This past Sunday, I ran in my 4th half marathon of 2013 (and my 8th half marathon ever). The race was located in the scenic city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour from home. I ran this race in 2011 and, despite the fact that it was unseasonably cold and SNOWING that year, I really enjoyed it. I was looking forward to returning this year.
The pre-race spaghetti dinner was held on Saturday evening at packet pickup. My bestest running friend Emily, her husband, my boyfriend, and myself made the trip to J-town on Saturday night to pick up our packets and (for me & Emily, at least) to increase our carb stores. One great thing about this race is that the all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner is included in the price of registration, and you can buy a guest pass to the dinner for only $5. Another great thing about the race– registration (including the spaghetti dinner) is only $35 if you register before packet pickup! Such a great value. We each had a plate of spaghetti with meatballs, a side salad, a super-yummy breadstick, and a piece of cake. It was delicious, too.
After dinner, we headed to Panera to pick up our race-morning staple– cinnamon crunch bagels!! Emily and I both fuel up on one every half!
On race morning, I woke up, had my bagel & a big cup of coffee, and headed out the door by 7 a.m. I wanted to run my first “semi-naked” half, so I left my HRM and my bottle of water behind. I felt ready for the race and confident that I’d be able to breeze through 13.1 miles to the finish line. Here’s what really happened:
As soon as the gun went off and I started running, I knew that something was very off about my body. I had a pounding headache and my legs felt as heavy as concrete pillars. I pushed on, assuming I’d loosen up after a few miles. Mile 1 came and went, and I felt the same. Mile 2– same. Mile 3– same. At this point I realized I had forgotten to take my Aleve (a race day constant) and my spirulina (my newest wonder-food), and I felt like those were both big fails on my part. I took off the handkerchief I was wearing around my head, and it seemed to help with my headache. I also realized that this part of the course, which is in one of the most beautiful parts of town, was much more hill-y than I remembered. I guess I was so caught up in the scenery in 2011 that I failed to notice my burning quads! By the mile 4 water station, I was sooooo ready for a drink of water and some honey stinger chews. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a gel that early on in a race!
I remembered from 2011 that miles 6-7 were a relatively steep decline. I was so relieved to see those miles arrive! I felt sure I’d feel back to my old-self by the time I reached the bottom of the hill. I didn’t speed up going downhill like I normally do, mainly to avoid getting those nasty side stitches that can creep up when you’re jarring your body running downhill. I took it nice and easy and enjoyed the shaded scenery. This part of the course is also very beautiful– it winds through a wooded area blotted with oranges and reds in true fall fashion. About halfway down the hill, it happened– despite my diligent efforts to prevent them, side stitches got the best of me. I walked. I walked twice. Down a hill. For a change, I was actually thankful to see the course level out at the bottom.
At this point, the course turned into a semi-busy road running through a mostly-residential part of town. The roads were open to vehicular traffic, which kept you alert to say the least. The course, which had been shaded, was now out in the open sunshine. And it was hot-hot-hot (near 80 degrees I’d guess) for that time of year. I could tell it was getting hotter, because I drank two cups of water at the 8-mile water stop. I also stopped to take three more chews before continuing on. Fortunately, my side stitches had disappeared. The next three miles were a new out-and-back loop that wasn’t part of the course in 2011, and I had no idea what to expect. The new loop was much hillier than expected. It was hilly, it was hot, and it was in the wide-open sunshine. Not to mention my legs still felt like concrete. For the first time ever, I started to doubt my ability to finish the race.
Finally, a good mile!!! Oddly enough, for one brief mile, I felt like I was flying on air. I was enjoying the view of the town and passing other runners left-and-right. I was ready to kick the last three miles of this race’s butt.
This part of the course ran through relatively-busy downtown, although one lane had been blocked off for the runners which was much less stressful. The scenery, as always, was really enjoyable. Johnstown has a quaint little downtown area and on a normal day it would’ve easily preoccupied my attention. Not on Sunday, though. I blame the staggering heat and the humid air for the wall I pushed through for the last 5K of the race. To spare you the details, I had water at mile 11 but was so parched by mile 12 that I would have given a huge hug and kiss to anyone standing at the 12-mile marker with something to drink. Nothing, though. I was kicking myself for not bringing my water bottle along for this race. I managed to scarf down one last chew without water around mile 12. I had goosebumps, which told me that I was dehydrated. I was starting to panic. All I wanted to see was the finish line. And, finally, I did. When I crossed, I didn’t care about my time. I was just so thrilled to have crossed the finish line after my 13.1 mile journey!
I was greeted at the finish line by my younger brother, who finished right around 1:55, a PR for him! I was so proud! I finished right under 2:05, which was my second best time ever. It wasn’t the PR that I’d hoped for, but I was happy with my time especially considering the conditions. I waited for my bestest running friend Emily and my cousin, who weren’t far behind me. We all agreed that something about the day– whether it be the heat, humidity, or both– made the race one of the toughest we’d ever done.
Despite the events of the day, I would recommend the Johnstown race to anyone! I really do love the race itself. It’s a smaller field, which appeals to some more than others. But it’s a nicely organized, very scenic small-town race. They offer a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon, and a full marathon on the same day. In the past, the full marathon course has been a Boston qualifier! I’m assuming the race will return to that route once construction is finished in the area.
What I don’t recommend is running a race in the same weather conditions without taking along a water bottle! Or without taking spirulina for that matter!! =)