St. Michael’s Half Marathon Recap OR When a “B” race becomes an “A” race

In the next couple of days I’ll probably have a conversation with my triathlon coach about St. Michael’s Half Marathon, which I ran on Saturday. I’m expecting it to go something like this:

Me (all excited): I ran a 3 minute PR for the half marathon!

Coach: I heard that. Congrats. What happened to that being a “B” race?

Me: I said it would be a B+/A- race, never actually said “B” race.

Coach: I see. So when did you decide to make it an “A” race?

Me: It just kinda happened. I felt great and the first mile was fast and I thought I’d see if I could hang on to that pace. (Thinking: I totally rock!)

Coach: Right. So what about the Half Ironman you have in 2 weeks? Is that now a “B” race?

Me: Um, no, still an “A” race.

Coach: They can’t both be “A” races. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

Me: Hmpffff…

I’m not good at this whole “A” race “B” race thing. I like to race hard. I don’t want to stand on the start line thinking I have to hold back, and I don’t enjoy crossing the finish line if I haven’t given a race 100%. But if I want to race frequently, then I realize this is what I have to do. I have clients who like to race frequently and I tell them the same thing. They are better listeners than I am.

On Saturday, I clearly made a decision that the half marathon would be my “A” race. To be honest, I didn’t sign up for a “B” race. I signed up for the race because I looked at last year’s results and knew I had a shot at placing. I didn’t go there just to run it. Truthfully, I didn’t have a well thought out plan for the race. Given that it was pancake flat, I knew I could run a more or less even pace and wouldn’t really pay later for going out hard earlier, unless I went out too hard. But what was too hard? Honestly, I didn’t know, so it was a bit of a crapshoot.

I didn’t taper for this race. I biked 3 hrs on hills Sunday, ran 8 miles Monday, did an abbreviated track workout on Tuesday that my tri coach actually laughed at, biked and swam for an hour each on Wednesday, then biked for 2 hrs and ran 3 tempo miles on Thursday. My body ached so much Thursday night/Friday morning that I had doubts I would be able to run well. But I had a relaxing day, with a pleasant drive to Oxford, MD with my friend and training partner Bridget. Bridget’s parents live in Oxford and kindly let me stay with them. We had a fabulous pre-race pasta and salmon dinner cooked by Bridget’s mom, who is also a runner and had signed up to run the 10K, and I had a great night’s sleep.

We got up at 5am and left the house at 5:30 for the drive to St. Michael’s. We’d been warned that, with only one road in and out of the town, traffic could get backed up. But we had left plenty early and breezed into a parking spot at 6:00am. Bridget was disgusted that we had a 90 minute wait; she typically likes to arrive at a race 10 minutes before the gun. I, on the other hand, like having time to ponder, check out the porta potty (and alternatives) situation, and generally get my brain in order.

St. Michaels Half Marathon

Bridget and me pre-race

One thing I did differently: I did not drink coffee. I drink coffee every morning including race day, because I don’t like to break with my routine. For some reason I declined coffee Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t have to make nearly as many pre-race bathroom trips as usual, and not having the coffee clearly didn’t impede my performance. I drank my favorite flavor Nuun – Kona Cola, which has caffeine, and 20 mins before the race start I had a Vanilla Bean GU, which is also caffeinated. (I also had an Espresso Love GU and a Roctane GU on the course, both of which have extra caffeine.) So I think I got my fix without the drawbacks…

Mind you, I still had to pee before the race and of course the porta potty lines were ridiculously long and I do not like to wait. Typically I just go and find some alternative. So Bridget and I went off on our warm up jog and I tried to scope out a good spot. Found a great place near the water with a couple of bushes but a guy was hanging out there with his dog. Bridget struck up a conversation with him and they started walking away from the prime location. I walked with them for a minute then jogged back. Unfortunately, just as I got back to the spot, a homeowner came out with a mallet and started banging her “Yard Sale” sign into the ground. Darn. So off I went in search of another location. And then – BINGO! – a house was under construction. Where there’s construction, there’s always a porta potty!

Situation resolved, off we headed to the start line. On our way there we ran into Miss Zippy. We last saw each other at last year’s Rockville Twilighter, and we’re racing IronGirl Rocky Gap together in September. It was great to catch up with her. While we were standing on the start line I saw a face I recognized from Boston! While running Boston Marathon, I heard a voice behind me say, “Are you Racingtales?” How amazingly cool that someone would recognize me! She introduced herself as Melissa. When I posted on Facebook that I was running St. Michael’s, Melissa mentioned that she was, too! I was so glad she found me. She had on a Boston shirt and her nails were painted yellow, totally cool. Melissa, I hope you had a great race!

So the gun went off and I tried to settle in to some sort of comfortable pace. Garmin was fluctuating around a 6:30 which I knew was too fast, so I tried to slow it down just a bit, not too much. Miss Zippy asked what pace we were running and, although I was still bouncing around the high 6’s, I told her we were at a 7:00. Eventually I was able to find a good pace that didn’t feel like overreaching and went through the first mile in 7:06.

