Some races go better than others. The Tar Heel 10 Miler in Chapel Hill last Saturday morning was a rough one for me for several reasons.
It’s not ideal to run races on back-to-back weekends, but Mike and I really wanted to run the Tar Heel 10 Miler since we’d heard such great things about it. It’s also a pretty big race in the area, attracting about 5,000 runners this past weekend. We figured we had run long runs during marathon training on back-to-back weekends and we would just take this race a little easier than the Raleigh Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon.
The expo was held at the University Mall in Chapel Hill on the Friday before the race from 11 am to 7 pm. We drove up during Mike’s lunch break and were a little unclear where exactly the expo was in the mall. Surprisingly, the packet pick-up and expo were literally in the middle of the mall, spanning almost the entire length of the mall.
I grabbed a free mini smoothie from Smoothie King on the way to bib pick-up; it felt so good on my sore throat (cue the foreshadowing)! Despite being over lunch, there were no lines to pick-up bibs or search for your bib number on the laptops. I love how large our first names are on the bib – unusual for a race this distance, I think.
Fleet Feet had an impressive booth set up with a huge winter clearance section (mostly women’s clothes). I found a pair of Nike Epic Run Tights in a gray-green shade (the ones I wore during Richmond Marathon 2014 and basically for every run this past winter) for… 70% off! AWESOME.
A rep from Nike was there to answer questions on Nike products, including the large selection of Nike sunglasses. I tried on a pair of the fashionable running sunglasses, Exhale, in bright magenta and loved them. I’m not very good at making expensive purchases on an impulse (aka before searching online for better prices and reviews), so I didn’t end up getting them. I do try to support local stores but I couldn’t commit to a new pair of sunglasses without learning more about them first. More on the sunglasses drama in a later blog.
Back to the expo. So, it was a great booth by Fleet Feet with clothes, hats, water bottles, nuun and energy gels. The next section of the expo was a about 10 tables set up by sponsors, before you got to the Tar Heel 10 Miler branded clothes.
We picked up our t-shirts which are soft, Next Level brand shirts. I love that they offered a women’s fit and that the shirts ran true to size, since they were pretty strict about no shirt exchanges.
Mike and I also registered during the time period where they offered a free hat. We gave our names to the volunteers at the gear table and were given a cool baby blue Tar Heel 10 Miler running hat!
If you’re an alum of a college besides UNC, you can register to “Crash the Party” and affiliate yourself with your college or university. The top three schools represented get a party crasher t-shirt in the school colors and a party crasher race bib. The winners this year, by a landslide, were Duke, NC State and East Carolina. You can see the whole list of schools and rankings here.
I’ll admit that I had my doubts about an expo in a mall. Although small, it was very well organized, spread out and had a good flow, with lots of volunteers for bib pick-up, clothing sales, and t-shirt pick-up.
The day before the race, I had a really bad sore throat and felt progressively worse as the day went on. I wasn’t too surprised to wake up on race day feeling terrible. My head was so full and heavy. I had to keep blowing my nose. At this point, I figured I was experiencing bad allergies and that running might feel good; running might shake up some of the congestion and alleviate some of the pain.
We were running late and had heard traffic and parking nightmare stories. I’m not sure how we got behind schedule – maybe all my nose blowing.
At least lots of other people were running late too! We parked in a garage not too far from the start (felt close before the race, felt far away after the race) and followed other runners to the start line by the bell tower. We only had about 10 minutes until the start of the race and I really needed to use the bathroom. I used one in the stadium – no line and clean! Way better than a portapotty! We ran into a friend from Fortnight’s Blue Run Club and walked with her to the mass of people by the start line. We couldn’t even squeeze into the corrals, so stood on the side by the 8:00 pace group and pushed our way in once the race began.
And we were off! The route stayed congested for about the first mile. I tried to keep Mike in my sight and followed his lead, running on the sidewalks, to break free of the congestion and settle into a good pace. I was expecting my first mile to be in the 8:00s/mile, so was surprised to see it at 7:23! I wanted to keep my pace about 10 seconds faster than my half marathon pace from the week before (so around 7:30). Basically, I just wanted to stay as close to 7:30 as possible. I knew the big hill would be towards the end so I wanted to bank some time at the beginning. I was feeling confident coming off a great half marathon PR the week before.
After the twists and turns of the first mile, it was nice to have a long straightaway on East Franklin Street and back for miles 2-4. There were a lot of spectators along this portion of the race by all the downtown shops and restaurants. I remembered Mike and I running on this street last May when we were here for my cousin’s wedding, before we moved, before we knew we wanted to move down here! Besides the couple of miles downtown, the rest of the course was through pretty neighborhoods with windy roads and rolling hills. There were so many turns!
