Saturday, September 7, 2013

Heartland Half-Marathon Race Report

Waking up in the wee hours of the morning from an unfamiliar bed that cost nearly as much as my monthly mortgage, driving into a maze of concrete and stoplights, finding parking, standing around for hours in the cold, and then hoping to have some adrenaline left in my legs to race among a never ending sea of strangers is common for marathons and half marathons. However, I experienced none of this at the 2013 Heartland Half Marathon in Jasper, Indiana.

My family made the trip with me from Lexington to this small town in southern Indiana in less than 3 hours. The terrain was mostly flat, with rows and rows of cornfields. In addition to it conveniently occurring on Labor Day weekend, it was spot on the date scheduled for a tune-up race in my marathon training. What I did experience was a quality Sleep Inn motel room, one mile from the starting line, with a fridge and microwave for less than $60. A pool awaited us outside for a late summer swim, but we forgot our son's swim trunks, However, $1 and a Goodwill across the street remedied the dilemma. We also discovered a natural foods store next door, but unfornately missed it being open my 20 minutes.

Packet pickup was at neat little train depot, located next to the starting line and across a bridge and stream from a mill. In addition to the bib and tech shirt, swag included embroidered socks and a hat. To my surprise, it did not include a disposable chip timer, but did include a reusable chip and ties for shoes, along with a notice that it costs $35 to replace.

Everything went well the night before the race, except I didn't feel quite 100%. I had injured my chest a couple weeks prior, causing the same area on my back to be a little tender as well. Additionally, I felt a little fatigued, which I attributed to the injury and allergies. For vegan food options, a couple chain restaurants were nearby, Fazolis and Subway. However, before leaving Lexington, I stocked up on brown rice vegetable rolls and fresh spring rolls from the sushi station at Good Foods Co-op.

While not great, I got some decent sleep the night before, and woke up at 5:30am for a 7:30 start. I fueled up with a banana, water, and a small cup of hotel coffee. After a several visits to the hotel bathroom, we were off. Nearby the starting line, I used the bathroom again at a porta-potty. Despite the numerous encounters with the toilet, I wasn't terribly concerned. About half of a mile into a mile warm-up, weight in my stomach shifted, and I heard a swooshing sound. Now, I was a little worried.

Around 400 half marathoners lined up on the left side of the road and 5k participants, headed up by a group of eager kids, were on the right. I lined up near the front, but a few rows back.  My previous half-marathon, this past spring, was in 1:34 and change. For this race, I hoped to drop a couple minutes and run closer to 7:00 minute even miles. The first mile I started a little fast, but not by much. There were maybe a dozen or so runners in front of me, but not many, and most were in eye-sight. This continued for the first 7 or 8 miles. Then the sun began to warm up the morning, my stomach issues became a little more alarming, not helped by the overwhelming smell of cow manure and urine that filled the air, once leaving downtown and running by farmland, and I encountered a couple sizable hills, on an otherwise flat course. I probably could have overcome one or two of these obstacles, but combined they were too much and I began to gradually fade, exerting as much effort as I thought I could to hang on.

Running back into town, we made a left onto a wooded paved trail, that led to the finish line located in a park nearby the train depot. I was struggling to hang onto a 7:30 or so pace, lost the runners in front of me, and no one was in sight behind me either. I was disappointed to not be finishing stronger, but found the stamina to sprint the last half of a mile.

I've described this race as bittersweet. I beat my previous best half marathon, but only by seconds and the stomach issues that I experienced during the race lingered for a while after. I placed 2nd in my age group, oblivious during the race that I was only a few seconds per mile off pace from the winner. I placed 21st overall with a time of 1:34:26, averaging 7:12 miles. While nothing really stood out from the race that I feel makes it a must do again, it was well organized, hassle-free, and though somewhat vanilla at times, it was mostly pretty.

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