Crazy 8s: Hokie Half Marathon Recap

Linking up for Runners Tell All today! I'm kind of cheating because today's prompt is "Most Memorable Running Moment" but I don't have a most memorable running memory. I used to, but I don't anymore. I thought I always would. The first time I ran a mile, my first race, my first half marathon, my first marathon....surely, those would always reign supreme over any other future running memories I'd make. But 3 1/2 years after I first laced up, with 40 races completed and over 2500 miles logged, I have way more running memories than I could ever even count, let alone classify and rank.

But isn't that the beauty of running? There's always something new to celebrate. New memories to be made. Goals that were once never-in-a-million years are now daily occurrences. I don't put any one of these memories on a pedestal anymore. Instead, I keep them all, like adding photos to an album that I can thumb through from time to time. Mentally going through them all still brings me back to whatever feeling made them memorable in the first place - in that respect, they're all the most memorable. Even though I'm not sharing the highlight of my running career, I am sharing a highlight of my running career. I've made enough of these memories by now to know to cherish them while I can - because a new one is right around the corner. 


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When the morning of October 12 rolled around, I was nervous but pumped. I didn't really have a reason to be nervous - it was my 8th half marathon and I didn't have a set goal time in mind - but I still was. Maybe because it was my husband's first half and since he doesn't get nervous about running, ever, I made sure to be nervous for him.

A little background on this race: it's in my college town, which I recently moved back to (5 years post-grad) to re-attend my alma mater, Virginia Tech. I was basically the anti-runner when I went to college here the first time, so being here again but being a runner this time is still strange but awesome. I heard about this race last year after its inaugural run and told my husband I wanted to come do it this year. Little did I know we'd be living here this year and have no reason not to do it! I even got my husband on board - or rather, the Hokie finisher's medal and maroon and orange swag did (I dare you to find a Hokie who isn't obsessed with all things in that color combination). He had only run a handful of 5ks and 10ks but after years of telling me after a half, "I bet I could do that," he was finally going to put his money where his mouth is.

All week there had been chances of showers on race morning, which just kept increasing the closer we got to race day. When we woke up it was steadily raining and we thought, "Maybe it will die off by the time the race starts." Then we checked the radar.

The rain wasn't going anywhere.

So, armed with rain jackets and ponchos, we made our way to the start. We parked and had to take a shuttle to the start line, and we made it there just in time to hear Enter Sandman playing up ahead (but not in time to participate in the pre-race jumping). By the time we actually took off, the race had already been underway for six minutes. I asked Ben if he wanted me to run with him, and he replied that he wouldn't mind but he also didn't need me to. He knew I was hoping for a much faster finish than he was planning on, so I told him I loved him and was proud of him and went on my way.


Schoenfelds do the Hokie Half!
(Side note: pouring rain = no official race photos, so all you get are the few iPhone pics I managed to take before and after)

So I said I didn't have a set time goal for this race, but that doesn't mean I didn't have a goal at all. Last month I shifted my training focus from a full marathon to 3 half marathons this fall, my goals for which were:
  • Realistic Goal: beat my official PR (under 2:09:59)
  • Reach Goal: under 2:00:00
  • Crazy Goals:
    • Sub-9 minute pace (under 1:57:46)
    • 45 minutes faster than my first half (under 1:57:21)
The Hokie Half is the hilliest race in my lineup, and for that reason alone I wasn't sure how feasible those goals would be. I was pretty sure I had a PR in the bag, simply because I've run 13+ mile distances probably 8 or 10 times in the last couple months and have finished all of them faster than my PR. Still, you never know what will happen on race day. As for the other goals, I didn't want to rule out the sub-2, but because of said hills, I didn't want to bank on it either. My loose goal was to get as close to 2 hours as possible. 

The first few miles were nothing special. We ran from the outskirts of the VT campus down Main Street to the neighboring town of Christiansburg, home to the area's chain restaurants and big box stores. It had been raining since the start so my focus was just on powering through. I don't know what got into me, but I was jacked up, y'all. I felt great. I was eating hills for breakfast while rain streamed down my face and I loved it. I passed so many people (probably because I started so late but don't tell my ego that). Every time I saw a hill in the distance I thought, "Oh no..." but then I'd run up it like it was nothing. I kept an eye on my time and after a mile or two I felt confident I could go sub-2, but it was still really early in the race and I've had a tendency in the past to feel too good too early only to fall apart in the end. My splits for miles 1-4 were 8:59, 8:29, 8:29, 8:25. 

