2017 Holiday Halfathon Race Recap
When I returned home from a long weekend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, last month after running the Seacoast Half Marathon, I thought I’d concluded my 2017 running season. It was a powerful, dare I say spiritual, experience. I ran a strong and consistent race at 10 months postpartum that exceeded the goals I thought were realistic for my current fitness. Perhaps more importantly, I rediscovered a hunger to tackle big goals that had been tucked away and sidelined for so long I wasn’t sure it would ever return.
Little did I realize I had more left in me to give this year.
On Sunday, I ran another half marathon just a month after my fall goal race. I know, I know. I didn’t see that coming either. There’s a local race called the Holiday Halfathon that takes place every December. Messages kept popping up for me on Facebook about the race, so I casually started looking at the weather forecast 10 days out. A miraculous cold front was scheduled to come through. I prefer racing in the cold and avoid running in Florida’s heat and humidity like the plague. But five days before the race with the promise of 45-degree conditions, I signed up to run 13.1 and convinced my training partner (who is five months postpartum) to join me. We would have run 10 miles together that weekend anyway, so what was another three miles along a new course with different scenery to change up our normal route?
Like my New Hampshire race, I didn’t have any expectations. My hope was to stay in the 7:50-8:00/mile pace range and run similarly to last month’s race. I had no idea if I would be able to do that, having only run 9 miles as my longest run between the two half marathons and having spent three days leading up to the race at Disney walking around the parks. I told my husband the race didn’t matter and didn’t mean anything, but secretly I was way more excited about it than I logically should have been. I told you my spark is returning!
On race morning, my friend Heather and I did a short warm-up and lined up at the start. Since this is a very small race, we were right at the front. Our plan was to stick near the 1:45 pace group and then see how we felt. The race is split into four sections. The first four miles are along a flat, straight stretch of road adjacent to the gulf beaches. The next three miles are on a backroad in between neighborhoods. The third stretch is five miles on a paved path called the Pinellas Trail (that can be quite monotonous), and the final mile is around a lake in a park to the finish. The race is pancake flat with the exception of one bridge and two short, steep overpasses and has minimal turns until the end.
When we were signaled to start, the 1:45 pacer took off and we immediately found ourselves quite a ways behind him. I knew we were running strong, and when my watch signaled we’d completed our first mile in 7:56, I assured Heather not to worry about how far ahead that pacer was as he was running too fast.
Our next two miles were the exact same pace. I’d seen a woman in the starting corral dressed up in what I dubbed a “Sexy Santa” running suit. Sexy Santa was way ahead of us the first two miles. I don’t talk during races but I told Heather I’d be damned if Sexy Santa beat us and that we’d pick her off. By mile four we’d passed her.
By mile 7, we caught up with the 1:45 pace group and passed them soon thereafter. Our consistent miles continued getting slightly faster.
I kept mentally checking in with myself and how I was feeling. I felt pretty comfortable and strong through the first 8-9 miles. The effort started setting in during mile 9 and it was getting harder to maintain the same pace but I stayed dialed in.
Heather, whose goal was simply to keep up with me, started pulling away between miles 9 and 10. I felt our current pace was where I needed to stay. She was about 30 yards ahead of me until the last mile when she pulled ahead by about 30 seconds. Did I mention she had a baby just five months ago? Amazing! Running next to her for the first 9 miles and then having her right in front of me for the last few miles really kept me motivated and pushing. We also had a secret weapon in my parents. They saw us before the start, at mile 2, during mile 3, before mile 5, at mile 8, at mile 12 and on the finish chute. Seriously, my parents are the best! It started to become funny how much we saw them.
During mile 12 as my body was signaling it was ready to be done, I knew that if I could just get off the trail and into the park, I’d get to see my husband and Baby rUnladylike. They were planning to be there and I kept envisioning seeing them and staying strong to run by my daughter during the first race of mine she’s ever been at. Sure enough, as we started our final mile, my parents, husband and daughter were there cheering. I could not wait to get through that final mile to give that little face a hug.
That final mile felt like it lasted forever. My body was done. As I sprinted the last quarter mile, I could finally see the race clock: 1:42:54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 … I was afraid I was going to fall across the finish line trying to get in under 1:43. Alas, I finished in 1:43:02 but was thrilled with the race. It was more than a minute faster than New Hampshire last month and was a similarly disciplined and consistently paced run.
Here’s what my splits looked like:
- Mile 1: 7:56
- Mile 2: 7:56
- Mile 3: 7:55
- Mile 4: 7:52
- Mile 5: 7:46
- Mile 6: 7:50
- Mile 7: 7:55
- Mile 8: 7:46
- Mile 9: 7:47
- Mile 10: 7:56
- Mile 11: 7:52
- Mile 12: 7:42
- Mile 13: 7:45
- Last 0.14: 6:38
Both half marathons I’ve run during the past month were done on low mileage (about 20 miles per week) consisting of pure base building (almost all easy runs) and cross-training/strength training. I didn’t follow a “formal” training plan nor did I do weekly speed work or tempo runs. This year has simply been about finding joy in running as I’ve returned to the sport. I’m also still breastfeeding, meaning that I’ve pumped before my races and my body is still working overtime in the energy department for that.
The spark I mentioned is now fully lit. My foundation is built and I’m ready to see what big goals I can chase in 2018.
What to Know about the Holiday Halfathon
- It’s a well-run race with a clearly marked route, tons of police and race officials to coordinate traffic, plenty of aid stations with water and Gatorade and a fast, flat course. With many long, straight stretches and few turns, running the tangents is easy. My watch registered only 0.04 over the 13.1 distance.
- Race morning logistics are seamless. Parking is easy to find and there were short lines for the porta potties. It is a point to point course, so if you don’t have a spectator waiting for you at the finish, you’ll need to take a shuttle back to the start line. Either method requires quite a drive back to your car if you parked at the start.
- Walkers, wheelchairs and those being pushed in adaptive chairs are welcome and encouraged, although strollers are not allowed.
- There are almost no spectators along the course, so BYOM (bring your own motivation).
- There are pacers but the paces are limited and start at 1:45. The 1:45 pace group we witnessed was clearly not consistent as they started too fast. I don’t know if they finished on pace or not. Although the field is relatively small, there were people around me and within my sight the entire race.
- The weather can be hit or miss. Some years it is hot while others like this year are perfectly cool conditions. The race doesn’t sell out and takes registration until race morning so it is easy to make a last-minute decision for those that are local based on the weather forecast.
- I did not take advantage of any of the post-race food or drinks other than water, but plenty of people were walking around with food. The finish line area is small and basic, but perfectly adequate.
- The race gives free race photos! The best perk ever. There were also cute short-sleeve shirts, including women’s cut.
- The medals were awesome. I loved the jingle bell on the bottom since this is a holiday race.
Do you have any races left in 2017? What is your first goal race in 2018?