Race Report: 2014 Thunder Road Half Marathon

(Originally posted November 16, 2014.)

(I normally try not to comment much before these old race reports, but I need to write an introduction for this one, since I have a lot of perspective since this race. I know I’ve run 3 half marathons and counting since this one that were faster, but I always go back to this race. I think it was a breakthrough for me. I see a big difference between the races I ran before this race, and the ones I’ve run since. This was the first race where I went in with a plan, and executed it pretty much flawlessly. I can’t say it’s the race I’m most proud of, because it’s not 26.2, but in the non-marathon category, it’s absolutely my proudest moment so far.

I noticed I made a reference below to a calf blowtorch exercise. Once I’m finally done re-posting race reports, I’ll post a full explanation, but the short answer is that it’s a stretching exercise that has helped me deal with shin splints, and if I do it right, it feels like someone is using a blowtorch on my calves. It works, though, and that’s all that matters.

Also, putting the finish time right at the beginning? Way to kill the suspense. Eh, other than that it’s not a bad report.)

2:23:29.

Well, that was unexpected. A pleasant surprise for sure, but unexpected.

Let’s start with the Expo.

Thunder Road is the only race I’ve ever done that has an expo, so I have no idea how it compares to other races. It was at the Charlotte Convention Center, which was nice because I could take the light rail and not have to worry about parking. It ran from 10 AM to 9 PM. I took the day off work so I could just pop over there whenever, but if I hadn’t been able to get the day off, I still could have made it over there in the evening.

Run For Your Life had a section with a lot of merchandise. They had shoes on sale for 10% off, so I figured I’d check them out. I’ve got two pairs of shoes, and the older pair is up to 357 miles, so I’ll probably need to replace them soon. I’ve always worn Brooks Adrenaline GTS. They’ve worked well for me. I saw that the newest model, the 15, is out, which seems a little early. Unfortunately, I have wide feet, and they didn’t have any wide ones.

Then I went over to the closeout section, and found the old model, the Adrenaline 14, size 10.5 wide, $80. Good running shoes are expensive (although I’d argue that a good pair is worth every penny), and $80 is a great deal. Sold.

After getting a sweet shoe deal, I picked up my packet. After last year, when we got a short sleeve non-tech tee, I was relieved to see that this year, they gave us a long sleeve tech tee. Not only that, but the t-shirt for the half is red, and I don’t have any red running shirts. Excellent.

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The goody bag included a race sticker, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a packet of Mixed Berry flavor RAP Protein Gummies. I didn’t eat them during the race, of course, because eating something new during a race is a very bad idea, but I tried them Saturday afternoon. Meh. Some people like chewable stuff during a race, I prefer Gu.

My bib number was 3014. Last year, I was 3114. Go figure.

Friday night, I ate my usual pasta. I got to bed just before 10. I slept great…until 2AM. I think I got a little bit of sleep between then and 4:50 AM when my alarm went off, but not much.

I showered and put on my clothes. I really debated about whether to just wear a long sleeved tee (not the race shirt I got on Friday, of course), or to go with a tee underneath a pullover. I also debated between long pants and shorts. I went with the long sleeved tee and long pants. I grabbed a hooded sweatshirt to wear before the race (and after) that I could put in a bag and check the bag.

I ate whole grain toast with peanut butter. Normally, I don’t toast the bread, but I figured every little bit of warmth would help. I also ate a Chocolate Chip Clif Bar. Originally, I had hoped to save the Clif Bar for closer to race time, but with the weather, I decided conditions in my kitchen were much more conducive to eating a Clif Bar.

I brushed my teeth, went to the bathroom, gathered my stuff…and then realized I’d need to go to the bathroom again. I grabbed some store brand Imodium AD first, and hoped like hell it would kick in soon.

I was running a few minutes late, but I still made it to the train station on time. One thing I learned the hard way last year, if you’re parking at the I-485/South Boulevard station, park on the top floor of the parking deck, because going down the stairs to the 1st level after running 13.1 miles is not fun. So I parked on Level 3.

I put a $5 bill in the ticket machine for a round trip ticket, which costs $4.40. I got my ticket, then 2 quarters, then what looked like another ticket. It was a 10 cent voucher. The machine was out of dimes. I would have needed to go to the Charlotte Transportation Center to get my dime. For 10 cents? They can keep it. I don’t mind paying $4.50 for my train ride.

I got on the 6:30 train, and got off at 3rd Street at around 6:50. When I got there, it was right around 26 degrees according to my phone. I walked with the crowd down 3rd Street, and made a beeline for the Porta-Jons. Nope, store-brand Imodium hadn’t kicked in yet.

