My favorite distance: half-marathons

I’ve been thinking a lot about half-marathons lately. I’m not sure why. Probably because that is the longest distance I will ever race again, with my old, creaky legs.

Maybe also because it is such a great event: just long enough to be challenging, just short enough that you don’t need to kill yourself training and recovering.

So just because I’m in the doldrums, I will recount my 16 half-marathons. This is just for fun, and just for me. (This is a companion piece to a post I wrote last year, my summary recap of my 10 marathons.)

So let’s get to it:

1) River Run (Berea, Ohio, September 2002). This was a mostly flat course through the Cleveland Metroparks along the winding, scenic Rocky River. The weather was cool and clear, making for a promising morning. But I struggled, and made a lot of rookie mistakes. I started off too fast. I ran unevenly. I chugged Gatorade by the cupful at water stops, getting terrible stomach cramps. Not a surprise, then, that I missed my goal of breaking two hours — by a lousy ten seconds. Still, I got the bug and knew this half-marathon would not be my last. Time: 2:00:10

2) Fall Classic (Strongsville, Ohio, November 2002). Just two months later after my disappointing debut, I lined up again, determined not to make the same mistakes. Yep, I made different mistakes! The weather was chilly, so I wore a heavy fleece top. By mile four, I was burning up. I had to step off the course, take off the fleece, unpin my number and re-pin it to my shirt, then jump back in the race. That took two or three minutes, during which hundreds of runners passed me. But I guess I ran OK, because I finished strong and beat my two-hour goal by more than 10 minutes. Guess I’m getting a little better at this thing. Time: 1:49:05.

3) Spring Classic (Strongsville, Ohio, April 2003). This was a very similar race to No. 2. In fact, it was the exact same course, same organizer, same chilly air. Just the season was different: spring vs. autumn. I had a pretty good feeling at the starting line, having run all winter. And it paid off. I set another PR by seven minutes. And I went home on a cloud. Time: 1:42:03.

4) River Run (Berea, Ohio, September, 2003). After last year’s disastrous outing at this race, had something to prove. Could I run smarter and stronger? I started off at a manageable pace, and by mile 10, still had enough gas in the tank to up my speed and finish strong.  The final miles flew by, and I set another PR, beating last year’s time by a whopping 21 minutes — and my last half-marathon by three minutes. Time: 1:39:08.

5) Fall Classic (Strongsville, Ohio, November, 2003). OK, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m a creature of habit. I find a race that I like, and I do it over and over. This would be the third time I ran this course: twice in the fall, once in the spring. I was setting PRs left and right.  So the stars seemed to aligning. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t tell my body. For some reason, I had no energy at this race. I huffed and puffed and ran out of gas miles before the finish line.  The race was a struggle and I couldn’t figure out why, making it twice as frustrating.(One possible explanation: I spent six hours the day before doing yardwork.) Just one of those days. Time: 1:45:34.

6) River Run (Berea, Ohio, September, 2004). I had a good year of racing shorter distances. I decided to push myself hard. Well, too hard, in hindsight. I ran the first three miles at a 7:00-minute pace and then realized I was running crazy fast. This was a half-marathon, not a 5K! I throttled back, but the damage was done. For the next 10 miles, I suffered oxygen debt and leg cramps.  Served me right. But somehow, I finished in one piece and even set another PR, by about 30 seconds. But I did it the ugly way. Phew. Time: 1:38:36.

7) Spring Classic (Strongsville, Ohio, April 2005). My last run on this course was a disappointment. Could I come back and redeem myself? Or would I have to wallow in failure? Only way way to find out: sign up and run. The day was beautiful and I felt strong. I ran the first half conservatively, and then, still feeling good, pushed down on the gas for the second half. It was a good strategy. I had my best finish ever, and set yet another course PR and distance PR. A good day, boys and girls!  Time: 1:38:25.

8) Erie Half-Marathon (Presque Isle, Erie, Pa., September 2005). Time for a new race, don’t you think? And this course sure was beautiful: a quiet, shaded, paved road along Lake Erie beaches. The scenery was beautiful, but the day humid as holy hell. I sucked down water before and during the race. But however much I drank, apparently it wasn’t enough. After about five miles, I felt dizzy and weak. I slowed down, then walked for a bit. But the dizziness increased and needed to sit down for five minutes, during which the entire field passed me. I decided to cut my losses and dropped out — my first-ever DNF at any distance. A blow to my pride, indeed, but I decided it was a wise thing to do. I would live to race another day. Time: DNF.

