Half Marathon

Short endurance races, half marathons are a great course-length to test your ability to run a modest, achievable distance. Whereas a full marathon pushes a typical runner past the point of exhaustion, requiring on-course fuelling, long-haul mindsets and perfect pacing plans, a halfer can be done with a bit of water and a “take yourself to the edge of you ability” approach. Run hard, run long. Run. I typically hit the two hour and change mark, but my crew is plus or minus 30 minutes on that pace.

Hypothermic Half (2020)

Distance
Race Status
When
4 days ago

something something crazy, something something repetition.

February 16, 2020

About 15 klicks into this morning's race I remembered why I never do this run.

The annual Hypothermic Half physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. You're facing down the elements, you're facing down a few months of winter break, you're facing down a grueling course that should be easier than it actually is given that it's just flat urban street even if it's covered in ice and chop-snow that is the texture somewhere between oatmeal and beach sand.

I had a strong first half. I think this was because I've been training a strong 10 klick base and cross-training. I think it also had something to do with the footing, which deteriorated into a brutally broken course after the first lap of halfers, then a full slate of 10 klick and 5 klick racers trudged into into chop.

The second half did me in. The mental game got me, telling myself that I had to hold it together and pondering how I lost 20 minutes of speed in a mere four months. You don't tend to think rationally mid-race, which is part of the challenge, shaping the run into instinct and a plan and just sticking to it all. Instead, you berate yourself for things that are obviously beyond your control: the conditions are meant to be hard, and if it was actually a cold-cold day, and not just a brisk -10 C with a slight breeze on the East arm of the loop, my extra twenty minutes over my last half could have easily been thirty or forty extra. Holding my "on a whim" with limited training first half of the long, long year to a mere 15% time increase was actually pretty respectable.

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#halfmarathon medal #hypothermichalf 2020

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I slogged thru to the finish, shivered myself to balanced while waiting for a few of the ladies to cross the line, and then we went for brunch.

When I got home I hung my medal and realized that this was at least the fifth time I've run the Hypothermic Half: two locations in 2015, 2016, 2018 and now 2020. Every time there has been a kind of test: a physical, mental, and emotional draining that happens that lends me the inclination to avoid this run in the future. One of those famous who-said-it quotes online is: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results ... and while it probably doesn't matter who said it to if it's true or not, I'm not sure where that leaves me.

...and then I picked up my race package

February 15, 2020 (1 day pre-race)

On my way home from work Friday as the long weekend kicked into gear. I walked across the high level bridge and up to the Running Room store to nab my packet and big and swag.

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#halfmarathon #packetpickup

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This was a race that used to be quasi-famous for its unique give-aways: a backpack for a few years in a row, a hydration pack last year. Not to mention the epic brunch at the finish line. It’s worth it for the bacon alone, everyone says. This year we got a purple toque and an insulated coffee mug. I don’t need another shirt, but I also don’t need an insulated coffee mug. Whatever. It’s about the run, right?

In my head this race is simultaneously a throwaway and a big deal.

I’ve been resting, on a break, cruising through a conditioning phase while I await the kickoff of my real training... and then here I am running a half marathon tomorrow. What the f? In my head I cross that start line in about 24 hours and Chicago training begins. I’m not going to crank distances or anything stupid this early, but my mind will mark a start and an end. The end is obvious, but this race, crossing that start line is the first step towards another marathon. My first big race of the year to my last big race of the year. If that makes any sense.

...and then the forecast narrowed in

February 14, 2020 (2 days pre-race)

Almost exactly 48 hours before the race and (tempted by Valentine's chocolates I'm not supposed to be eating!) the sun is bright, the forecast is chilly but mild and the long weekend is about to roll in with a full roster of activities and running.

Multiple people I know are vacationing or leaving on vacation shortly. My folks are posting pics from Cartagena where the temperatures are too hot to be out doing crazy things like half marathons and I only mention it because they are there for a family wedding and if we had been more inclined I may have been wandering around a Columbian beach this morning rather than trolling the Edmonton forecast for hopes of moderate temperatures for a long Sunday race.

...and then it snowed

February 12, 2020 (4 days pre-race)

I'm writing this from a bus, which is both a testimony to the robustness of this website's technology's efficacy from a mobile device but also a herald of the weather because the weather and roads were too stupidly icy to drive today.

They say it's a blip in the weather. It'll be great weather for the long weekend! They say a lot of things. But rash decisions have left me pondering the efficacy of medium term weather forecasting yet again.

