Join me as I travel around the country to fulfill my goal of running a marathon or half marathon in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Run with (Sam and) Amy - Harper's Ferry 1/2 Marathon Recap

Sam decided to take a break from blogging and let me – Amy – provide the recap for the Harper's Ferry Half Marathon we ran this past weekend. The race was my first race of any length; as you will see in the recap, I apparently like to jump right into things by doing it the most difficult way possible.

Six weeks ago, Sam first mentioned to me that she was running a race in Harper's Ferry. I offered a place to stay – my parents live 20 minutes away – and to tag along and cheer her on. She took this as an invitation to launch a full-out campaign to convince me to run the race with her, despite, as you may remember from earlier blog posts, my struggle to run five miles, even with the promise of a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich at the end.

I thought that, if nothing else, “training” would provide a way for me to combat the ever-present free food and cupcakes that always seem to be lurking around our office, and also give me a reason to get off my couch and quit watching the same Mad Men episodes over and over. So I told Sam I would consider it, and would “practice” and see how I was feeling about it in a few weeks.

I’ll admit that my training was extremely half-assed. I ran two or three times a week, jumped straight from running three and a half miles to seven, and didn’t really change my eating/drinking habits. But as I started running more, I felt like maybe 13 miles wouldn’t be so bad. However, DC is built on a swamp, therefore the city is pretty flat. Growing up 20 minutes from Harpers Ferry, I knew exactly how it was in the middle of the Blue Ridge mountains and was aware of just how steep the narrow roads going through the town are. My first thought was of the church that is up on a hill and to get there you have to climb approximately 3,000 tiny, steep steps. Running 13 miles of that? Uh, sure. Sounds like a ton of fun. And then Sam sent me the course description:

Local runners have crafted one of the most challenging and beautiful half marathons in the country.

The half marathon course is almost completely enclosed in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the preserved Civil War era towns of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry. The route includes close to 1000 feet of total elevation gain and 2000 feet of total elevation change. You will experience a mix of trail, road, and crushed gravel paths. You will view the confluence of the Two Rivers- the Shenandoah and the Potomac. The steep uphill portions will test each runner’s strength and will. The fun and challenging downhills will be a wild ride you’ve rarely experienced in a run. Breathtaking views of the rivers, historic buildings, mountains, scenery will stimulate the senses and inspire you to reach the finish line.

Elevation change? Mix of trail, road, and paths? Steep uphill portions? Challenging downhills? One of the most challenging half marathons?
Just like West Virginia, this course is Wild and Wonderful.
And so, for whatever reason, despite cautious warnings from my much wiser family, friends, and boyfriend - perhaps because Sam is a convincing lobbyist - I signed up anyway.

We began our journey Friday after work by taking the train from DC to my parent’s house. I warned Sam that the train is often filled with loud western Marylanders and West Virginians observing Friday happy hour on the train. Sam thought I was joking and her mind was blown when we walked onto the train to see the guy across the aisle from us doing the crossword and drinking a Miller Lite.
My paparazzi-ing was not as subtle as I'd hoped
When we got to my parents’ house my mom had a pasta dinner ready. After carbo loading, Sam and I settled on the couch to watch a few episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss” on TLC before heading to bed. If you’ve never seen a size 28 woman with a budget of $1,000 looking for a frilly, pink and black wedding dress, you’re definitely missing out.

Saturday morning we drove out to Harpers Ferry to the white water rafting store that was serving as the race headquarters, to find this very impressive half marathon starting line.
I know we're in West Virginia, but really?
 We parked in a field (parking was denoted by a handwritten 8 1/2 x 11 white sheet of paper with “PARKING” written on it in black marker). Sam and I checked in – apparently they assigned bibs alphabetically and Sam and I received numbers next to each other – 444 and 445. 
Pre-race, when we were still friends.
At check-in we were also informed that, despite having provided our t-shirt size when we registered online, they had run out of small shirts. Lame.

