Adjusting to the Unexpected: Rails to Trails Half Marathon Recap

This post is later than I wanted, but school duties, sick kids, and family visits have a tendency to take priority over blog writing. Alas.

The race was about a week ago, and as I sit here writing this, I’m fully recovered and ready to plan the next goal.

I had my goals for Rails to Trails:

  1. Break 2:15 (the easy/ almost guaranteed goal)
  2. Break 2:10 (doable, provided the right conditions)
  3. Hit 2:08 (if the stars aligned correctly, and everything was perfect)
  4. Mentally hold out miles 10-13 (when things get difficult)

There are a lot of unknowns when entering a race, and the only thing you can really control is whether or not you are the most prepared you can be. Try as you might to control and manipulate the variables of health, weather, injury, sleep, or the body’s reactions, you still never really know what you’ll get on race day.

Such was the case for me.

I knew going in that I was physically capable of running about a 2:08 half. My legs felt good, and I felt my mental game was much stronger than it had been two months ago. I was ready, I was excited, and it was the best I had ever felt before a race. I honestly thought the 2:08 was mine. I use visualization a lot: when I’m running or daydreaming in the car or something. As hokey as it may seem, focusing on a certain time or goal helps me.

The entire week leading up to the race wasn’t great. I had been struggling with some knee pain (which seems to be the indication that I need new shoes.), and we had some sickness in the house I was worried about. I took the week VERY easy; all runs were about 3 miles and slow.

The Day Before

The day before I went on a three mile shakeout run (in new shoes) and felt great. No knee pain.

I hadn’t practiced much in the way of pre-race nutrition. Which, looking back on it, is a bad idea. I need to make that a better habit. We had sloppy joes for supper. I wasn’t really thinking about the race the next day; we just needed something quick and easy for supper. Sloppy joes are always a hit with my family.

I laid out all of the race essentials the night before: clothes, hat, shoes, gels, water and recovery drink, a couple cough drops (I had been fighting a nasty cough), change of clothes, jacket.

I went to bed fairly early, but since the start time wasn’t until 9 am, I was a bit more relaxed about sleep.

Race Morning

I was up with plenty of time to prep. I had my coffee, ate a breakfast of an English muffin with cream cheese, went to the bathroom and got dressed. I was able to get all the kids ready for church to leave with my husband (he’s the pastor, I had arranged for a member to watch the kiddos during church – Thanks, Cindy!) Since I was missing the service, I even had time to read through a devotion.

We all left at the same time. I had about a 40 minute drive, and got to the race at about 8, which was when the marathon started.

The temperature around the start time was about 35 degrees, but the high for the day was 68. I had no idea how to dress and settled on a pair of knee-length tights and a light t-shirt.

I picked up my packet and went to the bathroom. When I went to drop off my packet and things at my car, the runners for the marathon were coming back, (They had two turnaround points in an out and back course; the first brought them right past the finish line again.) so I took a few minutes to cheer them on and struck up a conversation with a woman next to me. Both of us were a little nervous about the temps.


I shed my jacket, went to the bathroom one more time and lined up at the starting line.

The Race

There were maybe about 200 or so runners, so the first couple of miles were a little congested. One of the reasons I like small races, is because I prefer to run alone. I hope to do some of the larger marathons like Chicago and Boston (someday, fingers-crossed), but I’m always relieved when the pack thins out a little.


The first couple of miles I was still a little chilly, but warmed up soon enough. My plan was to start at about a 10 minute per mile pace and slowly speed up for 10 miles. Miles 10-13, I always say I’m going to try and “hang on”. My pace was right on the money, but my legs seemed to burn more than they should have. Turns out the race actually had quite the elevation climb: 1400 ft over the course of the race. All of it was fairly gradual, so you didn’t know it was happening,  until your legs were just tuckered out.

At about the 4 mile mark was a super long tunnel. The tunnel was about 3/4 mile long. They had it lit with lanterns, but I used the light on my phone, because it was still pretty dark.


Once I was out of the tunnel, I focused on steadily increasing my pace each mile, and I took my first gel. (I walk through aid stations.) I actually went from about a 9:50 pace to a 8:50 pace over the course of a mile – not the best – but I was able to hang on to that pace for a couple of miles until about mile 8.

Right around mile 7-8, I felt my tummy rumble. I’ve only once before had any issues with GI distress. I knew it wasn’t good and tried to keep up the pace, but ended up slowing to a walk until the moment passed. I told myself to just hang on until the next aid station. I made it and without going into detail, took a much needed break.

While this was happening, then temp was quickly climbing. Over the 2ish hours I ran, the temp went from 37 at the start to about 70 by the time I crossed the finish line. Needless to say, I was very warm. People were shedding layers; I  don’t think anyone was prepared for the heat in November.

After my unscheduled pit stop, I tried to rally and finish strong. I knew my goal of 2:08 was gone; there was no way I could speed up enough to make up for lost time. So I focused on beating 2:15. Despite my tummy not feeling great, I took another gel.

I was able to recover a bit and ran the last few miles between a 9:40-10:00 min pace. I was pleased with that consider the GI issues, the heat, and the mental aspect. Those last miles are always hard, and I was feeling defeated. I kept telling myself to just put one foot in front of the other. Official finish time: 2:13:53.


I wasn’t thrilled with my race, but I managed to beat 2:15. Hitting my first goal was a big one for me. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to fully demonstrate my ability, because I think I could have done much better. Had I not had to stop, I probably would have finished in 2:08-2:09.

I am a little frustrated that I keep hitting these hiccups that prevent me from meeting my goals, but as I said earlier, we can do everything within our power to control all the variables in a race, and still have the unexpected pop up.

The important thing to remember is not to let it derail our race. Something as minor as a bathroom break, or unexpected temperatures, or a broken iPod can trip us up until we’re convinced we can’t do it. Those unexpected things are like annoying, little dogs: lots of bark, but very little bite. Remind yourself that you are capable and strong enough!


Adjusting to all of the unexpected in a race is part of running. The more experience we gain, the better prepared we can be when they come up.

Side note: At the finish line, I noticed a women breastfeeding her baby. I had see her running around the turnaround point and she was tearing it up. I went over to her and congratulated her, and asked how old her baby was. 3 months! The women ran a half marathon 3 months postpartum and was killing it! What a rock star! We got to chatting about babies and running postpartum. I just love the camaraderie of running.


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