Also... of the two other people I know who are running, one is currently sick with the flu and the other was having serious doubts about the race at our crew dinner last night.

We ran in the muck of it last night and after five klicks of pounding through ankle deep fresh snowbanks I was ready to plop into a comfy chair and forget that I owed the streets a lot more footfalls in 2020.

...and then I thought: maybe I'm crazy

February 11, 2020 (5 days pre-race)

I've told no one except my wife at this point. I can't explain the general secrecy motif I have going on. It's not like it's a big deal or anything, but I think I just want to show up with as few expectations as possible.

I've been re-reading all my old race reports, a consequence of spending time building out the initial phases of a site like this one, and there has been a theme running through my training over the years. I've become more and more casual about longer and longer races.

Back in 2012 a half marathon was a BFD. I trained. I fueled. I honed. I fretted and lost sleep.

By summer of 2019, I was wandering four hours through the streets of Dublin and drinking pints of Guinness an hour before crawling into bed and wandering over to the start line.

So right now I feel pretty casual about the half... but my anxiety has switched over to the full. I'm lightly freaking out about the full. I'm having second thoughts about the full -- which is now booked and non-refundable paid for so I'm running the full. A big part of me wants to move the needle on feeling more relaxed about the full and turning the half into just a thing I do on a whim feels like a step towards that.

So, I've booked it and told no one except my wife, and maybe I am crazy.

...and then it was a thing

February 10, 2020 (6 days pre-race)

Despite my better judgement, in a moment of weakness (or would you call that strength?) and having checked the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend I registered for the Edmonton Hypo Half. I said I wasn't gonna do it, and I swore I was on something of a training break, but I'm feeling pretty good with the cross training, and feeling pretty well-breaked with the six weeks of not-running-so-much, I kinda got in a what-the-hell kinda mood and just signed up. What else is there to say? Well, sometimes you just say yes, even when it's a dumb idea.

The last half marathon I ran was in October, in the Okanagan and it was a damn good run. Standing on the start line of the hypo in mid-February, it'll be almost four months to the day since that race. Different province, different season, different weather, different mood.

A few people I know are running, but I'm thinking I'm just gonna keep mum about this registration. If people find out, sure, I'll cop to it. But part of me wants (a) an out if the forecast lied and (b) a not-a-big-deal approach to this one.

Game on.

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Okanagan Half (2019)

Distance
Race Status
When
3 months 4 weeks ago

I ran my last half marathon of the year in October and a summer of training followed by an autumn of faster training netted me a pretty decent time.

About mid-month we packed up the new car and drove for twelve hours westward on Friday morning. It was planned. I had registered for the Okanagan Half Marathon in Kelowna, British Columbia, a beautiful little mountain valley city on the edge of a lake and tucked inside a microclimate that made it feel more like September than the nearly-winter chill back home.

I spent ten klicks chasing a loud couple of runners wearing full-length bacon body costumes, then left them behind to pursue my own pace. In the end, I crossed the finish line about a minute short of beating my PR (which I’d set in 2014) and instead settled for my best half time in five years.

One might attribute the new speed to some special training regimen or a dedicated focus. Rather, I think we’ve just been running faster. When the people you train with increase their easy pace by even just 5% it follows that you run faster all the time, and when a race happens… well, you don’t slow down.

My (personal) victory was short-lived and we (almost immediately, after a quick shower) hopped back in the car and drove twelve hours back to Alberta and home.

The snow the met us on the mountain pass was a prelude to the rest of the month of training, and I quickly settled back into a three-per-week run training schedule with little focus on a goal. Not registering for anything will do that to you.

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#oldracemedals

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Rock n Roll Dublin (2019)

Distance
Race Status
When
5 months 4 weeks ago

On the first day of August I woke up shortly before six in the morning, laced up my sneakers, walked down towards the pond near where the swans were still dozing, and started to run. I ran up along a narrow gravel trail, over a small grassy rise, along a small road, past a two hundred year old towering monument to the Scottish hero of lore, William Wallace, down into a slumbering neighbourhood, and plodded across an eight hundred year old stone footbridge, where (as legend would have) the Scots routed the British invaders in the 1300s in a battle made famous in the film Braveheart.

We spent three weeks in Scotland (staying near Stirling) and Ireland in the month of August, and my training continued in the wee hours before everyone else in the forty-seven member travelling group had bothered to get out of bed.

Two weeks in, I skipped out on the official tour, boarded a train, then a bus, then a RyanAir flight to Dublin. The next morning I was standing in Pheonix Park in shorts and crowd of a few thousands of Irish runners getting ready to run a speedy five klick race through the misty rain.

