Yesterday was the inaugural half marathon for the annual Cinco de Mayo race put on by Terrapin Events. It was also my first time ever winning a race*! Yes, very exciting for me. But an even more crazy first: having someone else claim the first place!
It was a much smaller crowd for the half than I expected, but combined with a well planned venue, this is my favorite kind of race. I was able to park two blocks away, pick up my race jersey (for the Ethiopia Project), register, warm up, de-layer back at the car, and still squeeze in a last minute clothing check (you know, for my usual dilemna)…all within 30 minutes. Aimee and Caroline, two others from our running group, were easy to find and we made our way to the start line.
The cruising miles
The course was four flat miles out-and-back followed by essentially the Shamrock 15k course. I wasn’t sure what pace I could run. At the flat Vancouver half in January, you may remember how hard it was for me to hit sub-1h35 (or 7:15 pace). But at Shamrock I whipped out 7:07 pace, which is the difficult part: up and over the Terwilliger hill. Heck, I decided to just go for 7:15ish pace again.
Right off the start, I was out in front. I even held back a little to make sure I wasn’t letting adrenaline take over (though the first mile was sub-7, whoops!), because I simply couldn’t believe I was the fastest woman here. But at the mile 2 turn around, I still was in front, with Caroline and Aimee not too far behind. At least as far as I could tell.
Being in the lead was a completely new kind of race for me. Normally I hate being chased, but I have to admit that the cheers I got made up for it. So many people rooted for me. The volunteers were always excited to have the first woman come through. And women love the first place woman–I know I do–so I made sure to cheer back.
The next few miles I spent next to a 13-year old who had caught up with me but clearly wasn’t going to last at that effort. He literally ran either right by my side or at my heels. His heavy breathing and stomping were distracting, but I used them as a reminder what not to do and focused on relaxing and cruising. (Apparently the poor kid later had resorted to stopping, walking, and sprinting.)
Back at the start, the 10k and 5kers were already off, which meant for excessive weaving as we made our way up to the turn off for the half. I was feeling overheated at this point so even though we were approaching the uphill, I was relieved for some shade. Also what a pleasant surprise it was to see Jeremy, who was on bike cheering for Caroline. We didn’t recognize each other immediately; apparently my hair is a lot longer now (Jeremy just saw me Saturday).
I remembered this hill from Shamrock: not sharply steep but enough of a grade that you don’t want to go tearing up it. It lasts longer than you think; still, I might have been too conservative. Following the only other runner in sight, I kept a safe distance because I knew if I had tried to pass him, we’d both pick up the pace and start pushing what I thought would be too early. Near the top there was a downhill dip where I decided to catch him. Sure enough we charged back up Barbur and turned down to begin the four mile descent, a.k.a. my nemesis.
Just like Leif
This guy was clearly not going at maximum effort as he started up conversation. Meet Rob, a trainer in the army up at Fort Vancouver, who lives out in Hillsboro. I told him about the Ethiopia Project, other races, how I hate downhills, i.e. this one. It was good to be preoccupied but it did make me wonder if we weren’t running hard enough. I glanced at my watch: a 7 minute mile. I need to pick it up.
Ben was waiting with Jeremy at mile 11, and what a surprise for them to realize that I was the first woman they had seen go through. But all Ben said when he jumped in was that my stride looked good. See, he was testing the water before possibly putting on the pressure of me winning the race. Such a smart husband. After a few moments and noticing that I was picking it up, he “mentioned” it. Rob said, “I feel honored!” That was the best mile, a 6:30 and my legs enjoyed the burn.
With a mile to go, I started to shut down. Go figure. Ben said to use the downhill to open up my stride. He told me Caroline wasn’t too far behind, maybe a 100 yards. Even Rob started to urge me on, noticing that I was no longer comfortable to talk. I tried to pretend it was like our weekend run, going down Leif, but I hate Leif! The running group knows that all too well.