I wandered around for a bit, trying to stay warm. They did set up a few heat lamps, but they were already pretty well surrounded. And then I realized I’d need one more trip to the Porta-Jon. Thankfully, that would be my last stop.

I put on some sunscreen. Fortunately, because of the long sleeves and long pants, I only had to worry about my neck and my face. Then I took a look at the bag check line, and decided I needed to get in line, since it was 7:30. I was frantically trying to take off my hooded sweatshirt without holding up the line, but I got it.

Wow, it was cold without my hoodie. Luckily, once I headed over towards the starting line, there were enough people around that it didn’t feel too terrible.

Here’s the obligatory crowd shot before the start.

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You can’t quite see it, but the banner above the starting line says “Start Your Engines.”

The starting gun went off, and they played…Thunderstruck by AC/DC. Um, OK. I still prefer 2011 and 2013, which started with Born To Run, but I suppose you could do a lot worse than AC/DC. It took me a little over 2 minutes to get to the starting line. Officially, I started at 7:47:16 AM.

Here’s how each mile went. I’m going with the times from my Garmin. I ended up running 13.23 miles according to my watch, so it doesn’t match the course exactly. Oh, and the official starting temperature was 28 degrees.

One other note, there were some changes to the course this year.

Mile 1: 11:02

Unlike last year, where we started on Tryon, turned on to 4th Street almost immediately, and then went downhill for almost a full mile, we started over by the baseball stadium, then ran towards Tryon. So part of it was actually slightly uphill. I’m OK with that. Anything (within reason) that helps me limit my speed in the first mile is good.

Mile 2: 10:34

Mile 2 is the new Mile 1. (Almost literally.) It started just after we turned on to 4th, so the long downhill on 4th now covers most of Mile 2. Yeah, this was probably faster than I should have gone, but really, if I get a downhill like that, I’m going to take advantage of it. Considering the final result, it didn’t hurt me too much.

Also, the first water stop was actually around the 1.6 mile mark. I was running into the sun (and forgot my sunglasses), and almost missed the water stop because I didn’t see it until it was almost too late. I had planned to walk through each of the water stops, but in this case, I think I stopped running about half a second before I grabbed the water cup.

Mile 3: 11:10

OK, back to earth. Pretty much the entire mile was uphill. Luckily, I’ve got some experience with hills, so it wasn’t too terrible.

Mile 4: 10:56
Mile 5: 10:56
Mile 6: 10:52
Mile 7: 10:56

Apparently I screwed up Mile 6. Seriously, I don’t think that I could do that again if I tried.

Mile 4 is where I had my first Gu, right before the water stop. Apparently it was mostly downhill, but eating the Gu and walking through the water stop slowed me down a little. Miles 5, 6, and 7 were a mix of uphills and downhills. Mile 6 had a water stop, so I’m a little surprised that it was the fastest of the bunch.

Mile 8: 10:47.

This was a little faster. Late in the mile, there were a couple of spectators handing out bananas and orange slices. Unfortunately, I was about a tenth of a mile away from my 2nd Gu, so I declined.

Mile 9: 11:22

So I had my 2nd and last Gu right before the water stop. I’ve never experienced this firsthand, but I’ve been told that mixing Gu and Gatorade is a pretty good way to induce vomiting. So even though each water stop (except for the first, which was water only) offered water and Gatorade, I always chose the water.

At every other water stop that offered Gatorade, the water was on the first set of tables, then the Gatorade. But for some reason, at this water stop, they alternated, water at one table, Gatorade at the next, then back to water, and so on. And the guy at the first table was having trouble with the cups, so he didn’t have a cup of water ready. So I had to keep walking until I got to a table with water. It was kind of annoying.

This ended up being my slowest mile, and the water stop definitely slowed me down, but the rest of the mile was mostly uphill.

Mile 10: 11:16

This mile was entirely uphill. Also, the next water stop was a little early.

At the end of Mile 10, I looked at my time, and I was at around 1:50. I knew I basically had a 5K left. I thought back to my worst race, the Come See Me 5K, which was over 37 minutes. I realized that even if I ran a Come See Me 5K the rest of the way, I would still get a PR. This is where I started to realize this could be a really good run.

Mile 11: 10:38
Mile 12: 10:24

Well, I decided I didn’t want a repeat of the Come See Me 5K. Mile 12 ended up being my fastest mile. It was mainly downhill, but it also had the last water stop. So I was moving pretty well here.