Almost exactly one day later (after a long and convoluted adventure to find my race pickup package, some art supplies, and a cold pint of Guinness) I was standing on a street in Dublin getting ready to run the Dublin Rock’n Roll Half Marathon.

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#rocknroll #dublin 2019 #startline #halfmarathon

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I wasn’t expecting to do too great. I mean, try travelling for over two weeks, sitting on planes and busses, and wandering up and down through tourist locations (which there are generally castles with narrow staircases leading up to vantages) and then do a race. Travel running is awesome, but expectations need to be kept low. When I pulled a three-year personal best out of my backside, in other words, I surprised even myself. It was a positive split, if I’m being completely honest, but filled with a kind of Irish spring in my step through the first eleven klicks, down cobbled roads, around castles and amazing old architecture, to the sounds of cheering crowds and loud music, it all kept be strong.

The Start Line

Then we hit Pheonix Park again, and the rolling hills killed me. But that’s how these things tend to go.

I returned to Canada with a neck laden with multiple bling medals and a few memories, too, and pretty much nothing else I did that month topped that weekend.

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#rocknroll #dublin 2019 #bling

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Rock n Roll San Francisco (2019)

Distance
Race Status
When
9 months 2 weeks ago

San Fransisco was a whim.

I mean, who doesn’t have “run across the Golden Gate Bridge“ on their bucket list? Or, at the very least, the flexibility to add it when six weeks before a race there a cheap flight is discovered online and karma aligns for a weekend getaway in California?

Early in April I found myself standing on a pier in San Francisco dressed in a pair of running shorts and technical shirt with a few thousands of other people, a light, drizzling west coast rain, and a half a loaf of fresh sourdough in in my belly. The Rock n’ Roll half marathon was queued up with an early morning course along the waterfront with a loopback over the bridge and a jut out for a selfie opportunity. My training had been dedicated enough but winter slog-running has a way of keeping one just-fit-enough to get through a race like this, and knowing I wasn’t going to set any personal records I opted to run it modestly and carry a camera. Ah-hem… bucket list? I finished with about fifteen extra minutes on the clock than my A-goal, and with a refresher on the lesson that ocean-front bridges are actually hella-big hills.

Race Footage

I ran with a GoPro Hero 6 and caught some footage along the course. Shaky, as expected, but enjoy for what it is.

The mini-vacation was far too short, but getting away even for a few days is a soul-cleanser. And we stuffed ourselves silly on sourdough and seafood and chocolate. It’s not that I don’t like running locally, but April became a bit of a flagpole in my mind for travel running and understanding one of the big three benefits I’ve gained from the sport:

  1. the people I’ve met
  2. the fitness I’ve gained, and
  3. the places it’s taken me

By the time we got back to Canada, spring was pushing full momentum (though as always the snow is a little stubborn) and I burned a lot of klicks (on foot) maintaining for two more races in May and (on wheeels) building for the tri I had scheduled for June. It was a good spring. I was hopeful for a good year. There was a good team around. Work was busy but not nutty. We were starting to trip over election signs while out running too, but local politics hadn’t quite gone off the rails yet.

The year was (mostly) still young.

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#oldracemedals

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Rock'n Roll Las Vegas (2018)

Distance
Race Status
When
1 year 3 months ago

Las Vegas was, believe it or not, a family vacation.

We connected with Jenn and family and planned a multi-week trip that started with a race and ended with a theme park. Vegas was not the first choice for a race, tho. Originally, we had been talking about a California adventure that included Disneyland and one of those great RunDisney races I'd done previously. But the RunDisney folks seemed to have dropped all plans to continue running through Anaheim.

Plan B was to fly to Vegas, run the Rock'n Roll down the strip, then drive over to California.

In the end, four of the crew made it to the start line: three halfers, and Ron opting for the Full.

Race Recap Video

I brought a GoPro along with me on this race, as I do with many "fun" runs. It's always a little shaky, but you get the point.

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#halfmarathon #startline #running #race

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First Responders Half (2018)

Distance
Race Status
When
1 year 9 months ago

“It was windy.” …was how I’ve described it to anyone and everyone who asked. In that reply, I suppose, is embedded the obvious conclusion that the wind was a factor in my result. Rather, and contrary to that bit of evidence, I would suggest that it just was windy. Not a windyness factor. Just, it was windy. The wind was blowing. Statement. Fact. Because the simpler truth is that such as statement is the nearest I’m able to come to conveying a simple relatable aspect of the race itself.