9) Indy Mini-Marathon (Indianapolis, May, 2006). Last fall, I moved to Indy to take a reporting job with The Star. That was a big change for me, my family and my running. I missed the old races, but decided to find some new ones. The Indy Mini was a natural. It had huge buzz. It was the biggest half-marathon in the country, with about 40,000 runners. The course included 2 1/2 miles around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track. So I signed up and ran it. I did OK, but I wasn’t crazy about it. The race was over-hyped and over-crowded. Just getting to the starting line was like a cattle call, trying to squeeze into the corrals with tens of thousands of other runners. The course took us through blighted neighborhoods, and the emphasis seemed to be on a party atmosphere, with lots of music and entertainment, rather than a serious running experience. I found the whole thing underwhelming.  I decided I probably would never run this race again. Time: 1:45:10.

10) Lawrence Half-Marathon (Lawrence, Ind., October, 2006). This was a beautiful, rolling course in and around Fort Harrison State Park during the height of the leaf season. I ran with joy, without any pressure to push hard. After the disappointing experience at the Indy Mini, I was just glad to be surrounded by nature and a smaller field. I guess I’m not a big one for huge running mobs and nonstop entertainment. I like a smallish field and quiet, beautiful natural surrounding. I finished about a minute slower than at the Indy Mini but felt much happier at the finish line. Time: 1:46:29

11) Anti-Mini (Zionsville, Ind., May 2007). Everyone in Indy knows all about the Mini. But how many know about the Anti-Mini, a low-budget trail race that take place on the same day as the Mini? Not too many, but that was OK. I showed up and found a few hundred runners more interested in quiet trails than in corporate hoopla. The scenic course wound around the Nancy Burton Park in four loops, including four trips up and down a steep, winding boardwalk. The course was slow (lots of roots, hills, creek-crossings) that made for a muddy, fun alternative to road running. I’ve run plenty of trail races, but none quite this long. I settled in at a slow, easy pace, with no time pressure. It was my slowest half-marathon, but one of my most enjoyable. Unlike the Mini, I would definitely do it again. Time: 2:04:06.

12) Circle of Life IU Mini-Marathon (Bloomington, Ind., September, 2007). This looked like a fun race, and a good way to check out the college town, about an hour south of Indy. The course ran in and around Indiana University, with lots of hills and scenery. The weather was unseasonably warm and humid. But I was in good shape, having run two marathons earlier in the year. I ran this race aggressively, with a goal to break 1:45. Despite a few tough hills, I kept my pace and beat my goal with a few seconds to spare. A fun day. Time: 1:44:26.

13) Knobstone Trail Mini-Marathon (Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Martinsville, Ind., October, 2008). Another trail race, this one deep inside a huge state forest. The trail was rugged: lots of singletrack, hills, roots, rocks, switchbacks — also a few road crossings and creek crossings. I could see this would be a slow course, with some hiking and maybe a few stops for water and snacks. Trail races are like that. But the scenery — ravines, gorges and the deep woods — would more than make up for it. And that was true. I ran a modest time, but the scenery and the companionship were outstanding. Time: 2:18:02.

14) Lawrence Half Marathon (Lawrence, Indiana, October 2008). I enjoyed this race a year ago. So now that I was familiar with the course, I hoped to run a faster time. Today, it would be about speed. I needed to see what I had. I ran hard (probably too hard for the first half) and kept a close eye on my watch. I wanted to beat last year’s time of 1:46:29. I pushed and pushed and got to the finish line just under the wire. Mission accomplished. Time: 1:45:10.

15) Anti-Mini (Zionsville, Ind., May, 2009). The Anti-Mini has its loyal followers, and I can see why. It’s such a low-key, simple event, without the mob scene and corporate hype of the Mini. So I wanted to give it another whirl, and possibly beat my time of 2:04:06 from last time. The course was a bit muddy from  days of rain. But I didn’t care. I ran like a kid and had a great morning in the woods, and got a course PR. A success all around. Time: 1:59:47.

16) Knobstone Trail Mini Marathon (Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Martinsville, Ind., October, 2009). Once I find a race I like, I do it over and over. And I liked the Knobstone race last year, so I signed up again. But this time, it would be a tougher affair. I got stomach cramps and leg cramps, and ran out of gas early. I ended walking the last few miles, definitely puzzled and disappointed. But at least I was in the beautiful woods, enjoying a trail and surrounded by nature. It could be a lot worse! Time: 2:25:13.

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