I won a half marathon — but I almost screwed it up

I ran a real, live half marathon yesterday! And — I won! 

What a great outcome for my first live half marathon in more than a year. I typically run at least four half marathons in a year, but of course COVID-19 has put a halt to that. I did run two virtual half marathons in 2020, which I count because I ran them at race effort, but I hadn’t run an in-person half since the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon in December 2019

As I’ve written previously, I am training for the Runners Marathon of Reston on April 11, and I had a half marathon on my training plan for this weekend. I didn’t think I’d find one — in normal times, it’s not that easy to find a half marathon in February in the Northeast. Add in COVID, and it’s even harder. But I actually did find one. Virginia-based Bishop’s Events was putting on the Before the Game 5K, 10K and Half Marathon at Lake Accotink Park in Springfield, Virginia the day before the Super Bowl. The race benefited the Boulder Crest Foundation, which works with combat veterans and first responders who deal with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. I’ve run a few of Bishop’s races before and they always benefit similarly worthy causes. I know they’ve been having small, socially distant races over the last few months in D.C. and Virginia, so I wasn’t too worried about the race potentially being canceled. So I signed up. 

Springfield is only about an hour away, and the half marathon didn’t start until 8:30, so Micah and I drove down Saturday morning. (Reston is also about the same distance away, but I booked a hotel room for the marathon in April. It starts at 7:30 and I don’t need the stress of driving from Maryland to northern Virginia on marathon morning.) It was cold (duh, February in Virginia) but clear and sunny. I decided to dress up like a human Maryland flag and donned my Maryland flag print tights from Route One Apparel, my matching arm warmers, my Maryland flag headband, and my Maryland flag neck gaiter with my Rip It Events singlet. Oh, and my Maryland flag print face mask, because 2021. I was definitely cold while standing at the start, but knew I’d warm up quickly. There was snow and ice all over the ground near the dam, and Micah warned me to watch my footing. 

Just before the race started, Travis Bishop, the owner of Bishop’s Events, announced that the ice around the park had forced a last-minute change in the race course. He explained that half marathoners would run one small loop that would equal 5K, followed by another, longer loop that would equal 10 miles to bring us to 13.1 miles. He joked that we probably wouldn’t like that, but it seemed fine to me. I hadn’t even looked at the planned course map before the race, so I had no expectations anyway. 

We took off shortly after 8:30 and though we were allowed to take off our masks while running, I kept mine on for the first two miles just to keep my face warm! I had never been to Lake Accotink before and focused on taking in my surroundings, while also watching where I was going. Much of the race was on a dirt trail, and there were lots of roots and stones all around. And it was pretty hilly, though mostly small, rolling hills, nothing crazy. Pretty park — I’d love to return when it’s warmer outside. I ran the first mile in 8:06 and then dropped down to a 7:20 for the second mile. 

I was feeling really good and knew that I was the first female, behind three men (and I wasn’t anywhere close to the top two guys, as they were definitely running a 6:xx pace.) I kept hoping that I was headed in the right direction since there wasn’t anyone around me and the course really wasn’t very well-marked — probably because they’d had to pivot at the last minute. Once I hit the first turnaround point at around mile 1.55, I felt reassured. I passed a bunch of runners on my way back who called out “Go Maryland! Love the outfit!” which put a smile on my face. I ran all the way back to where we started to finish that first, smaller loop, then back out again for the second, longer loop. 

This is where I screwed it all up.

As I mentioned, the course wasn’t marked all that well, and I don’t really fault the race organizers for that — they had to scramble at the last minute. And because there were other distances mixed in with the half marathoners, it was a little confusing trying to figure out who was running what. But then once I approached the initial turnaround point again (now at just past the 4.6 mile mark for the half marathon), the volunteer told me to keep on running straight ahead. So that’s what I did. 

This part of the course was mostly paved, which was nice, though there was one pretty icy patch that I had to be careful on. I just cruised from there, but was concerned again because no one was around me and there were no signs. Was I headed in the right direction? Did I miss the turnaround and mess up my race? My Garmin beeped to let me know I had hit six miles and I still didn’t see a sign telling me to turn around or any volunteers. I hit 6.5 miles and thought, OK, well, that’s halfway through the race — I guess we’re just supposed to know to turn around here! 

Except, whoops, that math was entirely wrong. Think about it– I’d run a 5K out and back, then another 1.55 miles to equal about 4.65 miles, then another 1.85 miles for 6.5. If I ran from that point back to the start, which was also the finish, that would only equal …. Not even 10 miles. 

But I didn’t realize I’d effed it up until I got back to the volunteer at the first turnaround. She was clearly surprised to see me so soon. “ Wow, you overtook those guys?” she said, clearly meaning the men who were way ahead of me. I looked at my watch and saw that I was only at like 8.3 miles. “No, I think I f*cked up and turned around too soon,” I told her. I was so pissed at myself since it seemed like I was the first place female and I sure didn’t want to win the race by cheating/cutting the course. “It’s OK. I’ll just double back and run some of the course again to make sure I get to 13.1 miles,” I said. 

Sooooo…… that’s what I did. Feeling like a dumbass, I turned back around and ran another mile and some change in the direction I had just come from, then turned around again. When I passed the volunteer again, I was at just over 10 miles. But…. I knew she was 1.55 miles from the start/finish. Shit. I was going to have to backtrack again!  

I ran back toward the start/finish, and was at mile 11.6 when I saw another volunteer directing runners about a quarter or so mile from the finish. “I screwed up the course!” I yelled at him. “I’m only at 11.6, I’m going to turn around and cover the extra distance!” He probably thought I was a moron. But once again, I turned around and ran back the way I came. Once I saw my Garmin hit 12.3, I thought I was probably safe to turn around again, that I would be at 13.1 miles at the finish or possibly a little more. 

I ended up crossing the finish line in 1:41:50, not my best (I know I lost a solid minute when I stopped to chat with the volunteer after I realized I messed up the course), but I also had 13.22 on my watch when I finished so I did run a little tiny bit extra. A volunteer handed me my plaque for coming in first overall female. I thanked him, but explained that I’d messed up the turnarounds and had to double back a few times to hit 13.1. I showed him my watch, too. But they were totally cool about it — one of the many nice things about a smaller race! 

Proof that I really did run a half and then some

A few other runners congratulated me afterwards and Micah said he saw me make that last turn, then turn back around again. “I couldn’t figure out what you were doing,” he said. Yeah, clearly neither could I. LOL. 

I felt really good after finishing, though on the way home I started to develop baaaddddd stomach cramps. Like what I’m guessing menstrual cramps must feel like (I’ve never had them. I’m a freak of nature, I guess). Only thing I could figure out is that, uh, I didn’t poop before the race. Sorry for the TMI, but I have no idea why I didn’t feel the urge. Usually coffee takes care of that problem on race morning, or any morning, really. So that was quite unpleasant and they didn’t go away until early afternoon.

Despite those hiccups, though, it was a really fun morning! I’m so glad I got to run a LIVE half marathon and I thought Bishop’s did a great job with COVID protocols — staggered waves, masks required at the start and finish, etc. Half marathons really are my favorite distance. Next up is Rip It Events’ Little Patuxent River Run in a month, which will be a trail half marathon on Saturday followed by a 10K on Sunday. I’ve also signed up for the St. Michael’s Running Festival half marathon in August. That race usually happens in May, and I was registered for the May 2020 race before it was canceled. This year, the organizers are planning for August. I’m hopeful it can happen and that life will have returned to some semblance of normalcy by then. Then again, I once thought fall 2020 would be business as usual, too, so what do I know? 

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