September 4, 2013

Race Report: Hottest Half

On Saturday night, I had realized that I left my Garmin back home in NYC. While I had kind of freaked out about that at the time, the good news was that my freak out was out of the way. I woke up feeling okay – not very well-rested, and having had lots of bad dreams (including one about , but that had really been the case all week. So much for my month of Breathe and trying to relax more! Unfortunately, every night/morning seemed to be full of something (which was of course, completely my own doing), and I never managed to catch up on sleep. Oops!

I had also been a bit worried about getting coffee before the race, since it started in a part of town that I didn’t know very well. Were there any Starbucks in that area, and would they be open at 6:30am on a Sunday? It turned out to be a completely moot point – the hotel had actually already set up their free coffee in the lobby before we left. Jackpot! I desperately needed that energy if I was going to get through 13.1 miles in the Dallas heat.

Although I had told Theodora that Dallas is a dry heat (and therefore the “feels like” is usually cooler than the triple digit temperatures), when we stepped outside to the valet stand, I realized it was sticky and muggy. Ugh! Not what we wanted. The temps weren’t too hot (high 70s), but I remembered the basic rule of running: if you are comfortable standing around, you will not be comfortable when you get going. Unfortunately, in just a tank top and thin skirt, there wasn’t much material I could lose (whereas in the winter, I take that as a sign that I should remove a layer).

When we got to Flagpole Hill, I found that the parking situation was a little hairy. Although there were some parking lots at the top of the hill, they were all totally full – and most people were just parking on the side of the road instead. Okay, fine – except the spot I grabbed happened to be right next to a ditch. I had Theodora get out of the car before I parked, but then I realized that the ditch was just as hazardous to my car as it was to Theodora – when my car wavered a bit and almost tipped over! I freaked out and got the heck out of that spot as fast as I could, swearing all the way since I was in disbelief. My car in Dallas is a big SUV, and I could only imagine how hurt I would have gotten if I had actually rolled it. So scary! I got out of the car very shaken… not a great start to the racing day.

We headed down the big hill and to the park where runners were congregating, and then headed off to separate lines – one for packet pickup (where we found Blake and JP really easily), and one for registration (so that Theodora could sign up for the race). Although the lines were long, they moved very quickly, and I also had time to hit the portapotty before checking the bag that held all of our stuff. It was so fun and different for me to be at a race with a group instead of solo, and I loved it!

Trying Dole Banana Dippers
Another thing I loved was the new product by Dole that they were handing out like candy (um, it basically is candy): frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. YES PLEASE!

But when the race started, we all went our separate ways. Blake and JP were running together, of course, and Theodora had suggested right as the gun went off that maybe we run together – but since we started pretty far toward the back of the pack, I found myself weaving through the crowds to try to hit a comfortable pace, and when I turned around, she wasn’t there anymore. Oops! I didn’t stress too much about it, though – none of us were running for time, and a relaxing run with some podcasts might be just what I needed.

We headed up to an overpass, which was a pretty steep hill, but it only took about 30 seconds to get to the top, so I tried to think of it as just a quick bit of interval training and keep hustling up the whole way. Once at the top, we were rewarded with a nice downhill slope on the highway, and then just a minute or two later, an exit off the highway and back down to lake-level – which meant a steep fun downhill. Woo hoo! Although there’s a natural tendency to ease up on a downhill (since you don’t have to work as hard to go the same speed), I tried to keep pushing the pace as much as possible. It was early in the race, so I had plenty of energy, and I wanted to try to pass as many people as possible before getting to the narrower paved trail around the lake, where it might not be as easy. We had gotten to the start fairly late and so had started way in the back (about 2 minutes after the gun, which is a lot for a smaller race), so I knew I had a lot of people to pass before I’d be running with the mid-packers at my same pace.

Since I didn’t have my Garmin, I was using the stopwatch app on my phone to time myself and then just doing mental math to figure out each split. (In retrospect, I could have used the split function on the stopwatch app, but it didn’t occur to me at the time, even though I’ve done that for other races.) I didn’t care that much about my time going into the race, but when I clocked the first few miles around an 8:30 pace, I started hoping that I could maybe finish in about 2 hours, or a 9:09 average pace. It was hot, but it seemed fairly doable?

