Monday, February 4, 2013

Groundhog Day Half Marathon, Part 2: My Experience

Part 1 of the recap was already posted.  You can also just view all the photos and videos in one place.

The short story is: I had a blast.  It might not look like it, but it wasn't cold or miserably difficult at all.  So it's a win-win: I had fun, but still looked like a badass.  Make that a win-win-win, thanks to an age group award too!

Race morning arrived and I still wasn't sure what kind of shoes to wear.  I put on my snow boots and packed my screwed Foundations and my 2170s with Yaktrax to decide which to wear after I got there. Our hotel was about 5-10 minutes away from the start.  Late packet pickup started at 6:30am, and the race started at 8.  We left the hotel at about 6:30 because I wanted to get there early to get a close parking spot and scope out the course.   That was a success.  We actually got there *too* early because we got like the furthest possible "on site" parking spot, since they directed us to the way back.  It was still pretty close though.  I just read on someone's facebook photo (he has lots of good photos!) that there wasn't a shuttle back to the far lot after the race, so I'm glad we didn't take that option.

We popped into the warming tent for a minute, checked out the Striders table and the Groundhog movie on the projector, then headed out back to check out the course.  Here is what we found:

I have never run on 8 inches of powder before.  I've done maybe 3 inches of powder, and varying amounts packed snow and ice, but this was new.  It didn't really help me make my shoe decision.  After seeing that my feet were going to be buried in fluff, it did help me make a sock decision.  We decided to go back to the Striders table and buy the Stormsocks they had for sale.  We got there just in time because Jeff got the last pair of size large!  $50 of unanticipated race morning spending....on socks!  I asked the Striders salesgirl her opinion on the Yaktrax vs. screw shoes while we were there.  She recommended Yaktrax, stating that the screw shoes were good on ice, but we wouldn't be getting down to that level through the 8 inches of powder.  I took it under advisement, but didn't make a decision.

Armed (footed?) with our heavy duty waterproofing socks, we schlepped back to the car to gear up.  I put Vaseline on my feet, hands, and face (for moisture/blister protection on my feet, and for wind/cold protection on my hands and face).  The storm socks had some awkward and thick seams around the toe area, which worried me for blisters, but I figured I'd be better off with that than with wet feet.  They were also really slippery, so I put my normal socks on top of them, to get "normal" friction between the sock and inside of the shoe.  This basically forced me to wear my Foundations with the screws in them, since they are a little roomier than my 2170s, and could easily accommodate the thicker socks by loosening the laces.  Still, I was in agreement with the Striders clerk that Yaktrax would be my best bet on powder, so I ended up putting the Yaktrax on my screwed Foundations (double traction??).  My only hesitation was that the powder probably wouldn't last for long, because it would be packed pretty quickly, but I figured I could stop and take off the Yaktrax and attach them to my race belt if the snow got packed enough.

This shot shows how much "deeper" the coils can go compared to the screws.  
At the last minute in the car I decided to put on a second shirt too, since I was cold at that point.  I did have on a thin tech shirt and my jacket, but decided to put a second tech shirt on top of the first.  We (finally) left the car and headed into the (crowded!) warming tent for a few minutes.

I fought my way to the packet pickup table to get a safety pin, since the race used D-tag timing and I was afraid the glue wouldn't hold in the snow.  I put a safety pin through the hole to hold the tabs together in case of glue failure.  Jeff always threads a lace through for that purpose, but I like my tag closer to my toe, and I'm not going to unlace my shoes that far! Then I fought my way back out and grabbed Jeff (he was chatting with some ladies, as usual!) and pulled him out of the tent.  It was close to start time and I didn't want to get stuck in the masses trying to get out at the last minute.  We lined up and waited for the go!

Once the race started, I just tried to keep an even effort, and obviously wasn't worried about pace.  At first, the snow wasn't very packed, even though we weren't in the front at all.  There were basically two paths where the runners ahead of us had gone (possibly originally tire tracks from a Gator?), so we all stayed in those.  It was a slow go, but I had decent traction and wasn't wasting a bunch of energy on slip-kicking.  I did have to take a much shorter and quicker stride than normal.

