Then, I saw my opening! An early June half called "Hill Yeah!" was available with a course that ran through some of the beautiful Lake County parks, and after checking for a clear work schedule, I quickly registered. I knew from the name that I was in for an interesting course and realized I have never actually trained for hills. Well, I guess there's a first time for everything! The elevation map intimidated me a little, but definitely didn't deter me from giving it a go.
I'm in the front on the left, hamming it up and showing off my guns with friends!
Race morning, however, I was suffering, badly, from "lady issues." Sorry guys, it's a fact of life, and for some of us it's pretty debilitating. Fortunately, I knew it was coming, and had spent the day or so beforehand chugging some extra hydration (with help from Hydrus) to ease the pain and cramping, as well as to balance out the fluid loss. I was a little worried I'd still struggle with the combination of hills and bodily rebellion, plus I didn't think I'd actually know anyone at this race since I rarely run out that direction - and then, as I walked up to the pavilion to pick up my bib and shirt, some of the wonderful ladies I'd met at the Rite Aid marathon expo popped up! Of course they'd be at the race, I met them when they were manning the booth for the racing company hosting Hill Yeah! Immediately I felt more at ease and started working up the energy to tackle the race.
Though it was another rainy day, it was only rain (no hail or snow like the Rite Aid), and that kept the day cool. I set off at a slow pace with one of my new running buddies, who was working back into the distance after an injury. While I knew I could go faster, the pace didn't really bother me since I was battling the cramping and lack of training, and didn't really expect to do very well in this race. All I had to do was cross the finish line to earn my bling AND hit my qualifier for Half Fanatics. We took it easy, but after a few miles at a pace that continued to slow as my partner's injury started to flare back up, I realized I was feeling more than fine. By mile 6, the 12 minute per mile pace was making me antsy, and I decided it was time to pick it up a bit.
Drenched, but smiling and still moving!
I flew through mile 7, passing probably 30 runners and several pace groups, including the 2:30 pacer (my goal is usually to finish in under 2:30). Going from 12 minute miles to 9 minute miles is a HUGE change, and I knew would be unsustainable once I hit the big hills later in the course, but it felt so good to be moving quicker. The damp air was making me more sore than usual, so once I opened up my stride a bit I started to both warm up and loosen up. Of course, there was still that matter of elevation ahead...
Let's put it this way: the race is aptly named. And many of us joined in solidarity as the BIG hill started to kick our butts. I'd chat with a couple runners as we limped uphill, then would find a little energy for a short surge, until I got to the next couple runners and we shuffled onwards again as a unit. I kept up the chat-surge-chat-repeat pattern for most of the rest of the race, but around mile 11 ended up catching up with my cousin and settled in with her for a little longer. We've run a few races together, including the Rite Aid half just a couple weeks prior, and though she'd told me she'd be at this one, I had forgotten until I saw her come out of nowhere a little ways ahead of me. She was dealing with a couple issues herself, so while we ran together for a bit, I later broke away from her for the last mile or so.
Despite the slow pace early on, I managed to slog through the rain and hills (and a course that seemed to never end) and crossed the finish line in 2:27:06, almost exactly the same time as my Towpath Half in April! I couldn't believe I had managed to finish in my goal time. My reward was one of the biggest pieces of race bling I've ever received, and a "walking taco" as post-race food! The rain passed long before I finished, so many of the participants stuck around for the good eats, good music, and the awards. After a quick refuel and some photos with the cuz, I actually headed back down the course a little and ran in with some of the girls I'd spent a lot of time with on the course. Finally, the sun started to come out and the heat and humidity drove me back into the car to head home, but I was returning with more than just another race under my belt: I had finally qualified for the Half Fanatics! I joined a couple days later, and am now officially Half Fanatic #15011!
Hill Yeah! Half Marathon Breakdown
Organization: Hill Yeah! is part of the Lake Health running series, managed by a local running company. Though I was unable to make the early packet pickup, race day was a snap! I walked right up to the pavilion to grab my bib and shirt, and minutes later I was prepped for the run. Plenty of volunteers helped at the aid stations and along the route, plus there were tons of friendly faces at both registration and post-race pavilions. While I would consider the race to be a "small" event, the people working definitely treated it like a big race, and I think that added to the overall feel. Besides the half marathon, there was also a relay option, splitting the 13.1 miles into three uneven chunks of distance and allowing runners to team up with friends to complete the race in pieces. There were "handoff zones" along the course, and though I can't speak from experience, it looked as though handoffs were operating smoothly with little confusion.
The Course: Well, as this entire recap implied, the course was a little bit hilly. Scratch that - it was a LOT hilly, long, slow hills that challenged the legs, lungs, and heart. But it was also beautiful: we ran through Chapin Reservation and Penitentiary Glen, both gorgeous woodsy parks, and the start/finish was at Lake Farmpark, a place I had visited many times as a kid and always loved. Miles were clearly marked and aid stations were both ample and well-spaced, but my GPS ran pretty long and most of the runners I talked to agreed that the course seemed really long. I agreed that it felt like it went on considerably longer than 13.1 but my finish time makes me rethink a little. GPS can be off a little, and maybe it felt so awfully long because it was a bunch of HILLS and I was tired!
The Swag: I don't remember how early I actually put money down on this race, but I believe I was in the $50 price range. For the money, I got a Brooks tech shirt (same style as the Rite Aid, and same drab gray color - the guys got a bright blue one and I'm a little jealous), a really cool course, incredible bling, and a cute little post-race party with unique food (I've never seen walking tacos as post-race refreshments). That is definitely a pretty good deal for a half marathon! It's probably the best balance between affordability and value I've ever seen in a race - then you add in the free photos (this post uses two, but there were about 20 good shots of me) and it's pretty much a slam dunk for the money!
The Bottom Line: Honestly, this might be the perfect race if you're after great swag and/or a small local event that makes you feel like a rockstar. It's also excellent for a challenge since the course is anything but flat. I'm not sure I'm looking forward to doing the hills again next year, but I've actually signed up for another half that is managed by the same company and takes place in about two weeks, so we'll see if the organization can stay consistent in an event that will be vastly different from the nature-based Hill Yeah when I take on the Rock Hall Half on August 14!
Are YOU a Half Fanatic? What race-bling tops the charts for you? Does your area provide hilly terrain for regular training runs? Any advice for a hill novice?