Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon: Race Report

The name of his race does not lie, the hills of Newton to induce absolute heart break. What’s missing? The plural, because it certainly caused multiple Heartbreaks for me, as well as most of the 500 person field of runners over the challenging 13.1 mile course of the Heartbreak Hill Half.

The day didn’t start out with heartbreak though. I woke up at 6am and despite not getting the best night of sleep in my life, I popped right out of bed. I went straight to the kitchen and put on the coffee, mostly for my boyfriend who was playing chauffeur and cheerleader and is not exactly a morning person. After getting everything in order, we were off and on our way to Newton. The drive from my apartment was relatively quick, but we were cutting it a little close, so of course I was stressed about timing. Luckily we found a parking spot immediately, and I jetted off to find the closest bathroom. In order to make it there in time I ran over to minimize time anxiety and get a little warm up run in. I was in and out within a few minutes and I was running back to the start line. On my way there I ran into my boyfriend, who was waiting patiently for me and told me he saw my coworker, Melisa, who was running her first half marathon. I was bummed that I missed her, but all I could focus on was running 13.1 miles, EEK! I gave him a kiss and ran on my way to the start line. After a few moments of waiting around the gun went off and I was over the start line within seconds.

Here we go!

I knew the course was going to be challenging, so I decided to go out conservatively and try to keep an even pace throughout the race. When I saw the elevation chart I threw out the notion of getting closer to my PR (1:50), and just tried to settle into a pace. I was holding back, but I felt like everyone around me was absolutely flying by me. I told myself they were newbies, or didn’t know the extent of the elevation on this course. Immediately the course started punishing my legs, and since this was and out and back course, I realized that a hill at the first mile was the killer hill at mile 12 that everyone said to save a little gas in the tank. CRAP. I continued on, focusing more of my thoughts on an efficient stride and body position. The course was rolling for the next few miles before it leveled out (somewhat) for about a mile to a mile and a half. The rest of the course, however, was more rolling hills and mountains to climb. UGH.

Somewhere around mile 3, already feeling fatigued

I was able to get through the first 5 miles of the course without many problems, but by the time I reached Heartbreak my legs were completely gassed. As I looked up the historic hill at which many marathons are won and lost, I whined to myself for a half second and then put my head down and trudged on. After a few minutes I stopped and walked, my legs were so tight and exhausted that I needed the break. Not surprisingly, this started a bad habit for the rest of the race. I started running after a quick walk and ran until the gigantic hill located at the halfway point of the race. I thought to myself, “Well, here it is, FINALLY”. I was exhausted just looking at it, but it actually gave me a sense of relief that it was no longer something to fear. I ran to the top of the hill and started walking again, ICK. I was walking along when an older man that I saw earlier in the race run up to me and say “come on yellow shirt, let’s go!”, he even went as far to grab my arm and pull me along. Some people absolutely hate this, but I couldn’t get enough. Maybe I have a secret sign on my forehead that reads “glutton for punishment. I chatted with him a little bit about my lack of hill training and then as soon as we started down the hill I lost him. Older guy in the grey shirt, THANK YOU for getting me through that horrific hill!

Then, I made my way back down heartbreak, hooray for downhills! I was coasting along when I saw my coworker Melisa in the distance. She was all smiles and I ran up and gave her a hug, she looked great! What an awesome attitude for such a killer first half marathon. Her great attitude definitely helped propel me through the next 15 minutes of the race! The rest of heartbreak was a nice break from the rolling hills, but the downhills were rough on my battered legs. When we crossed from Heartbreak to the winding neighborhoods my heart sank. This course was not only a test of your running ability, but a test of will.

The rest of the race was a blur. I felt waves of depression, exhaustion and sheer determination to finish this race and put it in the books. Around mile 10 I misread the mile marker and thought I was on mile 11, which I learned was not the case when I reached the mile 11 marker, UGH. The saving grace was seeing my boyfriend around mile 11, where I told him about my mishap, how hard the race was and thanked him for the bottle of water he had waiting for me. Attempting to harness this lift in my spirits, I gave him a kiss and went on my way. I felt as if the rest of the race went on forever, though I attempted to just keep my head down and run. When we finally turned the corner to Newton South High School I almost cried out of sheer joy “oh sweet Jesus, THANK YOU!” I turned up the intensity with whatever energy I had left and pushed on to the finish. The minute I crossed the finish line I let out a huge sigh of relief, IT’S OVER!! My time, which is over 15 minutes off my best, could not have meant less at that moment. After I got my medal, some water and met up with my boyfriend we went out to the road to see if we could find my coworker Melisa. Her goal was to finish under 2:45, so I knew she was a ways away from finishing, but I decided to get out there and cheer anyways. All of the runners had a look of pain and elation as they headed for the finish line, I was happy to see I wasn’t being over dramatic, the race was really THAT hard. Rob even told me that every finisher was complaining about the elevation, thank goodness I’m not THAT big of a wuss. After about 25 minutes we gave up, and went back to Rob’s car. Right before we got there we were chased down by Rob’s friend Lauren from college who also ran the race. We talked a bit about the course and snapped a picture before we went off on our way:

Victorious!

So, lesson learned from this half marathon? ALWAYS check the elevation chart of a race and train accordingly! Even though I changed up my training with including speed work, gentle pickups and tempo runs, that wasn’t enough. Hill raining can simply can not be neglected and I dropped the ball, big time.

Will I do this race again? Doubtful. Was it a good experience? Yes. The race directors and volunteers did a fantastic job keeping everyone on track and motivated. I would have loved more spectators, but I knew this course wasn’t going to offer much in that department, so I was ok with it. All in all, it was a difficult day and I’m happy I ran the race. It’s given me a chance to kickstart my training for the Chicago Marathon, an excuse to focus on my diet, experiment with different cross training elements and trim down. It was a challenge, but what fun is running if you never have a challenge?