My very first half marathon took place in August, and after that experience, you'd think I would have learned my lesson. Running long races in mid-summer heat is AWFUL, especially when the humidity is through the roof. Alas, my goal stretches through the hottest months of the year and I have been determined to persevere. So I signed up for a pretty cool-looking August race at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right here in Cleveland, and I prayed for good weather.
Those prayers were almost answered. After weeks of 80+ days with way more 90+ days than Cleveland is used to, heading into the weekend we had nothing but rain in the forecast. Torrential downpours threatened to not only cool temperatures but make running a very wet endeavour. After experiencing every type of precipitation known to man at the Rite Aid half back in May, the rain wasn't going to bother me too much - I just wanted desperately to avoid the heat. So when race day dawned cloudy and cool, with minimal sun OR rain in the forecast and highs only in the 70s, I thought I had dodged a big weathery bullet.
NOT SO. See, there's this little thing called humidity that barely creeps into the forecast (if it makes it in at all) but can make or break your outdoor experience. Most of this race was run in 90% humidity. Don't know what that translates to in real-feel? I met up with my boyfriend after the race and his first reaction was "Oh no! Looks like it POURED on you guys, how much of the race was in the rain??" I was soaked head to toe and looked like I had gone for a swim, but not a single drop of rain had fallen anywhere along my 13.1 mile journey. GROSS,
Fortunately it was only the humidity; the sun stayed behind the clouds and we even had some nice breezy stretches along the course. I started the race near the back of the pack with a girl who was running her very first half marathon. Her goal time was 2:30 just like mine, and she'd done some actual training, so we figured my experience and her preparedness would make for a good pairing. We took off close to the pacer for our goal time, Our first couple miles were right on track, maybe even a tiny bit fast, but her strength gave out quickly in the oppressive humidity. By mile four, we were at about 15 minute miles, and as much as I wanted to stay with her to help her get through it, I was still feeling well enough to go much faster. We parted, and I started gaining lost ground.
The next two miles breezed by! But as the day got a little warmer, that humitity only increased, and with aid stations spread out every two miles, I wasn't quite hydrating enough for the conditions. It didn't help that I had forgotten to grab the smoothie I had set aside for breakfast and was running on an empty stomach (though the energy gels provided on the course gave me a surprising and delicious boost). Soon I knew I had to find another pacer or running buddy to get through the next few miles, maybe even the rest of the race.
As luck would have it, a woman in a Half Fanatics jersey and another woman nearby were already talking about hooking up for some run-walk intervals together, and I was able to just join them. We had a timer going for 3 minutes of running, 2 minutes of walking, and agreed that we didn't have to stay religious about the walking periods if we were feeling up to a prolonged run segment. Although we lost the Half Fanatic about a mile later to some GI issues, the other woman and I ended up sticking together through the entire rest of the course. Honestly, some parts of this run got so hard that I worry I might not have finished if I hadn't established a partnership with her, and there were times I think she felt the same way.
Somewhere around mile nine, my knee gave out randomly as I put my weight on it for a normal stride. My hamstring had been pulling a little, and with the big downhills in the later portions of the course I had probably over strained my knee joint. It hurt for most of the rest of the race, but I hadn't gone that far just to tap out over a tweaked knee. The old competitive spirit that kept me playing through concussions and other semi-serious injuries back in my college days, combined with the drive, determination, and encouragement of my running buddy kept me moving constantly forward. We still took our walk breaks, but we never skipped or shortened our run intervals, and when the finish line came in sight, we ran hard and finished strong.
The clock showed me my worst half marathon time ever, but I grabbed my (absolutely incredible) medal with just as much pride as if I had PRed this race. Tough conditions are a totally different kind of challenge. I know I can run a half marathon in cold, dry weather. I know I can run it in snow/hail/rain mix. I know I can run it in mid-summer heat. And know I know I can, essentially, swim it when the humidity maxes out. Someone on Instagram said they weren't really that proud of their finish, but I believe everyone who crossed that line should be VERY proud: it takes an incredible amount of guts and willpower to push through adversity of any kind. Every step forward is a million times better than standing still!
Despite the challenge of the race, I seemed to recover pretty quickly as I milled around the post-race festivities at the Rock Hall. The race provided tons of food afterwards, including popsicles that basically made my day, chocolate milk, bananas, watermellon, fresh pizza, and buy-one-get-one Chipotle cards for later in the day. School of Rock was on site... I don't know if you've heard of this program, but it basically takes mind-blowingly talented kids and teaches them how to be rock stars. And it's AWESOME. These kids surprise me every time; they definitely fit right in at THIS venue! There were massotherapists, but the line was kinda long so my strained hammie had to wait until I got home to my foam roller. The plaza was big enough to accommodate all the runners, but small enough that it was easy to find all the women I'd run with for a while and anyone else I hadn't seen on the course but knew would be there, so I checked in with all my buddies to make sure everyone had made it to the end and was doing well before I finally headed for home. Exhausted and sore, but also proud and feeling surprisingly upbeat, I wrapped up my race day with a looooooong nap and a little Netflix!
Rock Hall Half Breakdown
Organization: This was the second race I've done from this organization, and though it's a competitor company for my job, I have to admit I enjoy their events. There's always an early packet pickup (even though I've never gone), but race morning pickup was quick and efficient for this race, just as it was for the last. Races start on time, communication is clear, and the post-race party is always solid. Going to a race should be fun, and I shouldn't have to be any more stressed than 13.1 miles usually makes me; when race companies can run a smooth program, I don't have to worry about my experience. This one was all smooth, no worry - at least, no worry over anything but the weather!
The Course: Minimal big turns, but a lot of little curvy bits and a couple hills, made for a simple but interesting course through Cleveland. Heading out on Carnegie was a little scary: even though there were TONS of police officers, on alert, people at the wheel of big vehicles still like to think they have the right of way, even if there are a dozen runners in front of them. A few intersections felt like they might be my last, but the police force responded quickly to block the path of errant vehicles, and soon I was on Martin Luther King Jr Drive. I don't think I've ever been down that way before, but the course took us through all the cultural gardens and under some very pretty bridges. Definitely my favorite part of the course, and the long downhill definitely helped! We finished along the breezy marginal to finish in front of the Rock Hall. GREAT course, tons of volunteer support, but not nearly enough water stations. Only every other mile did we get water, and in 90% humidity that's not enough for many runners. Any August half should probably plan for 10+ aid stations...
The Swag: Last month, I received the most underwhelming half marathon medal I can possibly imagine. On Sunday, my bling MORE than made up for that last one! Just like the Hill Yeah! half, the Rock Hall's medal is big, vibrant, and unique. I love that the little guitar pick slides up and down the neck! Another Brooks shirt for the collection, too, though honestly I feel like the color combination could have been a little more interesting. The photo above had to be tweaked a bit so you could see the writing on the shirt, since the green gets lost in the blue in most lighting. I mentioned before all the crazy post-race food and the Huma chia seed energy gels, all of which were very appreciated additions to the overall race experience. Though I registered a little late, I still only paid $60 for this race and definitely believe it's a great price for the experience I had.
The Bottom Line: VERY cool race, and one I'll be keeping on my radar for next year. As I get busier and busier on the weekends, I have to be pretty selective about which races I make time for, and this is one that would get more than a passing glance when the 2017 schedule goes around. I'd almost consider it a definite, if it weren't for the lack of aid stations in the middle of August! But for anyone looking for a solid summer half in Cleveland (or for a good destination race), the Rock Hall Half should certainly be high on your list!
How do you handle adverse weather conditions on race day? How often do you run in intense humidity? What's your favorite race medal?