I’ve waited over a year to actually run the Air Force Half Marathon. I first new I would run this race back in April 2014 and then on New Year’s Day I registered! It’s been a long time coming. I also made this race my goal race for the Fall, but that didn’t necessarily work out to my favor. Not only would this line up to be half marathon number 14, it would also cross off #9 in my quest for 50 state + DC (technically state #8).
My trip to Dayton started Thursday night after arriving back to Pittsburgh from a 4-day work trip! Prior to leaving for my work trip, I had packed for Dayton and left that stuff in the car. I basically landed, hopped in the car and headed off to Ohio. I was originally only going to drive to the West side of Columbus, but I decided to drive the extra 70 minutes and head all the way to the hotel I was staying at Friday night. It worked out okay, I guess. Other than just being super tired, I was at least able to sleep in a little on Friday and work from the hotel all day on Friday.
Once work was done on Friday, I headed up to the expo. Because my travel plans changed in recent weeks, the only hotel I could get (and afford) was about 30 minutes away from the expo/race start. It really didn’t end up being a big deal in the long run.
When I got to the expo and parked, the parking volunteers said I needed to be out shortly before 6pm or else I would get stuck because of the 5k. This wasn’t pleasing to here because I arrive just around 4:00 and I had dinner plans at 7pm. One might think 2 hours is enough at an expo, but I seriously love expos and I hate feeling rushed!
Picking up my bib was super easy! I thought I had remembered my bib number, but apparently I didn’t. Luckily they had some great volunteers there to help pull up my information. After picking up my bib and shirt, I started walking around the expo. The main part of the expo was on the floor of the Nutter Center at Wright State University. I usually never buy extra race gear, but I loved the design on their log sleeve so I ended up picking it up. There was a fair amount of vendors on this space and I thought it was decent but disappointed at first at the overall size. I figured for this race it would be a bit bigger.
Well, then I followed the exit sign to the main concourse floor and low and behold, the whole level was packed with more vendors! YES! I absolutely love visiting these vendors. I saw a few races (many of which I’ve run already or plan on running in the future) and even saw the Altra booth! After the rep and I started talking, turns out she was one of the reps running the run with Elite that let me try some new shoes. Sadly she didn’t have the shoes I wanted in my size, but I did score a new water bottle and pair of awesome socks!
After meandering for almost 2 hours (see, I told you I love expos) I finally headed out to the car. I ended up sneaking out before the 5k started. I have some local Rock Boat friends in the area and they were kind enough to drive up to have dinner with me. It totally beat eating by myself!! She even found a Bravo restaurant so that I was able to enjoy a good pasta meal. After dinner, I headed to the hotel, put out ‘Flat Chelsea’ and was in bed asleep by 9:30pm.
The alarm went off at 5:30am for race morning. I had run into a runner the night before and they said they left about 5:45am for the full and even though the full start an hour earlier than the half, I figured the goal would be to get out by 6:15am. This ended up being perfect. I easily got myself together and got to Wright-Patterson Air Force base by 6:45am. It was still pitch black and all I could see was a line of car lights.
I sat in the car for about 30 minutes and ate my bagel and peanut butter. Around 7:10am I got my stuff together and headed to find a bathroom. There were some in the immediate vicinity of the parking area, so even though there was a lien, I just waited around there. I still had over an hour until the race started. (Note: Once I got into the start line area, there were TONS of bathrooms. Someone clearly knows the bathroom to runner ratio!)
I remembered someone saying that from the parking area to the start line was quite a walk and in fact by the time I got to the start line area I had already put in over 4200 steps! All I could think was how I had to walk that back to the car after the race. Even though the race was on the Air Force base, security seemed pretty light. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Of course you saw MPs every where, but in terms of bag searches, etc., runners didn’t have any of that. I quickly checked my bag and hung out in the general vicinity of the finish/start line. I actually got to see the 10k race winners come in and then headed to the start line.
Prior to the start of the race, they had 6 paratroopers do a jump and 4 of the 6 came down with gigantic American flags swaying in the wind. It was such a wonderful thing to see prior to the start of the race.
