Norfolk Harbor Half Marathon 2018 Recap

I've run the Norfolk Harbor Half Marathon (formerly called Harbor Lights which is most likely how I will end up referring to it from this point forward because that's my preferred name for it) once before, in 2015, and after running it again this year, I think I might be ready to declare it my favorite half marathon course. Richmond is still a favorite for the scenery, the Hokie Half is an obvious favorite too because a) Blacksburg in the fall *heart eyes emoji* and b) GO HOKIES, and of course Shamrock is the number one half marathon love of my life but moreso because it was my first than because of the course. But yeah, as far as courses go, I think Harbor Lights just about covers everything I love: pretty with fall leaves and weather, familiar roads, lots of turns, and urban scenery. Check, check, check.

Anyway, although I'd been 95% sure I was going to do this race (post-marathon legs permitting given that it's a week after Richmond), I waited to sign up until 24 hours after finishing the Richmond Marathon. Since I have the 50k coming up, and since Richmond turned out to be less of a race and more of a training run for that (i.e. I did not finish feeling like I had been hit by a truck), I was fairly confident I could at least run Harbor Lights at a casual pace.

A few days later, as I was making plans to go to packet pickup the following day, I started thinking back to the last time I ran this race in 2015 and it prompted me to read my race recap (something I actually don’t do very often but felt compelled to do). That race was about a month after my first half Ironman, and I remember being still super stoked about how well the 70.3 had gone. I did recall going through a weird hip issue around the time of Harbor Lights, and being concerned how it was going to affect my race, but most of all I remember that I ran it in 1:53:30 - about 4 minutes from a PR and a time that, given my recent string of 2:10, 2:04, and 2:03 half marathons now seemed almost superhuman. Well, thank goodness for this blog and for race recaps, because if nothing else it’s good for giving me a healthy dose of perspective when I need it!

As I read my recap from the 2015 race, my memories of being a confident, newly-minted Half Ironman who ran a strong race faded, clouded by the reality that I hadn’t trained as much in between the 70.3 and the HM as I would have liked to because my hip was bothering me. In fact, I didn’t run more than 8.5 miles in those 4 weeks. I had run 3 halfs in the year prior to that race but hadn’t even broken 2 hours since my 1:49 PR almost exactly a year earlier. And apparently this injury I only vaguely remember was so bad I was skipping runs, rolling and icing 24/7, and downing ibuprofen for ten days before the race. It was actually a little eerie how many parallels there were leading up to that race and this race - and I remember zero of those details.

Reading that recap brought to the surface something I have been feeling but hadn't really been able to articulate until then: that girl who used to run with so much grit, the one who wouldn't make excuses and pushed through even when the results she wanted seemed unlikely...she was gone. I lost her somewhere and I had stopped trying to find her.

I think I lost her somewhere and sometime after IM Louisville. I had a rough time adjusting to post-IM life, and to not immediately bouncing back to old running times. At first I just floundered, then I started working ass off to find my way again earlier this spring only to completely blow up in my goal race. Then I started summer marathon training (i.e. hell on earth), I got injured, and, finally, was sick for the marathon, and in the midst of all of that I had forgotten how to try, to really put forth my best effort. I have been phoning it in - out of necessity for a while, but longer than I should have been - for so many months now that I honestly wasn’t sure I could summon that drive again even if I wanted to. Not that I’ve enjoyed any of these setbacks, but I won’t deny that a positive side effect of them has been being able to dismiss a run or even a race, both to myself and others: 

“My leg has been hurting so I’ll probably just run an easy pace.”

“My chest is still congested and I’m still coughing, so I know I’m going to end up slowing down.”

“I’m at my heaviest weight ever, a good 5-10 pounds depending on the day more than I was back when I ran my best times. I don’t feel good in my own skin and don’t like dragging around this extra weight but I can’t get rid of it. I guess my body just isn’t quite as fast anymore.”

“I’ll be happy just to finish."

