Saturday, June 2, 2012

Race Report: Hospital Hill Half Marathon

Toward the end of my training for the Hospital Hill Half Marathon, I started to wonder if I was focusing too much on running hills. Maybe I was overdoing it.

I wasn't.

The race started at 7am and the plan was to leave the house bright and early at 5:30am. We left a little later than planned and hit more traffic than we expected but Kim and Liz dropped Nancy and I off just a couple of blocks from the starting area with plenty of time to spare.

When we got to the starting corrals, Nancy was wise and got in the relatively short lines for the porta potties. I was assigned to the first corral and I didn't know how long it would take me to get in so I passed on the porta potties and went to find where I should line up. I realized later that I should have stopped. I got to the line with plenty of time to spare but by the time I realized that, the lines for the porta potties had grown and I had doubts I could get through the lines before the start. Oops.

Kim and Liz parked the car and stopped by my corral to wish me luck. Then they found a spot just up the street to wait for us to run by.

The starting area was divided into several corrals and each corral started the race a couple of minutes after the corral before it. I was in Corral A and we started five minutes after the two wheelchair participants. Then Corral B started a minute or two after us, and so on.

The pacers in my corral had signs that made me feel confident that I was in the right place, but there were guys around me talking about marathons and half marathons that they had won. Who were these people? My best time in a Half is 1:25. On a hilly course in June, I was hoping to run under 1:30. These guys were covered in Boston Marathon gear and talking about winning races. Combine that with the fact that the 5K and 10K runners were also mixed in with us, I made a mental note not to take off too fast because the guys around me were likely to be flying.

At 7:00, they did a countdown, fired a cannon, and we were off and running.

(At the start of the Hospital Hill Half Marathon.)

I gave a quick wave to Liz and Kim and immediately started running uphill. The first mile set the trend for the rest of the race.

(A view of the uphill first mile.)

I expected several hills and thought there might be one beast of a hill that the race was named after. What I got was a seemingly endless string of hills and several of them felt like monsters.

(Hospital Hill Half Marathon Elevation Profile.)

Not only were several of the hills really long... the course seemed to be back-to-back hills the entire way and several of them were quite steep. I quickly became thankful I had run so many hills in the past two months. Otherwise, the number of hills in this race would have been really demoralizing and I think I would have struggled more mentally than I did. As it was, the physical struggle was plenty!

The first mile was uphill but I didn't really know what was coming yet so I was happy with how easy the hill felt. Then I hit the first mile marker and saw that I was going way to fast. I ran the first mile in 6:14. So much for not going out with the speedsters.

I backed way off and tried to settle in but just before Mile 2, the course started up a long, steep hill. This course just doesn't really let you settle in. I thought Nancy might avoid most of the hills since she was doing the 5K but it was hilly early and often so she hit her share of elevation changes.

(Nancy is in the red shirt, waving at Kim and Liz.
Her corral started 5-10 minutes after mine.)

Around Mile 3, I hit one of the longer downhill stretches and tried to take advantage by relaxing and settling into a manageable pace. I probably let myself go a little too much and ran from 3 to 4 a little fast.

About the time I reached Mile 6, Nancy was finishing the 5K and earned her very nice finisher's medal. She finished in 35:07 and was 21st in her age group!

(Liz congratulating Nancy after the 5K.)

(Super Spectator Liz - A seasoned pro!)

(Super Spectator Kim - No one is louder!)

My Garmin watch was right with the mile markers for the first 6 or 7 miles but then the distance report started getting a little off from the mile markers. A little after the 7-mile mark, I saw a couple of porta potties near the top of a hill and I couldn't wait any longer. I had to stop. I should have gone before the race and now I was paying. I had been uncomfortable for the past two miles and I was only going to get slower if I didn't stop.

When I got back on the road, I felt much better and I was coming up on the other long downhill stretch so I was able to pick up the pace again. My bathroom break put me just behind the 1:30 pace group so I slowly tried to reel them back in over the next few miles.

My watch wasn't giving me accurate distance readings anymore and I somehow missed the markers for Miles 9 and 10 so I was just chugging along and trying to keep up what felt like a good pace.

Around Mile 10, I started up the last really long hill. I knew I was getting close to the finish and it was a refreshing change to be close to the end without completely dreading the next few miles. In a full marathon, time seems to slow down so much toward the end of the race, that each mile becomes very intimidating. In a half, I'm three miles from the finish and they feel just like the previous three miles... and the three miles before that. I was definitely tired and the hills were taking a toll, but the miles weren't dragging by.

