Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Race Report: Asheville Half Marathon

On Saturday I raced one of the toughest half marathon courses I've ever done.  I knew this race was going to be hilly when I signed up given that Asheville is basically in the Smokey Mountains, near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail.  BUT, I got a little bit more than I had bargained for.
The city itself sits at 2,134 ft and I swear coming from sea level I could tell a difference in the "thin-ness" of the air!  The night before the race I took a quick look at the elevation profile of the course and was a little nervous to see that it had about 500 more feet of elevation gain than the Mistletoe Half Marathon, which is probably the last hilly half marathon that I've run (other than trail races):

Elevation Profile of the 2014 Asheville Half Marathon
In preparation for this race I didn't do any hill training because there are no hills here in Wilmington.  Yes, I could have gone downtown and run the bridges and yes, I could have run on the treadmill with an incline, but I did neither of those.  My preparation including sticking to my awesome training plan by coach Tom Clifford of Without Limits and cleaning up my diet to drop some body fat.  I averaged about 40-45 miles per week for a month leading into this race and consistently ran 13-15 miles on the weekends, plus a track workout each Wednesday night.  I also ate pretty much a fruitarian diet, sticking with fruits, veggies, some nuts & seeds, and soy milk.  I was able to lose about 5 pounds and about 3% body fat.  I felt really good eating this cleanly again and I found that I recovered really quickly from all my hard workouts!

Ok, so Saturday morning we were driving to the race start and talking about competition.  Just as I was telling Kurt that the website wouldn't have boasted "world class competition" and a $3000+ prize purse if there weren't going to be fast people there, Susan Jerotich of Kenya ran by with some of her fellow countrymen.  They looked ... really fast.
Susan Jerotich of Kenya
The last time I saw Susan and the rest of her pack was at the start of the race.  I lined up near the front and as soon as the gun went off the insanity started.  The first 1.5 miles were pretty much down hill.  I looked at my watch and I was running about 6:30 pace.  It was a tad fast, but I remembered a text that Tom had sent me that morning, "Remember, run the downhills...that's where you get fast in the mountains."  So I kept going at that pace and tried not to let myself break myself.  I was hoping that most of the people in front of me were doing the 10K, but at the split many of them turned onto the half marathon course.  Rats!

The first crazy hill hit at around mile 2.  It started going up and it just didn't stop.  And, it was steep.  I didn't dare look at my watch to see how slow I was running b/c it felt like I could have been going faster had I been crawling.  Finally, after a bunch of switchbacks, there was nice long downhill.  Well, actually it wasn't that nice because when you "run the downhills" they are actually tiring!

Miles 4-5.5 were relatively flat and I was hoping to gain some time here.  However I could tell my legs had taken a beating from that initial climb/downhill because they weren't springing back to full force.  In my mind I should have been running around 6:45 pace on that flat section, but in reality was actually running around 7:05 pace.  I didn't want to force myself to go faster b/c I knew there were more hard hills coming up.

Enter miles 5.5-7.  More crazy switchbacks into thinner air.  Around mile 8 or 9 there was a very long sustained climb.  I had a mile that clocked in at 7:45 pace.  I wasn't happy about this b/c it was a full minute off my desired goal pace.  But at that moment in time, it was just about putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward (and upward).  I reached the summit of that hill and decided to tear down the backside of the hill, clocking the next mile in 6:27.

Hurting big time!
I knew the last 2 miles would be mostly uphill and mentally clicked into gear to push through the pain.  I remembered listening to Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae speak at Revolution 3 Triathlon Quassy 70.3 a couple years ago after her win on a very hard course.  She said, "it's just pain."  With about 1-1.5 miles to go, I was delivered a little treat.  A carrot to be exact.  I was catching up to another woman!  This gave me a task to focus on for the last part of the race.  Within a half mile to the finish I barreled down a hill and noticed that I had gained significant time on her.  I kept using this strategy of running really hard down the hills, just hoping that my quads weren't going to give out!  This paid off because at the very last turn on the course, at the bottom of the very last hill I caught her!  There were only about 50 yards left in the race, all straight uphill.  I braced myself for an uphill sprint to the finish but when I passed her she didn't surge at all.  Fine by me.  I ran strongly up the finish chute (there was no way you could even think about walking this final hill b/c it was lined with spectators) to clutch 5th place overall for the women.

My total time was 1:34:25 (7:13/mile).  Not close to my PR (1:25:55) or to the goal pace I had in my head (6:45/mi), but still somewhat decent considering the difficulty of the course.  It was certainly a challenge and I was very happy to complete it!  I walked back to mile 11 where I met Kurt & ran with him to the finish.  It was amazing to see so many people tackling this course and refusing to give up!  Congrats to all finishers on a job well done!

Kurt & I spent the rest of the day indulging in the offerings of Asheville.  Yes, we basically ate and drank our way through the city.  We found some pretty cool micro breweries and even a place called The Chocolate Lounge where all they serve are desserts made out of chocolate.  YUM!  We didn't make it to the Biltmore, but hey I guess that gives us a good reason to come back next year and run this race again!  To quote the website, "If you're a runner, this is one to run!"

Glad to be done!


  1. I saw you getting your award at the race, but since I was not sure which one in the age group you were, I was reluctant to say hello. I also ran the race (and run with the WOL lite group), and choked on the hills all morning The only solace was winning my AG and beating a runner from Asheville! Looking forward to meeting you on Thursday morning and getting a diet in place for my Boston training this fall/winter!

  2. Congrats on your AG win! Way to represent us flat landers in the hills!!! I'm looking forward to Boston too. See ya at practice :-)