Monday, October 27, 2014

Haunted Hilly Half: A Race Recap

Boo Ha Ha! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Enter at your own risk! If the hills don't get you, the Headless Horseman might! (We are NOT kidding! There have been sightings every year.) Many people wear costumes to try to fit in with the goblins so they will not be picked off. You can try that.

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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.

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If anything, the gorgeous course, wonderful volunteers and fabulous company had me planning to do this next year ... and the year after ... and the year after.

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Kim and I signed up to do this race a couple of months ago as what better way to spend time with a friend than run 13.1 miles together. We would go out on the course, chat and have fun.

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.

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When we toed the line, we could not have asked for a better day to make the attempt. It was cool but not cold – in the low 50s – with a light breeze and some sun peeking through. The later race time of 8:45 a.m. gave us a bit more sleep (necessary for me these days!).

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.

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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.

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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.

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The race was fairly small, less than 100 in the half, allowing Kim and I to take the top two spots in our age group (we're both in 30-34). YES!!!!!! I will never place in a half marathon again so please excuse the excitement.

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 ;)


  1. Congrats on such and awesome race and how super fun that the two of you got to run it together! I've been to the Essenhaus too - I think that's near where my sister used to live.

    Someday, I'll shoot for that sub-2, but right now the thought of holding 9:09 for more than a mile scares the bejeezus out of me.

  2. You are far too kind to not mention that I was seriously lagging and you could have dropped me at any time. THANK YOU for running with me, pacing me, pulling me, and coming to visit. It was perfect. A definite repeat for next year!

  3. Congratulations on a great race! Looks like you had a great time!

  4. Oh my gosh! How cool that you placed in your AGs! At a half! Neat-o!

    I love that you two got to do this together! I love doing races with my girlies. And DAYUM those hills!!!1