Welcome back to endurance racing! By this point, you’ve read all about my current training cycle, my successes at the Bear Bait 25k, my semi-failure at the BUTS Bearly Heavy half, the pain of training in times of COVID, and the ups and downs as I chase down that ultramarathon goal, and the fact that I finally finished an ultramarathon. It was a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person. But I finished the race and immediately did what all endurance runners do, swear I will never run long races again, which is a filthy dirty lie.
This weekend I ran my first road race since COVID started. My last was the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in New Orleans, LA, where I pushed myself to a new PR. This being my first time off the trails since February 2020, I set my expectations and goals low, knowing that between the hills and recent long (read: slow) training, I wasn’t in PR shape.
Today you’re getting my full race report for Charlotte RaceFest – Half Marathon (13.1 mi) Race
If you’ve read my race reports for BUTS Bearly Heavy half, Bear Bait 25k, and the Mississippi 50, you know that races have changed with the times over the last eighteen months. Social distancing, masks, and overly anxious race directors were the new normal. I can tell you that race directors are still concerned with making the race go on time, but this was the first race that felt “normal” in a long time. Packet pick up was a relatively brief affair at a local brewery. Some folks had masks but many others, like myself, were fully vaccinated and didn’t wear masks. As with many small local races, the packet was minimal: a bib number, fliers for sports related local establishments, and a chip clip. Honestly, the chip clip was the best thing because I used it to hold the plastic bag full of my sticky race clothes closed while traveling home. There was also a nice race shirt in a pretty pale mint color and nice U-neck. I might actually wear that one.
Held in the parking lot of the local brewery, the race start was small but enthusiastic. They did a good job balancing pacing groups and despite it being a fairly narrow course, I felt like the pack un-bunched within a half mile.
This course offered both a half marathon and a 10k option. The first portion of the course was a 10k out-and-back and at the 5 mile point split to allow the 10k runners to turn back up hill to the finish line. The back end of the course was a mix of paved greenway and gavel roads. Unsurprisingly, I did better on the gravel than I did on the paved greenway.
Despite some pain in my feet and ankles from pounding the pavement, this was a really really pretty course. I grew up not too far from here and looking across the greenway, into the heavy woods and creeks felt like home. I felt a keen sense of nostalgia running this course and I think I half expected to see my cross country coach at the bottom of the hill yelling at me to work “short, choppy steps, Kay!”
Weather: Sheer perfection! At the 7 am race start, it was a balmy 73F and humid but 10% what I expected for a North Carolina summer morning. The shade provided by the greenway kept things cool and I didn’t have to regret forgetting my sunscreen.
Trail conditions: Not applicable here. There was a little gravel through stretches’ but the greenway path was well maintained.
Terrain: Flat with one massive caveat! The preponderance of the course was flat with minimal rise which made for a great run. The one caveat was the first and last mile which featured a 3/4 mile steep climb. And by steep I mean: “no one ran, everyone walked, and my heart rate was pegged *walking* up the hill” kind of grade.
Boy am I used to the Wild West of aid stations. Here might be the one major failure I had on this race, I didn’t look at where the aid stations would be and what they would have. I rolled in with my usual assumption that they would be well stocked with a variety of food and beverages.
I will give them credit, the aid stations were well spaced and well manned. That said, there was only water and Gatorade available at all but one station and a sugary gel at one station around 6 miles. It was an unfamiliar brand and I can definitely say I’m not a fan.
Had I taken the time to study the course and what was offered, I would have carried a water bottle full of my usual Gatorade mix and some Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) but alas, I did not.
Did I hit the Pain Cave?
Not really. My feet and ankles ached around mile 7 but by 10 I was only a 5k away and just girt my teeth. I was barely getting enough calories in from the Gatorade and felt on the verge of hitting the wall during the final hill climb. But as far as the deep pain of the ultramarathon Pain Cave? No, I wasn’t even close.
No crew for this race and it was short enough that I didn’t need a pacer.
The finish line:
This was the first course to feel like a real party at the end. Music was cranking, runners had a coupon for a free beer, and there were sport massages available. It really felt like road racing pre-COVID.
2:25:32 for 3.1 mi. My goal was to finish in a window 2:15-2:25 and I just missed it. But, this was also my first time back in the game and hillier than I anticipated so I’m pleased.
I knew the course and terrain I faced and built my entire training plan around it. That bit me in the butt when I did BUTS, but I was 100% ready for this race, even after losing two critical weeks at the end of the training cycle. A day later, I was up and walking around with no problems. Heck, I was speed walking through the Dallas airport in heeled boots without problems. Two days later, I started running again with no issues. My new technique of taping where my bra chaffs worked great, not one single problem there. That said, if it had been much warmer, I would have sweat the tape off and been in trouble the last few miles. I’ve got a few blisters and one incident post-race, but overall I’m thrilled with how well this all went.
The Gear List:
My gear lists so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. As usual, some affiliate links, most aren’t; I am not sponsored by any specific companies.
Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – carried but not required to run. Must wear items for air travel to and from the race but Charlotte did not enforce mask wear for the vaccinated per current CDC guidelines.
Tank top: my trust Pearl Izumi tank that’s so old, I can’t find it for sale any longer. It’s a great top layer for hot/humid runs and it gave me minimal chaffing.
Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles. I now put two strips of sports tape under the tab and it works perfectly.
Shorts: Nike Fast Shorts – What a game changer for me! I have thick, thicc thighs from trail running and squats. They rub together. All the time. In tights, it’s not an issue but in loose shorts, I end up chaffed. And most stretch shorts only have a 5″ inseam which means the end *right* where my thighs rub. However, Nike’s new trail shorts have a blessed 7″ inseam which left me mostly chaffing free, but for the humidity, it was inevitable.
Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy, but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes and how wet your feet get. At some point, no sock/shoe combo will save you from everything.
Shoes: Altra Provision – I have both the Provision and the Torin but chose the Provision today since it gives a little more stability, something I probably needed with the foot pain I’ve experienced lately.
Hat: My trusty finishers hat from the River Cities Tri a few years ago. It wasn’t cool enough to need a warmer hat.
Snacks, self carried: None because I am dumb.
Sacks, from aid stations: Gatorade and water. One terrible energy gel that I promptly forgot the brand.
GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk-offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time accurately.
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