Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon

sunrise while waiting for the race to start

Saturday I ran my fifth half marathon. It's been a year and nine months since the fourth one, so it felt a lot like my first one. Because I haven't been able to run as much as I'd like since giving birth to River (almost a year ago!) I knew I was going into this race undertrained. My longest run was the the short 15k I did last month, and the majority of my training has been in the 3-4 mile range, or shorter.

If it had just been a matter of undertraining, I wouldn't have been too concerned, since realistically, most of my long races have been done while I was undertrained. The main issue was that I got sick about three weeks before this race and it took a lot longer than I expected to recover. Not running for a month and still feeling the effects of being ill definitely affected my stamina.


This was the first year this race was put on. The organizers have several races they put on just outside various national parks. Most of them are out west, but this one wasn't super far away, so I decided last year that it would be a good "first half after giving birth" race. I figured a year would be plenty of time to get back in shape, especially since I'd stayed active throughout the whole pregnancy. I ran a four mile race when 8 months pregnant and was building furniture almost to the day River was born. If only that had been the case...

The race map showed an overall increase in elevation with multiple hills, but the overall gain was only 364 ft, so I hoped it would be manageable, and I made sure I did some hill work to prepare. The two steepest hills were around mile 9 and mile 10.5, and if I'd been able to keep training I'd have been able to run more of them than I did. Having those hills later in the race made them that much more challenging. If they ran this race backward it would be a lot less challenging, but a lot more enjoyable  and a lot faster :)

The course was gorgeous. The first 12 miles were run on a quiet country road that was lined with trees. Seriously, the entire first 12 miles was shaded by the trees, which tempered the heat and the sunshine. However, the 13th mile took us off the quiet country road and onto a bike path along the main road. We traded the shade, the sparse traffic, and the hills for sunshine, exhaust fumes, and a mostly flat surface.

The race started out pretty flat and the hills were gentle and not too long and I thought "this isn't too bad". Of course, it couldn't last. The hills got steeper and longer, and the road bed kept slanting in different directions, sometimes at rather extreme angles. There were a few times when we really had to work just to stay on the road.

One thing about this race series is that they're cup-less and generate minimal trash. So you have the option of requesting a hydropouch to use at the aid stations. Some people carried their fluids in camelbacks, hand-carried water bottles, or belt packs instead of using the hydropouch. I thought it worked out fairly well, though it wouldn't sit still on my belt. It was easy to fill and drink out of. My main issue was that the water didn't taste great and was warm, and the Nuun was warm as well. I prefer cold liquids while running and lemon-lime Nuun isn't as good as the tangerine.

I took this photo while I was running, so it turned out blurry. oops. But you get the idea of what the course looked like.

I managed a better photo, a little later on during the race.

As we approached the finish line, we could see that it was on the other side of the four lane highway. At first I thought they must be stopping traffic to let us cross, but I dismissed that idea as impractical and unrealistic. Then I realized that we were crossing under the highway by way of a tunnel. Much less hassle and fuss.

Mr M took this picture of me running past them as they waited close to the finish line. I was almost to the tunnel under the road that turned us around and took us the last little bit to the finish line.

Passing my cheering section just before the finish line.

I knew from the start of the race that my stamina was not where it should be, so I changed up my strategy a bit. Usually I run the first 6 or 7 miles without stopping, then run/walk the rest. I knew I wouldn't be able to do that this time around, so I ran/walked from the beginning of the race. My running intervals decreased and my walking intervals increased as the race went on, but I finished and  it wasn't my slowest half marathon.

My current half marathon goal is 2:30 (well, 2:29, so I can beat my current PR), but I knew that wouldn't happen this time. I was hoping for 2:45, and came close at 2:51:01. It's a bit too close to my slowest race time, but I did the best I could so I'm happy with my time.

Here's the half marathons I've run and their finish times:

Finish Time
Disneyland Half
Sept 2007
Top of Utah Half
Aug 2008
Disney World Half
Jan 2012
Disney World Half
Jan 2013
Great Smoky Mountains Half
Sept 2014

My sister flew out and joined me in the race and hung out with us while we explored the area. My shoes were off at this point, so I look even shorter than usual. Though honestly, I really am significantly shorter than everyone else in our family :) I got all the recessive short genes and our younger brother got all the recessive tall genes. I'm 5'1" on a really good day and he's 6'7" (unless he's grown some more). The rest of our sibs are in between the two of us.

Like all races, this one relied on volunteers to make it all happen, and the race organizers made it easy for volunteers to get involved. Sunshine was just old enough to volunteer with a parent, so she and Mr M helped wrangle traffic (one of the parking lot exits crossed right over the last section of the course, so they made sure everyone used the other exit) and then they helped take down the finish line. They got cool shirts and a discount on a future race entry out of the deal.

my cheering section

Before and after the race we spent some time exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (more on that in another post). Because this was the first running of the race, there were some hiccups, but nothing too terrible. Like I said, it's a challenging course, but I'd like to run it again when I've trained more conscientiously and can handle the hills better. In the meantime, I'm now contemplating when and where I'll run my next half and how I can improve my training so I'm better prepared.

September half:                     2:51:01        first half marathon since getting pregnant
August 8.5 miles:                  2:06:58       first trail run
August 2 mile:                     ~40 min?    Mud Run with Sunshine
2nd July 5k:                         35:27
July 5k:                                 34:15
June 5k:                                38:11          Ran with jogger
May 5k:                                39:23          Ran with jogger
April 5k:                               37:40          Color Run
March 5k:                            37:33  
February 4.5 miles:            1:49:55        Mud Run
January:                              ---

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