Allie came in and I remembered that she had gotten up early to do her run and meet us at the finish. All this wonderful support and I was such the grump! Ben made the mistake of telling me to catch the guy we had slowly been creeping up on. I firmly said, “NO.” Allie knew then I was not in a good place. Rob did go for it and squeezed into 10th male overall, and I’m glad one of us sprinted to the finish.
When I crossed, I heard “second place female!” Yes, you can imagine my–everyone’s–confusion. Maybe they were referring to Caroline, who came in right after? We weren’t sure and had to wait for the results.
At the post-race party, a faux mariachi band covered Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Hotel California, and La Bamba. It was like a bad playlist on shuffle with big hats. Jeremy and Caroline got their complimentary beverages. Nothing like beer at 9am, as that one table loudly demonstrated. I bumped into my coworker who was looking up his 5k results, and was thrilled to see him running again after so many injuries and surgeries.
Still waiting for the half results (the only ones left), the race director called my name to the stage. That’s a good sign! But I did not expect this.
“Did you ever see any woman in front of you throughout the race?” she carefully asked.
I told her no, that I did think I was in first the whole time but was told otherwise at the finish. A little embarrassed, I followed up, “Was there someone in front?”
“Well, someone says she finished first, but we don’t think so.”
At this point the posse had come over and were all very curious. Someone else claimed to have finish ahead me? Jeremy and Ben said that could not be possible; Ben had even run the race backwards from the pace car (for the first place male) and you know Ben: he surely would have noticed a fast female. But, according to the timing chip, there was a woman who started and finished the half before me.
Aimee, the investigative reporter she is, asked, “Well, what did she look like? Did she look like Annie?” We all knew Aimee didn’t mean nose shape or eye color here.
“No…,” she clearly replied. She thanked us and went to go face what clearly was an awkward situation.
We were of course stunned! Would someone actually try to cheat and win a race? Or maybe she just got lost, but even that was a little difficult to understand as there were signs and cones clearly marked everywhere. But ok, maybe she took a wrong turn. Wouldn’t she have noticed she was alone or the lack of mile markers? Or maybe she ran with the 10kers by accident, but wouldn’t the overall time be such a surprise? Apparently she “finished” with the top men.
A few minutes later, the results were posted and indeed I was first place with a time of 1:35:13, or 7:16 pace. Caroline was only 11 seconds later so she had been closing the gap. If the race were any longer, she probably would have caught me–but Ben thinks I would have dug real deep then. Aimee was 10th female, so our running group did awesome. Even though it was just your local citizen race (and likely all the fasties went down to Eugene for the weekend), it was fun to step up to the stage and receive my prize: a nice plaque, a gift certificate, and free entry to yet another race. Oy.
Before leaving, Aimee inquired a little more with the race director. They had asked the volunteers what they saw, and they remembered me (petite, Asian) and not this woman. The race director wouldn’t say what she looked like but that it didn’t look like she had ever run. So maybe that’s what triggered their suspicion. But the woman didn’t contest when they told her the situation, so my hope is that she just got confused and made a mistake. Either way, I feel bad for her.
Stairs hurt (downhill will do that to you) and I probably lost yet another toenail. I can’t help but wonder if I ran hard enough, like in the middle of the climb where I was saving it and staying comfortable. When I joined Rob and we picked up the pace, it felt like a good push that maybe I could have sustained for longer. Even in a tank top in 50 degrees, I still got too hot and had to splash water from the aid stations on my face. Since I died in the end–though Ben insists I didn’t slow down, that it just got harder–I could have used a little more fuel, so maybe two Gus instead.
Thanks to the PDX running group for the support, Ben for being such a strategic husband, and all the congratulations from everyone. It’s a great feeling!
*In writing this, I remembered winning another race: the 2008 Turkey Trot up in Vancouver, WA. Not a large race either, about 200 participants, but how could I forget? Probably because my only prize was a Goodwill-ish looking trinket and not one of the free turkeys they were raffling out!