June 10, 2014

Heartbreak Hill Half & Festival: Half-Marathon race report

You can read my recaps of the race weekend here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. And now, on to the final post, Part 5!

I woke up on Sunday morning uber early again. I had my alarm set for 6:00, but was wide awake by 4:45. I was nervous about the race, but was looking forward to getting it done so I could stop worrying about it. Thankfully, my legs felt great! I was expecting the worst, but I think the fact that I ran at an easy pace for the 5K and 10K (and doing Hansons' Half-Marathon training) really paid off. 

I wore my Heat Gear capris and a purple and black tank that was given to us by a New Balance rep the day before. The tank was really cute and comfy, so rather than wearing the shirt I'd brought for the race, I wanted to wear the new tank instead. I also wore Mark's bracelet again, knowing I would need the push to get through this race!

We walked to the race at 7:00, for the 7:30 start time. I'm really glad that these races started early! The heat was already pretty bad, even that early in the morning. I can't even imagine an 8:30-9:00 start, which is pretty typical here in Michigan. We took a silly group photo before the race:

My plan for this race was to meet up with Caitlin and run the entire race with her at a very easy pace, so we could have fun and enjoy it, and maybe take some goofy pictures while we ran. At around 5:30 in the morning, however, I got a text from her saying that she'd gotten some sort of stomach bug and was sick all night/morning. She was bummed, because she was registered for the Hat Trick and had already done the 5K and 10K, but there was no way she could complete the Hat Trick.

I was disappointed, because I was really looking forward to running with her, but I just kept the same run strategy--go easy, and try to enjoy it. We lined up at the starting line, and it was so crowded. The half-marathon had even more runners than the 5K and 10K. 

I would have really liked to run with someone, but the other bloggers were taking it easy at a 9:00-ish pace, and that would have been pushing it for me--on a flat course in cool temps, sure! But not for the Heartbreak Hill Half in June ;) I lined up just behind the 2:15 pace group, and figured that'd be a good place to start. 

The race started, and I surprisingly felt pretty good! My legs didn't feel tired, and the first couple of miles passed pretty quickly. The 2:15 pace group was completely out of sight ahead of me, which was strange because my pace was a little faster than the pace group's should have been. But since I wasn't actually aiming for 2:15, I didn't even think about it, and just ran by my plan.

The sun was really heating up, though, so I wasn't sure how long I'd be feeling good. I kept my pace very conservative, because I knew that the second half of the race was going to be killer (with the hills and the heat). My pace wasn't very consistent, because of the hills (and I walked for about 10 seconds at each water station, to slam some water or Gatorade). 

Halfway through the race, I was still feeling really good, and I started to think that maybe I should set some sort of a goal to work on. I had finished my first half-marathon (in 2011) with a time of 2:10:40, a 9:59/mi pace, and I thought maybe I'd aim to beat that, because my pace was hovering right around 10:03 at the halfway point. 

The 2:15 pace group was still ahead of me, but in mile 9, I came upon them. I hate running behind a pace group, because it's like a wall of people, so I picked up the pace for mile 9 to get past them, and then I settled back into the 10:00-ish pace. 

Once mile 10 hit, it was like another race completely. I was SO HOT, and the hills were getting tougher. I threw any thoughts of a 2:10 finish out of my head, and honestly wasn't even sure I'd finish under 2:15 or 2:20. I desperately wanted to walk the rest of the way, but I also wanted to be done, so I kept running. I also had a goal of running the entire thing, regardless of pace, so I didn't want to walk just because it got tough. 

I kept looking at Mark's bracelet, and I thought a lot about him the last three miles. Every time I found myself thinking about how hot it was, and how I wanted to quit, I remembered Mark and his goal to go home from the hospital. He never gave up working on that goal, and did everything it took to make it happen, even though it was painful for him. Thinking about all of that made me tough it out, and just keep running.

When I got to the last incline of Heartbreak Hill, the 2:15 pacer passed me. It was a little disheartening, but according to my watch, I was still on course to finish under 2:15. When I saw the crest of the hill, I ran a little harder, and passed the pacer, because I knew the downhill was coming, and I didn't want to be behind the pacer for that. I heard her tell someone else that was with her that she had to cut her pace back a lot, because she was going to finish too soon. 

After cresting Heartbreak, it was all downhill (literally) from there. I love the finisher's chute of these races! I rounded the final corner, and picked up the pace a little, just ready to be done. I was looking for the photographers at the finish line, because I had already planned on a particular pose for it, but by the time I spotted them, it was too late. I'm pretty sure I looked like death in all of my photos.

