Race Report: 2015 Charlotte RaceFest Half Marathon

(Originally posted April 12, 2015.)

The quick summary: I didn’t run as well as I’d hoped, but the course was a whole lot more difficult than I expected.

First, let’s go back to the packet pickup. There was no Thursday packet pickup, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it over there Thursday anyway, and they did have Friday packet pickup from noon until 7, plus on race morning, so I can’t complain too much. It was at Dick’s Sporting Goods near SouthPark Mall. (For those of you reading who aren’t from the Charlotte area, yes, we have a SouthPark Mall, it was built before the TV show came along, and it’s fairly upscale, so it’s probably the mall in Charlotte where you’re least likely to find a Cartman figurine.)

My packet consisted of a bib and a t-shirt. They had a stack of coupons for Dick’s Sporting Goods available for the taking (I passed. If I can’t find it in one of the local running stores, I’m going online to get it.), and they had safety pins as well, but I decided I’d reuse some from one of my older bibs.

I registered early enough to get a tech t-shirt. I now have a purple running shirt.

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That was with flash, but when I tried without flash, the light of the room made the colors look off. It’s not quite that dark, but you get the idea. I’m not any better at photography than I am at running.

Anyway, I took it easy the rest of the day yesterday, ate a big plate of pasta for dinner, got to bed at a decent hour, and somehow managed to get a decent night’s sleep for a change.

I got up, took a shower, used the bathroom a couple of times, took some store-brand Imodium AD, ate some wheat bread with peanut butter, grabbed my stuff, and drove up to the race.

Parking was plentiful, of course, since there’s a mall.

It was overcast, which is good, because I forgot my sunscreen. Officially, it got down to 61 degrees by the start. It was a couple of degrees warmer than I expected (and about 10 degrees warmer than ideal conditions), but it wasn’t humid, and there was an occasional cool breeze. Weather was a non-factor.

I waited around for the race to start. It got pretty crowded, because they had a half, a 10K, and a 5K, and all 3 races started at the same time. Here’s a picture from just before the start.

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The half and 5K runners went through the right side, the 10K runners went through the left side. You can’t see it in this picture, but there was a small median between the two.

The sound was pretty crappy, so if they performed the National Anthem or said anything before the race, I didn’t hear it.

At around 7:31, the gun sounded, and we were off.

Mile 1: 10:03

The first mile had a slight incline early, then a downhill stretch. I was OK with 10:03. Not too fast, and still respectable.

Mile 2: 10:09
Mile 3: 10:43

According to my watch, both miles were mainly uphill, but they didn’t seem too bad.

At around 1.15 miles, I was surprised to see a water/Gatorade stop. The Gatorade was first, and because of all the runners at this point, I didn’t see any water, so I grabbed a cup of Gatorade. I’ll give the organizers credit, throughout the race, Gatorade was in green cups with a logo, and water was in white cups, and after this stop, it was pretty easy to see both the water and Gatorade. (Although they swapped the order at some point, so the people with water came before the people with Gatorade.) I went with water the rest of the way.

I thought this was kind of early for a water stop (from here on, I’m just going to call them water stops, but they had Gatorade available at every stop), but I found out quickly that the 5K turnoff was at around 1.2 miles. OK, that makes sense, one stop for everybody.

I experienced this moment, somewhere in Mile 2 I think, where nobody was talking, nobody was playing really loud music, and there were no cars going by in the other direction. All I could hear was birds in the trees, and feet hitting the pavement. It was pretty cool.

Right before the 3 mile mark, we got another water stop, and again I thought it seemed a little early. This time, it was because the 10K runners were about to split off. The water stop slowed down my time a bit for Mile 3.

Mile 4: 10:02
Mile 5: 10:14
Mile 6: 10:13
Mile 7: 10:01

Things were going pretty well. Late in Mile 6, we finally got another water stop. We ended up having to go about 3 miles without one, but apparently it didn’t have much impact on my pace. I did take my first Gu at 6. I had planned on taking it somewhere around 4, but the stop before Mile 3 seemed too early. This stretch was a mix of some slight uphill stretches and slight downhill stretches.

Mile 8: 11:12

Yeah, this is where things started getting bad. First, this mile was almost completely uphill. Second, it was clearly the worst uphill stretch so far, and finally, the water stop was before the end of the mile. Throw in the fact that I had trouble getting my Gu out of my FlipBelt (It was user error, don’t worry, I still love my FlipBelt), and I hit the water stop right at the end of a large group of runners and I had to wait for the volunteers to get more water ready (That was just bad luck, I don’t blame the volunteers), and that’s how you get to 11:12.

Mile 9: 10:19

It may not look like it, but this is where the wheels came off. There was a slight downhill early in the mile, then we went off the road, down a bike path, and got to the tunnel. Apparently, the police asked the organizers if there was any way to not cross Fairview Road twice, since it’s a busy road, and having to stop traffic in two different places is tough. So they sent us underneath Fairview in this tunnel that I was not aware of. I’ll give them credit, there was a guy dressed up as Mario giving high fives before the tunnel, and they put colored paper over the lights in the tunnel, and had some guy playing techno music, and that was pretty cool. But really, it would have been more fitting if they had been playing a funeral march.