Dealing with injury is never easy, and I don’t want to discount the solid two months I spent waffling between truly being unsure if I could complete my scheduled long run or knowing it had more potential to hurt me than help me and skipping it altogether. I also really did gain a little weight, and I know it doesn't sound like much, but I'm a pretty short person who's weight hasn't fluctuated by more than 5 pounds in the last 10 years, or by more than 10 in the last 15. Sure, I have steadily gained weight every few years since high school, but I have never gained as ymuch weight in such a short period of time as I did this spring/summer. Seeing an additional almost 10 pounds than what had previously been the highest number I'd ever seen on the scale was scary and sad, especially since I couldn't figure out how it had happened or how to fix it. Couple that with an injury that didn't allow me to use my body the way I had been used to (or in the way that had probably kept my weight from creeping up), and for the majority of marathon training I was running slowly and cautiously in a body that just didn't feel like mine.

So when I said those things above, I really meant them. And even though I wasn’t happy about them, deep down I think I did enjoy having the pressure taken off. I felt like I didn't have a choice but to use those caveats to preemptively explain what I knew was not going to be a great or even a good race for me. The cards were already stacked against me, and I was deluding myself if I thought that my best at that time was going to be any better than my baseline under normal conditions. Better to play it safe, I thought.  Not my best, not my worst has been my mantra for several months now.  

As I drove home from work a few days before Harbor Lights, I was thinking about the time I might run and found myself already mentally starting to list off all those familiar reasons why my time wouldn't be as good as it could have been - because I hadn't done any speed training because of my injury, because I had just run a marathon (a crappy one at that), because I was still getting over my cold...but when I thought back to that 2015 recap and realized I had all of the same excuses and doubts back then as I had now, so much so that the night before that race I seriously thought I might have my first DNF, or worse, my first DNS!

But did I get a DNS? Or a DNF? Or just take it easy? Or run a time I was disappointed with? No, no I did not. And the moment I realized that, I said, for the first time in a good while, out loud even, "I want to do well in this race." And as weird as it felt, I even kept going, admitting that I not only wanted to run under 2 hours, but I wanted to get as close to 1:55 as possible. And I may have even toyed with the brief idea of running a course PR (sub-1:53). I didn't admit that to anyone except myself, but even that was scary! It felt like it had been so long since I even entertained the idea of pushing myself and running a race on my terms. In reality it had only been 7 months or so, but it's amazing how easy it is to lose that sense of determination. 

So race morning came, and I won't pretend that I woke up with a newfound sense of total confidence just because I had decided so, but I did try to push out any doubts and reframe my race the best I could. This was a hometown race that I haven't been been able to run for the last several years since I, um, lived away from home, and getting to run it again was something I had been looking forward to for a while. It was a beautiful, perfectly chilly but sunny fall day. I felt pretty well recovered from the marathon, I had just started being able to sleep through the night without coughing, and my leg hadn't seriously bothered me weeks. And I was wearing mermaid tights for goodness sake. I had no excuses.

My friend Tracy told me a few days before that his goal was to run somewhere between 1:55-2:10 (which are...very different, I realize) so we decided to run together, and I am so thankful we did. I was prepared to push myself, but he definitely pushed me harder than I would have pushed myself in the first few miles. A few parts of the course were different this year than from when I ran this race previously, which added some extra distance in the beginning of the course. I would actually prefer that than the opposite, and it was kind of nice to run a familiar course that wasn't exactly the one I had run before. The first 2 miles were a bit of a maze as we wound through downtown Norfolk, and my Garmin was going a little crazy with my pace so I wasn't totally sure how fast we were running, but it was faster than I was used to running lately, that's for sure. I had been hoping to average around 8:45 so I was a little shocked when my first mile chimed in at 8:37, and even more shocked by an 8:27 mile 2. I already felt like I was pushing pretty hard, but as much as my brain tried to convince me that I couldn't keep that up for another 11 miles, something deep down told me I could.