Speaking of the weather, that definitely deserves a shout out here. Back when I ran the Big D Marathon, we finished on this same White Rock trail – but somehow I didn’t remember it being quite so sunny back then. In fact, I thought it was a lot more shaded then than it felt this time around! It wasn’t awful, but it was definitely not comfortable, and I found myself wishing that I had worn my super thin YMX by Yellowman tank instead of my usual Athleta tank with built in bra. Anything to stay cool!

Apparently the heat turns me into some sort of giraffe-legged weirdo. I have never seen myself at this camera angle before.

I tried to keep my focus positive by just reminding myself how short this race was, at least relative to the marathon I had done the week before. Breaking a race up into quarters had helped me a lot then, so I tried to do that now – thinking of the race as halfway to the turnaround, at the turnaround (or halfway total), and then halfway back to the finish.  I didn’t start losing focus / hating the heat until I had just about reached mile 3, and by then, that was already almost halfway to the turnaround point. Running just another three more miles didn’t seem that bad at all! As a reward for my positive thinking, the course around mile 4 hit a shaded area, and I was thrilled. Another blogger who ran this race, Kim, reported that that humidity was 63% (which is really high for Dallas!) – and I was sticky.

We only had about a mile in the shade, though, until we were back out in the sun – and now going up a steep but short hill. We turned a corner (past lots of kind spectators who had come out in the heat to cheer us on) and the hill stopped, but the course led us on a bridge across some sort of tributary (word source: Amazon Trail. Probably not the right word for this.), and the bridge shook like crazy as all the runners went over it. It reminded me of when I was a little kid and my mom would take me to the amazing wooden playground at School 16 (Google has revealed that this playground, and in fact the entire school, has been demolished and rebuilt – another bit of my childhood lost) that had a bridge that would (intentionally) shake as you ran across it, creating some excitement and perhaps some injuries if you hopped on at the same time as another kid. Here, the shaking wasn’t quite as intense, but I still found that my feet felt either incredibly heavy or incredibly buoyant, depending on where my feet fell compared to the rest of the runners and the reverberations on the bridge. It was really unsettling, and we were on it long enough that my feet/legs continued to feel off-kilter for the entire next mile. So bizarre!

That next mile also took us up a big hill – so I took advantage of it to walk and catch my breath, then cruise down the other side. Around this point the course met up almost exactly with what I had run at the Big D Marathon, so I kind of knew where I was. I also knew from looking at the time on my stopwatch that it couldn’t be that much further to the turnaround. After taking a left turn to go back along the lake, and passing an aid station, I finally could see the end in sight. A simple cone marked the halfway point of the race, and I checked my watch to see I had done the first half in 57 minutes. Not bad at all! Perhaps a two hour half marathon was doable?


I headed back the way I had come, this time grabbing a ton of ice at the aid station and unabashedly stuffing it down my sports bra. The return of ice bra! It felt amazing and I could immediately feel my core temperature drop from its overheated state – perhaps this was just the kick in the pants  chest that I needed to keep the pace up and go sub-2?

My energy stayed high for the next mile or so, particularly since this was an out-and-back and I always get a boost getting to see other runners. I waved to Theodora and Kim as they passed, and then when I saw Blake and JP, I stopped running and doubled back a bit to again unabashedly yell about the wonders of ice bras and encourage Blake to stuff some ice down her shirt too when she got to the aid station. (Nothing but class, right here.) Mile 7 passed almost without me realizing it, and I now found myself counting down the miles and starting to do the mental math of what time I would finish.

Unfortunately, over the next few miles, that mental math got less and less appealing. After crossing the bridge on the way back, I learned that the course didn’t stay exactly the same for the final 4.5 miles – so while I thought the hills were over and it was now flat ground the rest of the way, we were actually about to go through the hilliest part of the course. To make matters worse, we were also in direct sun. This was my least favorite part of the race, and my pace dropped considerably to reflect that. I slogged up the steep hill, hating the heat, and also kind of hating myself for wussing out and not just powering through this. There were only four miles to go, yet I couldn’t seem to get the motivation up to power through those last four in order to get my sub-2.

