Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay in recapping my latest half marathon, but now that I’m finally back home in Anchorage I’m able to sit down and write it all out! I’ll hopefully have a recap up of the rest of my weekend soon – including waterfalls, hiking, donuts, and CHIPOTLE!!!!
Anyways, if you missed it (and that’s very possible given the fact that I signed up for this race last minute and barely blogged about my training at all), I ran my seventh half marathon this weekend and crossed my ninth state off my 50 states list! I made my way down to Hood River, OR for the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon. The race’s tag line is “The most scenic marathon in the country” so I was really looking forward to it. I was also excited because my manager was running the race too because her family was in the area. I’d never run a full half marathon with someone else, but I figured after doing Her Tern with some friends that it would make the race way more fun than usual! I’d been having some pain in my left butt area for a few weeks before the race, and the pain was at its worst during the 10 miler at the end of my training. I was terrified of injury, and also knew that the race was going to be hilly, so we opted to have no actual race goals except one – finishing without dying. We figured it would take us less than 3 hours so I set our playlist for 2.8 hours.
My carb loading experience was interesting because despite mostly following the Whole Life Challenge when preparing for the race, I did do a little off-challenge carb loading the day before because I can’t resist getting food that I can’t eat in Alaska. I ate a bagel, some bread, and some pasta from Panera. The pasta was cheesy and made me feel awful, but the bread and bagel were fine. I was really nervous the night before the race so I stuck to my tried and true WLC compliant carb load – chicken and sweet potatoes! I also made sure to have my usual PB and banana oatmeal two hours before the race start and decided to fuel with my usual Jelly Belly Sport Beans every 45 minutes. Even though I was on the road, I managed to drink a perfect amount of water the day before the race and felt well hydrated going into it. I even opted to leave my water belt at home so that I wouldn’t have anything irritating my hips.
The race started at 9:30 down at the event site in Hood River, so I met my manager at 8:30 and we camped out in the warming tent until it was time to start. It was 45 degrees and so incredibly windy down on the water, but I was wearing a tank top in preparation for the 60 degree weather that would be happening later in the day. Even though there were only about 1,100 runners they had a staggered start time. I was of course in the slowest wave which was “10:00 plus”, but I enjoyed getting the extra time to adjust to the cool weather before getting started. Before long we were up at the start line and ready to go!
There were a few things that I didn’t realize about this race before I started. The first was that 75% of it was held on a historic paved trail that was closed to traffic, which meant that we would see no spectators along most of the course. The second thing was that despite getting overly excited about the gorgeous viewpoints I was promised along the way, I never really stopped to think about how I’d be able to get up to those spots when the race started down on the riverfront. And that basically sums up what I had to look forward to in this race: hills. Lots and lots of them. In fact, after a short run through downtown Hood River we began a 3 mile ascent! It soon became apparent that we were going to have to make a choice: run as much as possible and potentially run out of energy early, or do some “extreme power hiking” up all the hills and try to make up time on the downhills. We chose the second option, and I was relieved to see that everyone else was doing the same thing. In all honesty, there was no way we could have trained for the type of hills in this race. The only hills I know of in Anchorage that are 3+ miles long without any breaks are actual mountains! So we extreme power hiked until we saw any hint of a downhill, and then we flew down as fast as possible. We kept up with this method as we ran past cliffs, yellow leaves, gorgeous views, and even through a few tunnels!
At the turnaround point there was a relay station for people who were running the half relay, and we both got the chance to see our families cheering for us! As we turned around and ran back towards the start we discussed how other than the start/finish area, there were no flat parts. This race was literally either uphill or downhill at all times! But now that we knew what was waiting for us we felt a bit more prepared. We made lots of friends as we pushed ourselves uphill as fast as possible, and then passed as many people as possible while running downhill. As you may be aware, mile 8 is my nemesis in half marathons. This is where I always run out of steam and want to stop running forever. So I was really excited to realize in mile 8 that we’d be going downhill for most of it, and ended up having the most fun and stress-free mile 8 ever! I think my favorite part of the race was in mile 9 when I got to run down a steep hill to the final aid station at mile 10.5. I felt like I was flying as I passed more people than I could count! I’ve never felt that strong during a half marathon and was really excited about the rest of the downhill portion, which lasted until mile 12. It unfortunately started pouring when I reached the aid station, but I was still feeling comfortable and knew that we’d be out of the rain soon!
