Yesterday I headed to Alton, Illinois for a new to me race, the Alton Half Marathon. I’m from Illinois and this was my first race in Illinois. It also only has a few hundred people and starts at 8am on Saturday, all new experiences for me.
I arrived just before 7am and picked up my packet, an easy process. Then I used the port a potty (no line!) and headed back to my car to wait. That was a real luxury–in downtown St. Louis races I can never park close enough to wait in the car. Around 7:40 I made another port a potty stop. Even with the short line I had no issues getting to the start well before 8am. Another luxury of a small race–I just walked up to the start and could have positioned myself as close as I wanted.
My race game plan was to start around 10 minute miles and as I warmed up if I felt strong I would push the pace to the high to mid 9s.
We started out running through the parking lot of the downtown amphitheater.
We really lucked out with the weather. All week the forecast was not just rain, but thunderstorms, all day Saturday. But by race day that changed to cloudy from the morning to early afternoon. It had rained, so it was wet in places, but it was also cool (50s with wind) and occasionally sunny.
I got swept up in the excitement of the crowd (and likely incorrect starting chute placement on my part) and ran mile 1 in 9:17. Not the plan. I had that in mind for mile 13, not 1. My recent race trend is starting fast then burning out, so I dialed it back a bit.
When I was driving in to Alton I noticed a bunch of cones in the middle of the road. It took me a minute to realize “oh god, this is the race course.” I had that reaction because that road has nothing to look at.
That bridge was a focal point of the race. Much like the Arch, it was almost always in view, it’s beautiful, and it was an anchor that gave me an idea of the direction the course would be heading at some point.
I was happy to get to the middle of the bridge because I knew I’d be able to recover from the gradual increase in elevation. You never think about bridges being steep when you drive across them, but when you run them, you feel it.
There were a lot of worms on the road because of the rain. So those plus the road skid marks (there must be a better name for those) were obstacles to avoid.
We turned left at the Phillips 66 station, which was peak rural America.
This road was one they’d closed entirely for the race. It was an out and back, which sometimes I hate, like when the Go! course goes on Broadway, but during this race I liked it. The sparse crowd made it easy for me to spot people I know from Big River Running’s training team.
That’s Rob Harrison, who in addition to being speedy (I think he’s running 8 minute miles) also takes photos of every runner finishing at the end of our training team runs and posts them to our group Facebook page. It’s the nicest gesture and everyone loves it. So when I took this I said “got you!” because he’s nearly always the taker of photos and not in them.
Looking for people I know really made the time fly by. After I saw all those people I’d completed about 5 miles, all in the high 9s. I was feeling good and not alarmed by that pace, so I kept it.
That guy had been holding the twizzler just out of my reach and running backwards, saying I had to run to get it. I took this picture and he didn’t hand me the twizzler. So I said “hey! I want that!” and turned around and got it. I thanked him and went on my way. I’d taken a salted watermelon Gu about 45 minutes in and the twizzler became part of my fueling plan about an hour in as we continued back to the Clark bridge.
I’ve said before I enjoy a race course with lots of spectators so I can feed off their energy, and while that’s true, there’s something to be said for exploring a more rural area. It’s very peaceful. I mean look at all the space I have.
The sunglasses were for the wind. At this point the wind was at my back but on the way out it was all over my face which makes my eyes water if I’m not wearing sunglasses.
If you have a car and want to spectate, it was pretty easy for people to just pull over. The cars on the right belonged to volunteers passing out water ahead. There were some little girls in one blaring the horn.
The Mississippi River was pretty.
After the bridge we headed right to the second out and back of the course. This one was a little different because the out was on the road and the back was on a bike path on the levee. But I could still pretty easily identify people coming back. This was a welcome distraction as the out was slightly uphill with wind in our faces.
After a pretty long time on boring road of nothingness I finally got to the turnaround and was on the bike path.
The bridge is deceiving though. I knew the end was just past it, and it seems pretty close, but I was around mile 11 here, so there was a lot of race to go. My watch had been beeping about 0.1 before every mile marker so I knew I’d likely be running 13.2 total miles, not 13.1. But mile 11 seemed like a good point to increase my speed a bit, so I upped my effort from what had been getting me miles around 9:40. I also focused on passing people. I think I passed about 10-20 people in the last couple miles, which is an awesome feeling. Lots of people passed me early in the race but I love finishing strong and passing them.
I ran mile 12 in 9:18, almost exactly my pace for mile 1, but at a far more reasonable time in the race to do that.
After mile 12 I really pushed it. I figured no matter how bad I felt I could power through it for a mile. I was listening to music and I told myself that it would only be painful for 2-3 songs, and the faster I ran the faster it would be over. We had to go up a sharp hill to get back in the parking lot (the reverse of what we did at the beginning) and it was awful but short, and then I caught my breath on the downhill. I didn’t look at my watch at all at the end–I didn’t want my pace to get in my head. During the whole race I only looked at each mile. It helps me to take the race mile by mile rather than big scary 13.1 miles. Finally I turned the corner and saw the finish. And Rob was there, done with his race and taking pictures! I was so happy.
And my official results (their mile 5 split is off):
I’m so happy with my results. I train with the 10:30-10:45 pace group, so averaging a minute faster is a great outcome. Especially since other than a long run where I finished the last 6 miles in the high 9s, I did no pace runs. I also didn’t do any structured speed work. What I did do is a lot of treadmill runs that I finished fast, which is kind of speedwork. And I think that really prepared me to finish this race fast.
I’ve now run 10 half marathons. My PR from October 2013 is 1:59:34. I’d just started training with Big River and was running with the 9:30-10 group (!!!). My second fastest time is from October 2012, when I did all my runs by myself. That time is 2:06:25. And now this race gave me my third fastest time, 2:06:47. I spent some time obsessing over the fact I was 22 seconds from a new second fastest time, but I’m going to try to let that go and enjoy the fact I’m running faster than I have in years.