Sunday, February 1, 2015

Race Report: High Cloud-Snapple Half Marathon, January 31, 2015

I ran the High Cloud-Snapple Half Marathon on the C&O canal towpath this morning, finishing in a time of 1:32:07 by my watch - good enough for third female overall.  I'll take it.

It seems like most real bloggers include lots of pictures in their posts, so I'll start with one:
Does it get more cliched than the winter car temperature photo?

18 degrees and a steady wind from the northwest of 20 MPH was what was forecast for the race.  The temperature forecast was right on the money, though fortunately the wind was milder.

This presented a bit of a conundrum, since I've never raced in temperatures this cold, being a delicate flower child of the mid-Atlantic (I know people in New England do it all the time).  I was pretty sure I'd be wearing tights instead of shorts - 30 is my cut-off there.  But I really wasn't sure how much to bundle up on top - too little and I'd obviously freeze; too much and I'd first sweat and then freeze.

After discussing with my coach, I opted to go with a long sleeve t-shirt over sports bra on top and tights on the bottom.  (spoiler - it was the right choice).  And mittens.  My big honking mittens that look like boxing gloves, with handwarmers inside.  I also carried a water bottle with me.  I usually do this anyway, but it was especially important this time - when I try to drink from water stations I usually end up wearing most of it.  I REALLY didn't want to deal with that today.

So, dressed thusly, plus a big sweatshirt on top and my big fuzzy headband, I arrived, picked up my number, and sat in my car for as long as I could before going out for my warm-up jog.

I wasn't sure how much to jog - it usually takes me about 3 miles to warm-up, but I also didn't want to run up too much before the half.  In warmer weather, I usually do about 2 miles pre-race and then use the first few miles of the half to get up to speed.   I stuck with that plan here,  jogging a slow two miles plus a few drills before lining up. 

I was pretty happy to note that a) the wind wasn't horrible and b) the towpath seemed pretty clear of ice.  The C&O canal towpath, though technically a trail, is a smooth flat crushed stone surface that can be as fast as a road course.  IF it's not frozen into ruts or covered with ice.  Based on my warm-up, neither seemed to be the case here.

The race start was delayed a few minutes (understandable, everyone was moving slowly) and then a few minutes more as they played what has to be the LONGEST version of the National Anthem I've ever heard.  I like my country as much as the next person, but they really do need a PDQ version for certain situations.  Something like:

"Oh say can you see, the home of the brave!" 


Finally, we were off.  And I (stupidly) sprinted.  I think part of it was that I was really cold and just trying to get moving; part of it was that I haven't raced in forever, and when I'm rusty, I tend to get insecure, not trust my own sense of pacing, and go out too fast.  Mea frosty culpa.

So...went out too fast, but came to my senses and backed off after about half a mile.  My breathing was a bit ragged between the cold and the hard surge, but all I could do was relax and work with it (and remember that that's why you don't sprint off of the line, Cris)  Two other women passed me as soon as I eased off, but I just let them go - I'd either catch them later, or not - it'd be stupid to hang with them now.

My attempt to take a picture of the icy trail post race.
It ended up being evidence not of the ice but of the fact
that my hands were too cold to use my cell.
About that time we hit the first major ice patch.  I had been happy to see a clear towpath during my warm-up, but apparently that was misleading - there were significant patches of ice spread throughout the course.  Some were fairly short - 6-7 steps; others were as long as 50 meters.  Particularly troublesome were the areas near the locks on the canal - those tended to be spans of ice and hard ruts.  Oh well - we all ran on the same course, so wasn't like I was any more disadvantaged than anyone else.

It did change the dynamic of the race, though - rather than being a steady hard effort, it became segments of hard running interupted by "quick feet" drills as I tried to traverse the icy patch quickly while not wiping out hard.  Similarly, there were patches of hard ruts where I had to slow and pick my footing carefully, lest I roll an ankle (which happened once anyway).

(Two things I noted post race were a) that I wasn't as exhausted as I normally am post half, though I did race it all out; and b) that my shoulders were the sorest part of my body.   I think both are due to the conditions - the footing meant that I had multiple "rest breaks" aerobically during the race; and my bad habit of tensing up my shoulders hit full force everytime I tried to maintain my balance on an icy patch.)

