Last year I left this race thinking I’d never run it again because of the freezing temperatures and the rolling hills, but to be honest, it grew on me. I don’t know if it’s because this race was a zero-pressure run last year or because of the large medal and great after party, but I didn’t hesitate to register when the time came. I talked my friend Phil into registering as well; his first half marathon.
I at first had big goals for this year. My current HM PR (2:03:15) hovers right over 2 hours and I thought maybe if I put in the work, I could break that barrier. Well, as the winter progressed, my running did not. I just didn’t want to run so I didn’t. Or I should say, I didn’t run enough to get me sub-2 hours, which I was 100% okay with. So my new goal was to have fun and cross the finish line; regardless of my time, I’d still score another sweet medal and quarter-zip shirt.
Saturday afternoon Phil and I carpooled out to Syracuse with Jen and once again checked into the Crowne Plaza. It’s walking distance from the start/finish line which I love because there’s no rush. Jen had found a great vegan place, Strong Hearts Cafe, that was right next door to the hotel and perfect for pre-race fuel! I didn’t take any photos of the food (in fact, I barely took any photos this weekend) but I got the BBQ tempeh sandwich with chips and a side salad with kombucha. It hit the spot but all I could think about was returning the next day for a post-race milkshake! More on that later…
We were snuggled in early and I fell asleep to Phil watching the Syracuse game… and was up at 5AM to hit the bathroom. I think we were all up at this hour, but still quiet, waiting for my 6:30AM alarm… which never went off. We were all up, checking our phones for a weather update. Funny note: this race was pushed forward two weeks because they wanted to avoid last year’s frigid temps. Well, it had snowed overnight and wind gusts up to 50mph were predicted for race day! In true Jona fashion I tried not to think of this and didn’t come prepared; I had packed only 1 long sleeved shirt and a vest! Oiy. Thank goodness for the quarter-zip they gave us at the expo, otherwise I would have been shopping for a last minute wind breaker.
We took our time getting ready and walked over to the start around 7:30AM. Immediately when we stepped outside, I think we all panicked a little on the inside because the wind was so bad. I wished I had a neck warmer and Phil wanted his sun glasses. We didn’t turn around and made our way to the start.
(Photographs courtesy of Jen) It was cold. Our feet were wet and I couldn’t feel my toes. But the sun was KINDA shining and I just thought, “just cross the finish line, no rush.” The three of us took off with hopes of sticking it out together and for the first mile or so we did.
Miles 1-2: I was a little nervous because of how cold my toes were and I didn’t know if I’d be able to run for 2+ hours on them. For every step someone around me took, my feet and legs were splashed with the slush. It was not pretty and it was slippery. I tried to find a groove fully knowing what was to come: the big ass hill! It seemed to last a longer than what I remembered, probably because I hadn’t trained on hills this winter, but I refused to walk up the first hill. And I didn’t. By the time we reached the top and hit the first mile marker, I saw Phil take off and I refused to lose Jen like I had last year. Going downhill I saw our pace drop and I backed off because I wanted to have gas in the tank later on. (10:34, 10:11)
Miles 3-5: By this time I had every intention to count every hill we ran up but I got distracted pretty easily. I didn’t dread every hill this year, I think because I recognized the course and knew what to expect, and felt pretty good. I was warming up and dreaded wearing two long-sleeved shirts for another almost two hours and around this time Jen made the comment, “it’s not as bad as I was expecting.” And then it happened.
Just like that it got so dark and grey out and when I picked my head up quickly (we were all fixated on the road due to the conditions i.e. slush, puddles) to see what was up ahead, I couldn’t see anything. There was just simply nothing to see: it was a white out. We obviously had no choice but to run into it and that’s when the fun began. The roads were instantly covered in snow and it began to hail. And it stung like hell! Our faces were all cold from the wind and those little balls of ice were bouncing everywhere! After about a half mile or so I got use to it, laughing as Jen attempted a video, but it surely was bizarre and like nothing I have ever ran in. (9:53, 9:52, 10:10)
Miles 6-8: I don’t remember much about these miles to be honest, I was very much so in my head. I don’t know when it had happened but I pulled away from Jen while in this zone, probably because there were a bunch of hills and I felt strong and maintained my pace up them (which was tricky because of the lack of traction). It was cold and the wind was brutal in this section. I remember having to pull the ice off of my eyebrows, eye lashes and my right cheek, and noticed my pants were covered in a crunchy layer of frozen snow. I took a couple sips of water here and there and took a second blok at mile 8. Slow and steady down the hills, I didn’t want to slip and fall. (10:21, 10:13, 10:19)
Miles 9-13.1: I’m going to lump these miles together because in my head, they went extremely fast. I remember hitting mile 9 and thinking, “just two more miles and then it’s just a 5k until the finish!” That thought alone made me smile! I was truly happy with that news! It continued to snow, I remember running on patches of packed snow as slippery as ice but I kept thinking, “I feel pretty good!” Of course my pace was much slower than what I had trained at and it was cold out, but breaks in the clouds started to melt the ice on my face/head/legs and I was passing people. The last two miles were new, and I liked it, flat and fast to the finish. I cruised thru the finish smiling and almost immediately was reunited with Phil. (10:07, 10:29, 10:15, 10:34, 10:08,)
Post race: Phil had ran 1:58! I was shocked and happy that he had done what we had originally set out to do months ago, despite the conditions for his first half marathon. We got our medals and went inside to grab some chocolate milk and a peanut butter covered bagel. So good! They really do have the best after party. Neither Phil or I had our cell phones, so we planned on walking back to the hotel to find Jen… but found her just as we were leaving! The walk back was freezing but oh the hot showers were amazing!
We eventually made our way over to the Empire Brewery to meet Jen’s cousin and friends. I enjoyed a couple glasses of raspberry cider, which tasted like champagne may I add, not a bad thing at all after a half like that! And an order of the tofu-veggies fajitas and a side of sweet potato fries – yum! But really, all I wanted was a milkshake! So we stopped on our way back home: a butterfinger milkshake at last! I got the recipe and fully intend on making these post long-runs all summer long.
The Syracuse Half 2016 will definitely be a race I’ll never forget. And most likely never run again, ha! Check out some coverage of the race via Runner’s World, including a short video clip of the conditions here.