The weather was overcast but warm so Sam and I debated whether or not to keep our jackets in case it rained. We made the right choice in deciding to ditch them. When we were back at the car the race organizer asked via megaphone if it was anyone’s first half marathon, to which he advised, “it's a very challenging course, you can still go home.” Terrific. He also added that wearing headphones was allowed, but the roads were not closed off so if we chose to wear them, to be aware of the traffic. This is about the point where I really started questioning both my judgment and my trust in Sam.

The race started fairly anticlimactically (as you may imagine from the start line itself) and we began running down a paved road. About half a mile in, just as we were about to start on the first of appx. 4,000 hills, I received a text from my mom that “Go Amy! Good luck as you near the finish!” Appreciated the sentiment, but at that point I was just concentrating on staying alive, and rather than the encouraging message it was intended to be, the thought of how far away the finish line was not exactly a morale booster.

From about half a mile to mile two, we ran through a field. They had mowed a path through said field and denoted which way to go with spray-painted arrows. Again, shocking considering this race was very high tech. Running through the field was basically straight uphill. Struggle. We looped back down to the road we started on and ran back toward the starting line. As we passed the start, there was the longest, steepest hill I had ever come across. At that point we were passing back by River Riders and as I struggled up the hill, the temptation to veer off to the left and take a nap in my mom’s car while Sam finished the race, was looking better and better.

At the top of the hill we then ran through a campground/trailer park and into the woods. We added dirt and mulch to the myriad running surface experience. I kept expecting a scaling wall or some other bootcampesque obstacle to suddenly appear in the middle of the path.

Action shot of Sam on our impromptu Warrior Run.

Then back on to a (thankfully flat) paved road, where we passed by some old civil war cannons. I was able to catch my breath, and then back into the woods we went. At the end of the second wooded area we got to finally run downhill, alongside traffic. We swung back down into the woods and at one point we crossed a wooden pallet being used as a makeshift bridge and ran along the sandy banks of the Shenandoah.

Blue Ridge Mountains! Shenandoah River!

As we neared the town of Harpers Ferry I had mostly regained control of my breathing and wasn’t feeling too bad. I was afraid to stop running for fear I would lose all momentum and not have the energy to keep going. This puts us at about mile 6. I swear country miles must be longer than city miles.

We ran by the Armory, the John Brown Wax Museum, and some restaurant that permeated the town with the smell of warm sugar. All uphill, of course. Sam tried to start a run two minutes, walk one minute pattern but I decided that just walking it all was a preferable option. On through the town of Bolivar (although its spelled like the South American liberator, its pronounced like “Oliver” with a B), past the gunsmiths shop (an actual working gunsmiths shop, not a historical façade), to the turning point, which meant more downhill. Thank God. We even got to go down one hill that was probably an 85 degree incline. I’m not too good at math so I’m hoping that comes across how I was hoping –  it was basically straight down. We also couldn’t see any other runners around us at this point which made us a little scared that we were going to have to live off Sam’s energy gummies as we found our way through the woods of West Virginia.

Since this post is getting kind of long, its time for a little Country Roads intermission…


(Bonus points to anyone who got the country roads reference in my caption above)

Despite some soreness in my knees as we came back through the town (I have self-diagnosed my bad knees as a combination of Lyme Disease and spending four years of my childhood crashing onto ice while chasing the illusive dream of becoming an Olympic figure skater), at this point I was feeling alright. As we passed the 10 mile marker on our way through Harper's Ferry, Sam yelled “this is the farthest you’ve ever run!” That, and the fact I didn’t feel like I was dying quite yet, made me a little more confident that I could make it through three more miles.

We got to mile 11 and realized we had to run up the hill we ran down around mile 4 or 5. What idiot designed this course and put a mountain at mile 11? I realize a course through mountains means there probably aren’t too many less hilly, alternate routes but I was about ready to admit defeat. Since I couldn’t decide whether to just sit on the side of the road and cry or jump into the river, I kept going. We resigned to walking up much of this hill – as did almost everyone else we could see. Once the course evened out and we got to a water station at the top of the hill, we were forced back into the woods for the last mile and a half.

