One of the remaining road races on the 2017 PA USATF circuit was the Clarksburg Country Run Half Marathon, a good two+ hour drive from San Jose, and not coincidentally, its timing aligned pretty perfectly with CIM training (three weeks out). My plan was to run the half and use it as some sort of assessment tool in advance of CIM, but life — as it often does — had other plans.
I’ll save the details for another time, but coming into Clarksburg, I felt like I had a lot on my plate and was carrying a lot of bodily stress, for lack of a better term. I’m not injured, nor am I dying, but I had some less-than-desirable results come back from my annual physical that subsequently have created an onslaught of additional follow-up tests. It’s probably nothing, but I’m letting the medical professionals make that diagnosis, not me. It’s scary and a little unnerving, but I’m trying to not get too far ahead of myself.
More than anything, I’ve felt pretty knackered during this marathon training cycle, so my goals and expectations for Clarksburg were minimal. My Clarksburg goal was to get in a solid, supported long run and just to do the best I could on the day. Oh, and historically speaking, half marathons in the thick of marathon training are torturous for me. More often than not, my GI goes to shit (literally); I’m sufficiently whipped from training that I can’t do much better than GMP, if I’m lucky; or some other stupid variable pops up that throws things awry. Since moving to California nearly four years ago, I can think of two half marathons that I’ve run where more things went well than wrong. Half marathons are like a wicked Achilles for me.
Come race morning, I carpooled up north with Lisa (who wasn’t running, as she had just totally rocked NYC the week before) and three of my other teammates, Oscar, Jeff, and Greg. I’d be the only female Wolfpack harrier racing that day, and those guys, plus Tony, Ray, and Mark, would comprise a full male team for us. I overslept my alarm but had luckily woken up with just enough time to get ready — I had just hosted a sleepover for 10 of my first-grade Daisies the night before, so it’s no surprise I slept so deeply Saturday night — and once we got to Clarksburg, it was like we were in a different era: think super small town USA. In one block, I think we passed the town’s elementary school, post office, library, middle school, and high school.
The race featured other distances as well — a 20 miler (which many people training for CIM, who weren’t racing the half, often do), a kids’ run, and a 5k and 10k. It was a “California crisp” morning — maybe about 40 degrees when we got there to warm-up — and the temps were what you dream of during the hot summer months: a little cool just to be milling around outside but just perfect for running and racing. My teammates and I easily got our bibs, and before too long, Lisa and I set out for a 2 mile warm-up, where we talked strategy, goals, the course, and the like. Running into Jess and Chris — both doing 20 — was a nice bonus.
As the “Country Run” part of its name suggests, Clarksburg really is a run through the flat countrysides; that’s an accurate race title if there ever were one. There’s not much on either side of the roads you run, save for a winery, a farm, or an open field. The half’s topography was fairly pancake flat, and the course itself was pretty straightforward with just a couple OABs. Each distance started at different times, too, which was a smart way to alleviate potential congestion. As I was finishing my cool-down, I ran into Robin, who was there with a slew of her Impala teammates, all doing the half that morning in prep for CIM. It was wonderful to see her (always is) and to talk about what we wanted to do that day, how we were feeling about our CIM training, and to otherwise talk shop for a bit. Before too long, we were off.
My initial plan was to conservatively begin around 7:15s/7:20s for the first 4 or so miles and then begin to cut down and get closer to HM pace, somewhere in the low 7s or 6:50s. I felt pretty well the first three or four miles and was hitting the prescribed paces fairly well — and chatting with the other Impalas and other runners around me — but as early as mile five, I could tell that things were going to head south; I just knew. Feeling pretty poorly that early in a half marathon kinda (really) sucks, so instead of wallowing, I switched my watchface to show the time of day and decided to run purely on feel for the remainder of the race. Truth be told, when I’m training — and often even during races — I rarely look at my watch (and infrequently see my splits), but I had convinced myself that symbolically (and literally) switching my focus would help me stay out of my head for the next eight miles. I could choose to be pissy and wallow in I can’t hold 7:teens, much less drop down to 7-flats or 6:50s for the next 8 miles, or I could flip my perspective and focus on running as evenly and smoothly as possible, despite feeling pretty sub-par. The rest of the race became less a pity party and more of a game.
Clarksburg treated us to a beautiful, autumn morning, and the few times I saw my teammates on the OABs, I felt totally inspired by their energy and effort. Somewhere on course, as we changed directions, it felt like we began running into wind tunnel — no doubt exacerbated by my already not feeling great — and I tried to hang near other (taller) runners, again more for the mental game than anything else. By about mile 8 or so, Robin caught up to me, and we had a good time bemoaning the state of our races going less than desirably and running’s general mercurial nature. Together we cheered for our teammates as we approached them on the OABs, and I tried to hang with her as long as possible. By about mile 9, though, my good ol’ stomach was sending me an SOS, so I began to hang back in search of a safe place to drop trou. Like I said, HMs seem to wreak havoc on my GI — and no doubt, being at a sleepover the night/day before and eating stuff outside my usual food repertoire, and being off my colitis medicine for a week-plus because of the aforementioned health issues all didn’t help my case much — but luckily, I was able to quickly get in and out of a porta-potty around mile 10 or 11 and only lose about 70 seconds in the process. I am nothing if not efficient.
It’s pretty disappointing to be so close to the finish line (relatively speaking) and have to stop, but when it comes down to either shitting myself or losing time (in a race where nothing is on the line but my pride), I, uh, yeah. I’m gonna spare myself that indignity if I can help it. The good news is that while I still felt pretty knackered, I felt a lot better (understandably!), so I tried to finish the last two miles as strongly as I could and tried to pick people off until the very end. I hadn’t been clock-watching at all the whole race, but I figured that I’d be pretty close to a 1:40 and wanted to try to sneak in under that. Mission accomplished: 1:39:11.
It’s hard not to be disappointed when shit happens (literally, figuratively, whatevs) in races, but it’s part of the game. Every day isn’t going to yield a PR, life-changing performance, and expecting otherwise will set you up to be enormously saddened (or angered) more often than not. I ran a slow-for-me half marathon, but FFS, I still just ran a half marathon for the fun of it, not because anyone was forcing me to, or because it was going to pay my mortgage, or anything like that. I did it because I could, because I wanted to help my team, and because it’s fun, even when it’s not. I’m grateful to be able to do this stuff at all, and I don’t lose sight of that. Sometimes running/racing is great. Other times, it sucks. It’s part of the process.
By the time everything was said and done, it was a 17-mile day (2 warm-up, 2 cool-down) and a fun morning with my teammates. It was awesome to have Lisa out biking and cheering for us and to celebrate my teammates’ performances, including Greg, who had run his first half ever. The race gave a big post-race spread (none of which appealed to me, unfortunately; it takes me a while to warm-up to food after racing or hard efforts), and soon enough, we were on the road again back to the Bay Area.
If you’re in the market for a flat and fast half, Clarksburg is an excellent option. The aid stations are about every two miles and are well-supported, and if you’re in the throes of CIM training, the timing of the race really couldn’t be better. Alternatively, if you want longer (20) or shorter distances (5k, 10k, kids’ race), the race can help you out there, too. It doesn’t offer much in the way of crowds or scenery — you’re running through a pretty rural area — but if you enjoy quiet, distraction-free running, it’d be an excellent match. My race wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I still had a good experience and would recommend it.
And with that, we inch ever-closer to CIM.