The next few miles took us through Ghent, which is a great historic neighborhood. It still felt like we were speeding up, and when mile 3 came in at 8:23 I glanced over at Tracy to tell him that we needed to back off a hair. I was feeling incredulous and pretty proud of myself because I haven’t seen that many 8’s, period, let alone in a row in quite some time, but I also did not want a Richmond repeat. The next few miles came in at a much more reasonable 8:43, 8:35, and 8:38.

We continued to make our way through Ghent toward the campus of Old Dominion University. My primary goal was to be under 2 hours so I did a lot of math trying to figure out if and how much we could slow down to hit that goal, and by the halfway point I was feeling pretty confident that unless something catastrophic happened, we’d have no problem making it. Mile 7 included an extended water stop - I think Tracy went to the bathroom so I walked to wait for him to catch up, and then when he did we still walked a bit because he was having trouble putting his gels back in his fuel belt. All in all it didn’t cost us a lot of time, as that mile ended up being 9:23.

We hit mile 7 right at an hour and I felt good about being over halfway and even though I wasn’t feeling awesome, I felt like I could hang on for another 56 minutes or so by my calculation. There were lots of turns throughout the whole course and the next few miles were a bit of a blur. Miles 8 and 9 took us around and then past ODU, and we hit those at 8:29 and 9:01 (I think this was another water stop) and were still holding an average pace of 8:41.

By this point I was really feeling myself! I knew I was going to be well under 2 hours, and 1:55 was still in reach. For the first time in what felt like forever, everything was working right and it occurred to me that I was running my body, in a way I hadn’t been able to in a really long time. I was tired and I was uncertain if I could keep hanging on, but deep down I knew I was in control in a way I haven't felt in a while.

The only mile marker I had committed to memory from the course map was 9, and I had seen the mile 11 marker around mile 3 as we were making our way out, and that’s all I could focus on. I knew where I’d be at mile 9, and after that I could mentally break up 2 miles to where I knew 11 was, and then 2 miles to the finish. Easy. Peasy.

At mile 9 we got on an urban trail that had been constructed since the last time I ran this race, so that part was new (although I have run and biked on it before). I lost Tracy at a water stop during mile 10 so o slowed down a little and ran an 8:45 mile so he could catch up. He did, but during mile 11 he told me that he was going to drop back and for me to go I did! I finally meandered to the mile 11 marker at 8:35, and began the 2-mile journey back to the start.

The last two miles got uncomfortable but I felt so good knowing I was almost done! It had gotten warm with the sun out and I was ready to be done running, but I was so proud of the race I had run thus far, and of the way I was able to suck it up to get through the last 2 miles (8:28, 8:28). Finally we turned on to the riverfront path that led to the finish line, and I gave it everything I had to get under 1:55 (7:45 final push).

Official Time:
(8:45 pace)

This race wasn't a PR for me, or even close, but it still felt like a breakthrough. I can't remember the last time I ran more than one or two sub-9:00 miles, and I ran 13 of them in a row. For the first time in a long time I straddled the line between pushing myself and just being stupid. For the first time in a long time I heard those voices saying, “You can’t possibly keep this up,” and for the first time in an even longer time I believed myself when I told them to STFU. And for the first time in a long time, I crossed to finish line in a time I am proud of. As far as it still was from my best, for the first time in a long time I felt like I might slowly be getting back there. The body that ran this race isn’t the same one I’ve run faster times with, but it’s the one I have right now. And I ran this body.


  1. You rocked it!! Good job Trace. Im always amazed at how you remember how you were feeling in each mile. That is truly special esp since youre able to document it. Kudos to you!

  2. Ahhhhh I'm so happy for you!! Way to get it done! This was such a great race recap to read :)

    Isn't it crazy how much of a difference your mental game makes?! I related so much to this post based on my marathon experience this past October. I will forever believe that having my head on straight was what allowed me to have as good of a race as I did, and it sounds like it was a gamechanger for you here, too. Not doubting yourself, not listening to the voice in your head that says you can't do it - it was like reading my marathon recap all over again! It's crazy how much of an impact a good mental game makes!

    Also, your outfit. Yes. Killing it. Your shirt is THE BEST.