Sunday, May 17, 2015

Race report: St. Michaels Half-marathon May 16, 2015

I ran the St. Michaels Half-marathon yesterday, finishing in 1:32:06.  It was one of my slowest half-marathons ever, but despite that, I'm pretty happy with it.

But before I discuss the race, I'm going to first bitch about Hertz - the rental car company.

(and yes, this is related to the race).

I've written and then deleted an extended discussion - this is a running blog, not Yelp, and so I'm not sure anyone wants to read me ranting to that extent (if you do, I will gladly do a second post).  The hyper short version is that I needed to rent a car to get to the race this weekend, and arrived at Hertz's counter at National Airport at 1 pm on Friday.  (my parents live about 40 minutes from the race, and about 2 hours from DC - my plan was to stay with them the night before).

It wasn't until 2:15 pm that I actually was able to drive away from the airport. This was not due to computer problems or car issues or anything other than some of the most abysmally slow and unmotivated customer service I've ever experienced.

This 75 minute delay cost me more than just that chunk of time, because at 2:00 pm the highway I was planning on driving through DC was shut down for a procession.  So I had to take an alternate route, which added more time, which then put me into the very rush hour I had hoped to avoid. 

And that was how, having left my house at 12:30 pm, I ended up rolling into my parents' place at about 6:15 - nearly 6 hours of transit.  I wasn't happy.


Fortunately the drive to the race in the morning went much more smoothly.  Though the half didn't start until 7:40 am, they had requested that runners be in the race by 6:30 am (this is because there's really only one road into St. Michaels, which is the same road that part of the race would be run on.

No problem - left mom and dad's around 5:15 am, and rolled in at around 6:00 am - enough to get a good parking spot right at the start (parking was well managed - they really had it down to a science).  I had over 90 minutes until race start, but I had stretching and warming-up and bag check to do, so it really wasn't that much extra time.

Except, there was no bag check. (To be fair, they had never promised it - I had just assumed).

The keys looked almost exactly
like this photo.
This was a problem, as I had been counting on bag check to hold my car keys.  I normally don't check car keys, but the rental car keys were both keys to the car chained with metal twine to a big plastic tag - far too big for any pockets.  And I've never felt comfortable leaving my keys on a wheel well (and these were likely too big to hide).

With no other options, I stuffed them in my sports bra.  I'll leave the chafing to your imagination; the official race photos featuring my large spiky left breast will be available on Tuesday.


I "warmed up" by jogging about 2.5 miles and then doing an extended stride to get my HR up.  I finished around 7:05 - very early, but the race management stated that we were supposed to be in the start area by 7:15 for the 7:40 start.  I didn't know if I'd be able to warm-up any more once there (as it turned out, we were able to jog).

I use quotations for "warm-up" because I was already pretty warm - this was one of the first really warm weekends in this area, and it felt more like June or July than mid-May.  Not ideal.  On the other hand, I was doing this race as a mid-training tune-up for a June marathon, so having to deal with this weather was good prep.

I got in the area at 7:15, and hung out waiting.  As it turned out, our race start was delayed until just about 8 am.  This was unfortunate, as the temperature and dew point kept rising, but nothing to do about it but keep drinking water.


Finally we started.  My plan had been to go out at about marathon pace feel for the first 3 miles, and then start dropping the pace and chasing people.   I was also carrying my handheld water bottle, which I'd run with until about mile 8 when I'd toss, per my normal practice.

It took some effort, but I successfully reined myself for the first few miles, holding back as I watched everyone pull ahead.  I have a much harder time holding back at the start of a half than for any other race.  I think it's because I tend to think of the 5K as the longer version of a mile, the 10K as a longer 5K, and the 10 miler as a longer 10K.  In contrast, I think of the half-marathon as the short version of a marathon, which leads me to all sorts of impetuous pacing decisions.  Which really suck once I belatedly remember that a half-marathon is indeed a long race.

I had planned to pick it up, but even 3 miles in, I was starting to notice the heat.  With 10 miles left to go, I decided it wasn't such a bad idea to procrastinate picking it up.  Plus, I was already starting to reel people in.  So I kept it conservative, and drank from my handheld water bottle like it was my best friend.

As the miles passed, I continued to modify my race plan.  At mile 5, I was still running in control, and felt like I could pick it up.  But I could also tell I was starting to bake a bit - though I hadn't really picked up the pace, I was working harder than marathon effort.  And I honestly didn't know where my line was, heat-wise.  So I decided to stay conservative a bit longer.

I did note one advantage of my handheld - I was passing a lot of people at water stations.  Almost every runner I saw was slowing dramatically at the water stations to make sure they got a full drink (smart).  But this also meant that I did a lot of passing at water stations as I held my pace and sipped from my bottle.


Mile 8 would have been a convenient point to drop my bottle (near the finish, so I could grab it after).  But by mile 8, that water bottle was my best friend.  Not only did I not want to toss it, I wanted it full.

