Sunday, April 4, 2021

Race Report: Salisbury Half-Marathon, April 3, 2021

 I ran the Salisbury Half-Marathon yesterday, finishing in a time of 87:52, which was good enough for top master female and 7th female overall.

This wasn't the first year for this race, but it was the first year I had really paid it any attention, though I'm familiar with the race management, having run the St. Michaels Half-Marathon a few years ago.  Both the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and the Monument Avenue 10K fall in early April each year, and I've always chosen to do one of those.

But not this year.  Both Monument Avenue and Cherry Blossom went virtual, while Salisbury decided to take a stab at hosting a live race with Covid protocols.  So....Salisbury it was.

The race was split into multiple waves, with my wave starting at 7:30 am - way too early to drive that morning (especially since I'd have to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge - a noted bottleneck).    So I drove over Friday morning and checked into the local Marriott where I worked all day.  I was amused when packing my travel back-pack to pull out old receipts from January and March 2020 - that sounded about right.


Race morning was another reminder that I hadn't done an overnight travel race in a very long time.  Essentially:

  • Leave hotel.
  • Realize in parking lot that I have forgotten the stroopwafel I wanted to snack on before the start, so return to room to retrieve stroopwafel.
  • In possession of stroopwafel, attempt to leave hotel parking lot.  Only to realize that my vision is horrible.  Look at prescription driving glasses, realize that one lens has fallen out of frame.
  • Grab prescription sunglasses.  Confirm that even though it's pre-dawn, I can see well enough out of them to safely drive.  
  • Drive to race. 
  • Park.  Put on racing shoes.  Leave car to start warming up.
  • Realize that the air is REALLY cold and dry, which aggravates both my asthma and my vocal chord dysfunction.  
  • Return to car to gulp Pepto-Bismol (it coats my throat and helps with the VCD; the asthma requires my rescue inhaler).
  • Finally, about 15 minutes behind schedule, I start warming up.
From there, things went a bit more smoothly.  I found my way to the start, saw some friends (recognized by their running gait and their singlets, since everyone was wearing masks), and found a place to warm up.  


I've run a few races since Covid started, each with their own protocols.  One race in Pennsylvania last summer ran as an individual time trial, with runners starting on their own whenever they wanted within an hour window.  In Virginia and DC, most races have been running waves of 25 runners, masks on before start and after finish.

This race was a bit different.  The Covid protocols started a few days early, when each runner had to return an online survey confirming they were free of Covid symptoms.  Bib pick-up was done not in an expo but by drive through - you drove into the parking lot with your bib number displayed on your dashboard and rolled down your window to be handed your bib.  (I opted to pay and have my bib mailed instead).

On race morning each wave was 200 people, pre-loaded into a corral with 200 cones spaced in rows of 4, with 6 feet between each cone.  We entered the corral from the rear, with a temperature check required.  Then you found a cone and stood by it.

Each row of runners started 4 seconds apart.  There was a countdown of "3-2-1-Go" and then you would advance 6 feet forward to your equivalent cone in the next row.  "3-2-1-Go" and another set of runners would start, with each row behind advancing another 6 feet towards the start line.  This video gives a sense of how the start worked.

We were required to cover our mouths and noses all the way until we crossed the start line.  I wore a face mask for most of the wait, but with about 2 rows (8 seconds) to go I swapped to my buff and held it against my face while tucking my mask into my bra.   I held it there until it was my time to start, letting go of the buff with my hand as I crossed the start mat.


I'm used to entering a corral shortly before race start and working my way up to the front so I can start with those at similar pace.  However, this format didn't work that way - had I wanted to start at the front, I would have needed to enter the corral much earlier, so I could have gotten to one of the first rows of cones.  

The end result was that I ended up starting fairly far back in the corral - behind the 2:30 half-marathon pace group.  Next to me were some guys who were talking about wanting to run 1:15 for the half.  

The pace group leader ahead yelled back - "'shouldn't you guys be further up front?" and the two men responded that it was fine - they wanted to ease into the race.

And then I realized that I had mis-heard, and they were targeting 1:50, not 1:15.    And I realized I was really in the wrong row.  



Starting way too far back meant that I was passing a LOT of people in the first miles of the race.  The course was wide and people were spread out (I think the largest pack was 5 people) so there was no traffic issue whatsoever.  But it did feel odd.  

I think there was a part of me that subconciously panicked a bit (OMG I can't believe I'm this far behind) and overcorrected as a result.  I was also cold and that may have contributed.  But in any event I didn't ease into the race as much as I normally would have.  By about mile 4 I could tell that I was a bit too hot, and eased back slightly to something more sustainable aerobically.

From then, I just tried to hold a steady hard rhythm as I reeled in slower runners.  The course reminded me a lot of Grandma's Marathon.  It wasn't pancake flat (contrary to my assumption) but instead was gently undulating.  There was one section that was a little awkward, when we ran through the campus of Salisbury University.    There, we had to duck into a little pedestrian tunnel under US Route 13, followed by some weaving on campus sidewalks.  The whole thing was very well marked and marshalled, though, and I never felt lost.

I never found anyone near my speed to run with - I was just passing slower half-marathoners and then slower marathoners (the marathon waves started 30 and 15 minutes ahead of the half).  As I got deeper and deeper into the race, my legs got heavier and even a bit clumsy.  Aerobically I was fine - my breathing had been slightly tight in the first miles but was better now but my legs felt awful - like mile 22 of a marathon legs.  

