Bull City Race Fest 13.1 – Race Report

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A See how a half feels after a bunch of weeks off/at low volume Yes
B PR ( <2:04:05) Maaaybe…

Splits

Mile Time
1 8:40
2 8:32
3 8:23
4 8:14
5 8:29
6 8:25
7 8:26
8 8:30
9 8:25
10 8:31
11 8:48
12 8:52
13 8:54
14 7:30

Training

Bear with me here as I share nearly a year of backstory here to set this race up. Some of you may remember that I haven’t been running very seriously for very long – I began training in earnest in December 2016 for a stupid first marathon that my stupid boyfriend (hi, /u/ultrahobbyjogger) told me would be “easy” and “definitely a good idea”. Concurrent with that terrible decision, I also decided to piggyback on his plan to run a race per month, but I stuck with things shorter than marathons (for the most part). So, over the past year, I’ve run a decent number of half marathons, to essentially no success.

There were a lot of factors feeding into my lack of success: being undertrained (for example, at February’s Oak Island half, where I ran 2:05:58; being overcooked/not recovered from a Super Week (and getting my period during the race – this happens to me a silly amount) (e.g., Rock n Roll Raleigh half, a personal worst 2:17; or getting injured during the race (e.g., Seattle half, where I began to see signs of my eventual bulging disc injury (that I totally ignored at the time) around mile 1, 2:07:45. I was putting in a lot of work, including some really consistent 50-60-mile weeks and eventually some speed work, throughout these months of training and racing, but all the races were poor efforts on my part. It’s probably important to note that the PR I allude to above was actually set at my very first half, in 2013, when I had no idea what I was doing re: training or running or basically anything. So, these continually worse-than-my-old-as-shit PR results were….disappointing. But, whatever, I like training and love running, so I pushed on, not thinking much of it other than “it’ll just take more time”.

Flash forward to this most recent training cycle: since July, I’ve been training for the Peak to Creek Marathon, which, as it turns out, is next Saturday (Oct 28). I followed Pfitz 18/55 with some modification until I hit a pretty big wall in August – I wrote off how absolutely shitty I was feeling during this time as “the heat sucks, and you’re being a little bitch about it”. I ended up taking a couple down weeks but then getting back into the swing of things for the last Super Week, in which I ran 51 miles in 5 days before things took a very dark turn.

On Thursday night of Super Week, I went to see my massage therapist, John Stiner (who, honestly, is a miracle worker), who did some soft tissue work and then some stretches (that he’d done many times before) to help loosen up my right glute and hip. Something felt off this time, though, but I didn’t think much of it until the next day, when I attempted to jog a couple easy miles and ended up in crippling, debilitating pain. From that point on, it was 10 days before I could walk again without crying and limping. After trying to see Stiner again, going to my chiro, going to an actual ortho, and starting PT, I learned that I had a bulging disc in my lumbar spine. It was on it’s way towards happening, but whatever stretching I did in the massage appt coupled with how tight I was from Super Week pushed it over the edge and me, accordingly, off a cliff.

Near simultaneously, 3 days after this disc issue came to light, I fainted in the shower while Mark was out on a run. Fortunately, it wasn’t a 20 (or…50)-mile day for him, because he came in pretty quickly after to find me laying on the floor straddling the bathroom + hallway after losing consciousness twice. Ignoring my attempts to avoid the doctor, Mark rushed me to Urgent Care, where I promptly received an iron-deficiency anemia diagnosis and was told to take an iron supplement to start to get things back to normal. Fun fact, and totally TMI: this had nothing to do with running and everything to do with the Paraguard IUD, which I had to have removed and replaced (thanks, Obama).

Since this is already getting way too long, I’ll summarize: these health issues cropped up about 5 weeks prior to the race this report is about. At that point, I knew I was not running Hinson Lake 24-hr and was unsure about this half or the marathon on Oct 28. I took two full weeks off from the back injury, then thanks to my AMAZING PT, started running again the next week. I ran 15 mi, then 28 mi, and then another 15 mi (shitty work week) in the lead-up to race week. When I started running again, 3 weeks of iron supplements later, it was like I was shot out of a cannon: my ‘easy’ pace dropped by over 1 min/mile. Mark, always trying to keep me safe and honest, was skeptical at first that I was running too fast all the time, but I haven’t been, as it turns out. I have been iron deficient probably the whole year, because I’ve been having some issues for a while, but I just didn’t think anything of it other than “I guess I’m just tired and suck at running”. The past few weeks of running have, honestly, been the best weeks of running of this *entire* year. I don’t think I will ever take for granted how good it feels to feel normal.

I won’t summarize my whole race week here, but the highlights were that it was, total, a 50-mile week (first one since that Super Week) with 2 progression runs, some hill repeats, and a baby 1-on-1-off workout. So, it was a solid week. My plan going into the race was “see how 13 miles feels on your legs after so many weeks off, don’t worry about the time at all, have a data point to help you decide whether the marathon next week is a dumb or good idea”.

Pre-race

Mark and I got up around 4:45 – it was so early because one of our cats, Tux, woke us up to the sound of him puking 3 times. Neat! So, I got up to deal with that and decided to just stay up. The day before the race was spent at another race that Mark ran, so we were up early yesterday too, and I felt like garbage when I went to bed. When I woke up, I….still felt like garbage. I was worried I was getting sick because my throat hurt and I felt pretty achy all over. I said, “whatever, I’ll just see how I feel when I’m running”, and decided to do the race anyway. Mark was pacing the 7:00/mile group in the same race, so we had to be there anyway.

