City of Oaks Half Marathon Recap

This was my second year running the City of Oaks half marathon. Last year I learned that I don't have any clue about running hills. This year I learned that I still know nothing about running hills. Remember when I thought that, of my 3 halfs this fall, the Hokie Half would be the hilliest? Well, let me just tell you: that was incorrect.

Top: Hokie Half. Bottom: City of Oaks Half. I know the scales are different BUT STILL.
Until 3 weeks ago, last year's City of Oaks was my half marathon PR: 2:09:59. I was super ecstatic about that time last year, because I got in under 2:10, which had been my goal at a race earlier that year. And I did it despite having a head cold, running a mile before the race started (had to get in 14 miles total for marathon training), and never having run hills before (and there were plenty).

When I lined up at the starting line this year, again I wasn't expecting a particularly great race. My weekday runs last week all felt terrible. After two big PRs recently, I was tired. I knew I wasn't in mental or physical shape to run a hard race, so I had asked Ben earlier in the week if he wanted me to run with him and/or pace him. He said he did but he didn't have an exact goal, so we planned on finishing anywhere between 2:00 and 2:10, depending on how we felt.

The first few miles were mostly downhill, which was nice at the time, but I made sure to warn Ben that that was going to be the easiest part of the race. We ran them faster than I think either of us expected to, but we both felt good so we kept it up.  The 2:00 pacer was well ahead of us, which made me feel bad for all the people following him because he went out way faster than I think I would have wanted to if that were my goal. Miles 1-3 were 8:52, 8:46, 8:57.

Right at the mile 4 marker we started a pretty big climb, and it was up and down for a long time after that. The next few miles took us through a little bit of downtown Raleigh before we headed to a more residential area. At some point we caught up to the 2:00 pacer, and we played back and forth with that group for the rest of the race. All I could think about for the first half of the race was how amazing it would be for me and Ben to finish together, AND to finish under 2 hours. I had been keeping tabs on our pace the whole time and was sure we'd be able to do it with at least a minute or two to spare. Miles 4-7 were 8:57, 8:56, 8:48, 9:08. I don't know what happened to make us slow down during mile 7, but overall I was really surprised by our consistency!

Soon after that we passed the 10k finish line and relay exchange, which was great because there were a lot of people out cheering. But right after that we hit a HUGE hill, and then another really big, long hill after it. Essentially, 7.5-8.5 was a huge climb (and of course it was up, down, up, down even after that). We turned a corner and I distinctly remembered it as being the one where I developed my "What goes up must come down" mantra that I kept repeating to myself through the end of last year's race. That mile really took it out of me. I might have just been a little fatigued since I hadn't eaten anything since before the race, and I wasn't convinced my stomach would play nice if I tried to eat my raisins mid-race. Whatever it was, I was getting tired. There was another long climb from 9.5-10.5, not nearly as big as the previous one, but a climb nonetheless. At some point along that hill, I was really done. I was pretty sure I'd still finish under 2 hours, but I didn't want to chance it for Ben so I told him to go ahead without me. There had been a couple times that I wanted to walk before that and didn't, but I was done with hills at that point. It really wasn't that bad, but I just wasn't in the mood to kill myself that day. I took a walk break and almost immediately I got passed by the 2-hour pacer right as the hill crested (I'm glad I knew he was way ahead of schedule!), and I heard him say that that was the last big hill.  I didn't want to walk too much because I knew I'd be mad at myself if I came that far and didn't get a sub-2, so I ran enough to keep my average pace at 9:00 or below. I walked a water station to get some Gatorade and water in hopes it would give me enough of a boost until the end. Miles 8-11 were 8:53, 9:07, 8:58, 9:53.

When we got to the mile 11 marker, we made a turn to separate from the marathoners. It was about a half mile in one direction, then we'd turn around and run straight to the finish line. I remember this part being really awful last year, I think because it was a little hotter that day, but it wasn't so bad this year. I got to the turnaround and before I knew it, I was in the home stretch. I was thankful when I turned around and realized the wind was at our back, and my pace did pick back up for the last couple miles. When I got to the mile 12 marker I was right around 1:49:00 on my watch, so all I needed to do was maintain a 10:00 pace for the last 1.1 miles to get in under 2 hours (if you've ever wondered how I don't get bored running long distance, it's because I spend at least 50% of the time doing mental math). Even though there were some hills on that last stretch, they weren't nearly as bad as I remembered, and the last mile was mostly downhill.

Before I knew it I was running by the NC State campus toward the finish. There were a lot of people out at that point and I kept scanning to see if I could find my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and friend who were there. I passed the mile 13 marker and kicked into high gear to cross my 41st finish line. Ben ended up finishing only 50 seconds ahead of me, which made me glad I didn't really lose much time with my walk breaks. I'm actually happy I took them because it made the finish much easier, and I had an awesome kick right at the end.  Miles 12 and 13 were 8:53 and 8:30, and the last .1 was 7:03.

