Running the Bizz Johnson Express Half Marathon
First, let me preface by saying that running the Bizz Johnson half marathon is by far one of my favorite races. It's absolutely beautiful, well run, super fun and low key. It's a net down but feels flat (except one big down followed immediately by an up). Great aid stations, good people, a bus system that actually works seamlessly, and a finish that feeds an army. With beer included. Amazing and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Having said that........ It was not one of my better days, but that's part a roll of the dice which all runners are aware just happens without rhyme or reason and part not giving my body what it needed.
Four of us met at Doughboys Donuts parking lot (I know, interesting choice - none of us ate a donut) at 5:30 am which - all things considered - isn't too terribly early. The drive is an hour and a half north into Susanville, CA. Super easy, direct, no hassles drive. Packet pickup (and portapotties) are from 7-8 and the buses depart at 8. The bus drivers deserve special kudos for driving on a single lane dirt road (looked more like a path) twenty minutes into the hills to our starting point - the halfway mark and turn around of the marathon. It was beautiful. God's country, breathtaking, want to stake a claim and build a house gorgeous. At packet pickup, we all ate something although that was my first mistake. I didn't feel hungry, wanted carbs pre-race, and had whole wheat Ritz which was good - just not enough fuel. I was carrying my water bottle and heard about the epic food at the aid stations so I wasn't concerned. I should have fueled smarter.
The start happens at 9 am and is very low key and a chilly 40 ish degrees. They had a white 13-gallon garbage bag sweat check where we all wrote our name and bib number with a Sharpie and stripped at the last second. The guy with the bullhorn counts us down and we're off. Now it's time to talk goals. My goals are always pretty much the same. Here you go:
- HAVE FUN!!! I hadn't run a half marathon in over 18 months due to the foot break, my training was great, I felt good (cold, but good) and I'm running a trial in a beautiful area. Enjoy the ride!
- FINISH THE RACE!!! No matter what, there's nothing quite like crossing a finish line. Really, regardless of how awful a race has gone, just being at the finish feels like winning. I've thrown up at tons of finish lines and it still felt amaze-balls
- SUB 2 HOURS. This was a trail race which tends to be slower but in my mind, the "net down" would balance out and this was still my goal just like in a road race. Anything between 1:45 and 2 hours is good - the lower the better of course
- FINALLY, GET SUB 1:45 My PR is 1:47 and it's been a goal for 2 1/2 years to break 1:45.
I started with one of my running friends who wanted a 1:40-ish time. I knew she'd be a bit fast but my thought was to run with her if it felt good and maybe if I had less in the tank later, it would balance out. Maybe a good plan, maybe not. Jennifer gave me some energy chews at the start. That would be my second mistake\. I didn't need them then and my thought is that once you start using anything like that, you need to continue or can potentially crash. Here's how the miles went:
- Miles 1-4. Ran with Jennifer (great name, huh??!!) at a sub-8-minute mile. Froze my butt off for the first 2 miles, by mile 3 felt warmed up and good. By mile 4 she was pulling ahead and I wished her the very best. It was a great just over 4 miles with her. I felt really good but knew I couldn't quite maintain the pace. She told me the race was broken down into two races for her. The first seven miles where there would be an aid station with Good N Plenties (she was very excited about those) and lots of snacks. Plus it was located right after the 100 foot straight up climb that was the races only real uphill. The second part of the race was from thereon. I recall hearing a pacer once say to the group that a half marathon is won in miles 9-13. That's where people either have it in them to push through and maintain or not. I bank this information. It's a good way to view this race although usually, I don't use aid stations at all.
- Miles 5-7. I'm maintaining an 8-minute mile, I inventory myself. No breathing issues, no cramping, muscles, and body feel good. The weather now is hot - it got into the '70s and my arm warmers are gone. It's feeling pretty hot. Up until "the hill" just before mile 7, I can see the three people from my team (Jennifer and two others) ahead of me. The distance between us isn't growing much and I'm encouraged by this. There is a big downhill followed immediately by going right back up, like a V. When I round the corner and see the hill going up I'm a little shocked at how steep it is. Everyone around me power walked it. I get to the aid station and make my third mistake. I should have taken something - they had chips, pretzels, candy - I went straight by but it was a smorgasbord of snacks, water, and electrolytes. Since I was feeling OK, I thought I'd be fine. I should have realized I needed to get something onboard fuel wise since I took energy snacks 7 miles prior and was going on water alone. But I didn't.
- Miles 7-8. There are two tunnels on this section. It's surreal to be plunged into the cold darkness, but the cool air feels fantastic and the race placed battery-operated camping lanterns and glow sticks throughout the tunnel. The light at the end seems so bright it's ridiculous. Runners get very quiet through the tunnels and watching your footing is even more important. It was a great part of the race and broke it up a bit. Just another interesting part of this race.
