Hilly and chilly: The 2017 Annapolis Running Classic

I went into this year’s Annapolis Running Classic feeling really confident (well, maybe even a little cocky.)

I set my half marathon PR, 1:41:01, on this course a year ago. Which was somewhat of a surprise — the half marathon course in the Annapolis Running Classic is not what anyone would consider a PR course. It is extremely hilly — think the A10, just hillier and longer! But last year, the weather was absolute perfection and I run so much around Annapolis that the hills are really familiar to me. That said, with all the training I’ve been doing the last few months, I was expecting to kill it this year and get a brand new PR.

But it wasn’t meant to be! I finished five minutes slower than last year (five minutes, three seconds, to be exact!) In fact, it was one of my slowest half marathon times ever. My husband was waiting near the finish line to watch me finish and he said he could tell I was struggling. I’ve never really felt like I hit “the wall” in a half before, but I totally did on Saturday, and it was no fun.

So what was it? I think it was a combination of two things: The wind (which was absolutely terrible all weekend and also hurt me at this morning’s Turkey Chase 10K in Columbia … stay tuned for more on that) and a tough week of workouts. I’m in taper mode now for the Rehoboth Marathon, but I did six hill repeats Wednesday on my favorite bridge and then had a really brutal kickboxing class on Thursday. I just felt tired on Saturday morning. Oh yeah, and my cat woke me up at 3 a.m. that day just to be annoying, so there was that.

The race kicked off at 7:30 a.m., and my plan was to run with the 1:45 pace group until about mile nine or 10, then speed up and finish in the low 1:40s or better. It was a bit crowded in the beginning of the race, which slowed me, but I quickly caught up to the 1:45ers. I did notice they seemed to be running pretty fast for a 1:45 finish — we ran the second mile in 7:25. I’m guessing their strategy was to take the flat portions of the course fast and slow down for the hills, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting that. It came back to bite me in the butt later on.

I was feeling pretty decent and keeping up with them just fine until around mile seven, which is right after the half marathoners cross the Naval Academy Bridge for the first time and continue their climb up a long incline on Route 2. I stopped at a water station — I have yet to master the art of drinking while running — and the pacers kept on running. After that, I was probably like 20 seconds behind them, and the gap between us continued to widen.

The race continued up Route 2, then turned onto Winchester Road, which is another long, steady incline. I’ve been running up it every weekend because it connects with the B&A Trail, where I have been doing my long runs. As I was about to hit mile eight, I said to myself, c’mon! You run this all the time! But my legs were already starting to feel fatigued and I knew there were still plenty of rolling hills ahead of me, plus another trip back across the Naval Academy Bridge. Mentally, I felt the wall coming on — and again, that wind! I was running into the wind no matter which direction I was going! Is that even possible? That morning, it was!

Around mile nine, I started to take a few walk breaks for maybe 10 or 15 seconds at a time, and I knew I was never going to PR, nor even finish with the 1:45ers. I told myself I wanted to stay ahead of the 1:50 pace group, and I was relieved to see on one of the turnarounds that I was probably still a few minutes ahead of them.

The run back down Winchester Road (mile 10) felt good, but once I was back on Route 2, I began to struggle. I had a chocolate Gu in my Spi Belt, so I sucked that down, but I don’t feel like it helped much. (Side note: When my husband saw me at the finish, he said I had Gu smeared on my face, so I clearly didn’t do the best job of ingesting it. Classy.) I tried to keep a smile on my face as I headed back over the bridge, but I think I was really grimacing. I did high five a woman standing on the bridge dressed as Santa and didn’t yell at her for wearing a Christmas costume five days before Thanksgiving, so there’s that.

By this point, my watch had died, which was probably a good thing — I wasn’t stressing about my pace. The 1:45ers were within sight, so I thought I probably wasn’t running as badly as I thought. At that point, I just wanted to be done.

In the last mile of the race, which leads back up to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, I took another brief walk break. I never do that at the end of a race because hey, I’m almost done at that point and I can usually push myself to keep running — plus, that’s where everyone is lined up to see the finishers! But oh well. My legs were just dead by then. I do feel like I ran the last quarter of a mile hard and had a strong finish overall.

1:46, while far from my best time, is still a pretty decent half marathon, especially when I felt like the last four miles sucked so hard. Truly,  I haven’t felt that bad while running in a long time. I’ve heard that you have to have a bad run to really appreciate the good ones, so I am trying to keep that in mind. I finished 10th out of 164 women in my age group, which is nothing to complain about (although I will point out that last year, I finished fourth!)

Afterwards, I met up with a friend from work and one of her friends — this was the first half marathon for each of them! This race was the first half I ever ran, too, and it’s definitely not an easy introduction to half marathons! They both did great.

Unfortunately, because it was so cold and windy, I didn’t feel like sticking around for the awesome after party, which included music and craft beer (wah). I really hate to turn down free beer, but …. I hate being cold even more!

This was my 14th half marathon and my fourth time running the Annapolis Running Classic — and my second year serving as an ambassador for the race. Even though I didn’t have the best race, I still love running it every year, and hope to be back as a member of the #NapRunATeam in 2018!

As an Annapolis Running Classic ambassador, my entrance fee for the race was waived. All opinions are my own!

Hill yes!

I’m no stranger to running up hills.

Annapolis, where I do almost all of my training, is hillier than one might think (the A10 is often described as a challenging race partly because of all the rolling hills.) Most of the hills here aren’t super long or super steep, but they are definitely there.

That said, I’ve never done any dedicated hill training before now, as I work to BQ at the Rehoboth Marathon on Dec. 2.

I missed a BQ by two minutes and 15 seconds when I ran the Charlottesville Marathon in April (talk about hills.) To be honest, I thought it would be cool to run a BQ time — for me, that’s three hours, 40 minutes — but I wasn’t intentionally training for one. After I came so close, I thought, well, if I really push myself next time, maybe I can do it!

Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training schedule, which includes hill repeats every third week. The plan starts with three hill repeats, and progresses all the way up to seven hill repeats. They’re relatively short runs, but they will get your heart pumping and your legs aching.

I’ve been doing my hill repeats on the Naval Academy Bridge, which is one of my favorite places to run in Annapolis.

Why is it one of my favorite places? I mean, look at this:

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That was the view from the bridge at sunset the other night.

It was just the best reward after four rounds of hill repeats.

The Naval Academy Bridge is a solid choice for the hill workouts, too, because you can run up one side, catch your breath at the top, take in the pretty view, jog down the other side, then run back up. It’s perfect!

The Rehoboth Marathon is a flat course, so I’m hoping that a solid foundation in hill training will give me an advantage in my quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Do you do hill training as part of your workouts? What advice do you have for me?