Friday, February 17, 2023

My Better Half Half Marathon 2023

Well, that was unexpected.

It's been awhile since I've written a race recap like this, so bear with me.

The day before the race, as I drove home from packet pickup, I messaged Elizabeth on WhatsApp. I told her I had an inkling that a freak PR was possible – this would be my first half marathon run in cooler weather, and realistically I felt like I was pretty well prepared, even if my brain was in denial that I was running – but that I wasn't going to think too hard about it.

Given that I said it out loud, you wouldn't think I'd still be so surprised that it happened.

The weather called for 37°, sunny, and dry, and I had no idea what to wear. I scoped out last year's race recap but couldn't comprehend that I'd been warm in long sleeves and a windbreaker in 31°. I opted to wear a long-sleeved tech shirt under my vintage chic quarter-zip, but I packed a short-sleeved tech shirt and a light windbreaker in my bag, too. I figured I could change in the car if necessary. Because of my indecision, I didn't get a Flat!Ali pic the night before.

The plan was for Sarah to pick me up just after 7am for the 25-minute drive to Seward Park. As is typical for us, she was running a bit late and we had to stop for gas, but I was feeling incredibly blasé about the whole "about to run a half marathon" thing. I told her I didn't care if we got there late, because we were being chip-timed anyway so who cares what our gun time was?
A perfect day
We parked up the block from the start, where I pulled off my long-sleeved shirt and replaced it with my short-sleeved option, then quickly decided on a headband rather than a cap. (My cutoff for ear-covering headbands is 40° and that morning was cutting it close, but the nice thing about knit headbands is that they breathe!) Despite being pressed for time for our 8am start, I miraculously managed to get everything I needed into my belt and pockets – chapstick, two pieces of gum, two packs of Clif Bloks, water, gloves – before we headed down to the park.
Start line pic while Sarah tied her shoe
The line for the bathroom was out the door, but I wasn't sure where the porta-potties were, so we risked the wait. At 7:55 it was finally our turn. By the time we jogged to the start, the half marathon had just started. Sarah asked if we could wait so she could retie her shoe, and then we walked calmly up to the start line and began our run.
A pro of starting a bit late is that we got the camera all to ourselves! You can see the 10k runners lining up behind us.
Our plan was to begin together and not go out too fast, something we tend to do when it's cold out. Starting a touch late meant we were behind the massive crowds, which was nice. We had lots of room to just settle into a nice warmup.
This race features one big hill right around the half-mile mark. In my head, I'd built this hill into something intense and impossible. In reality, we ran it with no problem. That should have clued me into my mental and physical fitness for the rest of the race, but I was just relieved to have it out of the way.

(Because I had been focusing on that one big hill, I forgot how tough smaller, rolling hills can be. Those really came into play later in the race.)
For the first three miles or so, we just trucked along. Sarah commented on the fact that we were going a bit fast, but that it felt good. I agreed. "For now!"

We left the inner section of the park around mile 3. At mile 3.7, we stopped briefly so Sarah could grab a gel from one of the tables. At the turn-around (mile 5), we wondered if we could make it all the way through the first lap without stopping. Alas, I needed to stop at 5.5 to eat my first two Bloks.
The course was two laps, the first 6.9 miles, the second 6.2. The second lap cut out the hill, but generally they both went through Seward Park and then out along the sidewalk that runs alongside Lake Washington. The view is gorgeous the entire way. 

My biggest issue with the course became evident at the turnaround. The trail in the park is wide and paved; there's plenty of room to run and pass others, and the course keeps runners moving in the same direction. Outside the park, we were running on a standard sidewalk, with the additional ups, downs, cracks, and roots ubiquitous in Seattle. Passing runners, and avoiding elbowing faster runners coming down the opposite direction, all while keeping our footing, was a challenge. I wished they'd closed at least one lane of the quiet neighborhood road we were running along. What's four hours on a Sunday morning?
Anyway, around mile 5.5 Sarah said she needed a walk and I agreed, ate my first two Bloks and drank some water. The sun was starting to do some work – it's amazing how warm 37° can feel when you're running and it's sunny – and we discussed possibly pausing at the end of the lap to remove our outer layers. I was definitely warm, but I didn't feel overheated.
I hit my wall early.
Weirdly, I seemed to hit my wall between miles 5 and 7. I just kept thinking about how much farther I had to go! We continued on our way and made it past the start/finish to continue into lap two, and I felt a little annoyed that we weren't just running the 10k.