So I continued on, keeping the two females ahead of me in sight (though far ahead - they had opened a gap).  The race had gotten fairly spread out, so we were running in a long single file - which worked well, given the terrain issues.  Around the time we hit the half way point and the turn around I started feeling a bit better - less cold and stiff - and I was starting to close the gap on the second place woman.  However, my right shoe was also getting loose.  Argh - I wasn't making it another 6 miles on this shoe, so I pulled off to the side at the next icy patch.  I reasoned that since I had to slow there anyways, it was the best place to stop.

Unfortunately, what I thought would be a 10 second stop ended up being closer to 50 - once I got my mittens off, I couldn't get my hands to work to tie my shoe.  And then I couldn't get my mittens back on at all - the liner had gotten pulled out and wadded up, and my hands were too cold to get the liner back in.  Finally, I got them on somehow, using my fists and teeth.  They were backwards with my hands balled up in fists, but they were on, and I was off (less my water bottle).

The bad news was that the other two women were out of sight now; the good news was that at least I had been passed by a few men, which gave me someone to chase down and focus on for the next few miles.  The tailwind that we had was now a headwind, but I knew I only had to deal with it for a few miles.  It did gust pretty hard at times, almost stopping me in my tracks (or so it seemed), but then it would ease.  It was good practice in working through a bad patch in a race.

With two miles to go, I had passed all the guys who had passed me, and couldn't see anyone ahead.  Basically, I was running completely solo.  Normally it would be hard to maintain motivation here - I doubted I'd catch the women ahead in the next two miles, and I was sure there was no one behind me.  And this was not going to be a PR at all.  But....I just wanted this to be over, so I kept pushing, easing off the gas only when I had to tapdance over yet another patch of ice.

Finally, I saw the marker for mile 13, and the finish behind it.  I debated whether to try to kick for a second, since it really served no purpose.  But...the purpose of doing this race was to RACE, and part of racing is finding that extra gear when you really don't want to.  So I sucked it up and kicked for the practice, and then it was over.

Congratulated the second place girl (couldn't find the first) and hightailed it to my car.   After defrosting for about ten minutes, I headed to the the little finisher's festival and enjoyed some frozen bananas.  (I'm not sure that was the intent, but they were delicious - bananas are always best when frozen).  Then I headed home, with a brief detour at one of the locks to retrieve my lost water bottle and attempt to take pictures of the ice.

When I checked my splits on my Garmin, they were all over the place.  After downloading them, I realized that that was in part because the mile markers were all over the place.  Rather than attempt to make sense of them, I've just cut and pasted the actual splits here.  The effect of the wind really shows here in the second half.  I've also included my cadence so number geeks can note my high cadence.  180 is supposed to be "ideal"; I have no idea whether mid-to high 190s is "good" or "too high."


Other notes:

  • Got to the race around 7:45 am - early, but I knew parking was limited.  This was just about the perfect time, as it seemed like most other people started showing around 8 or 8:15.
  • I was wondering how I would handle the cold - I think I actually handled it pretty well.  It slowed me, but probably not to the extent it slowed others.  And wearing a long sleeve t-shirt over tights was the perfect attire for this weather.
  • If I had to do it again, I'd try screw shoes for this race.  I've never run in them before, because even in bad weather a fair amount of my running is on bare pavement.  But here, on a crushed stone path with stretches of ice, they would have been perfect.  Though my Adidas Boston Boosts weren't too bad on the ice.
  • I wish I had warmed up for longer pre-race.
  • I need better mittens - ones with a liner that doesn't pull out and wad up.
  • This race had some of the best volunteers ever.  In conditions like this, running is far easier than standing there handing out cups of water.  I can't believe how good they were, and how positive they were in their cheering.
  • One puff of foradil (asthma meds) in the morning pre-race.  One gel half-way through.


  1. Nice race - conditions yesterday were pretty difficult (even just for a training run), so you performance is even more impressive.

    Nice "5:55 mile" in there! Guess this is another argument for not getting mentally caught up in mid-race splits.

  2. Racing on ice, how fun. Ha! I had to stop and tie my shoe during a marathon and it was a momentum killer - and that was without the mitten problem!

  3. Great job dealing with the icy patches and troublesome mittens. I hope that the next time I am dealing with adverse race conditions I can remember that everyone else is facing the same conditions and not let it get to me.

  4. I agree the race volunteers were great. I am putting this one on my calendar for next year. Great winter run.

    By the way, the directions on their facebook page were way off. I ended up driving all around looking for the race. I ran up to the start line just as they finished the national anthem and pinned my bib on during the first mile. So the long national anthem definitely worked for me.

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