Of all the things I thought would never happen in my running career, running not one but TWO half marathons with this dude would probably be #1.
And, with that, my 9th half marathon was in the books! At 1:58:20 it wasn't my fastest, but I think I can live with that ;)

AND! I got to meet Lisa after the race! I knew she was running but we weren't able to coordinate before the race, so I was super excited when I was standing around after the race and heard my name and turned around to see her! I didn't introduce her to family because I didn't want to have to tell them about this here blog, and later when my sister-in-law asked me how I knew her, I responded, "The Internet." I'm really smooth like that. Anyway. This was her first half and she finished in 2:14, on that crazy course no less. How amazing is that?! Only in my dreams would I have had any shot of finishing my first half in that time. You go, Lisa. Now if only we can get Alyssa in on that City of Oaks action next year...

I have to say, I signed up for this race mostly because I remembered how beautiful and quintessentially fall I thought the course was last year, but it didn't impress me as much this year. Not because it wasn't beautiful (it was!), but because all the fall foliage wasn't so novel for me this year. Since I no longer live at the beach and now live in an area that, honestly, looks pretty similar to Raleigh (i.e. it's like a mountainous fall wonderland every day), the course just didn't strike me the same way. It was still a really pretty race, and the weather was perfect for running (maybe a little chilly for those North Carolinians, but I was into it). It was well-organized, the swag was nice, and the post-race activities were great. I really have nothing but good things to say about this race and hope to be back again next year! I don't know what it is about the City of Oaks but I seem to do some of my best running there, even when it feels unlikely.


  1. love that picture of you and Ben running and that one through the metal. You guys are so cool!

  2. Holy hills lady! I'm not sure I'd be able to run all that... Nice job! And that medal is pretty awesome, too.

    Have you seen the super fun Instagram link up I'm co-hosting on the blog today?! It features an awesome giveaway... Just sayin'!

  3. It sounds like you guys did great- so awesome to run the entire race together & you got such good shots of you guys in action :)

  4. Congratulations girl!!! I think you ran the race in a fantastic time and I always love the little bit of steam you get towards the end of the race knowing you're almost done!! xo

  5. Great job! Hills are definitely no fun and wear me out. I work with an ultra-marathoner (like, does 100 mile races), and he told me awhile back to take smaller steps up the hills and pump your arms. It conserves energy and you usually stay on pace too. It's been working for me, more or less. Although I really have to tell myself to relax on the downhills and just let my body take over so I don't get worked up about the fatigue.

    Great recap!

  6. "What goes up must come down" is the only way I could stand running in my old neighborhood. On the one hand I feel lucky that I've been running hills as long as I've been running so they're not too scary, generally speaking. But sometimes the non-stop incline is just too much.

    I also love your comment about doing mental math and it keeping you from being bored. I think a psychologist would be astounded at the kinds of things I think about during a run. A good amount of it is pleading/bargaining with myself, and some of it is very crude calculations and figuring out "halfways" — Halfway to the turnaround, halfway to my longest distance run, halfway to halfway, halfway through, halfway through the second leg — and other distance relations — Okay, just gotta do that four more times, even less since I'm already into the next mile! Okay, just do that distance you just ran one more time and you're golden!

    Anyway, still super jealous that you and Lisa got to meet up, but you had better believe I will be there next year! Whether for the half or full, we shall see (sooooorta leaning toward full...) but it will happen!

    Congrats on another sub-2 half, congrats to Ben on a great race, and thanks for being such an awesome running inspiration with all of your ass-kicking.

  7. Yay, way to go!! Seriously, you've done sub 2 hours twice now, you're my idol ;) Um, can I piggy back on to the city of oaks with you and Alyssa next year? no fair planning things without me... JK after you described the hills in such detail I'm thinking I would probably die! I don't do mental math when I run (because I suck at it) but I do other things, like Alyssa said the halfway to this or that, run to that tree, keep that person in eyesight, stay in front of a certain pacer.. etc etc.
    oh I have been meaning to ask you, I can't remember if you've said it or not, is Ben vegetarian as well? If not, how do you deal with dinners and whatnot?

  8. Can you show me how to get such great race photos?!?! I love the first one of you and Ben! And how he's wearing his hokie half shirt! Congrats on another great race! It's funny how sometimes we think we have to run the whole entire race when really a walking break can help your muscles recovery and make you have a better finish!

  9. So jealous. I as planning on doing the City of Oaks this year but my long runs just didn't work out this year. It's such a beautiful race, hopefully next year!

  10. So jealous. I as planning on doing the City of Oaks this year but my long runs just didn't work out this year. It's such a beautiful race, hopefully next year!

  11. Love reading recaps of races outside the DC area - they are pretty much new to me! Congrats on the finish and I love the medal shot at the end.

  12. Great recap! I felt like I was there with you. Sometimes a little walk break is the best thing you can do! Sub 2 hours is amazing no matter how you get it!

  13. Hey! Congrats on your race. Sounds like you did awesome, especially considering how hilly it was. Woo!

  14. These pics are amazing and so are you!!! Congrats girl ... you continue to inspire me :)

  15. That's awesome! Way to go! Hills are killers, so congrats on overcoming them (literally!). The last picture of you and Ben through the medal is so cool!

  16. Congrats Tracy! Your last mile was amazing, you obviously kicked it into gear. And all that training is paying off :) Nine half marathons?! Wow! you're so inspiring

  17. Congrats on your 9th half--that is amazing!! I love that medal you got, very creative. Thanks for being such a great inspiration!


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