We parked at my office, which is located a convenient half-mile jaunt away from the start line, and got ready to go. In typical us fashion, we said “Oh shit, it’s 7:15, we have to go” and began jogging our abridged warm-up to the start line. There, we hoped that our friend Andy would find Mark so he could get his bib (spoiler alert: it worked out), and we waited for the start, which came promptly at 7:30.

Race

We were off right on time, and I crossed the start mat about 20 sec after the gun went off; not too much traffic thankfully, so I was able to find some space to move right away. Some poor guy fell RIGHT at the mats, and it took about 30 people passing before someone finally helped him (it wasn’t me though, I’m a dick). I had no plan going into the race, and since I’ve been running much faster for the past few weeks, I had NO idea what I was capable of. I’m not sure when I decided to just go for it, but I did. I had my watch on HR only the entire race, so I never ever saw a split or the time until I finished and saw the clock at the line. This was, in hindsight, an excellent decision, because I think I would’ve freaked the fuck out had I seen how fast I was running. I felt like whatever pace I was running for the first 5K or so was totally manageable, so I pressed on with no adjustment.

The course is pretty hilly (and kind of rolls the whole time with no reprieve), so I started to ratchet up my effort on the hills because I felt strong and because passing people is fun. I found that I could do this and recover just fine on the downhills, so this became my fun strategy to pass the time on the many hills. I didn’t really start to feel like I was working until around mile 7, which is a decently long uphill in an area of the course I run quite a bit on a weekly basis – I started to feel like “ok, I’m working pretty hard to maintain this. I could keep pushing or try to back off a bit”. I decided to keep pushing on but to try to take the hill a bit easier to not jack up my HR too badly. Fortunately, this long hill is followed by the one actually flat segment of the course – a 0.75-mi loop through Duke’s East campus. I run this often, and it’s always a nice break from the Durm hills.

I felt refreshed after this loop and began a nice downhill section that takes you through more of Duke’s campus. This course is nice because it showcases a lot of the downtown Durham neighborhoods that I know and love – this was a course I set that original PR on, but I didn’t know the area well at all at the time, so it was a nice experience running it again when I actually know the area and know what to expect (for better or for worse, with some of those hills). Unfortunately, around mile 9, things start getting shitty/hilly again – the hill I was least looking forward to comes around mile marker 10. It was actually much less bad than I remember, though, and I bound up it, continuing on with my original race strategy. I assumed that people felt demoralized as I pass them going up this shit-ass hill, and this motivated me even more (like I said, I’m an asshole).

When I hit the mile 11 marker, I start to feel like shit. I realize that I’ve made it this far without blowing up, but I’m probably about to blow up. Since I wasn’t looking at my splits or pace, I had no idea how much I was slowing down, but I was definitely slowing down. I should not have been worried about the Cranford (mi 10) hill and should’ve been worried about the ones from 11-13. These killed me. I felt like I was crawling up them and not recovering nearly as well as I’d like on the way down. I kept pushing, though, thinking “it’s almost over” and “you’ll probably at least PR anyway at this point, so whatever”.

The last half mile or so is a nice long downhill followed by a gradual incline, passing by the Durham Bulls ballpark on your right, to the finish (seriously, Mark and I want to petition to have this course run in reverse – it would be a much nicer (and more iconic Durham) finish). As I started down this last downhill stretch, I saw Mark & Andy doing their cooldown. They were not expecting to see me, clearly, so I thought “okay, definitely gonna PR. cool.” I guess they turned around at that point and tried to beat me to the finish. As I ran down the hill, I was thinking “I have absolutely nothing left. I cannot kick. There is no kick.”, but as I turned the corner onto Blackwell, I managed to kick. It’s more than 400 m to the finish, so this was a stupid time to kick, but oh well. I made my bed and had to lie in it, and I did. I ran as hard as I could to the finish and finally saw the clock: 1:05. WAIT, no. Shit. That’s the 5-mi race timer. Fuck, where is….OH, there it is: 1:52:xx WHAT THE FUCK. At this point, I’m pretty sure I had a dumb overly large smile on my face and was definitely starting to cry behind my Goodrs (Thanks, goodr, for hiding my baby tears). Final time was 1:52:55, an 11-MIN PR.

Post-race

I very quickly found Mark, who hugged me and probably cried with me (he says ‘FAKE NEWS’, but it happened), and Andy, as we walked around, collected jelly beans and other various food items, and met up with some other friends who raced today. This race brings out a whole bunch of locals, so it’s not hard to run into someone you know.

Physically, my hip flexor on the right side tightened up immediately, and my right hip felt a bit off, but it quickly loosened up again as we walked around, indicating no serious issues. Mentally, I was in disbelief and totally elated. I’m so proud of this race.

What’s next?

The marathon is next week, and I’ll definitely be running it. That should be fun. After that, I’d like to do a high-mileage 5K or 10K cycle and work on developing some speed now that I’m not anemic and running depleted all the time. I’m so excited to keep working and improving, because improvement actually feels within reach for the first time since I began training.

I learned a lot from this race, and I think it represents the first time I’ve successfully switched gears in terms of mental toughness. I come from a background of CrossFit and powerlifting, and I’ve always considered myself tough and willing to put in the work, but during this race, I realized how different racing toughness is. It’s a whole different animal to continually say to yourself “no, fuck you, keep pushing” throughout a race that lasts an appreciable amount of time as you continue to feel worse and worse than it is to pull a heavy-as-fuck barbell off the ground for a few seconds or to PR your back squat. I’m not saying one is better or more admirable than the other, but it certainly is different. And for me, this took a year and one race where I finally did say “fuck you, keep pushing” throughout the whole thing to fully understand. That’s not a lesson I will forget.

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