So, for the first time in my running career, I came to a full stop at the next water station, and took some time to fill my handheld from some of the water cups.  Then capped it and started up running again.  I lost about 15 seconds by doing that, I'm guessing.  But I think I gained more than I lost.


I also modified my race plan again at mile 8, and decided to stay conservative a bit longer.  With 5 miles to go, though I wasn't in trouble and could pick it up slightly, I was feeling pretty darn hot and working pretty hard.  And I was passing down people consistently - I don't think a single person passed me after the 10K mark, while I passed quite a few.  So I decided to play it safe and wait to pick it up until the last hairpin turn, which was about 2 miles out.  Racing this long in weather this hot was pretty new to me, and 5 miles was still fairly far from home.

You can argue either that it was smart, or that I wimped out.  It was probably a bit of both.  But either way, I think it was the right decision.  There are times when one should dig deep and take risks, but 5 weeks out from your goal race on a very hot day probably isn't that time.  And that logic was ridiculously appealing at that point in the race.


By the turn-around at 11.5 my trusty water bottle and I had chased down all the women within reach.  I saw three ahead of me, including my friend and teammate Jillian who won the race (GO CAR)!  The was one guy who was slowly coming back to me, so I reeled him in and just kept running to the finish.  Per my usual, when I got to mile 13 I started kicking like heck, even though there was no one to beat - again, practice kicking every race, so you have it when you need it.

Then I was done, and I was very glad. 


Miles 1-2: 13:48
Mile 3: 7:01
Mile 4: 6:53
Mile 5: 7:00
Mile 6: 6:53
Mile 7: 7:15
Mile 8: 7:13
Mile 9: 7:21 (water stop)
Mile 10: 7:05
Mile 11: 6:59
Mile 12: 7:08
Mile 13: 6:53
last bit: 37 seconds.

Other notes:

  • This was a tough one, heat-wise.  Conditions at the start were temp of 70, dew point of 64; by the time I finished, the temp was 77, dew point 66.  Plus bright sunshine on a course that mostly lacked shade.
  • The race was also surprisingly windy, with a pretty tough headwind at times, especially during the middle miles.  Fortunately, the course had enough turns that you were never fighting the wind for too long. my friend PJ later noted, when it's as warm as this race was, you develop a new appreciation for the cooling effects of a headwind.
  • First sunburn of the season!
  • The course had three hairpin turns - for each of these, I made a point of taking 5 quick steps as I came out of the turn to get back into my groove - it worked well.
  • This was a really well managed and fun race.  Yes, I wish they had bag check, and I wish they had better weather.  But on the whole, I really enjoyed the race and would recommend it to others.  And the course could be a fast one, if they ever get good weather.
  • One weird thing was that I was pretty certain I finished the race in 4th place - I had counted women ahead of me at the last turnaround, and I wasn't passed after that.  So I was a bit surprised to learn that I was actually 5th, and second in my age group.  I suspected at first that it was a bib swapping issue (men running with women's bibs), but I looked up the woman who apparently beat me, and she's run comparable times to me in the past.  So I guess I must have just missed her while guzzling from my water bottle.
  • Don't judge - you would have looked her up too.
  • This race offers morning bib pick-up and the start, and it's very well run.  So no need to worry about doing pick-up the night before.
  • Net consensus from everyone who ran the race was that they were several minutes off of the time they had expected to run.  While the time on paper does bug me slightly, considering that 7 minute miles are my goal pace for a distance twice as long (that's just how I'm wired, folks), I'm still pretty happy with the race.  And my coach thought it was a great race for me too, given the conditions, so yay.
  • My time is just about an exact match to the half-marathon I ran in January in 18 degrees with high winds and large patches of ice.  The compare and contrast amuses me.
  • Hertz sucks.


  1. I had an awful experience with Hertz at the Miami airport last year. We stood in line for over 90 minutes and everyone working at the counter was chatting and seemed completely unconcerned about the wait time. When we finally made it to the counter we lost another 20 minutes to the employee trying to upsell us ("You want satellite radio, right?" "NO." "This is Miami, of course you want a convertible!" "NO.") In retrospect, what we should have done was sign up for Hertz Gold while we were standing in line and then skipped the rest of the line :-).

    I have major admiration for anyone who runs a half marathon in the spring/summer (especially those who are speedy like you). I don't think I can race further than 10K between April and October.

    1. I will NEVER RENT HERTZ AGAIN - you've validated me completely.

  2. TOTALLY would have looked her up, too. I did that when I saw that I wasn't the place I thought in a marathon: I looked up these two "women" with high (back-corral) bib numbers, and I'm pretty sure they were actually the two guys who trotted past me at mile 22 or so in the race. Luckily the race puled their finish from the leaderboard, but I never actually figured it out.
    Thanks for the tip at the hairpin turn - those turns kill me. It takes me so long to recover!

    1. re: 5 steps. It's hard to convince yourself to do it - it's usually the last thing you want to do. But I just count quickly to 5 and then it's done. And it really helps.