By the time we got back to our original flat trail next to the lake, I was wiped out  from a combo of the hills and the heat. And when I saw a guy hosting some sort of group gathering with a big sign next to the trail that said “Free Advice,” I was briefly tempted to stop and ask for advice on whether I should finish or give up! I just tried to remind myself that there really wasn’t that much left in the race, and to focus on the interesting podcast I was listening to (a new one to my repertoire, Stuff Mom Never Told You). Here, at least, the miles started flying by again – and I noticed that it was probably in part because my pace was picking up too. While I had written off a sub-2 half marathon several miles ago, and was vaguely wondering if a 2:05 was doable, I now started to realize that I might be able to go sub-2:05 – which was a lot better than I would have expected with the way I was feeling. Upon realizing that, my mood lightened considerably, and I even started getting really excited about the race.

As I crossed one final bridge (this one sturdy, thank goodness), I was pleasantly surprised to learn we didn’t need to go up and over the highway overpass we had crossed at the start; instead, we went under it, staying on flat road all the way to the finish line. Well, that was a nice little way to make up for those crappy hills in the middle! I switched my phone from playing podcasts to playing my favorite country songs, and when I saw the 13 mile mark and spotted the finish in the not-too-distant distance, I picked up the pace even more to finish strong. I had a huge smile on my face for at least the last three miles, but it was in the very last one that spectators were around to see it and then cheer me on. (Not sure why spectators cheer on runners who are already smiling, since it’s probably the ones who look miserable that need the most encouragement, but I always seem to get tons of personalized comments/cheers from spectators when I’m loving life and grinning as I run.) And when I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t believe it – I had managed to finish in 2:03!



My running for the day wasn’t done yet, though. After catching my breath and enjoying some of the frozen bananas dipped in chocolate that a sampler for Dole was handing out (yes, yes, yes, I love them, please put them in stores everywhere!), I headed back to the finish to look for and cheer on other friends. I didn’t see Jenna or Kim, but I got some good pics of Theodora finishing. After catching up with her, she went out to get in another two miles that her coach had prescribed, while I set out to walk the course backwards until I reached JP and Blake Despite having run Rock N Roll San Diego with them in June, it still feels like a novel experience for me to do races with friends around, and I wanted to make the most of it by running with them if I could. After walking backward on the course to meet them (cheering on as many runners as I could on the way), I tucked my medal into my tank top (both so that it wouldn’t bang around and also so that it wouldn’t be quite as conspicuous) and ran the last two miles of the course once again, this time with two of my best friends. How amazing is that?!



The three of us had a great time running together, and I loved playing “coach” again when I ran around the finish area grabbing food, water, and wet towels to help them recover. Anyone want to hire me to be their personal pacer / marathon sherpa / post-race pamperer?

Each of the people in this photograph can provide references for one of those tasks, if you so desire.

All in all, I was just so thrilled to get to do a race with my closest friends. Although I was exhausted going into the weekend, I can’t think of  a better way to spend a Sunday than running your heart out next to a beautiful lake and then going to eat amazing brunch food (duck fat biscuits and gravy? Yes please!), and I’m so glad that I didn’t sleep in and miss the wonderful experience.

Race stats:
Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:03:30
Pace: 9:02
Overall place: 258/1165
Age group: 19/94


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Hottest Half”

  1. Awesome job! Thanks for the pingback! 😉

    It was fun reading your post since, 1, I was there too (as you know) and 2, because that route is SOOOO familiar to me. I do all of my Tuesday and Saturday runs at the lake with the Dallas Running Club and we just moved into the “neighborhood” so I’ll be running there even more. One tip if you go back to run on the lake is to lift your knees more when crossing the bridges… it helps with the bouncing!

    Oh, and Big D did have a lot of cloud cover compared to the Hottest Half, so that’s probably why it seemed more shaded on the lake!

    1. GREAT tip about the bridge! I’m sure I’ll be back there at some point (though not for the Tyler Half) so will give that a try for sure.

  2. Hi, Where did you find the picture taken of you at the race? (What website exactly)? I also ran this race, and was looking to find the picture taken!

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