It didn't take long at all for me to warm up.  By mile two I had taken off the jacket, and had my mittens in my pockets.  My pockets were full with the mittens and an extra pair of socks!  I took this video sometime between mile two and the end of the first lap:

After a while, my shirt started getting wet from the snow coming down, and my stomach was getting numb, so I put the jacket back on, and was of course, hot again.  I couldn't win.  I should have stopped to take off the 2nd shirt that I had added at the last minute and tie it around my waist, but I hate to stop.   I ended up leaving the mittens off and unzipping the jacket a bit in the front, and then seemed to be a good temperature balance.

I knew I wasn't going to PR (I had my Garmin on, I could see the 11 minute miles ticking by!), but I kept in mind the reasons I registered for this race.  It was supposed to be practice at a fast long run, at keeping my effort high when I'm tired at the end of a long race.  I also could see that there weren't a *ton* of women in front of me, and I knew it was a fairly small race, so I used the thought of an age group award as the dangling carrot to keep me pushing.  I didn't really think I had a chance, but the possibility kept me pushing.  I didn't even stop at the water stops, except the first one (to look for Jeff, in case he was close so we could run together.  He wasn't).  At the rest of the water stops I carried my water cup with me, and drank while I ran.  (Don't worry, I stashed the cup in my pocket until I could throw it away at the next stop!  No trail littering for me!)

After the first lap, it got easier, because the "lanes" were more packed down.  You can tell by my splits that the going got easier!  By the third lap the snow was downright hard, and even had some icy patches.  By the middle of the 2nd lap, I was seriously considering pulling over to take off the Yaktrax. Again though, I didn't want to stop, and there was nothing about them that was really bothering me, and my traction was fine, so I kept on with the status quo.

Anyway, people have been asking if this was my toughest race ever.  Probably based at least in part on photos like the one below!  I would have to answer with a resounding no.  It was a lot of fun.  I can't work any harder than I can work, if that makes any sense, so "half marathon race effort" is the same, regardless of the conditions.  In cases of poor traction like today, my pace suffered, but the effort was the same.  The fact that it was flat and cold made it one of the easier races in my opinion.  I would say my toughest races have been the hot or hilly ones, or ones where I started out too fast.  Or all three.  I am pretty well prepared for the half marathon distance right now; much more so than usual.  My past 8 weeks' long run mileage before the race are as follows, starting with the most recent: 14, 12, 12, 12, 11, 11, 12, 10.  Two of those long runs, including the 14 miler, involved significant snow, which was actually more difficult to handle on those days because A) I wasn't using any traction device and B) The routes were much hillier.  At this race, I didn't even really start to get tired until about mile 11.5 (vs. my usual mile 9 tiredness), and at that point it's easy to gut it out to the finish!

Best. Race. Photo. Ever.  Amiright? I was trying to get my Gu out of my race belt :)
Photo by Rudy Malmquist / Groundhog Marathon.  
There was one thing that really drove me crazy while I was running this one.  IDIOT RUNNERS.  There were only two lanes of packed snow, so if those two lanes were occupied by side-by-side runners, you had to go out into the fluff to get around them.  High-kneeing it through the drifts while increasing your pace to pass somebody is EXHAUSTING....and then you have to keep the fast pace so they don't end up passing you while you recover from the energy burst of getting around them.  I understand that everybody has a right to pass, and I'm not complaining about people passing other people, even if they pass very slowly.  That's what happens when you pass somebody that is just a *touch* slower than you. They shouldn't have to waste their energy getting by faster just because I'm behind them.  I don't even mind runners who ran in a pair, side-by-side when it wasn't crowded, as long as the left-most one hopped over when they heard someone approaching from behind.  BUT THEY DIDN'T.  There were at least 3 pairs of runners that I needed to pass, that kept on hogging both lanes, chatting it up.  I would approach slowly, give them time to get over, like a good 2-3 minutes.  Maybe even throw in a cough or something to make sure they heard me (I swear it was subtle!).  If they still didn't get over (which they didn't) I would ride their heels for a bit to make my point before venturing out into the snow drift to pass them, swearing in my head.  Some of you are probably wondering why I didn't just say excuse me or something, but really, should that be necessary?  If I wasn't behind them the whole race, and now I am, it's pretty clear that I'm going faster and need to pass.    KEEP RIGHT, PASS LEFT.  Please.  Like driving.  Every time I passed somebody, I immediately hopped back over to the right lane to keep the left clear for passers.  (And it was literally hopping!  I did a LOT of lane hopping in this race, over the "median" snow drift between the packed lanes).