I paused to move my bib from my outer layer to my leg, in case I decided to shed the zip, but in the park things felt cool again, so I left it on. After that short break, I got my second wind. Sarah took off ahead of me (we'd agreed to run our own races and meet each other at the finish line) and I slowed down a touch to conserve energy. As mile 8 ticked by, I realized I felt pretty good. I knew that I'd banked a lot of time and that, short of an injury, I was going to beat 2:15.

(You see, in my dazed and foggy race-brain, 2:15 was my PR, and I was sure I was averaging faster than a 10:18 pace, so I was sure I'd beat it, and there was real joy in that. Imagine my surprise when I remembered my actual PR was 2:11 and I was on target to beat that, too.)
Somewhere around mile 10.
I planned to run until mile 10, but Sarah had paused for gel after the "tunnel of love" at mile 9, so we walked a bit together there and then began to run again. I quickly took another break to eat a third Blok, around mile 9.5.

From there, it was a bit of a blur. I was thoroughly enjoying the playlist I'd put together the night before. When I hit mile 10 I realized I only had three to go and I felt...invincible. Slower, achier, but determined. Sure. I was going to finish this race, and I was going to run the remainder well.
So. Mile 11, Sarah and I passed each other (as she'd already turned around) and waved. I trucked along. My shoes began to feel like they were loosening too much for the rolling hills of the last two miles, and the slipping sensation was distracting. It felt a little hard to get traction. 
Mile 12
At mile 12 I paused to check my shoelaces and decided they were tight enough for one more mile. (Good thing, too – if I had stopped to retie, I would have missed my PR.) I told myself to buck up and get this last mile done.

As I turned the corner toward the finish line, I picked up a little speed. I saw the clock ahead, well below 2:10, and almost burst into tears. The shock of it was nearly visceral. I was about to PR a half marathon for the first time since 2014, without really trying, without expecting it, without any major struggle or strife. 
After the weird headspace of the previous week, this felt like a triumph I couldn't fully absorb.

I raised my arms as I crossed the finish, feeling corny and grateful and joyous. Sarah was there waiting. She gave me a hug as I choked out, "I got a PR!"
From there, the thirst set in. We got water and got in line for photos. I knew what my watch said, and I knew what the clock said, but I wondered what the gun time would say since we started a bit behind. As we were waiting in line, intermittently dropping into frog-squats as our calves started to feel the miles, I looked over and found I was face-to-face with Zoe!

I hadn't known if Matt would make it to the finish line, with how his schedule had been, but he made it! Kind of. He missed my finish, but just barely, and honestly, just seeing him there and knowing he'd made it meant so much to me.
My PR from 2014 was 2:11:38 – I beat it by exactly 2 minutes. Even accounting for gun time, this is a new PR.
Plus we got to see how Zoe did in public! (Pretty darn well, actually. Lots of people wanted to pet her and she was very well behaved!)
I spy Mount Rainier!
After photos, I rang the PR bell, and we hobbled back to the cars. Sarah thanked me for making her run this race. I told her we'd do it again next year – after all, it's a birthday tradition!
After a shower and bath and a sort-of nap, I left Elizabeth a 25-minute WhatsApp message to fill her in.

I am honestly still a little in shock at how everything went. I never fully hit the wall. I didn't take my usual dozen walk breaks. I didn't get to a point of "why why why am I doing this?!", as I usually do. I kind of just...ran.
The cool weather was absolutely a major factor in this for me. I think also I've learned that a traditional taper doesn't work for me. Instead, I need to pull back on mileage during the week as my weekend long runs build. My body thrives on rest and recovery.

I feel like this was one of my most technically successful races ever. I never burned out, I kept a pretty steady pace, I didn't take overly long walk breaks or let those walks defeat me. I just...kept going. My mental-talk was on point and I just felt stronger mentally and physically than I ever have before in a half.
My walk breaks were purposeful, either meant for eating or a quick reset after a tough bout of road. They never lingered, and I never felt like I couldn't get started again.
I am absolutely over the moon with this race, and I'll definitely be back next year. I don't have any more half marathons on my list in the near future, and around mile 12 I thought "OMG, imagine if this were a marathon" so I know I'm not ready for another of those yet, but this race showed me I still know how to do long distances, and getting older doesn't have to mean getting slower.



  1. I loved reading your recap, congratulations!! Clearly your hard work has paid off and you ran a perfect race! And how fun that it's on your birthday. I ran RNR Seattle a few years ago and I loved running along the lake, now I want to go back!

    1. Ooh, maybe we can plan to run RNR together in the future!!

  2. A PR was a great birthday present to give yourself! Congrats on a great race!