Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Heroes Half Marathon Race Recap

There were a lot of firsts for me in this race and this recap will be a little different from the others.  It also isn't short.

Heroes Half Marathon September 14, 2013
Field: Small, 100-200 maybe
Spectators: Minimal. Basically just at the start/finish area but they were very enthusiastic and cheered for every single person.  Great fans.
Start: 4H Center in Hampton, GA. 
Course: Double loop course with the first 1.5 miles of the loop on gravel roads (3 miles total)
Schwag: All you can eat pancake breakfast at the finish! Need there be more?
Other: The race is only in it's second year and they are really working hard to make a great event and raise lots of money for the Georgia Wounded Heroes Foundation.  I love what they are trying to do, what they are raising money for, and how passionate everyone involved was about the whole event. A somewhat local, benefiting a great cause, and wouldn't break the bank ($40).  Sign me up!

I signed up for this race because I was looking for a fall half to stick in my marathon training that wouldn't cost me a lot.  It wasn't until the pre-race email the day before the race that I realized that the whole race wasn't on paved roads.  I don't think I really thought about running on gravel, because I was heavily distracted by the announcement of Free Post-race Pancake Breakfast in the same email. Given how I had felt all week, and the fact that I would be running 3 miles on gravel, I didn't have a lot of expectations for the race. My goals were to run solidly, without getting injured, and just check-in to see how my fitness was doing.
A special dog tag as a finisher's medal and race sticker.
The race was small in a fun way where everyone was chatting with each other at the start.  There were many current and former military members including a team that ran the entire race in gas masks with a large US flag and another team that ran in full camo with boots and full packs.  After some pre-race announcements, the national anthem played with an Army Helicopter flyover. The national anthem is always very powerful when you are standing among a group of people that are willing to give their lives to hear it played.  It was a really nice moment.
The Huey Helicopter from the pre-race fly over.
The gravel road started almost immediately after the start which was a little difficult because the crowd hadn't fully broken up yet.  I tried to find a good pace while also minding my footing carefully.  The last thing I wanted was to come out of it with a twisted ankle! Around mile 3, I ran up next to a gentleman who quickly stated "You know, there is only one woman in ahead of you."  WHAT?  Was he serious?  Then he quickly added "Hope that doesn't mess with your head!"  Thanks buddy, no pressure. A half a mile later we came on the first water stop manned by several little girls and their moms, and as soon as they started yelling "Here comes the second one. Girl power!"  I knew he had been serious. Nothing like the power of 5 and 6 year old girls jumping up and down with pom-poms to make you want to run harder!

Now this was a totally new experience for me.  A HUGE first.  I've never even thought about placing in a race, let alone how to actually go about 'racing'.  I just go out there and run until I hit the finish line.  All of a sudden, I had something more to run for and some little girls to make happy!  So I kept pushing along at a comfortable pace, always aware that if anything felt off, I was going to slow down as to not get hurt for the marathon.
Trifecta of fueling awesomeness.
Second lap went similar to the first.  Tried not to fall on the gravel, which was a little harder now that I was tired.  I powered through the water stops with the little girls still waving and cheering loudly! I did manage to take some fuel during this race. Yes, you read that right. I actually fueled. Yet another big first for me! I've been trying out Island Boost (full review coming on Friday) and I took an entire package without even blinking an eye.  It's kind of nice when fueling isn't a stressor during a race!

I finished with a new PR and 3rd place woman overall!  I was passed by the second place girl around 11.5 miles and she looked very strong.  There were only 3 water stops on the course (thank heavens it wasn't hot) and I think I dehydrated slightly. My finish placement was really kind of exciting and a little bit shocking.  I have never placed in a race before and I set a PR by several minutes!  I definitely think training is paying off and all my work searching for fueling options is making a big difference!
Sporting my race shirt, awards, and most importantly, earplugs.
The pancake breakfast was great and a really nice touch. Since the race started/finished at the 4H campgrounds, we had full access to the dining hall (and the real toilets) there were plenty of tables and chairs to sit down and enjoy the endless pancakes, OJ, and bananas for breakfast.  I actually had a post-race appetite (another first, probably because I was able to fuel well) and scarfed down a short stack (sorry, ate them before I could take photos).
Post Helicopter ride complete with my Huey hair. The doors stayed open the entire flight!
After they announced the winning times and handed out the overall awards, they mentioned the best part: The top three men and women won a Helicopter ride! Not even kidding. We drove over to the airstrip which was right around the corner, and signed our lives away.  Two retired Vietnam veterans served as our pilots and they were more than excited to show us their flying skills!  I didn't get to take any pictures on the ride (sorry!) because they warned us the wind from the open doors would be so strong it would take phones, hat, sunglasses, etc.
Yes, I held on to the pole next to me, but I did NOT lose my pancakes!
The ride was really cool.  I had never been on a helicopter before and was lucky enough to sit in the gunner seat (the one that faces out the open door). We flew over the Atlanta Motor Speedway where several cars were practicing, did a few dips and turns (which is a little scary when there is no door between you and a few thousand foot drop).  We also dropped down low and buzzed by family and friends watching from the airstrip (I waved to other people's friends as the Jayhawk hadn't come with me).  We were lucky enough to have a very clear day, so clear that we could see the Atlanta skyline and Stone Mountain which were both over 30 miles away.  It was truly an amazing experience and one of the more awesome prizes they could have given us.

Have you ever had an unusual race experience? What is the coolest race prize you have heard of?

19 comments:

  1. That sounds like a great race experience! Congrats on your finish as well. Sometimes the smaller races have so much more to offer. Mmmmm... pancakes.

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    1. Thanks! The pancakes were delicious! :)

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  2. Congratulations! It is always nice to Place, especially when you aren't expecting it.

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  3. Wow! That sounds fantastic. Pancakes and a helicopter ride! Congrats on your third place finish.

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    1. Thanks! What more could you want after a race than pancakes and a helicopter ride?!

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  4. That is so cool that you got to ride in a helicopter. What a great prize! And of course it is completely awesome that you got third. Woot Woot!

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    1. Wasn't it a great idea?? I was just excited to get a chance to ride a helicopter without it being lifeflight!

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  5. Congrats on your incredible race.. Very nice that you found some fuel that works for you too!
    Taking a top 3 spot must have felt incredible. Especially topped off with a helicopter ride!
    Well done :)

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    1. Thanks so much! It was a really exciting and memorable day!

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  6. A helicopter ride is the most awesome prize. How cool!

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    1. I wish I had picture on my face while I was on it. I think I looked like I was in shock the entire time!

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  7. That's the best race prize! How memorable! Congrats on the PR and earning 3rd place! So exciting!

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    1. Thanks Tina! It was a really memorable experience!

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  8. Oh wow, a helicopter ride, that is so cool! And a new PR! And third place! Girl, you had quite the race--congrats! I'm totally trying the Island fuel packets, if they have them in our REI up here. Thanks so much for the time. P.S. Great post.

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    1. Thanks!! If your REI doesn't have them, they are also available online. Careful, they might attract bears or even mating moose! :P

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  9. Oops, I meant, thanks so much for the tip (hee, hee)

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  10. Congrats on the PR and the 3rd place finish!

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