Race day started out with a 4am cinnamon raisin English muffin, PB, a banana, and some Powerade. Breakfast of champions, I’m telling ya. I put on my lucky purple shorts, braided my hair back, and was ready to go.
The marathon started at 7, but luckily Erik knows that being late, especially on race day, gives me anxiety. He was up, ready to run his relay leg, and out the door with me by shortly after 5. The start is only about 15 minutes from his house, and it was still early enough that we didn’t hit any traffic. We got to the start well before 6 and I had plenty of time to check my gear, use the port-o-pot, eat a yummy snack (aka Honey Stinger), and dance around the start and take pictures before anyone else was there.
Erik headed off to meet up with his relay team and I got settled. By 6:30 it was time to load the corrals and I lined myself up with the 3:30 pace group. The plan was to stick with the pack as long as possible.
Best case: I hung with them the whole race and finished in just under 3:30.
Back up plan: hang with the group as long as possible and if I had to drop try and still come in under 3:35 to hit my BQ.
The race went off on time, and since this race is a little smaller I was at the starting line within 30 seconds of the gun. It was nice not to have to wait around and then spend the first mile dodging and weaving around other runners.
The temperature was perfect at the start, in the 50s and nice and cool. It was a clear, beautiful day. The first couple miles were through downtown Akron and over a bridge with stunning views of the sun coming up.
The course is marked with a blue line, which is painted all through the city. Some runners in my group mentioned that they do training runs on the course by following the blue line. Definitely a cool feature of the race.
The first half of the race I felt comfortable right on 8:00/mile / 3:30:00 pace. There were some rolling hills, but the course was mainly flat and even had a nice long downhill around the point where the half marathoners split off.
Around the halfway point, the route goes through the Towpath. By this time, it had started warming up outside, but the trail was shady and cool. The gravel path was a nice break on my legs after pounding the pavement for the first half of the race. I was still right on pace and feeling comfortable as we started approaching the long, gradual hill at mile 17.5 that I’d been warned of. Around mile 16 I decided to drop my pace to 7:50s to get a few seconds under 3:30 banked before I hit the hills.
Turns out, I didn’t need to worry about slowing down and losing time on the hills. Pittsburgh, you trained me well. About halfway up the dreaded hill it dawned on me, that, well, I was halfway up the hill. Soon after, the course came out of the park and headed through some residential areas. It was great to see some spectators again and the energy picked up.
At this point, I realized I still was feeling good. I looked down at my watch and realized I’d picked up the pace to 7:30s. I was a little nervous that it was too early to start moving, but the pace just felt right, so I went with it and ran 7:30s to 7:40s. At mile 20 I saw Corinne and Konner cheering for me and got another burst of energy.
In the past, I’ve used different energy gels and always ended up with some stomach issues along the way. Honey Stingers are the first gels I’ve been able to take and digest without any problems at all. They’re pretty much just honey instead of a mix of artificial sweeteners that don’t agree with me.
The race passed through the Stan Hywet Hall grounds next before heading back out for the last few miles towards downtown. The course covered a lot of ground, surfaces, and neighborhoods which kept things interesting even in the later miles.
As I headed back out to the road and into the last 4 miles, it started to warm up and we were back in the sun. At this point, though, it was late enough in the race that it didn’t get to me. I knew I was in the last few miles and could start laying it all out on the course. I picked it up as the hills rolled into the home stretch. I hit mile 26 in a 7:08 split and entered Canal Park–an awesome way to finish.
I finished in 3:25:03, even better than expected, 1st in my age group, 12th female overall, and still feeling good enough to enjoy my 2 free beers at the finish line!
It was a perfect day, great course, exciting race, and almost an 8 minute PR. Plus, some pretty great race swag.
Erik ran his 7.5 mile relay leg in about 7:30 pace, so he had a great day too! I was definitely proud.
New PRs? Fall races coming up? What’s on your race schedule!?