City of Roses

I didn’t train for the City of Roses Half Marathon in Cape Girardeau. I put in some work and felt like I was in decent shape. But still, I had not trained for the distance or the course. I like to support the local running community and this race normally falls right after the Trail of Tears Triathlon, my last tri of the season. For me this race would be a bit of a fitness test, plus a starting point for running season. Shorter days and cooler temperatures make it easier for me to choose running over cycling.

It had been seven months since my last half marathon and the mileage of most of my runs since then had been single-digit. Two weeks prior to the race I ran nine miles with some hills at a decent pace. So, I felt confident that I could complete the distance and gave myself permission to walk as necessary. Take it easy, no pressure from expectations, just enjoy the run.

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Preparing to Run

Overnight temperatures did not dip below 70 degrees which had me making last-minute decisions regarding which shirt to wear. I noticed a slight rub under my arm from the singlet and thought that wouldn’t be good for thirteen miles. A sleeveless Dri-Fit that I’ve worn for a couple years was the next choice. Liberal doses of anti-chafe were applied to susceptible body parts and I was ready for the short drive to the race.

Pre-race preparations, from registration to fueling and hydration plans were all on target. A toasted English muffin with almond butter and jelly is my go-to nutrition for training and was easy to prepare at home before the run. A small thermos of Dynamite Coffee, Guatemalan, fresh-brewed at home, provided a tasty pre-race beverage for the caffeinated athlete.

There was ample time at the race site to warm up, chat with friends and double check gear before the 7:00 AM start. I felt relaxed and ready to have a nice morning run with about a hundred other people. Three years earlier I ran City of Roses as my third half-marathon and finished in 2:03:34. This year it would be my tenth half. Even though I had given myself permission to walk, there was still a desire to come in under two hours or at least beat my previous time on the course.

Running the Race

The City of Roses Half Marathon starts at the Osage Center and quickly transitions to the LeCroix Trail. The last time I ran here I went out too fast, getting caught up in passing people and jockeying for position on the trail. This year I was a bit more controlled at the start, settling into a sustainable pace. After a little more than a mile on the trail, the course runs through Walden Park, a new subdivision rapidly filling with Craftsman Style homes. Leaving Walden, my Garmin vibrated noting completion of the second mile. Simultaneously I received a notification on my phone as an ad played on my streaming music. Then silence.

The lack of music wasn’t a big deal as there was a lot going on. The course transitioned to a rural highway. Traffic became a consideration and there was a water stop ahead as well as a curve to navigate. Since enjoying the run was one of my goals, I took this opportunity to really be present in the moment. I was mindful of the surface of the highway, the trees and open spaces, the cloudless blue sky, the warmth of the sun, and then the honking of geese as they circled. Several small groups rose from the fields and gathered into one larger V formation as they took flight. After the geese it was more road, the start of some hills and greater separation between runners around me.

Passing mile four, I realized that music was going to help me get through this run, so I found a shady stretch of road where I could see the screen well enough to navigate my aps. An unfamiliar pop song came on, followed by another. When the third similar, but unfamiliar song came on I had to change channels to something I could mindlessly run with.

There was comfort in the familiar songs I found. However, I started to notice an uncomfortable feeling under my left arm, which was unusual since my phone was strapped to my right.  Alter my arm swing, tug at the seam, readjust, still not right. Although I never run topless out of courtesy to myself and those around me, by mile six I had peeled off my shirt in an effort to reduce the chaffing under my arm.

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At this point we were fully engaged in the hilly portion of the course, and well out in the country. The inclines were significant enough that people around me were walking up and running down the hills. I passed some as I shuffled up the hills only to have them pass me on the down side. This continued until the really steep hill at mile nine as we started to loop back towards town. There is a serenity about running solo in the country. However, I was really glad to have that serenity broken by enthusiastic spectators cheering from their vehicles as runners navigated the ninth and tenth miles. Thank you ladies for providing more encouragement than you will ever know.

Things get Tough

Mile nine is where things usually get a little fuzzy for me. The math gets hard when I try to figure pace and my potential finish time. I start questioning and doubting. This race was no different as it felt like I was on pace to finish better than my previous, but probably not under the two-hour mark I had hoped for. But that hope was really more of a wish as I hadn’t put in the work to make it a reasonable goal. My hips had been uncomfortable for a while and the strain of the hills and distance was starting to make itself know to the rest of my body. Telling myself there was less than a 5K left provided a brief boost at mile ten. That boost, plus a well-timed water stop was enough to get me back to Walden Park and the transition from country to the LaCroix Trail.

The pain in my legs moved from hips to calves and quads, but didn’t go away. It felt like fatigue rather than injury, so I pressed on. Back on the trail, I thought it was a good time to put my shirt back on.  That was a bad choice as it felt like a weighted vest. I’m not sure why it was so much heavier on my back than in my hand. Regardless, it was not really what I needed for the last mile of the run. But I endured. My mind was listening to my aching limbs as they tried to convince the rest of my body to just walk or even quit. A couple more attempts at projecting a finish time kept me moving forward as I determined I would finish close to 2:03. But I still wasn’t sure. Fractions, decimals, conversions, minutes to miles, it was a good diversion, but inconclusive.

The final water stop was one mile from the finish. The math was easier but the running was still difficult. A curve, a slight incline and soon the finish was in sight. With less than a half mile to go I was still arguing with my body, reminding me of that whole permission to walk thing. Finally, I was close enough to pick up the pace slightly, buoyed by the fact that I would finish. Garmin had me finishing at 2:03:26. Not great, but I was pleased with the results.

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Finishing is Winning

The hills, the heat, the lack of focused training and some minor wardrobe malfunctions all became quickly discarded excuses for my finish time. There was satisfaction in knowing I had passed a fitness test that I really hadn’t prepared to take. I truly enjoyed the first half of the run. It was great to run in the country, to run long with others. The volunteers were awesome throughout the course. Supporting the efforts of the Cape Girardeau Road Runners was another reason to feel good about participating.

This year’s City of Roses Half Marathon is my gateway to the winter running season. Now it’s time to set some goals, pick out a race and actually train for it.

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