Now what? I decided then and there that my pace would be 7:06, or as close to it as I could get. I slowed a little in mile 2 (7:13) but I think that was where the 18′ elevation was on the course. šŸ˜‰ The next couple of miles were right on pace, and my pace fluctuated by only a few seconds for the next 11 miles. In the early miles there were a couple of ladies in front of me but I could tell I was closing in. To make my passes convincing and ensure they wouldn’t try to go with me, I pulled up alongside them for a few seconds, then surged ahead. I wasn’t trying to be mean, just strategic.

Just before the turnaround at 8 miles I saw runners coming the other way. I started looking for women. I saw two girls and then my friend Ashley. I yelled at her that she was in 3rd. I was hoping I was 4th but saw two other girls. So I was 6th. After the turnaround I realized we had been running with a tailwind and now were running into a headwind. No matter, I just had to push a bit harder to maintain pace, which isn’t so hard when you only have 5 miles to go. I had a thought that I’d try to run the last 5 at sub-7, and did manage a 6:57 mile 8, but the wind (and probably my own fatigue) put a stop to that. I caught the 5th place woman fairly easily. As I passed her she told me she was dying, I responded, “No, you’re strong, keep at it.” Mile 11 was the slowest (7:12) and probably the hardest mile, with the winds swirling and me caught in no-man’s-land.

There were a handful of guys ahead, some of whom I caught and tried to draft off, but had to pass to maintain my pace. I had my eye on a guy up ahead, however, who I thought might be able to help me as he was running strong and I was closing in slowly. As I caught him I tried to draft off him as I had the others, but my pace was slowing. However, as I pulled up alongside him he gestured to two guys up ahead and said, “Think we can catch them?” I responded, “We can try…” Now I love a challenge but these guys were a good bit ahead and I really didn’t think we could catch them. We both surged and started pushing each other. In the last mile or so of the race there are several turns. I hate making turns when I’m tired because it hurts and I lose speed. My running buddy was getting away. I pushed to keep up with him as we passed the two guys.

We turned on to a trail with less than a mile to go. That’s when I saw the girl in 4th place up ahead. My first thought was, “I can’t catch her” and then I stopped myself. I decided I would try. I started to push harder. My running buddy went with me. It was great to have someone helping me. As we got closer I tried to decide if I should pass her now or wait until nearer the finish, when she couldn’t pass back. In the end it just happened organically, right around mile 13. We were running in the 6’s and my legs were about to fall off. Of course, after passing her I was worried she would make a late move, so I pushed the pace as hard as I could all the way through the line.

I finished in 1:33:08, a 3 minute PR for me, and couldn’t have been happier. My pace? 7:07. šŸ™‚ My running buddy congratulated me on beating him (!), I congratulated Ashley who’d hung on for 3rd place just 30 seconds ahead of me, and then went back out on to the course to cheer on the other runners.

The post-race awards ceremony was held near St. Michael’s Winery, so after picking up our awards (I placed 1st in the 40 – 44 age group while Bridget’s mom placed 1st in the over 70 age group!) we stopped by the winery for a little tasting. I’m not much of a beer drinker (unless it’s Guinness) so this was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Wine and Awards

Wine and Awards


  1. Wow! Speedy time . . . sometimes you get to a race and totally surprise yourself with how great you feel. Congrats! And good luck in your half ironman. You will be amazing!

  2. Congrats Alison! Great race report! I was laughing out loud as I read this because it sounds SO much like me. It seriously sounds like a conversation I’d have with my husband, ha ha. šŸ˜€ Best of luck in your half Ironman!
    Phaedra @ Blisters and Black Toenails recently posted..DIY Energy BallsMy Profile

  3. Melissa says:

    Fantastic race report and what an awesome finish!! So glad you enjoyed the day and your visit to the shore (I am a little partial to my home-town event!) I need to take your words of wisdom regarding the wind-I let it totally deflate me. Hope to see you back next year.
    Best of luck in your upcoming 1/2 IM!!

    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Melissa, I totally did not realize St. Michael’s is your home town! I loved it. I completely forgot to include the part where we tooled around town on Friday, visiting all the shops. Mind you, my post was long enough already! Hope to see you again soon!

  4. This is my first time here but I’m definitely coming back because I’m a runner and a writer… and like you, I’m an instruction design writer by trade too.

    Unlike you, I’m not super fast :).

    Great job on your half and what a cool medal and finish by the winery. Sounds like a pretty good race- congratulations on the 3 minute PR which is a LOT for a half marathon! Hopefully the tri goes well too- I agree with you that it is hard to hold back at a race and I just can’t do it. I did a few 5Ks to train for a 10K I just PRed, which was my “A race”, but racing 3 miles and 13 miles are totally different with recovery.

    Love how you went back on the course to cheer other runners. How awesome is that?
    Amy Lauren recently posted..Kicking off Summer, graduations, and painting classesMy Profile

    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Hi Amy! Thanks for your comment…how funny that you’re a writer and ISD too! Small world. Congrats on your 10K PR!

  5. That is a huge pr!! Congrats!! I’m laughing at the predicted coach conversation… and curious how the race goes for you!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..Recent Eats + Inside out Sushi SaladMy Profile


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