We got to the mall parking lot and made the turn into the Huckleberry Trail (the Christiansburg side starts abruptly adjacent to the parking lot which I've always thought was odd). From there we were on the Huckleberry for the next 5.76 miles. It has several rolling hills but it's a slow overall climb back to Blacksburg. There's about 2.5 miles of slight uphill with no downhill breaks, and I thought getting through that would be the hardest part. My miles started to slow slightly as I went uphill and eased into my pace, but I never ran based on the numbers on my watch, I ran based on how I felt. By about 5 miles in I knew I was going to get my sub-2 (like, by a lot), I just needed to keep going. My splits for miles 5-9 were 8:19, 8:47, 8:44, 9:00, 8:52.

We got off the trail and ran through a neighborhood that's adjacent to it for a couple miles while making our way to back to another part of the trail. These were some of the hilliest miles! I couldn't believe it. A couple times we had to run up a hill only to find that there was another one right after it. I wanted to walk a couple times, just for a few seconds, but I toughed it out and before I knew it, the hill would be over. When we got out of the neighborhood we made our way back to the trail with a little over 2 miles left. I remember looking down at my watch at this point and seeing 1:35 elapsed with just over 2 miles to go was crazy! I wasn't able to run quite as fast I had been, and when I go to the mile 12 marker I told myself I just needed to coast through 1 more mile. I definitely slowed through these miles, but they were consistent and kept me on target.  My splits for miles 10-12 were 8:49, 8:45, 8:50.


And finally, it was the last mile. I didn't hit a wall like I usually do. It wasn't easy to keep running, but it wasn't torture either. The hardest part was the last half mile, and with about a quarter mile left my legs really started to feel like they might stop working. We had one last big hill and then a slight incline, and that quarter mile stretch was the hardest part of the whole race. My mile 13 split was 9:02.

Somewhere along the course, after I realized I was definitely going to be under 2 hours and probably under 1:57, I started thinking it would be cool if I ended up with a 15-minute PR, which would have been 1:54:59. I was pretty sure I was going to do it but kept a close eye on my watch when I got close to mile 13. For the last .19 (I always end up with a little extra on my watch due to weaving and whatnot), even though my legs were toast, I gave it all I had at 7:09 pace. When I got to the finish line, I didn't feel relief that it was finally over and I didn't feel as ecstatic about crushing my goal as I thought. Instead I saw the finish line and just thought, "Ah yes, there it is. It's been waiting for me this whole time."

I finished with a watch time of 1:54:52 and the first thing I did was call my dad and tell him! I anxiously awaited my official time to make sure it was really under 1:55, and it was posted later that night: 

1:54:50

That's 15 minutes 9 seconds faster than my PR from last November, and 47 minutes 31 seconds faster than my first half marathon in March 2012. Looking at those numbers still doesn't feel real. The course was challenging and the weather certainly didn't help matters, but I still did it. I've had a 2-hour half on a pedestal for so long and never really knew if I had it in me to get there. Breaking 2:10 was a huge hurdle for me and I didn't know how in the world I could take 10 minutes off my time. Maybe it just wasn't meant to happen before now, before here. I moved to Blacksburg to fulfill a dream I never knew I had, so it seems fitting to accomplish my sub-2 goal here.

But my day didn't end there! As soon as I walked through the finisher's chute I made a U-turn and headed right back toward the finish line to wait for Ben! I tried to track him on my phone but since it was raining (and the rain was just getting harder) I was having a hard time getting the touch screen to work. I checked in on him every now and then and was so excited for him to finish his first half! I know he always knew he could do it, but being able to say, "I can" and "I did" are two different things. I was able to track him well enough to see when he made the final turn to the finish line, and shortly after I saw him come running up! It was a different experience being the one on the sideline cheering him on at the finish. I was SO proud of him! 


But seriously is this boy built to be a runner or what?! I hate him.
After the race we were both so soaked and so cold...it wasn't that bad while we were running but I definitely felt it after I stopped. We snapped a few pictures together before heading home for hot showers and dry clothes. Ben was bummed that he didn't get a full post-race experience, and I was too...I guess he'll just have to do another half to make up for it ;)

This is how we were dressed for the entirety of the race. Sometimes attempting to be dry trumps being fashionable. 
I'm so proud of this run, not only because I beat my goal but because I really felt like I ran a smart race. I felt engaged, focused, and dialed in the whole time. I never thought about giving up (at least not more than half second during some of those late hills). I almost always freak out at some point during a half, especially if I'm running faster than normal, but I never did during this race. I felt oddly calm the entire time. I've been running paces in the 8's consistently for the last couple months, but it's only been the last couple weeks that every run has been that pace. I'm still not used to it. I knew I was running paces in the 8's the whole time, but I never let that scare me off or make me back down.  Finally fulfilling an enormous goal AND getting to be the #1 fan for my #1 fan made it one of my favorite races ever.