The last few miles of any half are always hard for me. I usually spend them in some form of near-death where either my legs, back, stomach, or entire body hurts and I never want to run again. I usually begin to hunch over and drag my feet and want to beg everyone I see for water and a ride to the finish. But that never happened in this race. In fact, there was never a moment where I hated what I was doing – even though the entire time I was confused as to how this became a race course and why the hills were so long and steep. And to my total surprise I had no butt pain at all and was feeling pretty good overall. Even as I pushed through the final hills downtown I was trying to pick off people ahead of me and felt that I had more energy left in me. As I ran down the finisher’s chute and heard Andrew cheering for me, I was so happy to be finishing injury-free, but also really sad that the race was over. And as for how we did, I was surprised to see that I finished only 8 seconds slower than the Her Tern Half back in July with a time of 2:41:47 – even with all the uphill power hiking we had to do! And I felt so much better at the finish line than I did at Her Tern!
After the race I waited in line for the post-race food, which was a taco and soup bar. But by the time I got close enough to smell the food I realized that my stomach didn’t want any of it, and I opted to go to Safeway for some tortilla chips and chocolate milk instead (FYI that’s the best post-race food EVER!). I then spent the rest of the day resting and reading while wearing compression socks, and doing lots of foam rolling. Oh, and I ate both pizza AND a burger. #sorrynotsorry
Overall, this race was a very crazy and unexpected experience! As soon as it was over I was sure I would never recommend a race this hilly to anyone, but now that I’ve had time to think it over I would definitely recommend this race. I felt like the fact that I was either hiking as fast as possible or flying downhill with little effort meant that I was able to use less energy than I would in a flat race, and I felt really great afterwards. I’m now thinking about running more hilly races in the future because I loved the downhills!
What I loved:
- The views! It was not the most scenic half I’ve ever run (that will always belong to the Zion Half) but I can see how this would have been the most scenic marathon. The views of the gorge were amazing and just kept getting better!
- The perfect weather! I know that it rained at the end, but since I secretly love running in the rain I didn’t mind. I loved that I was able to wear a tank top and not get too warm. Fall races are the best!
- The downhills. I really love letting go and flying downhill, so I loved that this race gave me the chance to do that half of the time. I know a lot of people say that running downhill hurts them, and if that’s the case than this is not the race for you.
- The race gear. Registration comes with a drawstring bag and a running hat, which I’m looking forward to using all winter long! I also opted to buy the race quarter zip tech shirt for $25 and was so glad I did.
- The warming tent. Because at the end all I wanted to do was get out of the rain!
What I didn’t really like:
- The hills. I’m definitely not a hill lover, but I think that even the most passionate hill runner would have some issues with the loooooooong uphill portions! It’s hard to keep going when you’ve got a half hour left to go before you can see the top of the hill.
- The post-race food. I’ve said this in so many race recaps in the past, but I’ll say it again: I just ran for hours and all I want is a bagel and lots of water. I don’t want to wait in line forever for tacos. I decided to bring my own bagel to the race and I’m so glad I did!
- The medal. Although I liked the actual medal and the fact that it’s unique, I did not like the medal ribbon. It was super short and cheap and I was worried it wouldn’t fit over my head! It kind of looked like it was thrown together at the last minute and people forgot to measure it for actual adults.
I’m still blown away by how amazing I felt during this race and how much fun I managed to have even with all the hills. This is what running should feel like, and I’m so incredibly happy that I made it to this point. And I can’t figure out how I managed to run this race in the same amount of time as Her Tern but felt way better! I think I need to give my new way of eating some credit in getting me to the finish line feeling strong and energized. I’m hoping that sticking to this eating plan and doing some more strength training and yoga over the winter will lead to a strong and speedy half sometime in the spring!
What’s the hilliest race you’ve ever run? How do you usually feel in mile 8 of a half? What’s the most scenic race course you’ve seen so far?