A few months back Lisa (@lisaeber) contacted me through Twitter to see if I would be interested in running the Door County Half Marathon. Her son had Prom the same day and she was no longer able to go…would I want her her bib? Even though Door County is right in my backyard (roughly 40 minutes away) I have never run this event. It was very kind of her to offer and I had the weekend open so why not give it a whirl!
2016 is about trying new races and challenging myself. From what I could gather pre-race this course was going to be a challenge. Door County is known for its beautiful hiking areas, which translates to a course with lots and lots of hills. Scoping out the elevation of the area I was able to confirm that my calves were going to get a workout. With the Ice Age 50k in a few days this would be a great tune up race to finish off my training schedule and begin to taper.
As the weekend drew near I closely watched the weather as I typically do to help me prepare. The early prediction did come with a chance of rain and cooler temperatures to start. With a later start time of 10am all signs pointed to awesome conditions for 13.1 miles. The hills did concern me slightly. I love a challenge, but I needed to focus on my ultimate goal of the Ice Age 50k and run this event smart to avoid injury. With the impending hills I chose to wear my Orange Mud HydraQuiver so that I could use the hills to my advantage. My reasoning for wearing a hydration vest in a supported race was simple…I would have to walk at some point in the race through water stations if I wanted to stay hydrated. Knowing that walking was part of the race I wanted to utilize this to my favor and control when I walked. Hills can kill your legs making the remainder of the race tough, my plan was to combine the need to hydrate and desire to save my legs on the hills. Going in my strategy was to be smart about the hills and walk/hydrate up the 2 steep ones therefore saving energy for the other hills. I did not have a time goal going in, but wanted to finish feeling good.
Race morning went off without hitch. I was able to meet up with a few friends to drive to the shuttle locations. The course was uniquely laid out through Pennisula State Park, but due to the park being open for campers and hikers the parking lot could not hold all of the runner’s cars. There were several locations for runners to park and shuttle to the park. This has become common practice for races to cut down on the congestion at the race site. I was shocked at how well organized the shuttle system was run. We were able to get on the bus immediately which helped to keep us warm. The morning was brisk at 45 degrees and many runners were sporting goose bumps pre-race. We had hopped on the shuttle at Gibralter High School and had about a 20 minute ride to the park. Our driver was a hoot! He was able to fill us in on all the hidden gems of the area as we snaked through the park entrance to the start/finish line. Interestingly enough this would be the 1st year that beer would be served at the finish line as the town the race was held just voted to end their “dry” status. In previous years our driver mentioned that runners would have to take a beer token to local bars to claim their post-race spoils. Who knew?!?!?
Once off the bus we were escorted by volunteers up a set of stairs to the race village. We noted that there was a line of porta-potties at the shuttle drop off and contemplated making a stop as this can be a time killer at the start to wait in long lines to go pre-race. In the end we chose to go pick up our bibs and come back if needed. Much to our surprise as we came up the stairs there as an even longer line of prota-potties for runners and there was zero wait to get in…score! (This never happens, the lines are usually packed with people.) With tons of bathroom options we held off on our stop and headed to the packet pick up tent. This was the only area that was chaotic. The organizing letter to know which line to get in were on the buckets that contained the packets and you could not see them since runners were standing in front of them. I ended up standing in 2 wrong lines. Good thing we still had plenty of time to get ready otherwise this would have put my pre-race nerves on edge. After grabbing my packet we stripped down and checked our bag. It was still chilly out, but it was time to dive in as the announcer asked us to move to the start.
Like a dutiful group of cattle the group followed instructions and headed the 300 ft to the start line. The 1st wave to start would be the half marathoners with the 5k runners starting approximately 10 minutes later. We were greeted by a cheerful announcer to welcome us to the race followed by a beautiful rendition of God Bless America. There were numerous pacers sprinkled throughout the starting line with clear, visible signs making it very easy to slide into a group. In addition to their signs the pacers also had colorful shirts on – I have joined several pace groups throughout my running days and sometimes you lose them in a sea of runners, that would not be the case with these pacers…they stood out.
The gun went off precisely at 10am and we were headed out. As we turned our 1st corner 10ft from the start a bag pipe player serenaded us as the gorgeous scenery opened up before us. This by far was the most amazing course I have ever run. The beauty of this park was awesome, I was really glad that it was along paved roads and not a trail so that I could look up often and take in the blue skies, foliage, and open waters.
I had started with my friends and we stuck together for 3 miles or so. It was great to catch up and chit-chat taking in this wonderful course, but I with my hydration strategy to use my pack on the hills we ended up separating after the 1st water station. Even though we started chilly the weather warmed up and turned out to be the perfect conditions to run in. By the time we finished the temp had settled in the low 60s and the rain clouds were no where in sight. We lucked out for sure!
I had debated running on feel versus using my watch prior to the race starting and ended up going without since my GPS would not connect at the start. I usually don’t “zen run” but today was about having a good time and putting in some miles. I actually enjoyed not focusing on my splits and just settling in to a pace that felt comfortable. My legs felt fresh despite the hills and my lungs handled the budding trees better than I expected (I have asthma and Spring can be a challenge with pollination).
At mile 7 I ran into a former student and now running buddy. She was having a rough day due to a foot cramp. We pulled off to the side and I worked on her foot for a few minutes. Once she was feeling a little better we headed off together. She was hurting and I have been there myself before, I did not want to leave her in case her cramps started again. It was nice to catch up and soon we were cruising along at a great pace. We hung together until mile 10 (ish) where she gave me a time update from her GPS watch. I realized I was within a PR time if I put the hammer down. Abby was feeling better and my legs still felt fresh, we separated and I began to pick up my pace. Getting under 2 hours was mostly likely not in the cards, but I was hoping to challenge my time at the Dick Lytie Spring Classic.
No sooner had I made the decision to go all out that a steep climb presented itself. I was able to get about 3/4 up when I realized I had not hydrated in 4 miles. I walked to the top at this point and grabbed a drink. This was the refresher that I needed. Off I went. From here on out it was smooth sailing. There were a few more tiny hills, but nothing to major. The finish was a nice gradual down hill mile.
All in all this was a great race and I cannot thank Lisa enough for the bib. I’m not sure why I have not run it in the past, but I know for sure I will be registering in the future. The Door County Half Marathon truly is a hidden gem in the Northeast Wisconsin racing circuit. There were several runners that camped on site at the park prior to the race…might even try that next year too.
Here are a few more details…
- Race Swag: long sleeve tech t-shirt, reusable gear bag, coupons
- Medal (aka bling): huge, shiny, & well constructed
- Pre-Race: water, vendors, tents to hang out under
- Porta-Potties: lots and lots (zero lines to wait in at the start)
- Post-Race: basic food (tons of cookies), water (but no water bottle, just paper cups which quite a few ended up on the ground), beer (the line was way too long to wait in – kind of annoying but not the end of the world), live music (the band was GREAT)
#BeHappy #BeKind #BeActive