Celebrate Life Half Marathon- March 2016

The Celebrate Life Half Marathon is one of the hardest and best experiences that I have had at a race.  I could see myself running this race again in the future but I would prepare differently.

The good:

This race is well organized.  There is lots of parking.   It is an easy drive from upstate NY. It is cheap for a half marathon ($40-$65 depending on registration date) and there are plenty of reasonably priced chain hotels a few exits away.  You get a long-sleeved fleece with your registration.   The course is beautiful.  Great race volunteers and catered post race from Outback Steak House.  There was also baked ziti, potatoes, bread and an assortment of veggies for the non-steak eaters.  Some of the lines were long but they kept things moving.

Another great thing about this race is the inspirational and informative messages along the course.  This race benefits cancer research.  People can donate money to personalize a sign to encourage a specific runner or in memoriam for lost loved ones.  These encouraging signs are mixed in with cancer statistics.  Signs are placed in groups of a dozen or so along tough sections of the course.  These signs ranged from hilarious to heartbreaking, making them the perfect complement to the emotional roller coaster that long races can be.

The bad:

Like many races, this race offers early starts for walkers and slower runners.  There were three separate start times for this race.  Slower runners like this because they don’t have to worry about not finishing before the cutoff time or getting to the post race area and finding it depleted.  The staggered start also breaks up the field so that runners can settle into their pace without passing/being passed by as many runners.

The first 30 minutes was wonderful.  Around the 30 minute mark the fast runners from the regular start caught up with us average runners from the second start and the average runners caught up with the walkers from the early start.  This lead to some pretty crowded stretches of the course.  I ended up running faster than my normal pace because of all the fast runners that surrounded me.  It wasn’t something that I thought about.  I just got caught up in the crowd passing the walkers.

By the 10K mark I was 10 minutes ahead of my PR pace.  This was a huge problem for me.  I run most of my half marathons as three different races: an easy 10k, a moderate 5K and a hard 5K.  Being 10 minutes ahead of my normal pace would have made the 2nd half of the race harder but not impossible.  Running my fastest pace during the first half of the race was a disaster.

I backed off the pace but by the time I got to the 8 mile mark I was exhausted.  I wasn’t sure if I could finish the race.  My lungs hurt.  My legs and arms were shaky and I was famished.  I had never felt this way in the 24 halfs that I had run prior to this one.

When I finally made it to the finish line I didn’t have anything left.  If it weren’t for some friends at the finish line, who got me water while I sat and recovered, I would have fainted.  I continued to feel ill through the post race.  I was happy to be sitting and felt nauseated every time I stood up.  I did not eat a lot of the post race food because I didn’t have a lot of energy.

I am normally a very consistent runner.  I can maintain the same pace for 2-3 hours without being affected by runners around me.  There is something about the convergence of all the runners at once and the congestion on the course that pushed me off my pace.  Maybe other runners would not have this problem but I didn’t expect to either.

This is the second race that I have run on an open course through an affluent area.  The DC Diva’s Wine Country was the other one.  In both races, the locals were inconsiderate to runners.  People had to jump off the road or stop running to avoid being hit.  Cars flew around blind turns where runners only had a 1 foot shoulder to work with.  In both races a runner was hit by a car and sent to the hospital.  Either the roads need to be closed or the course re-directed to a more pedestrian friendly area.

This course is very hilly.  For runners who have completed the Mountain Goat, this course if much harder.  Multiple steep inclines and dramatic elevation changes on top of the open course and congested areas made parts of this race miserable.  They say rolling hills almost like a joke.  At least in Syracuse the race is called the Mountain Goat so you know what you’re getting into.  I would have done a lot more hill work prior to this race if I knew how grueling it would be.  After a while I just walked the steep hills because I wasn’t getting up the hill and faster than the walkers and I was exerting way too much energy.

Is it a terrible race?  No, but it could be better.  With better preparation I might have a different view.  For such a tough course there should be a better medal.  The money goes to a great cause and the people are friendly but that might not be enough to bring me back.

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