It was what it was, and so I just grinded on.  At least I had slower marathoners to keep reeling in.  Until we hit the split for the half and full courses, and then I was totally alone.   No one else in sight, just me and a road and some cones that reassured me I was going the right direction.

It sucked.  But I could either give up or keep on, so I kept on. 


The marathon course essentially split from the half, did a 13.1 mile loop on its own, and then rejoined the half course, which meant that in the final miles I had two sets of mile markers to work from --- markers 11, 12, and 13 for the half, which were preceded by markers 24, 25, and 26 for the full.  I love it when that happens, because it makes the final miles seem to flow just a bit faster.

I had measured the course, so I knew that when I hit a certain intersection I was 400m from the finish.  I tried to push, but my legs were just gone.  With 200m to go the course took a hard right.  I knew from mapping that the finish was uphill, but I was surprised by just how steep it was - it felt like climbing stairs, with the finish line so high above me.  But I made it up on shaky legs and then I was done.  

As I crossed the finish, I glanced at the timer out of curiosity but saw a number that made no sense - 1:5x:xx. (which, despite making no sense, also made perfect sense - since my start time had no correlation to when they started the clock).

I stopped my Garmin, pulled up my buff, and checked the time - 1:27:53.  Which was in the range I had hoped to run, if not on the fast end of that range.  I was satisfied with the race - it indicated good progress in my fitness - and I was also elated just to have been able to race.    Seeing several masked friends post race just made the morning even better.


Splits ended up being:

Mile 1: 6:52
Mile 2: 6:40
Mile 3: 6:28 (this was dumb)
Mile 4: 6:41
Mile 5: 6:40
Mile 6: 6:39
Mile 7: 6:42
Mile 8: 6:41
Mile 9: 6:45
Mile 10: 6:52
Mile 11: 6:48
Mile 12: 6:46 
Last 1.11 miles - 7:22 (6:38 pace)

So a slight fade at the end.  Not awful - I managed to hang on pretty well, but not ideal.

Other notes:
  • This was a cold race - it started at 28 degrees but warmed up nicely to 39 degrees by the time I finished.  I debated what to wear before going with singlet, arm-warmers, light tights, and a buff.  I've found that running with a buff tends to change the whole clothing equation - buffs are the worst of both worlds as they do nothing to keep you warm when standing around, but block heat from escaping when you run.   But they're what we wear right now, so a singlet top seemed a good pairing.  I also wore a plastic poncho to trap a bit of heat while I was standing in the corral. 

    These clothing choices worked out well - I wasn't TOO cold at the start, but I was never uncomfortably warm at any point during the race.

  • I decided to test out the Adidas Adios Pro shoe in this race - Adidas' answer to the Vaporfly.  I had worn it in a tempo workout that went surprisingly well a few weeks ago, so why not try it here and see how I liked it in a race.  Whelp - I didn't like it at all.  That shoe seems to work best with a foot strike biased more towards the forefoot.  For me, in half and full marathons I strike further back on my foot - not quite a heel strike but not too far from one. 

    Early in the race I was running more on my forefoot since that's how the shoe felt best, but as I got tired I reverted to my normal gait and the shoe felt utterly awful.  Like a wobbly clog.  Like I was fighting it.  The best shoe for any race distance is the shoe that feels good at the start and finish - that wasn't the Adios Pro for me at this distance, and no way I'd use this for a full marathon.  No question that for the half or full I'll stick with a) the Vaporfly or b) the older Adios Boost line.

    I noted that it was my hamstrings and feet (especially the arches) that got very sore and tight during this race - not my glutes or quads.  And I felt like I wasn't using my glutes much despite trying to.  I think this shoe is just not a good fit for my gait for the longer distances.  Perhaps it would work for me for a 10K?  (not that I get to race that distance very often).

  • Post-race, I stopped by Cambridge, Maryland (about 40 minutes away from Salisbury) to visit my parents.  I haven't seen them in person since early last summer, when I did a socially distanced (i.e. 10 feet) outside visit.   My parents aren't quite fully vaccinated yet - Dad is done but Mom only had her second shot this week.   But, they are doctors and better qualified than I am to evaluate the risks - I asked them whether I should stop by now for an inside visit or wait another 10 days. 

    They both felt that an inside unmasked visit was totally fine and worth it, given that Mom and I were both several weeks past our first shots (I get my second shot on Easter Sunday).  So I stopped by and caught up for about 3 hours, complete with hugs at the end.  It was a great way to end the day.  (And far better than the traffic jam I had to deal with afterwards).

  • When I got back to my hotel post-race, I found my missing lens from my driving glasses on the floor of my room.  Whew - that was a chunk of money saved.

  • I get my second Moderna shot this morning.  Then I'll combine shot recovery and race recovery this coming week, before shifting into training for Grandma's Marathon.


  1. Great write-up of the experience; I felt like I was there. It's definitely different when you don't have your competition nearby to push you and motivate you. This is a really fast time, especially considering the funky parts of the course you described. Interesting analysis of the shoes, to me these Adios Pros are absolutely perfect but I don't like the Next %. I hope you recovered well from shot #2.

  2. Yay for fast races and COVID vaccines! I am also struggling to find the best plated shoe after a nightmare in the VaporFly (I really thought they worked for me, but after hellish plantar fasciitis and nearly limping for the better part of a marathon, I know they don't work for that distance!). I agree that personal stride is probably the biggest factor.