The night before the Boy Scout Half Marathon, though, I had a moment of awful panic. I had thought, for some odd reason, that Bowling Green was an hour closer than it actually is. Suddenly, my "not that far" morning drive was twice as long and I had to be on the road at about 4:45am. Yikes. By the time I realized this, it was too late to "go to bed early" and I was horrified that I had blown my chance at a PR simply by not getting enough sleep. With all the great training runs I've had lately, and rumors of a very flat course, I had really been looking forward to a great race. I went to bed as soon as I could, woke up early the next morning, and hit the road.
My drive went pretty smoothly, with some good jams and good road trip company. And even though I left a little later than planned (I was more than a little sluggish at that 4:30 wake up call), I arrived with about 45 minutes before the race. Packet pickup on race morning was a snap, with lots of attentive volunteers and an intelligent layout ready to service the hundreds of runners participating in the half or the 5k. My boyfriend hung out at the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast most of the morning, which was set up right next to the finish line, while I pulled on my shoes, pinned on my bib, and prepped to start running.
September is finally here, which means cooler temperatures (hopefully) and the start of fall running weather. Saturday morning started with that crisp fall air and I revisited my PR hopes as I realized the intense summer heat may be breaking for more favorable conditions. We launched off with little notice (no anthem, no bell or horn, just suddenly moving) and I took off with the back-middle of the pack. Because I run by how I'm feeling, and there were no pacers to gauge off, I just kinda started running, finding myself passing many of the participants very quickly. The first mile marker came up way faster than I was expecting - 9:36 pace. Not bad, and I knew it was sustainable for a little while, but I would rather go a little slower early and stay stronger at the end. I tried to slow down and run comfortably, but before I knew it, I was passing mile two - 8:52, what?! The only times I've run sub-9s have all been 5k distance or shorter, and even then it's rare for me to see that 8 out front. I was crushing it early, feeling great, enjoying the coolness - and then, the sun started to climb into the sky.
It seemed like 90% of this race was run directly into the rising sun. Of course that's not really how it went, but the amount of time I spent staring into the bright light on a cloudless day messed with me mentally. My splits stayed low for ten straight miles, but when less than a mile of that was in any semblance of shade, even the actually cooler temperature didn't seem any less awful than the past couple months' worth of summer heat. By mid-mile 10, I was losing it. My legs felt heavy. I was lightheaded. My stomach was burning. I walked a little more than I planned in my interval pacing - 10:30, ugh, but still getting me back to the finish in time for a PR. Then mile 11 happened. A lot of walking. Coughing up vomit around halfway through. More running into the sun, and other runners around me struggling just as much - 12:00, crap. Only a mile and change to go, but my awesome PR run was falling apart.
Then, one of the course volunteers said something that wasn't exactly special or funny or whatever; he said "everything is taking you back to the fairgrounds now, you're not running away any more!" The finish line was at the fairgrounds, and he was right, all the turns took us closer to the event area. We weren't turning further away (and therefore adding twice the distance with every step). I had texted my boyfriend around the time I threw up and told him I didn't think I was going to make the PR time. He'd texted me back that yes, of course I'd still make it, I just had to get back to him in less than 25 minutes. Well I'd already eaten up 12 of those minutes, so between the inspirational texts and the oddly comforting course marshal's words, I was able to dig deep and get the wheels turning again.
I took the last mile with as much vigor as I could muster, encouraging the other runners who had been gutting it out with me for much of the race. I caved and walked for another small portion, but caught up to another young woman who was struggling and we talked each other up to get running for the final stretch. Approaching the finish, I saw my boyfriend with a big smile waiting to take photos (I haven't had someone waiting for me at the finish for any race yet this year, it helped more than I ever realized to have support on the sidelines) and the big clock at the finish with numbers that made my heart soar. Pushing as hard as I could for the last steps, I crossed as the announcer called my name and the clock ticked me to a four minute PR. "Amanda Nyx from Cleveland, she came a long way to be here today!" You have no idea, announcer man, just how far I have come to this point. I couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.
