after mile 12
Jim was standing here, cheering me on.
And telling me that the entire last mile was uphill, but this was the steepest part.
When I crossed the finish line (1:34:29), there was one race official, and one reporter with a camera. They asked which race I had completed. When I said I did the half marathon, the reporter told me I had to go back and run across the finish line again so he could get my picture for the newspaper. I really just wanted to go inside and thaw...but I complied and walked a little ways back up the road, and then ran across the line again. Then they let me go inside and warm up.
This is the 3rd half marathon that I have won, but I still haven't won one that actually involved competition. It's also the first half marathon that I won for both genders. Pretty exciting, but someday I want to win a half marathon that is actually competitive!
The trophy is an hourglass...with purple sand!
1st place guy told me I should use it to time track workouts.
Jim told me to use it for a drinking game...that sounds more fun.
I expect it will just be another trophy on the shelf though.
I am looking forward to running this course again next year, but I am desperately hoping that it is at least slightly warmer next year! And, I hope there are more people next year. It was really lonely out there by myself for the entire race!