Rewind.

Since running New York Marathon in 2016 I’ve been wallowing in something slightly less relatable than a windy day: a slump. A trash fire of progress. A mid-life re-evaluation and re-focus.

Training for that NYC event took a lot out of me. I wouldn’t have thought it as I signed up for it, and it in and of itself neither the race nor the training was really the blame. I’ve tried since to avoid showing my slump. Failing. But trying. And truth be told, if honesty is actually worth anything, there is a span of time from August 2016 through January 2017, when, for about a thousand reasons — and yes, THAT reason and THOSE reasons and HUH reasons are mashed in there somewhere too — that caused my emotional life to go into something of a spin.

The reasons, in no particular order: Life. Family. Running. Hobbies. Friends. Hope. Fears. Running. Music. Work. Dog. Art. Passion. Pain. Food. Politics. And did I mention Running?

That New York race was the culmination of a summer of training, a passion-fueled, pain-driven prelude to this now-very-clearly demarcated transitory chunk of time in my life. It’s not a moment. It’s a span, but like a marathon a slog of epic proportions aligned with an effort of will and pain and self-doubt and resolve. It is a span from which I have only lately come to full grasp, realize, understand, process mentally, I’ve emerged as a fundamentally changed person. Reconcile that, huh?

And you thought you were just going to read about a half marathon here.

I’ve run training and run relays and run races since. Obviously. Those efforts were unanimously classic messes. Slow. Painful. Frustrating. Messes.

No one asks for change, and usually as it’s happening either through will or on accident or in a state of diverted misattention to the whirlwind of events that sweep through the universal story slog of life, one barely recognizes it as anything more than personal discomfort. Bad days. Moods. Slumps.

Then one middle of the night you wake, sit up in bed and realize that the guy who put his name into the NYC marathon lottery in early 2016, that guy, him, is this guy you don’t even recognize and that all the little pieces that make up all the days, and klicks, and spent calories since, all of that has nurtured a narrative that is so clearly incongruent with personal prognostications barely two years old that life seems a little more random with every sunrise.

Pause… and that temporally catches us up to an actual race report.

I trained for the First Responders Half with a sense of impending judgement. In 2015, I ran this same race and it was –still is– my best half marathon time. In a sport where one’s most particular foe is oneself, I could see my former self, the guy who ran three marathons, trained with a blissful, innocent passion, fighting the twilight of his thirties with indulgent rituals of technology and fantastic adventure interlaced between the layer of something so mundane as plodding on asphalt, I could see him effortlessly sprinting past current-day me as I fought a year and a half of wallowing, trash-fire, slump.

I don’t bother to share these disjointed thoughts with the people around me, of course. It was just another race, after all. Just another half marathon. No one was going to get kicked out of run club for not breaking two hours, we joked. The stakes are a mass-produced medal-on-a-ribbon and a free banana, right?

The day prior I rested. I hydrated. I chilled. I re-evaluated my list of weekend chores and instead avoided anything that might wrench my back or aggravate the lingering blister on my toe.

I was awake at 5am. It was just another race, but in my head every race is a moment of clarity, a couple hours of transitory motion that puts a runner into limbo between starting and finishing, measuring every step as a crystal-clear evaluation of every other step that has preceded it.

I may have said something like “regret is a thing you only have when you don’t like where you are.” After all, if you are happy in the moment, happy in the place where you find yourself, how can you regret the path that’s brought you to that place and time.

Even if that path is a slump.

I plodded my way through the race, navigating great conversation, meticulous training, pounding through the busy paths, bracing against the wind, and shivering to the slight chill caused by an optimistic wardrobe. Then I broke away. I pushed a pair of white earbuds into the side of my sweaty head for the last eight klicks, finding myself solo against the final hills, the final miles, the final bracing push of the ticking clock, while upbeat rhythms pounded in my ears, and still full stride towards a finish line I sprinted across in one final heave.

Changed. Another race, another different person on the other side of a simple line on a road. This new guy no longer the guy in a running slump, but having finished a race confidently and at speed, negtive split, and medal well-won hung on my shoulders.

Running has long materialized itself in my heart as a powerful metaphor for life. Transformational. Indulgent. Cataclysmic. Meditative. A rolling narrative of people and effort and goals and accomplishments and failures and epic success. Then one middle of the night you wake, sit up in bed and realize that the guy who has been running in laps and loops and in plodding neighbourhood circles actually seems to have gotten himself somewhere. And you can either accept that fact… or you can look back at the start line and question everything.

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