Warning: Long race report ahead!
Obviously, I haven't raced in a while...
It's been a long 18 months since I last pinned on a race bib. In May 2012 I ran a disappointing half followed by a better, but not great, 5-mile Memorial Day run. The only memorable runs I had for the remainder of 2012 were a coastal forest trail run in June while on vacation in North Carolina and a creekside trail run with my daughter on a beautiful and mild December 1st. My mojo came and went for several months. Finally, I decided that the only way to get out of my running slump was to sign up for a race. By summer 2013, I'd narrowed down my choices to either the Columbus Half or the Hot Chocolate 15K. I liked the route and lower price of the HC15K. Plus, the goodie bag was a snazzy black thermal hoodie, and the finisher's mug sounded yummy. The HC15K it was! It turned out fortuitous that I chose the shorter distance because my training was pretty lax. Many times I only ran twice during the week. I was sure to get in some key long runs in order to ensure a finish, but I didn't work at all on speed with my low frequency of runs. My goal was to finish and try for a 12:00 pace.
The week before the race, I unknowingly developed and popped a blister while doing a 7-mi run. It not only popped - it bled and ripped off the skin, staining the ankle of my shoe. I didn't notice until I was more than halfway through my run and could only stop and re-tie my laces for comfort. I only mention all this about my blister because it became important on race day. I'd never gotten a back-of-the-heel ankle blister before, so I was a little anxious about running with one for 15K. During race week, I bought some clear blister bandaids and moleskin. They worked while dry, but I wondered if they would stand up to the predicted rain on race day.
The night before the race, I purchased and printed my parking garage pass despite the developing weather alerts for my city. It was supposed to be very windy and rainy with possible tornado warnings later in the day. Mentally, I prepared myself to spend the entire race running in rain and wind. At bedtime, I stayed on the couch and fell asleep about 2 hours before my alarm (very typical for me). At 5:30 when my alarm went off, I awoke to a pretty intense downpour! My heart sunk wondering if it would be heavy rain like this for the entire race. But, a quick check of the radar showed that there would soon be a break for a while. I continued as planned and got to the parking garage at 6:45. It was only a light misty rain out, and luckily the temps were in the mid-50s. Despite the potential for more rain and increasing wind, it wasn't cold. In fact, I wore a longsleeve tech shirt and knee-length stretch shorts with a running hat. I was never cold during the race - so thankful for that!
After casually walking through the finisher's area and visiting the porta-potty one last time, I walked a couple of blocks to my corral. Once the race began, each corral was moved up and released in waves. I was in the 5th corral back, so my chip time began at about 7:44. While waiting to start, I watched a black trash bag get picked up and blown many stories up into the sky. I thought, "Well, now. This wind should be interesting."
The first 5K was entirely in downtown Columbus and included two bridge crossings. Those crossings were a bit windy with a wetter mist of rain, and it was a bit uphill toward High Street after crossing the second bridge. That first 5K flew by fast! When it got close to the 5K turnoff, we 15k-ers had to stay to the right and continue straight ahead. Someone behind me joked, "How I wish I could turn left right now!" Nearby runners including myself laughed in agreement since we knew this would be a challenging race, thanks to the worsening weather.
The longest stretch of the race was down High Street from downtown, through the Short North, and then finally coming upon Ohio State University, my alma mater. The wondrous smells coming from food establishments like the new sandwich restaurant Melt in the Short North and Buckeye Donuts on campus distracted me. I kept thinking ahead to how wonderful the hot chocolate and the chocolate fondue would taste at the finish! I carried Shot Bloks with me and thought of them on this part of the course, but it was too early to start them. Funny... this would be the last time I thought of my Shot Bloks until I got back into my car post race.
When I reached Mile 5 near Buckeye Donuts close to my next turn, the misty rain had developed into a more steady light rain and the wind picked up quite a bit. I was completely soaked by this point, except for my shoes. Fortunately, after turning onto Lane Avenue, the course was downhill toward the bridge over the Olentangy River. I think this was where, despite the downhill, other racers started to get worn down by the gusty wind and rain. Instead of being dismayed, I took advantage of the downhill. I picked up my pace and started passing some people. This continued the rest of the race. Unfortunately, I stepped in my first puddle on Lane Avenue and soaked my shoes (Oh, no! My ankle! How would the blister bandaid and doughnut-shaped moleskin hold up? Luckily, pretty well.). Then, while crossing the bridge and being more fully exposed to the gradually increasing wind and rain, I could see that we'd be running directly south into the wind and rain at the next turn. Yeeks! The moment we all turned the corner, I heard a collective and very audible groan. More than a few people stopped running and walked. As for me, I saw the 6-mile and then the 10K markers, so I was jazzed that there were only 5K left! I felt grateful for the brim of my hat shielding my eyes as I tilted my chin down and leaned into the pelting rain. My mantra at that point was, "just one more mile and one hill till 7."
Between 10K and Mile 7 was one of two mentally challenging parts of the race. Even though my pace had picked up since Mile 5, there was the hill on John Herrick Drive up to Neil Avenue. I passed two small groups of college-aged runners on this hill. But, when I reached the top and turned onto Neil Avenue, I was tired for the first time and made sure to walk a full minute at the Mile 7 aid station. Thank goodness there were only 2.3 miles left because it did get quite dismal running down Neil through Victorian Village. It was a long, bleak, forgettable rainy stretch back toward downtown. My sketchy memory and tunnel vision on that part of the course were limited to big puddles, heavier rain, and thanking every police officer I passed. I knew I was going to finish and possibly even meet my goal time of 1:50:00, but I finally wanted to be done. At least it wasn't pouring, but ugh!
To get through Victorian Village to Goodale Park, I needed to focus on the fact that I was almost done. I can't tell you how happy I was to turn left onto Park Street! Short lived joy, though... My mind played tricks on my perception of distance because it seemed like I was on Park Street forever. I'd run the entire race up to this point (not counting aid stations). But, I agreed to let myself walk for 1 minute as long as I ran the rest of the way. I almost made it, too! But, I walked again about 2 blocks before the final turn. I could've slapped myself upside the head! Instead, I quickly got it together, started running again, and zeroed in on the final turn. Approaching it, I thought, "After my two cute little walking sessions, I better sure as heck turn it up for the finish!" I made the last turn and about 30 yards ahead of me I saw a young guy. I chose him as my finishing target and sped up to pass him right before the finish. My watch said 1:48:18, and later I found out my official time of 1:48:17. Since this was my first 15K race, it was an instant PB. Even so, I was pleased that I beat my goal time. That was unexpected! Yay, another race in the books, and one that turned out to be satisfactory :-) My split times: 5K/36:34, 10K/1:11:50. Average pace was 11:38.
There were several runners cheering people on near and at the finish. Very cool, especially since there were very few spectators along the course due to the yucky weather. The friendly volunteers at the aid stations every 2-3 miles turned out to be the ones who encouraged runners along the course rather than the usual family and friends. They were fantastic! Despite the weather, they were all smiles and remained positive. After crossing the finish line, I headed straight to the finisher's mug tent to get my chocolate. I guzzled the hot chocolate so fast that I burned my tongue - oops! Next up was the chocolate fondue, and so I ate my banana, marshmallow, and pretzel. But, the wind was getting strong and blowing things everywhere. So, I decided to pause my enjoyment of the fondue, quickly get a picture taken by a race photographer in front of a blown-up mug of hot chocolate, and head for the nearby parking garage. Just in case none of the race pictures turned out, I asked two female runners parked next to me if one of them would take my picture. Good thing I did that because the race photos of me aren't the best.