Kim and I found plenty of ghouls and goblins – even the Headless Horseman – but The Haunted Hilly Half in Bristol, Indiana, did little to scare me.
But as time passed and with some strong training under our belts, Kim wondered whether we could go sub-2 at the race. I knew it would be dependent on the day and the threat of hills but I was still happily logging the necessary 9:09 pace. If I could help pull her to that, it would be her fastest half post-babies by six minutes.
And so that was our goal: Beat Kim's time (2:06) from the same race in 2012 and do our darndest to come under 2 hours.
We didn't have a strict race plan but the goal was to start at goal pace and hold steady for as long as possible. We knew that the hills, the biggest around mile 3 and from miles 9 to 12, would slow us down but the downhill sections would (hopefully) balance it out.
I had a rude awakening when I began running the course, which began in Bonneyville Mill County Park, though. We hit an incline almost immediately, and this flatlander was not quite ready. My legs felt heavy and slow, and I was seriously doubting how well I would be able to run the 9:09 pace. Runner after runner passed and then a couple pushing their 16-month-old in a stroller. Talk about humbling!
But soon I adopted a strategy, maybe focus, that would get me through the race – and through it strong: Just hold the pace for a mile.
And so, I focused on hitting the 9:09 for that segment. When a mile clicked, I didn't worry about what we had run or how it would affect us and I didn't worry about what was next. Mile by mile, I ran. It was fantastic, and I got stronger and stronger with each buzz of the Garmin.
Kim and I really hit our stride from miles 6 to 9, where the course heads into the valley and into Middlebury. The miles are flat and winds along the Pumpkin Vine Trail. We were able to actually chat (a bit!), talking about the famous Amish restaurant, the Essenhaus, that we passed and spotting the women out shopping.
And then it hit us. "Time To Climb," the sign read. And climb we did.
The hills were steep. Relentless. I can't speak for Kim but I might have uttered a few choice words. Rather than try to power up, wasting energy, we walked the toughest sections and then got back to running when it was manageable. We weren't letting go of the sub-2 goal but there are times when you almost walk faster than you can run. So that's what we did.
The reward for the hills was a mostly downhill return to the finish. It wasn't as downhill as I had imagined after hearing participants talking about the course pre-race but we did go down. And it was great.
We finished in 1:58:49. We nailed the goal! The course measured a tad short by most accounts but a gentleman I asked (who was actually the winner) said that what the race lacked in distance, it made up for in difficulty and thus it counts. He ran a 1:20, I think, so I'm going with that.
But, the best part was spending 2 hours with such a good friend and doing so on a spectacularly beautiful course. I am fairly certain that it is my favorite half this year and rivals Bourbon Chase for best race experience. But there will be more on that later in the week ;)