Am I the only one who feels like the day after a big race is sort of like the day after Christmas? I always feel a little sad that it’s over, and not quite sure what to do with myself… But, I am happy to spend some time writing about yesterday’s race, the 2017 Wineglass Half Marathon, which turned out to be a great experience overall and, shockingly, a new half marathon PR for me!
Matt and I drove from Maryland to Corning, NY (where the race is held) Saturday morning with both kids. For those not familiar with the Wineglass Marathon and Half Marathon, both races are point-to-point – the half marathon, which starts in Campbell, NY, is the second half of the full marathon, which starts in Bath – and both finish in the historic district in Corning. We decided to stay in Corning, since that’s where the race expo, finish line, and several of the weekend race festivities are located.
Corning is a very quaint little town folded into the mountains, and we had fun exploring it a bit. One of my favorite things about racing is having the opportunity to explore places I might otherwise never think to visit, and Corning did not disappoint.
The race expo was held in the Corning Museum of Glass. I’m not especially big on race expos, and I didn’t need to pick up any additional gear, so we didn’t spend much time there (which was just as well, because the expo is somewhat jammed into a small part of the museum, and hard to get in and out of with so many people there).
However, we did buy admission to the museum and I would highly recommend it for anyone who runs this race or happens to visit Corning. The museum isn’t huge or overwhelming – you can definitely see everything there in one trip – but offers a lot of interesting demonstrations and very unique exhibits. Though a museum full of glass probably sounds like every parents’ worst nightmare, I think it’s a nice family outing for kids who are elementary age or older (or babies, like Brooke, who can’t run around and knock over large glass displays just yet). Trace especially liked the museum and has asked me several times when we can go back 🙂
After visiting the museum, we went back to our hotel room to rest a bit (tip: try to book a hotel within walking distance of the historic district – it is SO worth it!) and then ventured out to drive the race course while Brooke napped in the car and Trace played on the iPad. The half marathon course weaves through backroads that go through small communities and stretches of mountain countryside, and is really very pretty. I was glad that we drove the course Saturday evening – the sun had come out after a cloudy morning, and the mountains were especially pretty in the late afternoon. Considering that race day weather was frigid and dreary, I was glad to have had the opportunity to see the area in the sunlight.
Since driving the course landed us right back in the historic area, we decided to walk around and try to find a place to have dinner. My usual pre-race dinner is spaghetti, so we searched for a family-friendly Italian restaurant in the historic area. Unfortunately, in such a small town, the race weekend crowds resulted in long waits at most of the restaurants for dinner, and most of the “Italian” restaurants in the town are just pizzerias. Luckily, we stumbled upon Cugini Italian Market & Cafe, which was offering special runner-friendly dinners (lasagna, spaghetti, etc.) and didn’t have a wait to get a table. Although it took awhile for our dinner to come out, the servers were especially friendly and polite, and the warm Italian bread, spaghetti and meatballs were perfect once they arrived. I probably could’ve eaten two loaves of their bread – it was just SO good.
By the time we finished eating, it was getting late, we were all pretty exhausted, and we decided to head back to the hotel. I wish we’d had more time to explore the town and the surrounding areas – if I run this race again (and there’s a decent chance of that, because I really enjoyed it), I would definitely plan a longer weekend there.
The Starting Line
The Wineglass Half was scheduled to start at 7:45AM Sunday morning. From Corning, runners take buses to the start line, with the last bus scheduled to leave at 6:30AM. However, they seemed to be trying a new method of boarding runners onto the buses this year (at least, according to another runner I talked to in the bus line who had run the race for the past three years), which involved lining people up in long rows as they showed up and then boarding each row onto a bus. While in principle this might’ve worked (maybe if they had roped off the rows and counted the number of people in each row), it really ended up being quite chaotic, with people who had arrived much later than others getting to board first, too many people in each row, and just general confusion. I arrived at the bus area around 6:00AM and didn’t board a bus until almost 6:30AM, and there were still a lot of runners waiting when we deparated.
The bus ride to the starting line is about fifteen minutes long, and the atmosphere is really very friendly and upbeat – I’ve done several races where you have to take a bus to a start line, but only during the Wineglass Half have I had multiple people strike up conversations with me before, during, and after the ride, and seem genuinely interested in what we talked about.
In fact, I’d have to say that Wineglass is probably the race with the friendliest people that I’ve ever run – everyone we met that weekend was just really, really nice.
The half marathon begins near Campbell-Savona High School, and runners gather before the start of the race at the high school to use the bathrooms, drop off gear, and get ready to run. On this particular morning, everyone was also cramming inside the high school because it was so cold – at the start of the race, it was cloudy and foggy with the temperature hovering around 38 degrees, which was quite a difference from the almost 90-degree weather much of the East Coast had dealt with in the week leading up to the race!
Around 7:15AM, the race organizers began asking everyone to move toward the starting line, which is about a quarter mile up the road from the high school. Another new feature of this year’s race was a slightly staggered start (apparently, in previous years, all of the half marathoners started at the same time, which led to quite a bit of congestion for the first few miles of the course), with those runners aiming for sub-2:00 times starting a few minutes ahead of the rest of the group. I positioned myself near the 2:10 pacer, turned up the volume on my headphones, and got ready to run.
As I mentioned in my pre-race post, my “shoot for the stars” goal for this race was to finish below 2:05, with my more realistic goal to finish around 2:10. In training for this race, I used Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 Half Marathon program with the intention of simply getting myself back in shape enough to cover the 13.1 miles and make it across the finish line in an upright position. My time goals were based off of my pre-pregnancy half-marathon times and my long runs during this training cycle.
