Race Report: Louisville Half Marathon

I had signed up for 2019 Indy Women’s and Urban Bourbon Half Marathons months before those races. They were long-term goals that I set for myself last year. I signed up for this race on a whim a few weeks ago mostly because a bunch of women from my running group were running and pacing it. FOMO is apparently a motivator for me nowadays.

So Urban Bourbon Half Marathon was three weekends ago. As I wrote about in an earlier post, it was a great time, so fun, so perfect how prepared I was and how the things I couldn’t control turned out just fine. This race was a bit different.

I’ve had left hamstring soreness since UBHM, though I noticed it several days after, so I’m not sure it was because of that race or something else. Could be too much sitting; could be my obnoxious pulling dogs. Consequently I had only run a few times in the past three weeks. In addition, I hadn’t been keeping up with cross training like I should, eating a lot of shitty food, not drinking enough water. So in the week leading up to this race, I just generally felt not great and was full of ambivalence.

I simply didn’t want to run it. Mostly because it could potentially be a shitshow, for above reasons. Also I didn’t want to make whatever was going on with the hamstring* worse. The icing on the Meh Cake was a friend’s fiftieth birthday party at a local bar the night before the race. This party would be full of close friends and people I like whom I hadn’t seen in a while. I knew I would either leave before I was ready or stay longer than I should.

*back of the knee, feels more like weakness rather than pain; gets worse throughout the day, especially after a dog walk; consulted dr google and got more confused; had a different chronic hamstring injury 12 years ago and would really like to not deal with that bullshit ever again

Also the weather forecast was annoying, specifically the temperature. I know how to dress for 50 and above. I know how to dress for when it’s actually cold. The 40s though. It’s not rocket science, but the right number of the right layers continues to baffle me. Especially in a race, where there’s a bunch of standing around in the beginning. When home, I just leave and I’m warmer in a couple blocks, and I typically only go for 30-60 minutes. Being chilly before the race, then overdressed for more than two hours of running is not fun. So Saturday evening I picked out some clothes and spent the rest of the night second guessing myself. Like I lost sleep and had stupid Dressed-Wrong Dreams. The amount of bourbon I drank at the party didn’t help, and in general I don’t sleep well on the night before a race.

The dogs got me up earlier than I wanted, but I wasn’t asleep anyway. Coffee, English muffin, half a leftover Cuban sandwich; pooping happened. I got dressed in what I had originally planned and left. The Parklands of Floyds Fork is this huge and beautiful park system in eastern Jefferson County. It’s really four connected parks, about 4000 acres, with woods, trails, creeks, roads for biking and running and walking. I wish it were closer than the 30 minute drive. I’ve run and raced here before. It’s nice, though the concrete road isn’t the friendliest for runners. This particular race is actually marathon, half marathon, and 10K distances. All start together, run the same direction, and have different turn around points.

I thought about downgrading to the 10K in the interest of my sore hamstring but decided not to. Probably because it was not horrible all the time. If I had been in constant pain, I probably would have downgraded. I would like to say I would have not run at all if the pain was that bad, but in reality I tend not to do that. I didn’t pay $80 to not run dammit!

Once I got there, I found M/SRTT (Moms Run This Town/She Runs This Town), my running group. Greeted people, talked about goals, injuries, clothing, pooping, snot rockets–ya know, runner stuff. Got in the group picture. I had a friend pacing the 2:20 finish, and she encouraged me to run with her. I had my doubts about keeping up that fast. Even though I had just finished with 2:06 a few weeks before, I did not feel good enough that I could get close to that. A couple other women from the group were pacing 2:45. I was planning on running with them and having a good time, but when it came time to corral, I was kind of in the middle of both pacers. I decided to just stay put, somewhere between 2:20 and 2:45 and see what happened.

We started off pretty tightly packed. I started slow, testing to see what my hamstring would tell me. It told me I was stupid. But! It didn’t tell me I was fucking stupid, so I just kept running. Finally the crowd started to thin a little, and I settled into a rhythm around mile 2. There happened to be a hill right here. More or less straight up. Like you see it and think it’s a joke.

So one thing different about this race is intervals. Normally I do intervals. When I started running last year after surgery, I needed to start slow and also I really wanted stick with it. I had done Couch to 5K the year before (didn’t stick) and my favorite part of that program was the middle weeks, when you run for several minutes, then walk for a minute, repeat. I read up on the Galloway Method, a run-walk-run program designed to prevent injury, and decided to try that. I used it for the last few weeks of June, when I was being gentle on myself during recovery. It got me through the early weeks of running, when historically I would have quit. It got me through the heat of summer, when a short break to walk help me calm down enough to keep going. I played with frequency and length of intervals and settled on 2 minutes run, 30 seconds walk as my goldilocks spot. This training got me through my first half marathon, and even though I’d recovered from surgery and seemed to have integrated running into my lifestyle, I felt like if it was working for me, why change? This fall I started skipping intervals, especially if I was running down a hill, and shortening them. So I was doing like a 18-26 second walk and correspondingly longer run. It was all fine. This race…not sure why, I hadn’t planned on doing it this way, but I didn’t run intervals. The first mile of a race, I often don’t do the walks. It’s crowded, my heart rate is fine. All good. Same for this race, but then I ran the second mile. Maybe because my pace was slower I thought I should go for it. Then that hill. If there was a time and place to start walking intervals, it was looming in front of me. But I kept running. I ran up the hill. And didn’t die! So I ran the third mile and kept running.