I crossed the finish line in 2:13:25 (a 10:12/mi pace). That was my slowest half-marathon time ever (other than the ones where I walked the whole thing), but it was also the hardest race (or, at least, the last three miles were) for me. I'm very proud of myself for finishing all three races without walking a single hill--including Heartbreak Hill! 

I had brought my 5K and 10K medals with me, and carried them in my FlipBelt (I still love that belt, by the way!), so that I could get a finish line photo with all of my medals. I picked up my half-marathon medal, and wore all three.

Final thoughts on the Heartbreak Hill Half & Festival:
*The races were very organized and well-done. 
*I love that the weekend is about much more than just the races--there are seminars, running movie screenings, speeches, book signings, etc. that are free and open to the public. 
*The Runner's World staff was very friendly, approachable, easy to find, and visible all over the place. Bart Yasso himself was announcing the race over the loudspeaker. 
*The course was challenging, but nice. I would definitely do it again, even though it was hard. I actually liked the new-to-me challenge of hills!
*I like that the race had options for a 5 & Dime (5K & 10K) and the Hat Trick (5K, 10K, & Half-Marathon). It gives you a little something extra to aim for. 
*The expo was very runner-relavent. It was small, but each booth was something that I was interested in. I'd rather have that than a huge expo with lots of things that didn't interest me. 
*I liked that we got Balega socks and a hat (along with two shirts) for the Hat Trick registration. The socks are super comfy, and I wear hats all summer when I run.

I really can't think of any negatives about the race festival! I would have liked for it to be cooler, but the weather is obviously out of our control. At first, I thought the race was on the pricey side; but after being there, I think you do get what you pay for. I think the only thing I would have done differently would be to have a beer garden at the finish line ;)  Nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a hot race! But other than that, it was a great race and I hope to do it again next year.

(In full disclosure, I paid my own airfare, but Runner's World covered my race registration, my dorm room lodging, and a few meals. I wasn't required to write a review of anything, but had such a great time that I wanted to post about it.)


  1. This looks like it was fun! Maybe once I conquer my first half, I could try something like this!


  2. wow. you are so inspiring! i really give you credit for peaking my interest in running and when i have given up running, i always read a great post from you and i get back into it. i'm determined to keep it going now that i've started running again!

  3. Sounds like a really fun set of races! I'm glad it went well for you.

  4. Am I remembering wrong? I thought you actually walked an entire half marathon before? Does that not count as your slowest?

    1. I guess I just consider those completely separate from my other races, because I walked them and it was before I ever ran a single mile. But I edited the post to be more specific. Sorry for the confusion.

  5. Great recap Katie! Congrats on completing the "Hat Trick!"

  6. great job and so glad you had fun ! you are so inspiring -- I am setting this race as a goal for next year.... right now just trying to finish my 0-5k program... and be able to run more than 1 minute at a time :)

  7. I am definitely putting this race series on my to-do list! It looks like fun! Congrats on all 3 medals!

  8. Congratulations on all three races, Katie!

    I never, ever comment on blogs, but was led to do so with yours. I've been reading your blog for a while now and can so deeply relate to so much of how you feel about things. Since reading, I've been inspired to track my calories and have lost 10 pounds so far (I can't believe I've actually lost some weight). Still have about 90 to go. Thank you for being such an inspiration to me. I look forward to reading much, much more from you!

  9. AnonymousJune 11, 2014

    As always, I love reading your posts! Congrats on doing the hat trick, I hope to be able to do a race in Boston someday, it looked like a blast!

  10. What? No beer garden? What the hell? Great job on your races though! Kind of reminds me of my Miami Half Marathon experience... I wanted to walk so bad but it would have taken longer and extended the misery!

  11. This is definitely the race I'd like to do for Massachusetts in my quest for all 50 states. Congratulations on the hat trick! What's up next for you?

    Also, what is the app that you use to post your mileage on the blog? I love it!

  12. http://relentlessforwardcommotion.com/2014/06/the-reality-of-the-back-of-the-pack-heartbreak-hill-half-marathon/. Saw that post on another blog through fb, and it's the same picture as yours so I thought you might want to read it since I'm guessing it's a girl from your picture that you might know!!

    1. And now that I read this entry, I realized that's who you were supposed to run with! Anyway, it was posted to the athena triathlete fb group I'm part of, and I just loved her thoughts on the back of the pack :)

    2. She was one of the bloggers that was there with RW (super fun girl, by the way!), and I actually didn't even know she was sick until after the race (I was supposed to run with my friend Caitlin, who was not a blogger). I loved reading her thoughts on the back of the pack, too, because I've experienced it as well. Sadly, it's very true!


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