Once we got out of the tunnel, we had to run up this bike path. It was narrow, bumpy due to tree roots growing underneath, and, oh yeah, uphill. Most of the people around me stopped to walk at this point. Not me. I chose…poorly. What made it worse was that because the path was narrow, whenever I would pass somebody, I’d speed up more than usual, since I didn’t have as much space, and often ended up running on the grass.

Mile 10: 10:33

This is a bad trend. More climbing, and I kept running. I was running much more slowly than before, but I kept running.

Mile 11: 11:31
Mile 12: 11:32

I’ve been kind to the organizers so far, but here I’m pretty sure they screwed up. Up until the end of Mile 10, my watch was really close to each of the mile markers. Most were within .01 miles. I think the worst may have been .03. That’s pretty good.

My watch said 10.1 when I got to the 10 mile marker. A full tenth of a mile. Seeing that after one of the toughest stretches of the course was just totally demoralizing. I figured I had screwed up and run an extra tenth of a mile, although I was a little surprised that it happened in just one mile.

Then I got to the 11 mile marker, and it was almost exactly 11.0 on my watch.

I didn’t take any shortcuts (at least not knowingly) on Mile 11. I don’t think there’s any way I could have covered it in .9 miles. (Mile markers 12 and 13 seemed pretty close to my watch readings as well.) So that’s why I think the Mile 10 marker was off.

It really was the worst possible spot for that to happen. I know that carried over into my performance on Mile 11. At 10.24 miles, I got to the water station, and I walked through it, like I had done at every other water station, but even after I was past it, I walked for a few extra seconds.

In Mile 12, I finally gave up and took a walk break. Three, in fact, plus the final water stop just before the end of the mile.

Mile 13: 10:03

After I passed the Mile 12 marker, I knew I was almost at the end, and I really pushed it. It wasn’t an easy mile, but I got through it.

The last stretch before the finish line was uphill. That’s just mean.

According to my watch, I crossed the finish line at 2:18:07, and went 13.16 miles. For the last .16 miles, I got my pace down to 9:17, so I somehow managed to finish strong. My official chip time turned out to be 2:18:09, so I was pretty close.

I got my medal, and started walking towards the post-race area, then I saw one of my co-workers. He’s running the Boston Marathon in just over a week, so he didn’t run the race, but he did stop by to cheer some people on. I’m trying to keep this clean, so I won’t repeat the first thing I said to him. (I didn’t say fudge.)

I skipped the free beer. It was Michelob Ultra, which isn’t good (opinion) and isn’t local (fact). They had orange slices, bananas, cups of Gatorade, and cups of water. I didn’t see any bagels or any other kind of bread, or granola bars, which I thought was odd, but I was a fairly late finisher, plus there were two shorter races, so it’s possible they ran out.

After all of that, I took the obligatory post race car key picture.

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Now, I had heard people say that the RaceFest course was easier than the Thunder Road Half course. When I got to the end of RaceFest, I reached the opposite conclusion. I posted about the race on Facebook and initially lashed out at the opinion that the RaceFest Half course was easier than the Thunder Road Half course. I said that anyone who says that was, and I quote, “a dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking liar.” I didn’t find out about the change to the course with the tunnel until afterwards. So people were comparing Thunder Road to last year’s RaceFest course. Now that I know about the course change, I retract my statement. They’re not liars after all. (I still like the phrase, though.)

One other thing I wasn’t happy with was right before the finish. This may be the result of me being too slow, but I noticed near the end, the crowd had spilled out onto the sides of the course. The course should have taken up two whole lanes on Morrison Boulevard, but with people on both sides, the actual space available to runners was the equivalent of maybe one lane. Even worse, there was a woman in front of me, and about 100 feet before the end, some guy (her husband or boyfriend, I assume) came out and ran beside her to the finish. Now, I probably would not have been able to pass her before the finish line, but there was a chance. The combination of the spectators on the side and the spectator who joined in eliminated that chance.

I totally whiffed on my A Goal (2:14), and missed my B goal by 9 freaking seconds. But I did manage to PR by 5 minutes and 20 seconds.

I’ve got very mixed feelings on this race. I’ve had some time to think about it. I look at the first seven miles or so, and I was running a good race. Even the Mile 8 hill wasn’t terrible, and given a semi-reasonable last 4.1 mile course, I think I could have recovered. And I still managed 10:03 on a Mile 13 that was mostly uphill.

The thing is that I know I wasn’t at my peak going in to the race, but I also know the course was much tougher than I was expecting. It’s hard to tell how much of my performance was my shortcomings, and how much of it was course difficulty. I’ll never know.

Some of my frustration is that I can’t pinpoint what caused me to slow down the last few weeks of training. I wasn’t blowing off workouts, or going out and getting drunk. I don’t think I had over-trained. But for some reason, I just didn’t have the energy in my legs that I had around a month ago.

Still, it’s a PR, and not a cheap PR where it’s my first race at a given distance. It’s 20 minutes faster than the 2013 Thunder Road Half, and 30 minutes faster than my first half marathon.

I guess I’m feeling a little better about it now. I just have to stop beating myself up, get some rest, and get back out there and keep running.

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