- Mile 8-8.25. I'm miserable. I can feel blisters and hot spots on my toes in several places and they hurt more over time. I'm having a pity party of hate. I hate running, I hate this race, I feel like an idiot for entering it, I want to go home, I can't stand anyone or anything. Then a guy passes me slowly. He looks at me and says, "Isn't this the best place to be in the world right now?? This is the most beautiful race. We have the river, the trail, so many trees with the leaves changing!" I looked around in what seemed like the first time and replied, "We are definitely blessed". "We sure are!" he said. "You're doing great!!!".
- Mile 8.25-9. I didn't feel great. I felt like an ungrateful brat and he was right. I hadn't even had the pleasure of complaining about a race in over a year and a half. My first half of the race went really well. I was here, I was running again. All my problems are first world. PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR A**!!!
- Miles 9-11. I was grateful, I was tired, I was enjoying myself, I was slowing down to a 9-10 minute mile. I stopped at the aid station at mile 9 and drank water. It's SO cold compared to the water in my bottle. Next mistake - I should have filled my water bottle and ATE SOMETHING, but I'm not thinking about ways to improve how I feel for some reason. I keep thinking it's just me and a mental thing. I can not believe how good the water was and realize I'm really thirsty. From there to mile 11 I drink all my water and want more. I'm at a ten-minute mile now and counting down. My feet and blisters are killing me. Somehow my trail shoes aren't making me happy.
- Miles 11-13. I stop at the mile 11 aid station and drink 3 cups of water. STILL didn't fill my bottle or eat. You'd think this was my maiden voyage. I pass a woman walking who doesn't look like she's doing well and I stop and ask if she's OK. "This is my first trail race and my only goal was not to fall. But I fell." "Do you feel OK? Are you hurt?" I asked. "No I think I'm good, just not happy that I fell," she said. "Well, check it off your bucket list. You got the trail fall out of the way. Now there's nothing to worry about!". She laughed and said I was right. I moved on but soon a man on a bike asked if I had seen anyone hurt so I told him about her. Those two stops close together right after mile 11 did me in. From there on, I did a walk, shuffle, jog, and wondered how bloody my feet were. A teammate of mine caught up to me at mile 12 and said she'd had to poop since mile 5 so let's get the last mile done. She was running a 9-minute mile at that point, which logically I thought I could do, but I couldn't stay with her. That was deflating, to say the least. I'm thinking of never doing this again. Maybe I'm not cut out for it.
- Mile 13.1. Something happens when you hear the finish line. You stand taller, run faster, get a second wind. The trail became single track up a hill (that was small but felt massive) and back down to the finish line. I heard my 4 teammates cheering me on and yelling my name and it happened. The euphoria of finishing the race. Throughout the miles, I was calculating my finish time and really hoped to finish under 2 hours which (retrospectively) is a great goal for this race. I crossed the finish line at 2:01:54 I was 75th overall out of 192. 8th in my age division and my average minute miles were 9:18.
The post-race "party" was epic, and this entire race from the $45 entry fee, to the location, the bus system, the scenery and aid stations (if you choose to use them) is one of my favorites hands down. There was so much food at the finish line - people cooking hamburgers, brats, chili, and lentil soup. There was tons of food, cold soda, water and beer, salt tablets, and gels. Anything you could possibly need. I immediately got a water bottle, took two salt tablets, and ate about half a watermelon all in about 2 minutes. Then I found my teammates and touched base.
My feet hurt so much that I moaned every time I stood up but didn't have shoes to change into yet (in the car) so I couldn't take them off. It took about 20 minutes to cool down before I was ready to eat, but then I was ravenous. As our teammates finished, we screamed like maniacs. Many of the team thought it was a tough race, which made me feel a little better. Colder than we thought at the beginning and hotter during the race. At that point, I wished I had pushed just a little more to shave off two minutes and come in sub 2 hours, but I didn't seem to have it in me. I was in that disappointed, euphoric state and once I had eaten started to feel better. We took a shuttle back to our cars, hit the porta-potties one last time, used baby wipes to clean up, changed my shirt, and said goodbye to Bizz Johnson and Susanville.
I could finally take off my shoes and wipe my feet but they were so sore I didn't put my sandals on. One toe on each foot was nearly encased in a blister and both were a bloody mess and I had three other blisters and two hot spots. One blister popped while I was sitting there and the others I got when I got home. The hour and a half ride home allowed me to evaluate my mistakes - kind of an "A-HA! you're an idiot" kind of moment. Truly the race was two races, just like Jennifer said and that woman I overheard who says the race is won in miles 9-13 is spot on (which I've agreed with on every half marathon). Why I didn't clue into my body while I inventoried myself I'm not sure. I know that next time I'll plan differently. And, yes, Bizz Johnson, there will be a next time.