The giant hill was followed by a long less-steep climb, then a long wooded downhill with occasional flattening out spots. By this point the people in the lead for the 10K had turned around and were now running toward us. This is where I was less satisfied with the race organization, about which until this point I had absolutely no complaints. The road had narrowed and there were no cones. Tons of people not moving over, getting in each other’s way. I’m sure very irritating for the folks in the front of the 10K pack who were hoping for a top 3 finish or whatever. Several people were forced into the grass, others cut people off. Could have been ugly. I just hate seeing so little self-awareness.

Anyway, finally got past the 10K turn around, so there were no longer people running at us. I passed the 4:45 marathon pacer (2:23 half pacer for those not inclined to do the math) and saw my friend pacing 2:20 up ahead. I ran a little faster. I realized my hamstring was fine. Twingy, but not painful. I caught up with her and the other 2:20 pacer around mile 5. I was nice to run with pacers. It was also trippy to realize that this was the farthest I’d ever run straight, no walking. And I still had eight miles to go! I felt good for a while. Chatting with the other people hanging with the 2:20 pacers. Giving myself little pats on the back for not walking. Happy that problematic hamstring was not asserting itself. We got to the half marathon turn around! Only another six and a half miles!

And then, like clock work, the Mile 8 Struggle Bus showed up. For every half I’ve run, somewhere between mile 8 and mile 10, I want to give up. Whether it’s tired legs, tired everything, racing heart, hungry tummy, burning lungs, low energy, whatever, I find myself saying “let’s just walk, running is hot bullshit” It’s totally a mental game at this point. For Filly Women’s and KDF, it was low energy, so I experimented with adding runner candy (Honey Stinger Energy Chews). This worked for UBHM and a few long runs. This race though, I had been eating a few pieces every 40 minutes, which had worked for me before. It was less low energy and more just super tired legs. My hamstring wasn’t necessarily that bad; more like all of both legs were fucking done.

I kept going though! Around mile 10 we were back into the long wooded area, but this time we got to experience it going up hill. Joy. I walked twice, about 10 seconds each time, because I wanted to get my heart rate down a little. These were the only two times I walked the entire 13 miles. I caught back up with the 2:20 pacers. I stuck with them and their motivation really kept me in it. Around mile 11, the huge downhill, my knees started to hurt. Around mile 12, I needed a toilet. I was seriously afraid I’d shit my pants otherwise. Luckily there was a portapotty just a handful of yards off the course. I lost at least a minute, but it was absolutely necessary.

Back on the road! One mile left! It was not a fun mile. I was no longer running with my pacing friend. My legs hurt. I was tired. Finally the end. I did not sprint to finish, but I did manage to get my arms up like I wasn’t about to crawl the last yards.

I look happy because I don’t have to run anymore. Maybe ever.

My time was 2:22. Not the best, but way better than I thought I was capable of. Hell, I didn’t know I was capable of running for more than a few miles without walking, much less a half marathon. I didn’t see anyone I knew around the finishers’ area. There was Derby Pie as an end-of-race perk, but it was so sweet, I could only choke down a few bites. There was also beer (provided by Goodwood Brewery, a race sponsor), but at that point I think anything other than plain water would have made me vomit. I just wanted to go home and lie in a bath tub full of hot epsom salt water.

So that’s what I did. I was moving like a 90 year old. The walk back to the car was comical. Very stiff, very sore. My hamstring didn’t seem any worse than every other sore, agonized part of my body. I ate the other half of the leftover Cuban while the tub was filling up and had a bottle of water mixed with electrolyte replacement. The soak in the tub was perfect.

I ran three half marathons in six weeks, five this year. One was a PR and one was with no walking intervals, something I wasn’t sure I could do. I’m kinda proud of myself and my training. I look forward to all the shorter races I have lined up over the winter, mostly just fun stuff nearby, a few of which I’ve gotten Spouse to sign up to run with me. Lots of group runs with M/SRTT. I have some trail races coming up too. And a Thanksgiving Morning race, which I have always been opposed to in theory and, until now, in practice. I guess I’m a real runner, for good or ill. Now I just need to rest this stupid hamstring. At least it’s taken my mind off my stupid fat thumb.

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