The last 1-2 miles, there was a girl about my age who I leap-frogged with.  She was good motivation to keep the pace!   I had to beat her in case she was in my age group.  When the finish line was in sight I kicked it up a notch and ran about an 8:00 pace for the last quarter mile to the finish line.  Done! 2:15:41, a next-to-worst half marathon time ever.  (Worst was October 2010 at 2:15:43).  (As an aside, I looked at that girls bib number, and while I did beat her to the finish, she must have started behind me, because her time was about a minute better than me.  Lucky for me, she looked younger than she was, and was actually in the next age group up ;)

After I finished, I contemplated going back to the car to change into my dry clothes, but after the first two turnarounds I had seen Jeff not more than 3/4 of a mile behind me, so I decided I better wait for him.  Here are some of his photos, also very badass looking!

I ended up freezing at the finish line for longer than I would have liked!  I finally saw him coming and tried to join him across the finish line while taking video.  It made for a bumpy ride!

We picked up our medals, went in to the warming tent, discovered I had pulled off a 3/10 finish in my age group, and picked up my trophy cup.  Jeff had a glass of the free beer, then we were eager to get back to the car and hotel to warm up!

Me with my medal and AG cup
I took advantage of the in-room bathtub for the second time this trip.  I can guarantee you it was NOT an ice bath.  I looked like a lobster when I got out, from how hot it was.  We donned our race sweatshirts and posed for a warm photo-op.  (Jeff had thought ahead and set the thermostat in the hotel room to 80 degrees before we left!)

After we got out to the car to begin the 2 hr journey back to Ann Arbor, I picked up my shoes to examine the "damage", curious if I had lost any screws or damaged the yaktrax by putting them on on top of screws.  Instead, I found that I still had snow/ice packed in my shoes!  I can only imagine it was much worse during the race.  

It made me wonder if I would have been better off taking off the Yaktrax after that first lap after all.  With all that snow packed it, I probably wasn't getting any extra traction.  Plus, the weight of the Yaktrax is not insignificant, and it's even worse when you add in carrying all that extra snow! Of course, there's no way to know, since I didn't try it.  Just a thought.

After we got home I didn't even sit down, since I knew I probably wouldn't get back up again!  I unpacked all the stuff and threw the wet running stuff in the wash.  I took out my insoles, stuffed the shoes with paper towels, and laid them out so that they could be ready to run another day, since it looks like my screwed shoes will be getting a lot of use the next few days!

The shoes had dried nicely by Sunday afternoon, for an easy 4 miler outside.  I went out with just the screw shoes (no Yaktrax), to try to sort of compare.  The snow was a bit deeper than it was when I tested on Thursday.  I think the Yaktrax were the right call for the race!  I slipped quite a bit in the areas where there was powder on top of the packed snow.  Strangely, my left quad is pretty sore, but my right one isn't.  It's kind of concerning, because it might mean I was inadvertently favoring my "bad" right leg during the race.  (I have that nagging ham-ass issue, and a relatively new, but recurrent pain on the outside of my right knee).  I got a good stretch in after the easy 4, and foam rolled, neither of which were done after the race.   (Technically, I only foam-rolled the right side.  Foam-rolling hurts, and I wasn't motivated to do the left because that side isn't broken!)

So yeah, I really had a great time at this race.  Makes me wonder if trail running might be more my forte?  I also think I am starting to prefer the small races to the big "productions" like the RnR series and the big city races.  (And no, not just because I have a shot at an award!).  I'm likely heading up to Mt. Pleasant in two weeks for the Ice Cube Half, and then there's a small chance that I'll go visit a friend in Columbus the week after that and hit up the Last Chance for Boston Half in Dublin, OH.  (A 1-mile loop, repeated 13 times for the half, 26 times for the full!).  I guess you could say I'm hooked on the winter long races!  I also scoped out the North Country Trail Half in August...I'm leaning toward "no" on that one, but we'll see.  I wish we had "real" trails closer to me for regular runs.  I would definitely invest in some trail shoes and maybe a camelbak and be one of those cool hippie trail runners.   I am also considering veganism.  I'm only half joking.


  1. Good to hear you had fun, congrats again on the award! It sounds like you're right on track for a PR in "normal" conditions!

  2. Great post. Sounds like a good time. I want a race picture like that. Awesome! I ran the North Country Half. It's a great race but also a tough, hot and very hilly race. I ran slower than you did for Ground Hog. You can read my review on my blog.


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