I ran an accidental half marathon PR

If you’ve been running for many years, as I have, you know that PRs get harder and harder to set. I’m also turning 41 in a few months, and while I don’t plan to stop running hard any time soon, I also know that I will likely be slowing down over the next decade. 

But not quite yet. I ran an unexpected half marathon PR last weekend –1:37:58 at the Halfity-Half Marathon in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania! That’s a 45-second PR, and it got me 1st place in the female Masters division. 

How did that happen? I really have no idea. Honestly, I wish I could share a training regimen or some insights or something of substance, but I really can’t. I had three Reese’s martinis the night before the race — maybe that’s the secret. 

I wasn’t even planning to run this half marathon. Micah and I went to Hershey to celebrate our 5-year anniversary last weekend, and a few days before, I decided to look to see if there were any races happening in the area. Lo and behold, there was a half marathon happening on May 16 in nearby Harrisburg. (A half-half marathon, 6.55 miles, was held the day before.) I eagerly signed up. I saw that the half started and ended at City Island, and the course went along the Susquehanna River, just like the Lucky Charm 5K I did back in March with Staci. I really liked the area and was looking forward to running a longer distance there. 

Since we were celebrating our anniversary, we packed a lot into the day before the race — Chocolate World, a trolley tour, a chocolate-infused pedicure for me, shopping, a delicious dinner at the Hershey Lodge. It was there that I had the three martinis, which included peanut butter whiskey (I don’t even like whiskey), Godiva chocolate liqueur, and other liquors that didn’t even taste like liquor. When I ordered my third, Micah side-eyed me, saying, “Aren’t you running a race in the morning?” I didn’t feel particularly buzzed, so I waved off his concerns. And obviously, it didn’t affect my performance (unless it was for the better!)

I woke up early Sunday to a beautiful day– mid-50s with no wind and some cloud cover. Just about perfect for running! City Island was only about a 15-minute drive from our hotel, and I enjoyed driving down Route 22 into downtown Harrisburg and seeing the state Capitol building come into view. It really is a pretty city — one I’ve barely spent any time in, despite having grown up in southwestern PA. Packet pickup was at one end of the parking lot in City Island, and that was a simple and easy process. Gotta love the logistics of small races! 

When I registered, I chose the elite corral — LOL. To be placed in the elite corral, as a female runner, I had to run a 1:50 or faster half, and I figured I would probably be in the low 1:40s. Pretty surprised that qualified me for the elite corral, but hey, I’ll take it! My wave went off promptly at 7 am and runners were lined up six feet apart and went off every 10 seconds to allow for social distancing purposes. Although the CDC has recently loosened mask guidelines (and to that I say hallelujah!), every place and organization is still kind of doing its own thing in regards to COVID mitigation. I think it’ll be that way for a while. 

Most of the race course was along the Susquehanna. After we left City Island, we ran over an open grate bridge that I had run over in the Lucky Charm 5K, then onto a path by the river, then back and forth over another bridge. I ran my first mile in 7:43, then got faster from there. As I mentioned earlier, the weather was absolutely perfect and that always makes a world of difference. After we got off the second bridge, we spent miles three through 10 back on the path by the river. It was flat and beautiful, and I clicked off a string of 7:18 miles — probably the most consistent pacing I’d ever done. My only gripe, which was definitely not the fault of the race, was that there were geese everywhere. I mean, duh. We were running by a river! But I was nearly attacked by a mama goose who thought I was getting too close to her goslings when I was a kid, so they always make me nervous. There was also goose poop everywhere, which was gross, and I was wearing a new pair of Hoka Carbon X shoes. Luckily, the bottoms didn’t look too soiled afterwards. 

Around mile 10, the path took us away from the river and through a wooded area, then back over another bridge to City Island. I really felt so strong the whole way through and didn’t have that feeling of wanting to be done until maybe there was a mile left of the race. When I crossed the finish line, I hit the button on my watch and it said I ran the race in 1:38:00 — PR! Yay! But then when I checked my official time, I found out I actually ran a 1:37:58 — even better! I shrieked with delight. It took me 20 half marathons to get under 1:40, so to run a 1:37 is really exciting. It also means that I’m within a minute of qualifying for the New York City Marathon. You can qualify with a half marathon time, and a woman my age needs to run a 1:37:00 half to qualify. I’m not really an NYC person and have never been dying to run that marathon, but I know a lot of people love it …. So maybe if I qualify, I will run it. 

Once again, I do wish I could explain why I had such a great race. I haven’t done a lick of speedwork since March. Since the marathon on March 27, I’ve done just two double digit runs — one 10-miler and one 12-miler. My weekday runs are usually between three and five miles. I often worry that I am taking these easy runs too fast– I typically run between an 8:10 and an 8:25 pace, depending on how I feel — but maybe not if I can bust out a half at a 7:28 average pace.    

In any event, I am ecstatic with how the race went and am looking forward to more half marathons this year — including one tomorrow on the C&O Towpath in D.C.! It’s supposed to be going up to a high of 90 degrees (ugh– when summer comes to the DMV, it comes in with a vengeance) so I am not expecting another PR. That’s also a flat course, and it starts early and there’s a lot of shade, so maybe it won’t be too bad. 

I love marathons, but I think I love half marathons more. I get to tap into my strengths as an endurance athlete, but they don’t leave me totally wrecked at the end. And the training isn’t all-consuming, either. What is your favorite distance?