First, let’s talk numbers. Today, I ran my 1st race of 2012, the Liberty Half Marathon. It was also my 5th half marathon, 13th race overall and the 1st long run of training for Marathon #2.
In it’s 2nd year, the Liberty Half is a small, local race in western Ohio. Last year, the race consisted of about 12 people who said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!” So, they threw a bag of food under a bridge, and set off. Turns out the course was more like 13.6 miles, and there was no medal at the finish, but it sure was a heck of a run, from the stories they tell.
This year, it was a little different. There were a little over 100 runners, the course was shortened appropriately, and instead of a bag of food under a bridge, there were donuts, bagels, bananas, and water in a warehouse about .3 miles from the “finish line,” which was little more than a cone and a guy with a stop watch.
This was the anti-Rock N Roll. If you’re into screaming crowds, a closed course controlled by sheriffs, music and aid stations at every mile, and fancy t-shirts and medals, the Liberty Half is not your race. There were no bib numbers, no chip timing, little fanfare, and minimal “crowd support.”
But, it had a few things that were better. Gumption. Spirit. Passion. Community.
The race began at a Subway in West Liberty, a small town in Western Ohio. From there, we ran up a country road that cuts through a valley carved out by the glacier millions of years ago. As you might imagine with a race this small, the crowd thinned out pretty quickly once the race got underway. I ran the entire 13.1 miles almost entirely alone. As a “lone wolf” sort of runner, I really enjoyed this. It was a unique experience for me to be able to feel the pressure of racing without being surrounded by tons of people. It was truly me and road, battling it out. No crowd support to lean on, no fellow runners to commiserate with… just me and my determination to continue onward despite it all.
The first half of the race was full of gently rolling hills that provided mini-challenges followed by nice easy downhills. I took the first couple miles a bit too fast, so miles 3-6 were a bit slower, but I also went into this race thinking of it as a training run, and fought the urge to push it hard and get a good race time.
The race crew had marked each mile the night before, but unfortunately experienced some vandalism, so the markers for miles 3 – 7 weren’t up anymore. My shiny new Garmin Forerunner 305, a Christmas gift from my in-laws, definitely came in handy during those miles. I cruised along during those miles, enjoying the perfect running weather – mid-40s and dry. I hit the second and last aid station at the end of mile 7, but I had my Honey Stinger Waffle and water bottle, so I cruised on by, turned a corner… and blurted out, “Oh, $h!t!”
It may be a little hard to make out in this cell phone photo, but the behemoth hill I had heard so much made it’s appearance right at mile 8. 6-8% grade for 1.5 miles. Oh, $h!t indeed. This may make it a bit more clear…
Umm, yeah. I braced myself for some hurt, and trudged onward. I made it up about half of the hill you see in that picture before walking. What that photo doesn’t show is that this massive hill levels off for a short distance before climbing upward yet again. I’d estimate that I ran 1/2 to 3/4 of it total, which I am more than pleased with.
Thankfully after climbing for almost 2 miles, the course then levels off for about a mile before plunging downhill for the final 2 miles.
I caught my breath after the hill, just in time for what seemed like freak monsoon-like weather to hit. Like I mentioned, I experienced perfect running conditions for the first 10 miles, but suddenly the wind kicked up to a fairly constant 20 mph with 40+ mph gusts, and a few minutes later, hard rain joined the party. Within 2 minutes, my right side was soaked, thanks to the wind driving the rain sideways.
A few times, the wind gusts were so strong, they blew me right off the side of the road and into the grass. At some point, they changed direction – I remember very clearly a wind gust coming from behind me, and it literally felt like someone was shoving me forward.
I thanked my lucky stars that it was a tailwind and not a headwind, hunkered down, and soared down that 2 mile hill at an average pace of 9:12 min/mile for a finish time of 2:14:47, an average pace of 10:19/mile! Despite the uncomfortable combination of wet and wind, I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear during those last 2 miles. I felt completely alive, stripped bare to the elements, and I loved every miserable, cold, wet second of it.
This is adventure.
After I crossed the “finish line,” my time was written down on a piece of paper with my name and age on it, and handed over to the race volunteers to be tabulated. Ian & I made our way via shuttle to the post-race Par-Tay, and I shivered a lot until the overall winners and age group winners were announced, and they handed out our finishers beer steins. I suspected that I finished in the top of my age group – the winner finished in 2:05 and change, and I didn’t notice too many of my fellow 20-29ers ahead of me. I’ll have to double-check the results when they’re posted, but I think I may have been 2nd or 3rd! I have to say, it was a speedy group overall. The winners of the other age groups, male and female, smoked the 10-19 and 20-29ers!
This was by far my favorite half marathon to date. I really loved the fact that my entry fee (only $15, by the way!) went to supporting a small, local running club that was clearly very passionate about the sport. I also thoroughly enjoyed the challenging course, and I loved the minimalist, grass roots approach to racing. After the race, I thought back to my bigger half marathons, and for me, they don’t hold a candle to this kind of intimate race, where everyone is there for the pure enjoyment of running. I will definitely be seeking out smaller races!
I have to give a HUGE thanks to all the volunteers who made the Liberty Half Marathon possible – what an awesome new tradition, and I can’t think of a more perfect way to ring 2012!