Sunday I ran the Park 2 Park Half Marathon, a race I’ve wanted to run for three years, but never had the day available. This race has had my eye for years because it goes through two of the parks I grew up running in. I used to run at each of these parks at least once a week, so I had a bit of home team advantage on race day. To make things easier, the race was only about 5-10 minutes from my parent’s house, so I was able to stay with them and get an extra hour of sleep.
I woke up at 5am, got ready, stretched and was out the door by 6:30. My nerves were out of control, but luckily they calmed down once everyone started to line up. The weather was just about perfect and I made the decision to stick with a 9:30 pace, and hopefully finished between 2:03-2:05, but wanted to aim for 2:04.
We started in French Creek Reservation, and most of the first mile was crushed gravel and dirt. I hadn’t run on the path for years, but as soon as we were off, I wanted to turn off and run every trail around me. I started with a conservative pace, and focused on not going out too fast. We turned out of French Creek onto Colorado and made our way past the entrance for James Day Park. It instantly brought back memories of playing in the fields with my babysitter when I was just a small child, and really made me feel like I was at home on the course.
I made sure to drink water every mile to make sure I’d be hydrated by the time the temperature rose. We turned into what I’ve always called the “Mars” section of the park, really called the Steel Mill Trail, because it’s always so desolate and hot. The mounds of dirt and steel mill trash make for a less than exciting view. There was a huge chunk of runners around me, so it wasn’t too bad, but it seems to be never ending any time I run it.
We hit mile three right at the entrance to Day’s Dam and were greeted with a nice long, winding downhill. The paved path was about three miles with some winding and smaller rolling hills, including a few bridges. As I made my way through the park, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking back on all those runs that I did over the years on this exact path. I tried to take in the views and reflect on the past. I kept wanting to sneak off the path and run the trails along the Black River, but I knew I had to stay the course.
I took a sport bean at mile 4 and still felt relatively good. My pace was right where I wanted it to be, and even though some miles were under 9:30, I knew I’d need the extra time with the two major hills on the course.
Halfway through this three mile section lies the giant bridge. It’s always been a bit bouncy, but this time, my legs felt like I was in a bounce house. To me, this was the hardest part of the race. My legs felt like jello, and I had to stare straight ahead or I’d be sick. I knew what to expect, but the bridges have definitely gotten worse over time.
We had a few other bridges, but they were much more shorter, and stable. Once we crossed the last bridge I knew we’d have a decent stretch of flat pavement before we got to the large hill and halfway point of the race. I was still with a group of about 5, but we started to spread out more. This was also about the time that I saw Ryan on his way back to the finish.
After we left the Bur Oak path, we went directly to the large hill. It was about a half mile of a semi steep gradual incline. I took it a little slower than my race pace, and hoped my legs were ready for it. The guy next to me mentioned that he was having trouble, but I mumbled something about the hill not being so bad and pushed my way passed him. We finally got to the top, and surprisingly I felt pretty good. The hill was a lot easier than what I remembered, and I felt that running trails the week before paid off for sure.
I got to the turn around point and took a salt tab, water and a sip of Gatorade. I wasn’t sure if I could stomach it, so I didn’t drink much, but it helped to fuel me toward the second half of the race. Next up was heading down the long hill we had just climbed and I tried to use it to my advantage as best as I could. But I also didn’t want to wear out my legs with about half of the race left.
On my way down, a woman told me I was in first place for my age group, so that was a nice surprise and gave a little extra pep to my step. After the hill we went back into Bur Oak. The entrance to Bur Oak is one of my favorites and looks beautiful in every season. I knew what I had in store for me, I just had to make sure my legs were on board.
I started to pick up speed a bit, and took advantage of the flat sections of the paved path. I was definitely off in my own little world, chugging along and feeling at peace with my running. I was still making decent time, and I hadn’t had any issues yet. I crossed the bridge again, this time by myself, and that seemed to help the bounce a little bit. But the bounce feeling stuck with my legs for another half mile and slowed me down a bit.
I took another sport bean at mile 9 and started taking water every half mile. The temperature was starting to heat up, and I didn’t want to become too dehydrated with a decent chunk of the race left.
As I got to the end of the path, I knew that the hill at the entrance of Day’s Dam was waiting for me. I had done hill repeats on that hill no less than 40 times growing up, so I knew what to expect, and I knew the point on the hill that it would start to hurt. I pushed all negative thoughts out of my head and went for it, telling myself that it was only a little bit more. I got to the top and knew that all those years of hill repeats had paid off, even if they were miserable while running them.
I reached the water stop at mile 10, walked for about 10 feet to catch my breath and dumped the water on my back. I knew I’d be entering the “Mars” territory next and I wanted to be ready.
The next half mile went by quick, but I was ready to be back in the shade. Everyone was pretty well spaced out at this point and I didn’t have anyone in front of me that I could see. I followed the path, hoping this section would be quick and tried to make my way to the last water stop as quick as I could.
I came around back to Colorado Avenue and knew I had just a little over a mile left. I grabbed water and dumped it on my back, and made my way back into French Creek Reservation.
The trail was a little bit harder to run on at this point because my legs were starting to get tired, but I knew if I just pushed through I’d be done shortly. I followed the path, checking out all the trails that were calling my name. They’d be a lot more fun that the giant switch back I had coming ahead. My pace really slowed down during this section and I felt weaker than I normally did, but I kept going knowing I was getting closer to the finish.
Without fail, at 12.75 I started to feel sick. I knew it was from the heat and the nerves of having my parent’s at the finish line. I sucked it up and kept my head up, repeating to myself that I wasn’t allowed to throw up. I finally made it out of the woods and kicked it as quick as I could towards the finish line.
Last .1-8:56 pace
Somehow, despite the few hills and my attempt at almost getting sick near the finish, I came in right at 2:04, exactly where I wanted to be. I don’t think I’ve ever run a race where I hit my goal time right on the nose. And not only was my time perfect, but this was my second best half marathon time!
I ended up with first in my age group (25-29), but honestly I don’t know how many there were in the age group. Results haven’t been posted, but it was a relatively small turnout.
I had an absolutely great time running this race, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that I was on home turf. I benefited greatly knowing every hill, turn, and type of terrain we’d be running on. I am so glad I was finally able to make this race, and plan on running it every year I can make it.
Post race I talked with Ryan and Jess for a bit before I went out for a few impromptu miles. Since I had the chance I ran a few trails, all of which I somehow remembered from memory. It felt great to just get out there and zone out, enjoying a few miles by myself. I only went out for two miles, but it was good enough to put me at 15 for the day!
All in all it was a great day and the perfect finish to week two of marathon training.
*Official Results added after post published.
Age Group 25-29: 1/3