Last Saturday, I ran one of my favorite local races in the small town of Connellsville, Pennsylvania. The annual race, hosted by the Yough River Trail Council, takes place on part of the Great Allegheny Passage, which is a rail-trail stretching 150 miles from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD.
One of the reasons this race is so popular is that it offers a variety of distances for runners of all abilities– 5K, 10K, 10-Mile, and half marathon. Typically held the day before Easter, it’s also a great “training run” for anyone running in the Pittsburgh half or full marathons. I run the 10-miler each year that I run the Pittsburgh half, and I ran the half marathon the year that I ran the Pittsburgh full. It gives me a good gauge of whether I’m where I want to be in my training for May. Another great thing about this race is the cost– for a pre-registered price of just $15, you can run any distance of the race. This price includes a free T-shirt, finishers’ prize (this year it was a medal for the half marathoners and a ribbon for all other distances), and refreshments along the course as well as at the finish line. How many other 5K’s have you run at that price point, much less half marathons?!
Because this race is an out-and-back course on the trail, you don’t have the frills and fanfare of the larger races, but the scenery is beyond beautiful and offers a great distraction as you count down the miles to the finish line. I don’t miss the fanfare, and I never get bored. The trail can be somewhat desolate after you pass the 10K turnaround point, but this is actually my favorite part of the race. Not only do I not feel pressured and distracted by other runners, but the views after this point are amazing. You are running with the Youghiogheny River flowing in sight to your right, and historical coke ovens visible just off the trail to the left. If you have done the 5K or 10K but have never done the 10-miler or half marathon, I highly recommend it just for the scenery! This is all-around a great, well-organized local race with great volunteers.
Okay, that’s my spiel about the race itself. I swear I have no connection and am in no way affiliated with the Yough River Trail Council, haha– I just really enjoy this race each year and want so share how wonderful it is so that everyone knows they need to run it. 😉 Now for my actual recap.
I arrived about an hour before the 9:00 a.m. start to give myself plenty of time to pick up my packet, use the restroom, and relax before the race started. I absolutely hate rushing around before any race– it gives me more anxiety about the race than I already have. And I already had a lot of anxiety about this race. I signed up for the 10-miler knowing I needed to cover that distance before the Pittsburgh half in May, but my training has been really lacking lately and I haven’t run that distance in about two years. So I had no clue what to expect.
The temperature at the start of the race was unseasonably cold (in my opinion)– about 30 degrees, but it felt cooler running along the river. I wore running tights, a long-sleeve tech shirt, a light jacket, and gloves. By mile 2, though, the jacket came off. The sun was shining and made for a very comfortable running temperature.
I started this race hoping to finish with an average pace of 10:00 (optimistic) – 10:30 (realistic). When I ran my first mile in 9:55, I knew I needed to pace myself a little better if I wanted to run a consistent race. I slowed down to a 10:22 pace for the second mile and tried to hold that steady as I moved forward.
The first few miles of any run are always a physical and mental struggle for me. I’m not sure why. I have trouble finding my stride and have doubts about whether or not I”ll be able to finish every time. Somewhere between the 3-mile marker and 5-mile marker is always where the endorphins kick in and my race begins. I like to call it “Magic Mile 4.” This race was no different. It wasn’t until after the 10K turnaround point (about 3.1 miles in) that I started to really feel confident about my race. The beautiful scenery I mentioned earlier helped, too, I’m sure.
At the turnaround point (5 miles), I was feeling great, but I stopped at the water station to eat some Shot Bloks and take a sip of water before starting the second half of the race. From past experience, I know not to wait until I feel my body slowing down to do this.
When I start a race, I always think about how many miles I’ve run so far. After the turnaround point, I always start counting down the miles to the finish line. I’ve found this little mental trick to be extra helpful with longer races like this one. The total distance doesn’t seem as dauting once you start telling yourself “only 4 miles to go… only 3 miles to go… rather than “I’ve run 6 miles… I’ve run 7 miles…” etc. It seems to help me, at least.
I’m happy to say that my fastest mile during this race was mile 8 at a pace of 9:45. At that point, I was on an endorphin/shot blok high and feeling great. Although my last two miles were a little slower because of it, I was glad to know that I could still pick up the pace in the second half of a race, even though I’ve taken a 2-year hiatus from distance running.
The last two miles of the race were tough, but I pushed through and finished within my goal time. Final race results aren’t posted yet, but my running watch is showing a finish time of 1:43:06, which is an average pace of 10:20 per mile.
The slowest I ever ran this race was in 2015 when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and I finished with a pace of 11:03. The fastest I ever ran this race was in 2014 when I ran the half marathon with a pace of 9:18 (oh, to be that speedy again). So a pace of 10:20 after very little training is a pace that I can deal with, knowing it’s a base upon which to improve.
Bring on the half in May. =)
This weekend I’m taking a break from distance running to run a local 5K in the snow and cold. Fantastic (note my sarcasm). Is this winter ever going to end?
What are your running plans for the weekend?