Once is Enough. Bring on the Ice!
Coming into the Thunder Road half marathon in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was keenly aware of the race reputation: tons of declines v. inclines that test the calf muscles and will power of most runners. They don’t call it Thunder Road for no reason!
There are several different mentalities when preparing for a long-distance race:
1. Run the path beforehand
2. Drive the route and visualize your run
3. Go in blind – ignorance is bliss
My preference will ALWAYS be #3. I thrive on having each and every mile fresh in my mind and enjoy not knowing what is around the corner. The newness helps keep me motivated, physically on my toes and also the primary reason why I never run to music. I feed off the atmosphere of each city’s supporters and want to hear their words of encouragement. Is it stubborn? No question, but it has worked thus far…
The morning hovered around a chilly 30 degrees-cold for Charlotte as we are spoiled down south-so I warmed up in one of the buildings downtown before the race. A common rule of thumb in running is to dress 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. With that in mind, I wore shorts and a short sleeve dry-fit running shirt as I knew the temperature would rise about 25 degrees from start to finish.
With over 1,200 (full marathon) and 3,000 (half marathon) runners, the clear skies and welcomed sun made race conditions ideal. Despite knowing about the challenging hills, I was still taken aback. Mile 1 was pretty flat as we raced through the downtown area; the cold was a non-factor as my body temperature warmed by Mile 2. By Mile 3, the main theme of Thunder Road emerged: fairly short declines matched immediately with larger (at least triple the length) inclines.
Many people think sharp declines are welcomed for runners, but I bet those people aren’t runners. When running downhill, a runner has to be cautious not to over-stride and control their body’s momentum. It is easy to run these stretches too quickly only to be immediately met with a hefty uphill battle. From Mile 3 to 13.1 this rotation of decline v. incline ping-ponged back & forth for the duration of the race – a mental test to say the least! During the sharper inclined hills, I kept my head down and ran. Occasionally, I looked up to gauge the distance (until the hill leveled out), but it was far easier to approach each hill as another obstacle to be conquered.
One of the toughest stretches for me was Mile 7. There was a small incline, followed by a bigger incline, layered on top of an even larger one. I am always nervous about cramping and was convinced that was going to happen on this upward slope. As my calves tightened midway, I convinced myself so long as I could reach the top, all would be well. Thankfully, I made it up without any cramping and continued forward. This type of self-manipulation has enabled me break through some pretty tough walls in the past and this was no exception.
For the first time in the history of Thunder Road, the organizers moved up the date by one month to give runners better weather conditions. Throughout most of the race but especially from Miles 8-13.1, the view was unbelievably scenic as the leaves recently turned in Charlotte and the multitude of colors were widespread along the route.
As I approached Mile 12, my right knee started to feel unusually sore and I am confident my little sister would say I am getting old (of course I would adamantly disagree). Regardless, I pressed through the last 1.1 miles and sprinted toward the end.
Running across the finish line in most races is especially gratifying but no more so than a half or certainly a full marathon – the overwhelming sense of accomplished engulfs your body and instantly becomes the best feeling in the world!
It’s hard to express in words, but your mindset and life are forever changed.
I finished the half marathon in 2:05:22, about 18 minutes quicker than my last half marathon almost a year ago (what say you now little sister?). I was pleased with the 9:34/mile pace and believe I can run quicker moving forward.
On the walk back home, I mentioned to my friend Brad the value of an ice bath for recovery. We hopped in his car and took a detoured route because the roads were blocked off for the full marathoners. We drove from approximately Mile 26 to Mile 19 which was a different experience seeing the range of emotions on the runners faces knowing how much more was left to go. I knew those expressions and body posture all too well.
When we got back, I filled the bath with freezing water, jumped in for roughly 3 mins (give or take a min!), preceded to stay indoors for the remainder of the night and let my body recover.
By Sunday morning, I was virtually back to normal and am ready for the next adventure to begin…any suggestions?
To watch video commentary of this race and a segment on an ice bath afterward, go to: Thunder Road + An Ice Bath
To see photos, go to: Thunder Road Half Marathon