Saturday, November 29, 2014

Race Report: Amish Country Half Marathon

I'm not really too fond of half marathons except for a key few that I like to do for other reasons than just running. Since running 13.1 miles is something I just like to do on a whim, I don't find a lot of attraction in paying a fee to do it. But like I said, there are a few, namely the Medina Half Marathon in May, the Akron Half Marathon (tradition to run it with my wife) and today's race, the Amish Country Half Marathon down in Berlin, OH...in the heart of Amish country. I ran it two years ago and finished in 1hr, 47min, 22sec, placing pretty well...within the top 10 of my age group. However, that year taught me one huge lesson about this race: hills. BIG ones...and many of them. The way I explained the hills to a friend earlier today was to explain that they are the kind of hills that cause your car to drop to a lower gear to go up...ya know, THOSE kind. It's a twisting, turning course that within the first 6 miles and miles 10 to the finish, those hills are plentiful. Of course, with those gut-wrenching hills come many fast downhills. Kind of a quid pro quo of a race course...plus the lung-burning thrown in for free. Below is proof.

Elevation Profile
Pre-Race
The race headquarters and start/finish are at Hiland High School in Berlin, OH, right on Route 39 in Berlin. Easy parking, easy packet pickup, and a start and finish that takes place on the high school track just down below the building. From a spectator standpoint, it's great for the start/finish and not so good for out on the course. For my #1 "spectator," she sees me off then hits up the few shops about 1/2 mile away. Since today was "Christmas in Berlin," there was plenty of shopping/browsing to do. They offered packet pickup Friday night but being over an hour away, we just showed up early and checked in. I highly recommend that if you're any distance away. We also ran into a great friend of ours, "Kimba" who was also racing it for her 2nd time. We hung out waiting for 8:30am start, catching up on life. (here's Kimba's blog) The race also boasts pacers, courtesy of Vertical Runner of Wooster, a sponsor and big supporter of the race since its inception in 2012. Basically, there was a pacer for every 5 minute finishing time. This was a surprise to me which was nice. Now, I could just run and keep the ones in sight that aligned with my goal instead of running according to the Garmin on my wrist. That being said, I decided to hang with the 1:45 pacer since my only goal for the day was to PR the course...finish under 1:47:22. However, given that I've gone from 7 days a week running to 1 or 2 days a week in the past two months and added in CrossFit 5 days a week, I had no idea what to expect.

At the start, just over 300 runners took off on the course. The beginning heads down a very long downhill so just plan on having a very fast Mile 1. Just be careful with "how" you run the downhills on this course. Run them in such a way to trash your quads and you'll pay later. You NEED those quads for the "mountains." Anyway, I tucked in with the pacers and life was good. Clear skies, a light breeze, and temperature in the low 30s...the "warmest" its been in the race's 3 year history.

You can see the course elevation up above...that needs no explanation. As for the view out on the course, it's Amish country! Here's what you'll get at this one and no other race probably offers: manure and lots of it and many, many Amish families out in their front yards to cheer you on...silently. I say this with the utmost respect, I really do. But, if you could frame each one, they'd be a perfect portrait of the Amish family. Grandparents, parents, kids, etc. I often shouted "Good morning!" to them about half of the time, I'd get a response. The other half, just silence. As for the manure, it's all over the road because again, it's Amish country and instead of oil slicks from cars, we have manure from the horses. If you love the smell of country, beautiful landscapes, lots and lots of farms where horses and cattle are grazing, you'll love this race. Something else unique to this race is some of the runners who are Amish yet are not wearing what you and I would consider "running attire." They were wearing their boots, jeans, and sweaters...just like the families in the front yards. In the picture here, I'm about to finish, but this gentleman and I ran close to each other for about the last 4 miles. So, he was bookin' along sub 8min miles in jeans and boots! I was impressed...no way that's comfy and chafing is definitely a factor. But, there he is. He was one of many. I didn't see any girls today, though, in their dresses...not to say there weren't any.

As you can see in the elevation profile, there is a "little" hill that begins in the 11th mile that takes runners up to Route 39. It's a monster. After climbing that, you hang a left onto Route 39 and the high school comes into sight. Before getting back to the track, though, you have to climb one last hill with about 3/4 mile to go and then it's "mostly" downhill before you circle almost the whole track for the finish. Unlike in 2012 where I powerwalked some of the steepest sections, I didn't walk a step today. I focused on form and controlling my effort on the hills and using the downhills to their maximum advantage. There is NO doubt: much of what I've learned in CrossFit in the past 4 weeks when it comes to effort, form, and giving it all leaked into this race. CrossFit is so much more than just pushing weight around. (see my other blog posts on that topic) Back to the pacers: I eventually got the 1:40 pacer behind me early on. My goal was to keep him there. However, at every glance over my shoulder, I could see him. He caught me on that 11th mile hill but then I got him back at mile 12. In the end, he wasn't on the 1:40 pace (which was ok since no one was with him) because I finished slower than 1:40 with him behind me but passing him up cemented my early-on goal to keep him in my rear view mirror. In the end, I finished in 1:43:48, about a 3 1/2 minute PR for this course. I was THRILLED! I really did give it all and I was blessed with meeting my goal.

Back in the high school, hot buttered noodles, chocolate milk, water, cookies, Subway, and some chips awaited. Also, though, they were handing out age group awards. I thought "Why not? I'll go ask and see...ya never know!" I told him my name and approximate time and BAM! 3rd place in my age group of 21 men ages 40-44! That never happens, mind you! So I got a second medal around my neck and one much more valuable to me. I don't think anyone could've wiped that smile off my face. Kimba arrived shortly thereafter, we enjoyed the noodles, etc., caught up on some race stories then headed on out. Back home, results were already up and my final stats were 45 of 311 finishers and 36 of 165 men. Average pace was 7:55. Could I ask for more? Not really. That was a really good measure of where I'm at and if my greatly reduced running schedule is hurting my ability to run. The next test will be a 50K on the first weekend in January. If that goes well, the next big goals for 2015 contain a marathon, 50 miler, 100 miler, and 24hr race. For the Amish Country Half Marathon, though? Check in the box.

By the way, what other race gives you a block of cheese at the finish?!


1 comment:

Kim said...

Hey you beat me to the race report! Yours is much more detailed than mine, I confess I'm a bit tired.
Good work on the AG placing! Nice to see you and Marjie out there.