"The rest of the day" ended up meaning another hour in the car en route to Sandusky, where we spent the next four hours at Soak City water park running up way too many stairs for all the water slides, followed by another five hours at Cedar Point standing for a very, very long time in lines for some of the best roller coasters on the planet. I spent the whole day stretching and wearing my Telics to prevent any additional soreness from developing. Even the next day, I was surprised how healthy and limber I felt considering how much pressure and stress I had put on my legs and feet on Saturday! When I look at the big picture - my splits, the PR, my training, my recovery, all the aspects that contributed to this race experience - I come to only one realization: I am a RUNNER!
Boy Scout Half Marathon Breakdown
Organization: I am incredibly impressed with this race. The staging area, while small and seemingly cramped when I approached, was easy to navigate and kept everyone (runners and spectators) centralized near both the start and finish. Post-race food for athletes was easy to access and ample; I was also impressed that spectators respected the runners' right to the refreshments. Certainly the $6 donation all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast helped keep the spectators full and out of our food! Volunteer support was excellent, with Boy Scout troops at almost all the aid stations, and Girl Scouts manning the rest! We also had ample police support, with officers at all major intersections managing traffic very carefully. Many of the main roads on which we ran were surprisingly active; cars were lining up for a good distance along some of the streets. There was no point at which I worried a car was going to hit a runner, though, thanks to the combination of authoritative police presence and vocal volunteers supporting those officers. THANK YOU for keeping us safe!
The Course: As promised, the course was sooooo flat! A few short uphills led to a small net elevation gain, but at no point did I feel like I was clawing my way up a difficult incline. In fact, when I look at my GPS information and see that it was a 200 foot gain, I'm not quite sure I even believe it! I don't remember having to go UP all that much. The downside to the very flat Bowling Green area is the hightened exposure to the sun. Many stretches of road were totally unprotected from the sun's rays. Combined with the crystal clear blue sky, this made for some gruelingly sunny sections of course that challenged me mentally more than I thought a little sun really could. We also went through a little housing development around mile 8 that was very twisty-turny. That section was difficult to run on the tangents and I ended up adding another .2 miles to my GPS tracking amid all the squiggling about. Overall, though, it's hard for me to complain about a course that let me PR by several minutes despite totally falling apart for an entire mile! From what I see on social media, it seems that many runners celebrated PRs on the course, and I can understand why!
The Swag: Another very reasonably priced half marathon (I paid $40, race day cost was only $50!), with some really cool stuff for the runners. Brooks shirts have been popular at races this year, as they should be for how nice they are to run in, but I gotta admit I am NOT digging the red. Men in the half received a shirt with red/white designs on a dark blue shirt which was MUCH more appealing to me personally, but it's still a very cool logo and the Brooks womens' cut always fits me nicely. We also received the most unique finisher medal I've yet earned: a wooden slice with the Boy Scout logo laser etched! It may not be big or gaudy or flashy, but it's easily one of my favorite pieces from my medal collection. Along with the take-home swag, the post race food spread was diverse and ample, with everything from bananas and watermellon, to crackers and granola bars, and even Twizzlers! I couldn't stop munching while I tried to keep my calves moving and stretching after the run. Photos were made available for purchase, and while I'd of course rather have free photos, this event's photographer has the lowest prices I've yet seen for race photos, so I suppose that's a point in favor despite the lack of freebies. Between the take-homes, the food, and all the attention to detail and safety on the course (and at the event as a whole), I'd say my $40 was VERY well spent! And oh yeah, it supports the Boy Scouts - let's just throw a little more "win" onto this pile!
The Bottom Line: If you're hunting for the perfect PR race, you have found it. Well-timed to keep the beauty of summer with the crisper mornings of pre-fall, well-priced to provide you a great experience without breaking the bank, and well-plotted to put you on the best-possible 13.1 miles in northwest Ohio, the Boy Scout Half Marathon is the perfect tune-up race for fall marathoners or for the half fanatic looking to snipe out a new personal record!
What was your most recent PR course like? What factors went into achieving the PR? What's your favorite/most unique piece of race bling?