The course itself is a great half marathon run. It has some slightly rolling hills going up over railroad tracks, small bridges, and little mountain roads, but is overall a net downhill elevation course. You can feel this slight downhill pull on parts of the course that appear flat, which definitely helps you move along faster, but much of what you gain there is counterbalanced by the mild hills on other parts of the course. If you’re like me, and you enjoy scenic races in a country setting, the Wineglass Half is definitely a must-do race.
My strategy for the race was to run first by feel, and then by pace. Since the pace of my training long runs had been all over the place, I didn’t have a good sense of exactly what pace would feel right on race day. For the first mile, I went out at a steady, comfortable pace that I felt I could hold for the full 13.1 miles – this ended up being a 9:31 mile, which was exactly where I thought I would be for the rest of the race, and would’ve landed me at the upper end of my realistic goal time. So for the second mile, I decided to just continue running at this same pace, which felt strong, steady, and “bright.”
When my Garmin buzzed after I finished mile two, it showed my pace as 9:18. “A little fast,” I thought, but decided to just keep myself going at this pace, since it still felt good. The first few miles of the race weave through some back roads which are quite scenic, even on a gray, cold morning, and I felt very much in the zone, listening to my music and enjoying being back in an actual race environment again. Though I had rehearsed and memorized my fueling strategy before the race, I got caught up in the excitement of actually being in a race and ended up taking my first Huma gel just past mile two instead of mile four, which was when I intended to take it. Fortunately, this didn’t seem to have a negative impact on my performance, so I chalked it up to race jitters getting the better of me.
After the second mile, I felt like I really settled into a comfortable pace, but got a bit panicked after mile three when my watch buzzed and I saw my pace had dropped to 9:07. This was much faster than I’d intended to run, and I got worried about not having enough fuel in the tank to finish the race. But…I was feeling really strong, and although the time on my watch suggested I was going too fast, I decided to keep on with this pace because it felt just right. And, to my surprise, this is about where my pace would stay for the remainder of the race.
It occurred to me around the middle of the race that if I kept moving at my current pace, there was a small chance I could pull off a sub-2:00 half. Yet I also didn’t want to entertain this idea, psych myself out, start running faster than what felt right, and end up bonking. And, as anyone who has run a half marathon knows, the pace that feels good at mile five or six can feel suicidal at mile eleven or twelve.
Sure enough, I started to wear down quickly between miles nine and ten. I decided to take a little bit off my pace to make sure I had enough left in the tank to get across the finish line, and you can see the upward tick in my splits at this point in the race. I took my second Huma gel around this time, which gave me a burst of energy that powered me through mile ten. However, I was really starting to feel my body breaking down at this point in the race. To be honest, in the eighteen months since I last truly “raced” a half marathon, I completely forgot just how painful those last few miles can be.
Nonetheless, as I entered the last 5K, I could see that I was still somehow on track to possibly finish below 2:00 if I could just keep my pace steady. This was essentially how I got myself through the last three miles of the race, and was really the key to making it across the finish line before hitting the 2:00 mark – I decided that it didn’t matter how far under 2:00 I was, as long as I made it across the finish line by 1:59:59. This allowed me to race smart, rather than push too hard, in order to reach my goal. In the New Jersey Half Marathon, for which I’d trained to break 2:00, I got too excited in the last 2-3 miles, started my final kick too soon, and didn’t have enough left in me to push across the finish line before hitting the 2:00 mark. Having learned from this experience, I knew I just needed to not panic and stay steady in the last 5K in order to break 2:00.
This turned out to be a bit harder than I imagined, particularly in mile twelve. I was fading very fast at this point, and watched as other runners that I had been pacing through much of the race began to pull ahead of me. As I rounded the final turn of the race onto Market Street, I could see the “Finish Line” banner at the other end of the street. Checking my watch, I saw that I had a little less than four minutes to get there and make it under 2:00. Somehow, I was able to push through the pain and doubt, and got myself across the finish line with a chip time of 1:59:32.
And, remember how I said this was the friendliest race I’ve ever run? An older gentleman that I had been pacing through much of the race actually came up to me as we were in the finish line chute and congratulated me on my “great” race, confessing that he had been pacing me for most of it because I had been so “steady.” I’m not sure who he is, but he certainly made my day even better 🙂
The Finish Line
Even now, I’m still not quite sure how I was able to achieve a sub-2:00 half marathon with the amount of training I completed, and in my first race back after giving birth to Brooke in March. There are a number of factors that I think played roles in varying degrees, and the combination of these factors essentially resulted in the “stars aligning” just right for me to achieve this goal. I truly believe that most PR races require some alignment of the stars – there are just so many variables that affect how we run that any of them being significantly “off” can cause us to have a horrible race, even when training has gone perfectly. And on the flip side, when all of the variables are exactly as they need to be, you can end up with an unexpected PR.
We didn’t hang around for long after the race. Given the five-hour drive ahead of us, it was best to get on the road and make it back home before it was time to put the kids to bed. Unfortunately, we had to miss some of the fun post-race events, but I’m hoping we’ll be back again for the Wineglass Half (or Full…?) in the future, because there’s really very little about this race not to love. Even without my PR, the race, the location, and the entire experience were wonderful.
Have you ever PR’ed unexpectedly?
Have you run the Wineglass Half or Full, or are you thinking about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the race!
Happy Running! ~Sara