A little past Mile 12, there was one more uphill stretch that seemed very cruel when I came up to it. It was short but very steep. It reminded me of the onramp you have to run up in the last half-mile of the Chicago Marathon... only worse. I put my head down, cursed the course designers, and slogged my way up the hill. Then I was rewarded by a beautiful downhill stretch that continued all the way to the finish line and all was forgiven!

I lengthened my stride, let gravity do the work, and tried not to look too spent coming into the finish line. 

(Sweet, merciful, downhill running!)

I had caught up to the tail end of the 1:30 pace group and crossed the finish line in 1:29:44.

(A pretty cool finisher's medal for a tough race.)

Any time I can run a half marathon under 1:30, I'm happy but today's race made me earn it. I felt pretty good about my effort and time but I could have done without the bathroom break in the middle. Lesson learned.

I grabbed my bag of snacks provided by the sponsor, Price Chopper, or as some call it... 'The Machine'. Then I met Liz, Kim, and Nancy for some post-race food.

In addition to the normal post-race freebies (bananas, water, etc.), Hospital Hill offers a pair of flip-flops, bar-b-que and beer for all finishers!

(My Finisher's Flip-Flops.)

Unfortunately, my stomach wasn't ready for a lot of food yet so I nibbled a little pulled pork and sipped part of my beer before we all packed up and headed out. Before we left, Nancy and I got one more picture to remember the day we conquered The Hill.
(Sporting our new medals.)

The medals for the races are pretty cool. The 5K medals are yellow. The 10K are red. And the Half Marathon are blue. All of the medals have parts that let light through which is a nice touch. They make an excellent addition to the collection!

(Nancy's 5K Finisher's Medal.)

(My Half Marathon Finisher's Medal.)

(Medal Front.)

(Medal Back.)

(Very nice!)

We stopped at Bread Co. on the way back to the house and my stomach still wasn't ready for real food so I had a Naked protein shake. Yum!!! Luckily, my stomach was plenty ready by the time we had dinner tonight... Kim smoked some ribs and chicken and had people over to celebrate Nancy's birthday!

If only all post-race meals were that good!!!

Goal For The Day: Race!
Distance: 13.10 Miles.
Time: 1:29:44. 6:51 Avg. (6:14, 6:54, 6:46, 6:24, 6:51, 6:57, 7:20, 7:55, 6:30, 6:56, 8:09, 6:51, 5:52*).
Conditions: 55 degrees. 7:00AM.

128th out of 3,344 Finishers.
112th out of 1,694 Men.
23rd out of 245 Men Ages 30-34.

Notes: I couldn't have asked for better weather! If the temperature had been in the 80's or hotter, I'm pretty sure I would have been walking some of those hills. My watch reports I only ran 12.90 miles so I'll take some of the paces from later in the race with a grain of salt. I think the 7:55 was my bathroom break but I know I didn't run an 8:09 for Mile 11. My official split at the 10K was 41:43 and at the 15K was 1:03:29. Next year is the 40th Anniversary of the Half and it would be fun to come back. Maybe I'll run the 10K instead though. Overall, a very fun, challenging race!

Daily Miles: 13.10 Miles.
2012 Totals:
  Run - 416.50 Miles.
  Bike - 0.00 Miles.
  Swim - 8,250 meters.


  1. (I realize you were a bit out of it after the race, but I didn't realize you were THAT out of it ... we stopped by Starbucks not Bread Co :). Mmmm, White-Chocolate Mocha!) Great job Pooter!!! I know this was a hard race and I'm glad I was able to spectate (even if I didn't really get to see you that much).

    1. Oops! I have no idea why I said Bread Co. I was even picturing the Starbucks in my head. So weird!

  2. Hi Brad -- Fellow Gomer here...just wondering if you have any tips on training for the San Francisco Marathon -- it's also very hilly. Here's a link to the course map:

    It's in October, and I am starting my training now. I live in Cincinnati so have access to some hills. Would you recommend doing hill training where I would just run up and down hills repeatedly, or just run in areas where hills would be part of the course? Or both? Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!
    ~Patrice (P.S. Congrats on your great finish in your Hospital Hill Half Marathon! My best time for a half is 1:57, and I felt like I was dying the entire last half of the race -- can't imagine running at your speed! So impressive!)

    1. Patrice,
      I'd be happy to help. I have several questions though... is this your first marathon? If not, how many have you run? What is your goal? (To finish? A specific time?) Do you already have a training schedule you're following, and you just want to know how to tweak it? Or are you looking for a full training schedule?
      You can email me at