Since this was my goal race, the first goal was to set a new PR which would be sub 2:15. I knew deep down it wasn’t there so I was hoping for somewhere between 2:20 to 2:25. Even though I knew I wouldn’t hit it, I still stupidly lined up with the 2:15 pace group. This was a huge mistake. The pacer was 14 years old (!!!) and had run over 140 half marathons but had only paced 5 other races. I figured I’d keep up for however long I could, but even just thinking that I should I talked myself into starting back with the 2:20 group. Oops.
The first 3 miles of this race are basically on single lane areas and it is CROWDED! I’ve never bumped as many elbows or had so many flat tires. It was actually pretty annoying and just kept trying to stay with the pace group. I definitely understand things can get tight on the course, but what made it worse is that people were just so rude about weaving in and out. Finally just before mile 3 it opened to almost 3 lanes wide (with the side road) and it was like heaven!
Well, I stayed with the pace group as long as I could but just shy of mile 6, I hit the wall and I hit it hard. I didn’t want to start walking just yet, but going through one of the water stops I walked a little more than I had at the other ones and at the point the 2:15 pace group had left. I think I was okay with this because the pacer seemed to just be all over the place. In those first 5 miles with him we ran anything from a 10:30 to a 9:52! My average pace was 10:13 for those first 5 miles and I knew that was just too fast. Whoops.
As I was pushing through the wall, I was enjoying running through the base. We ran through a lot of the housing area and a fair amount of people were outside cheering us on. It’s always great to have that since this race isn’t really meant for spectators. Somewhere around mile 6.7, I heard from behind me, “Hey Chelsea” and it was Shannon and her boyfriend Larry. I didn’t know anyone else running this race, so hearing my name and a friendly voice, I just felt a huge lift in my spirit. I ended up running with them for about 1.5-2 miles and it was a nice boost I needed. Right before the only ‘major’ uphill of the race (and it’s not even a real hill, it’s an onramp), I waved good-bye and started to do some more walking. This was around mile 8 and when my splits starting slipping to 11:20+.
At this point I was just tired of being out there. We had a little support around mile 9 which was great, but it just was boring out there. That doesn’t help when you’re trying to push through still. For these last 5 miles I did a mix of run/walk and just followed what I felt that my body could give. Weather was felt humid in the first few miles but by mid-race it had started feeling cooler but by this time there was a nice breeze, although at times it was a nice head wind. It also started getting cloudy, which helped since there was no cover on this course. Somewhere around mile 9-10 they also handed out these amazing blue sponges. It held so much water! It was so cool and felt amazing going over my head. EVERY race should have these! So much better than any towels ever given out.
By the time I got to the last 5k, I wanted this race to just be over. My legs were starting to just be tired (mainly from just going out WAY too fast at the beginning). Around mile 11, the 2:20 pace group passed me and I was a little mad. I did my best to avoid this, but by then I was doing 11:20/miles so nothing I could do. There was a nice little downhill in mile 11, so I used that to my advantage. A lot ot people did not and I was happy to feel good enough to push on.
When I hit mile 12, I thought the finish line would NEVER show up. In a way for this whole mile you could basically see the finish line. Sometimes that helps and sometimes it hurts. This time it mentally just crushed me. I could see it, but it didn’t feel like it was getting ANY closer. This last full mile took us back through the starting line area and a road by the Air Force Museum. I swear this road although maybe was .6 miles, felt like 6 miles. The last straight away to the finish line was .2 miles and turning the curve into that chute, I picked it up and probably took my pace down sub 10.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I started crying. The airmen who gave me my medal just smiled and was very sweet about it. All of the emotions just came over me and I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandfather. He was the reason I ran this race. He had served in the Air Force for over 20 years and although he had retired way before I came around, I was so proud of his service and how those years went on to define him. Running this race, I only had him in mind.
It had started to sprinkle around mile 12 and continued for a few minutes after the race, but it felt nice. Since I wasn’t meeting up with anyone after the race, I quickly grabbed my gear check, did a quick change and started heading to the car. The entire walk back to the car I kept getting choked up. I am sure everyone around me probably thought I was either crazy or well, just crazy. I couldn’t help but let the emotions come out. Even though my grandfather has not been with us for almost 8 years, this is a race I would have loved to have him at.
Even though I didn’t hit my top goal, this race was still fantastic. Seeing all of the service men and women out there was fantastic and although this race wasn’t lined with spectators, the ones that were out made a huge difference. At some point, I will definitely be back out to Dayton to tackle this race again.