Steady rain, steady pace ~ the route I took for this weekend's Lighthouse Half-Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan.

There’s rain—light and misty or intermittent and maybe driving at times—and then there’s this past weekend’s rain. The kind that’s not so much here and there, or hard and fast and blowing every which way, as it is persistent and puddle-forming. The latter is what I’m talking about, the rain that just keeps on coming down as big, fat droplets. I felt every single drop of water pouring from the sky this weekend as I powered through 13.1 miles, my first half-marathon event in more than a year.

The rain, as it happened, wasn’t so bad. Or, I should say, it left me soggy and soaked, yes, but feeling especially adventurous and badass given the part-trail, part-paved course already was peppered with hills and technical turns. Oh, and there was that pitch-black start at the end of Old Mission Peninsula that made things all the more interesting. (Sadly, this meant not actually being able to see the lighthouse behind the race name, but you couldn’t beat the gorgeous fall colors that greeted runners in this point-to-point race ending in Bowers Harbor Park.)

Even though this half-marathon didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned—I was bummed not to be able to run with my BRF Ann last minute after she had to go out of town for a family member’s funeral—it ended up being one of my most favorite races. A few thoughts on this inaugural race that I plan to run again:

Runners are fun people. How could race participants not be the life of any party? We’re ready for anything! Even getting up super early on a Sunday morning to log miles–a lot of miles. We will get onto a bus between the hours of 5 and 6 a.m. to take us to our starting line. Yep, this means a 4:50 a.m. wake-up time so I could drive 10 minutes to the high school where buses waited to take runners to the very tip of Old Mission Peninsula. We’re all a bit groggy this early in the morning, but get a bunch of runners together and we’ll be talking in no time. I loved overhearing others’ conversations, about recent races they’d participated in, about the hopes they had for the race ahead, about where they’re from and why they chose this particular event. I sat next to Jen, a young woman from Saginaw, who decided just a few days before to come to Traverse City with her husband to run the race. Her husband was going to cheer her on, possibly run a stretch of it with her, but was saving his strength for this coming weekend’s Grand Rapids Marathon. We shared war stories about different races we’d run–we both agreed that hot-weather races are the worse–and talked about various races around the state we’ve run or want to run eventually (she said I’d definitely want to do the Crim in Flint). We had 45 minutes to wait once we arrived at the Lighthouse, and though it was darker than any race start I’d been to–not a lot of city lights out that way–the mood was lively. The many volunteers were very helpful in directing people where to drop off their bags and where we’d find the starting line (it really was that dark).

Speaking of the lack of sunlight…I could have used some more lighting by the porta johns. I was so nervous I’d drop my phone in the toilet (it was secure in my armband, but still) and it’s just disconcerting crouching in the dark, wondering if you’d latched the door shut properly. And if you’d be able to get out if you did manage to lock it. Maybe I’m just a little claustrophobic. 

So it rained. A lot. But it was never too cold. By race start the sun was rising and we were off under a lit, albeit overcast, sky. The high-40s/low-50s temps were almost balmy compared to recent weather, and I fell into a groove fairly quickly. I started near the back of the 8-minute mile corral, thinking I’d be closer to 9-minute miles with the number of hills and winding trails I faced. I was happy at the mile mark to hear my Nike GPS+ report I ran 8:31. Perfect. Just keep this pace going. Maybe kick it up a notch if you’re feeling it.

As the course headed south and then back north before looping back down again by a quick stretch of East Grand Traverse Bay, I continued to feel steady-strong. I maintained my pace, slowing down some as we hit the trails and I was dodging rain puddles, low-hanging tree branches and tree roots. I felt a surge of power around mile 5–I’ve noticed this happens during my regular runs, too. Anyone else experience this at this point in a run?–and I ran a 7:59 mile. The next few miles were in the 8:20s, and I remember thinking how great I felt–a surprising fact given the smattering of hills, particularly the one between miles 9 and 10 that was the longest and toughest. I kept thinking that I wanted to kick it in at the end, to finish strong. Mantras I repeated to myself a few times: Run your own race; Nice and easy; I’ve got this; and, as I neared the final three miles, Finish strong.

I definitely got into the zone during this race. It’s been less than 48 hours, but I can’t seem to recall as many details of this race as I thought I would (Joe tells me, “You’re getting old, that’s all” when I share this with him.) Yeah, that’s true. But I also think I just found my sweet spot of running and feeling I was at the right pace during this particular race. I was in the zone. I remember taking in the vibrant colors along the way, feeling grateful even in the rain that I was able to see rows of trees dripping with golden-yellow, rusty-orange and crimson-colored leaves. We also passed by quiet orchards and lush vineyards. I felt so good that I did kick it in the final stretch–I clocked 8:09 for the 11th mile, 8:02 for the 12th and 7:56–my fastest the entire race–for mile 13. I am not sure I have ever done this before in a race. It was an awesome feeling, one I want to replicate. Maybe it was because I consciously didn’t go out too fast. I’ve also thought that maybe my months of summer “training” sans watch–I needed a break from keeping close track of my time after more than a year filled with marathon training–and enjoying the trails helped set the tone for a good mindset going into this race. Or maybe it just was luck. Some races simply are better than others, for myriad reasons.

Finally, I have to give props to the volunteers at this race. There seemed to be a lot of them, which is pretty impressive given the wet conditions. I wish I would have gotten her name, but to the kind woman who offered a dry and private spot to change post-race–in the back of a large moving truck used for race materials and parked near the finish–thank you so much. It was heavenly to strip off my sopping wet clothes and warm up in my beloved yoga pants and cozy hoodie. It made the bus ride back to my car much more enjoyable.

I tried not to have expectations going into this race—I wanted mostly to feel good at the end—but I realized afterward that I had really wanted this race to be good. I realized that as wonderful and significant running Boston was earlier this year, the experience wasn’t without its disappointments; I had thought I’d run it faster, and I wasn’t prepared for the sweltering race conditions. This race, in its own way, with its own set of circumstances and weather conditions, reminded me yet another time just how great running makes me feel.



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