Saturday, November 28, 2015
~40°F, 8:30am, Hiland High School, Millersburg, Ohio
When I decided not to run the River Run this year, I set out on a mission to find a replacement fall half marathon. I’d gotten used to the idea of a spring half and a fall half keeping me busy training, so there was no question, I was running. I got it narrowed down to two races, one in October and one in November. And not just in November, but the Saturday after one of the most indulgent holidays we Americans celebrate: Thanksgiving. This race, the Amish Country Half Marathon, would pose a lot of challenges: staying hydrated during the holiday (I like my wine on Thanksgiving, OK?), figuring out how to fit more traveling into the 4-day weekend, trying to balance family time, and the legendary hills of Amish Country. I’m fueled by my need for challenges, so I signed up without knowing what to expect.
But, let’s be honest, I signed up for the cheese at the finish line.
My training, admittedly, was not exactly right this time around (though I started strong). I missed runs, I dealt with plantar fasciitis flare-ups, I focused on heavier weight training than I ever have, and this all made me even more nervous for this hilly challenge. As the race got closer, I got more and more nervous, but I somehow convinced myself that I needed to head to the starting corral with a different mindset than what I was used to. I wouldn’t be making a PR this race and I would likely need to walk a few times. This is something that really got me down during the Cleveland Half Marathon in May, but I knew that I would need to expect it during this course due to the hills that put Cleveland’s last few miles to shame.
So, while everyone else was Black Friday shopping (or sleeping off their Black Friday shopping exhaustion), E and I hit the road (but not without a pit stop for some tacos al pastor at Taco Bajaa Fresh in Akron). We got to Amish Country around 6:30pm and were sidelined a mile away from the packet pickup by a strange parade-like roadblock…we still haven’t really figured out what that was…Anyways, once we got through, I picked up my packet, we checked in to the hotel, and I laid out my race outfit, banana, GU, and bib. I was as ready as I could be. We swam a bit, then went to bed for some anxious sleep.
When I got up in the morning, I taped my knees to hopefully avoid the pain I felt on the Cleveland Marathon hills and kept an eye on the constant drizzle outside. At least the temperature wasn’t looking too bad…
In the corral, I was surrounded by such a unique group of runners. Some were from out of town like I was, others were from out of state, and others were locals (Amish included!). The drizzle was making me nervous and a little deflated, but I was still excited to get going and see what this race was all about: hills and scenery. It didn’t quite look like the race route video, but the scenery was, in fact, beautiful. I even managed to take some photos and videos my first 5 miles of the race. The animals, the countryside, and even the drizzly grey morning all made such a peaceful and beautiful run.
If you look closely at the photo on the left, you’ll see the giant looming hill in the distance. This was around mile 3 or 4. Yep. And if you’re wondering, yes, it was this intense pretty much the entire time. Oh, and the last leg of the race on the way back to the high school for a finish on the track? That’s straight uphill. People aren’t kidding when they say this race is a challenge. And I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.
I felt a little knee pain over halfway through the race, but got through it and it disappeared. I really think having hills the entire route really conditioned me to run at a good pace and form in order to get through the whole thing. I stopped to walk around 3 or 4 times heading up hills and I wasn’t defeated. I was actually prepared for more walking breaks! And, while this wasn’t a high energy race with cheering crowds, the peaceful atmosphere really helped me tackle the challenge (or “conquer the hills”). And it might feel like a stretch, but I really felt a sense of camaraderie among the runners that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. We all struggled and we all pushed through some tough challenges together, despite being such a wide range of different “types” of runners. In the end, I ran, according to my past half marathon times, average. I didn’t PR, but it wasn’t my slowest race and I was SO HAPPY at the end.
But here’s the crazy part, folks. I placed. I placed 3rd in my age group. I couldn’t really express my shock at the time (if you ask E, he will confirm that I just kept weakly saying “whaaaat?”) and I’m still riding a bit of a high.
Even if I hadn’t placed, I had such a good time at this event and I look forward to running in Amish Country for years to come!