From the beginning, you know you’re in for something beautiful.
A street sign just around the first bend, not even a mile into the course, tells you so: “Winding, scenic road.”
Towering trees, a quiet road, few spectators, small field of runners…This is how my half marathon started this past Saturday.
Those of us who ran the Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon also were aware of a hill. A rather large hill — Inspiration Point — that would greet us midway through. And actually, there were a few other, albeit smaller, inclines ahead of us as well. Still, all of it combined to make for one seriously scenic race. (That Inspiration Point view! Incredible.)
I’d been wanting to run this half marathon around the blue-green waters of Glen Lake near Glen Arbor, MI since its inception four years ago. A couple of years ago I volunteered at an aid station, and I vowed I’d come back as a runner. This weekend, we incorporated the race into a family camping adventure, with a stay at nearby Empire Township Campground. On Saturday morning I ran the half while the rest of my family ran the 5K.
The packet pick-up Friday night takes place at Cherry Republic on Lake Street in Glen Arbor, a quaint village on the shores of Lake Michigan. We live about 45 minutes from this area, so we headed out late Friday afternoon, first to get our race bibs and grab a bite to eat at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, and then to check into our camp site just a short drive away.
Though we didn’t get the best night of rest — a baby a few sites down from our tent reallly wasn’t happy to be camping — we got up with time for a campfire and coffee before heading to the race start. Fighting the tail end of a head cold, I reminded myself to just enjoy the experience ahead of me, to not go out too fast. Sometimes there’s nothing better for a cold than to sweat it out with a good, long run.
The half started at 7 a.m., with the 5K at 7:10 a.m. We got there just a few minutes before the race start — we were a little harried, but the beauty of a small race is we could park close by. We pinned on our race numbers as we jogged to the start.
Then I kissed my family, wished them luck with their races, and told them I’d see them in a couple of hours at the finish.
Highlights from the first half of the race: having a fellow runner shout out to me, “Hey, Michigan Runner Girl!” as I found my groove in the first few miles; settling in with a group of runners on the first hill of the course, around mile 3; and soaking up the gorgeous views in every direction. I felt steady and strong, despite my runny nose (lovely!) and a slight ache in my right calf muscle.
Having biked much of this course just a week prior during the M22 Challenge, the road’s twists and turns felt familiar. It’s entirely different on foot, but it was comforting to know I’d navigated this just fine a few days before. I also knew when The Hill would be coming, the hill of all hills…Inspiration Point. On bike it’s crazy hard. On foot it would be harder yet — particularly the long downhill which on bike is an easy coast. On foot I’d need to keep my body going forward, all on my own.
And there it was, Inspiration Point, a sharp left turn and then up, up, UP. I slowed, but I didn’t walk. Up and over, up and over.
Here’s the thing: you get UP, and then you hang to the right … and go up some more. But then, after the crest, you cross over to the right-hand side of the road and into the parking lot of the scenic overlook, where an aid station (water!! Gu packets!) await. And the view…a sweeping look at Glen Lake and the hills and dunes below…it’s absolutely stunning. I came to a walk, gulping down a cup of Gatorade, and I smiled at the scene before me. “You’ve got to stop and look at this view, right?” I say to the volunteers there. “Yes, you do!” they answered.
The downhill was equal parts glorious (the hill climbing is over!) and agonizing (my sore muscles began screaming at me). I couldn’t wait for flat.
And then this happened: I slowed on the downhill, feeling tentative with my pace as my legs adjusted to the change in elevation, and people I’d passed on the way up ended up passing me….but once the road flattened, and my gait felt more normal, I felt a surge. Just a few miles to go, I can do this. I’ve got this.
I knew I needed to stay steady, which I did as I kept on going. But I also knew I wanted to pick it up some, and I felt my body could do just that. With a little over a mile to go, my pace increased. Somehow I was moving around other runners, forging ahead and then, the finish line was in view. With a couple hundred yards to go, my two boys suddenly appeared on my left side. “Go, Mom!” they shouted. My legs turned over faster and I ran through the finish chute feeling so spent and so accomplished.
This is turning into the summer of half marathons for me; the Glen Arbor race came just a few weeks after the North Mitten Half Marathon at Crystal Mountain over Memorial Day weekend. I’m also planning to run the Grand Island Half Marathon next month.
Running 13.1 miles is a nice change of pace after focusing mostly on the marathon the past couple of years. The challenge of this distance is perfect: training is essential, yet not all-consuming. It also helps that I’m not gunning for super-fast finishes; I am putting myself out there, pushing my body and mind to do well, but not placing pressure on myself to PR each time. (I finished this past weekend’s race in just over 2 hours, about 15 minutes slower than my half marathon PR, but I felt awesome.)
Interestingly, this approach is leading me to hone a new-for-me skill: going out slower, keeping steady throughout the miles leading up to 13.1, then finishing strong–very strong. I’ve surprised myself with a kick I didn’t know was in me.
I was especially happy to know I still had juice in my tired legs at the end of this weekend’s race. Climbing Inspiration Point is no joke. Plenty of people walked-ran this portion of the race, and I didn’t blame them. But ever since Boston, when I pushed myself to run the Newton Hills — every last one — and then felt the exhilaration of this feat despite my trashed quads and tender calf muscles, I dig deeper than ever before to just keep moving in any race with changes in elevation. I repeat the mantra, “one foot in front of the other” and “up and over.”
It truly is an amazing feeling to conquer a tough hill (or three) in a race, particularly when these climbs come in the second half of a race.
Post-race fuel: Breakfast at Good Harbor Grill, a couple of blocks away from the start/finish.
The rest of our weekend: Celebrating Father’s Day with a bike ride on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, dip in Lake Michigan at Glen Haven, ice cream, and climb up the Dunes.
Did you run a Solstice race this weekend? How’d it go?
Have you camped during a race weekend?