And then the miles started to drag. I tried to stay around our friend from Fortnight since we have about the same pace. But around mile 5, my head started pounding, I started to feel dizzy and a little nauseous. It felt like a never-ending mile. I remember it feeling incredibly hilly but the elevation map doesn’t reflect that, just showing some rolling hills. I lost her at mile 6, a long downhill, which I couldn’t even get going fast on. All I wanted to do was lay down. I felt terrible. The heat and humidity didn’t help things.
Despite the long downhill, my pace for mile 6 slowed to 8:14/mile. At this point, I just wanted to finish. I didn’t care about my time. I wanted to do my best but didn’t want to feel sick. I tried to visualize myself crossing the finish line but it felt so far away. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish. My legs, surprisingly, felt okay. But I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, my nose kept running, my throat hurt and I felt really dizzy and achy/weak. I knew this wasn’t allergies. I must have a bad cold.
I think it was about mile 7.5 where I stopped at a water stop. I had already finished all the nuun in my handheld bottle. Without thinking, I stopped my watch. I don’t remember the last time I stopped during a race. I must have stopped half a dozen times during the Tar Heel 10 Miler! I didn’t even stop during the Richmond Marathon 2014. So because, out of habit, I kept stopping my watch as I stopped to walk, my times are a little off.
The big hill, Laurel Hill, began at mile 8 and went pretty much uphill until the finish line. I was surprised how many people started walking right away. I wasn’t too far behind. It was TOUGH. I saw a banner a little past mile 9 (I think…the last part of the race is all a little blurry for me), indicating the end of the Laurel Hill. Our time was captured for the hill itself and there were awards for fastest up the hill. I thought the worst was behind me so I decided to pick up the pace until the finish and dig deep. But the hill continued! I did a run/walk until the finish line. Usually I can dig deep as the finish line approaches and the spectators line the way, and run fast to the finish line. The opposite happened. I walked, as the finish line was almost in sight and spectators cheered us on. I could not wait to be done with the race and was so relieved to finally cross the finish. I missed the rush I usually get during races and at the finish; I missed enjoying the run. Running when sick is not fun.
I was DIZZY. I heard Mike call my name; he was waiting for me just up ahead in the finish chute. I got my gigantic medal, a 4″ magnet, and a water before running into Mike. He grabbed me a piece of a bagel, pretzels and gummy bears. I really don’t remember what else was being offered.
I was soaked, weak, exhausted and everything was spinning. I sat down at the closest spot I saw (I didn’t realize I was next to a trash can) and put my head between my knees. It took about 15 minutes for things to stop spinning.
We finished right at the stadium and, after sitting for awhile, got enough energy to get a photo in the stadium before heading to the car.
A positive – I had no stomach issues and didn’t even need to take Immodium. I still could barely make it to the car, requiring a stop about halfway there.
We decided to go to Top of the Hill (TOPOS) in downtown Chapel Hill for our free beer and a snack. I had no appetite so only nibbled on the kettle chips. They brew their own beer right there on the 3rd story of the corner building. It tasted delicious – so cold and the slight carbonation felt great on my throat.
I slept during the 20 minute drive back to our apartment. Once home, I took a fast shower and went to bed for the rest of the day. I had no energy and my head felt like a hundred pounds. I also realized that I got a bad blister under the ball of my left foot (I tend to roll in). More on the blister and sneaker drama in another post.
I’m impressed that I ran 8:40 up Laurel Hill and finished 20th in my age group with 1:20:18! I most definitely wasn’t shooting for any time during the second half of the race, but also wanted to be across the finish line ASAP. As I write this, several days after the race, I’m still sick, but feeling better. I definitely had/have a bad cold that I had mistaken for allergies. In the future, I’ll listen to my body a bit more. Running a race with a bad head cold is not fun at all.
Immediately afterwards, I swore I’d never run this race again. But I think I was letting my sickness interfere with my perception of the race. Although a challenging course, now I know what to expect. Despite running mainly through neighborhoods, the course still had many spectators. It reminded me a lot of the Annapolis 10 Miler course – and weather! It was a pretty hot and muggy morning. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision to run two challenging courses on back-to-back weekends. Mike felt pretty exhausted and worn out and found the course also very challenging. I think we probably would have run better with fresh legs! Next year we’ll be ready!
– T-shirt, big medal, free hat
– Good post-race food, including gummy bears
– Well organized
– Bathrooms in stadium
– Seemed to be too few water stops (needed more around Laurel Hill)
– Crowds/congestion during line-up and during first mile; no assigned corrals, just pace groups