Mile 13: 10:36

My legs were starting to feel a little tired, which makes sense, since my longest training run was 12 miles. Still, I pushed through, and towards the finish, I took off. I passed several people along the way. The last .23 miles on my Garmin took 2:05, for a pace of 8:58/mile.

I got my medal, then got in line for the food. They had bananas, fruit cups, bottles of water and Gatorade, granola bars (chocolate chip and peanut butter chocolate chip), protein bars, and these little mini-muffins in several different flavors, the ones I got were apple cinnamon and something with orange. I didn’t get any of the fruit cups, but I got one of everything else. I know what I said earlier about mixing Gu and Gatorade, but I figured it had been about 5 miles since I had Gu, and I figured I’d wait until I had eaten everything else and finished the water before cracking open the Gatorade. If all of that food didn’t make me sick, I figured Gatorade probably wouldn’t push me over the edge. (I didn’t get sick after all.)

I usually like to mention what beer (if any) is available after a race. Sadly (for me), all they had was Michelob Ultra. Now, I know that my (low) opinion of this beer is entirely subjective, but there is one objective fact: it is not a local beer. Thunder Road is Charlotte’s major running event, so I think they should offer Charlotte beer at the finish. I mean, the half and full marathon courses pass Unknown Brewing, and the full passes NoDa Brewing, Birdsong Brewery, and Heist Brewery (although Heist is more of a brewpub and doesn’t usually distribute). If one of the other breweries in town that isn’t on the course wants to participate, I’m good with that, too. Just offer us something local. OK, rant over.

Yes, my car key made it to the finish line with me.

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You can’t tell in this picture (I took it in the shade, because I figured the sun would overwhelm everything), but the outer blue part of the medal is sparkly. Ooh. Aah. Hey, it’s the 10th anniversary of the race, they can do whatever they want to celebrate.

I went over to the bag check, and while I was waiting in line, I looked at my phone. I had signed up to get a text with my results. I knew I did well, but I didn’t know my official time until I looked at my phone.

That’s when I saw it: 2:23:29. I did some quick math, and figured out it was about 15 minutes faster than my old PR. I have to admit, when I realized that, I got a little emotional. I didn’t burst into tears, but I definitely got a lump in my throat. I was just so happy that all the work that I had put in, all the crappy runs when it was way too hot and way too humid, the calf blowtorch exercises, the runs in the dark, all of it finally paid off.

Before I started, I knew I had a good chance of getting my C goal, a PR. I knew that I had a decent chance at my B goal, 2:30. I really wasn’t sure if I could hit my A goal of 2:26. And I beat it by 2 and a half minutes.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been watching my pace as it’s been improving. And part of me saw that and realized that I had a chance to make this race really special. But part of me was scared to even think that, let alone say it out loud, or even write it here. I thought of all the things that can go wrong. I worried that if I got overconfident, I’d try to run the first mile at an 8 minute pace and crash and burn before the end.

I’ve never been a very confident person. That’s why I think I doubted myself so much. But in spite of all of the doubts, I really did it. I’d say an almost 15 minute PR on a half marathon qualifies as something special. I’ve found myself checking the results to make sure I really finished in 2:23:29. So far, they haven’t fixed the glitch.

I did want to add a couple of other things. With the exception of the Mile 8 water stop, which really wasn’t that bad, the race ran pretty smoothly. I have no complaints. Although the chances that any of them will see this are pretty small, I have to give a lot of credit to the spectators. It was really cold out there, and I can’t imagine standing around for a few hours to watch maybe 1 or 2 friends or family members and several thousand strangers run by. There were probably fewer spectators this year, which I understand, but the ones who were there did a great job cheering everyone on.

This year, the course was changed. Ultimately, I don’t think the course as a whole was more difficult or less difficult than last year. However, I do think the last mile or so was slightly flatter, and felt easier. Of course, I was definitely better trained this year, so maybe that’s the difference. It’s still a tough course, though, and I do wonder what I could do with a flat 13.1, but for now, I’m happy with what I’ve done on this course.

I did want to mention that my plan going in was to walk the water stops, and try to run everything else. I succeeded.

So to sum it all up, I went out there and ran pretty much exactly the race I wanted to run. I’m not sure if I’ve ever managed to do that for a race before.

I don’t know yet what’s next. I’d like to do another half sometime in the spring. I may squeeze in a few shorter races here and there. I’d love to get my revenge on the Come See Me 5K if I can fit it into my schedule. And yes, next fall I’m going to run a marathon. It may end up being Thunder Road, but I’m still looking at other options.

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