We got to the top of the last hill and I felt like I was literally falling apart. Things started catching up with me and I felt like I was going to projectile vomit 300 yards before the finish line. My left knee chose the last three steps before the finish line to start to give out so I’m sure I’m hunched over and have a serious look of agony on my face in my finish line pictures (which I have not seen and will not be shared).

In the How I Met Your Mother episode “Lucky Penny,” Marshall slips on the bathroom floor and injures his foot, putting an end to his preparation and training to run the New York Marathon. Barney scoffs at Marshall’s training plan and bets Marshall that he could go out and run the marathon the next day without any training.

Apparently fairly similar to my training philosophy.

Barney goes out, runs the marathon in a respectable time, wins the $50 from Marshall, then gets stuck on the subway when he loses all ability to use his legs.

That's how I felt in the last .1 mile.
We finished in 2:33. Out of the 26 women ages 20-29, Sam finished 22nd and I was 23rd. Finished? Check! Wasn't last? Check! Given the insane course and my lack of preparation, I'm fairly pleased with the result. It definitely helped to have Sam there with me - I probably would have walked a lot more or completely given up if I was running by myself. 

We got our medals, and more importantly, the free Panera bagels, pizza, and beer that were provided.

Celebrating surviving 13 miles by devouring that piece of pizza and Cold Trail Ale.

We stretched, got to listen to a guy who sounded like Bob Dylan play a guitar (by that I mean the words he was saying were completely incoherent), and watched the kids’ one mile fun run before heading back to pass out watching Project Runway.

I made it (also, congrats to you all for making it through my extremely long post – hopefully it didn’t take you 2 hours and 33 minutes to read). I don’t necessarily feel like I conquered the world, but I survived the longest run I’ve ever done on a course that was apparently designed by Satan himself. At work Monday everyone was asking whether I plan to run another one. After that race, any other course seems extremely easy. Right now, for me running still seems more like a chore and not necessarily enjoyable so…Maybe? Probably? We’ll see how convincing Sam is.


Alyssa said...

Wow that race sounds INTENSE! Great job to both of you for surviving! I loved that episode of HIMYM!

Pam said...

That's a fabulous time on a tough course! Great job!! At least you had some pretty scenery :)

Run with Jess said...

COngrats! What a tough course, especially for your first!

Heather Elliott @ the desire to run said...

Wow CONGRATS on your first half! The terrain sounds nuts but I bet you feel so proud of yourself.

This is the 3rd first-time half recap that I have read this morning and it is getting me so excited!!

Best thing about your race... Beer at the finish line, heck yes!!!

Julia said...

loving that you just decided to go all out and hit up the 13.1 first thing!! that is awesome. and ummm can we say best post-race spread/food/fuel everrrr!?!! awesome job!

Richelle said...

Wow, what a tough race! Congrats on enduring it and finishing it! I hope you pick a flatter course for your next half. :)

Samantha said...

Amy - I'm so sorry for making you run such a hard course for your first race ever. I'm a sucky running buddy. BUT the good news is that now you can run a road race no problem!! So what do you say? Myrtle Beach this fall? :)

p.s. - I take that last sentence as a personal challenge!

Justina F. Lee said...

You go girl!!!

Candice @ I Have Run said...

Great race report. Not sure I could have finished. Anything unpaved scares me!!

Heidi said...

Amy...... Really enjoyed your post! (I was getting pretty bored reading Sam's.... bahahaha jk Sam you know I Love you...)
Anyway, congrats to both of you on a great race. Harpers Ferry is beautiful!

Don Libes said...

I did that race too and found your recap to be hilarious. But that's a lot of pissing and moaning for 2:33 which is an admirable time on such a hilly course (and an amazing time considering your training). Congratulations!