On Saturday, June 2, I participated in the 12th Deckers Creek Trail Half Marathon. The Deckers Creek trail runs about 19 miles in West Virginia, from Morgantown to Reedsville. This was a point-to-point race run beginning in Masontown and finishing in Morgantown.
I came across this race back before the Pittsburgh Marathon and after reading about the 800-foot elevation drop, I was in. I was more than ready to get a new half marathon PR, but I was especially ready to get my time under two and a half hours. This course seemed to be my best bet to make that happen.
After my first half marathon, I bumped into one of my coworkers and his wife, Angela. Angela had finished the race a few minutes after I did, so we realized we had similar paces. Since then we’ve run a couple training runs together with the Steel City Road Runners Club, which I joined back in the fall of 2011. I immediately thought of her as a running partner for this race. We signed up after about ten seconds of discussion!
Unlike most races, I was really looking forward to running this one. Usually I’m a mix of anxiousness, dread, and I DON’T WANNA. The weather reports promised near-perfect conditions (for me): clear skies and a starting temperature of 55 degrees! Combine that with the downhill course and a running partner and I was on my way to a guaranteed PR.
I switched up my planned training pre-race: instead of running plus yoga on Wednesday and strength training on Thursday, I rested. So that meant three full days of rest before the race on Saturday morning. I wanted my legs to feel as fresh as possible.
After a later night than I had planned, Luke and I set off to Morgantown around 5:15am. There were two waves of runners: 8:30 and 8:45. Angela and I were scheduled to start at 8:45, which meant that we had to catch our bus to the starting line around 7:45. We were able to find a parking garage right next to the registration area. I immediately headed to the bathrooms, which is now race-day habit: when you see a bathroom, use it even if you don’t feel like you need it. You always will and you are always glad later.
I picked up my bib and packet and we met up with Angela, who arrived about 10 minutes after we did. Once we had all of our necessities, we decided to go back to my car to hang out before it was time to catch the bus. It was a really beautiful area near the finish line.
In addition to my training, I also switched up my pre-race nutrition: for dinner Friday, I had a bowl of brown rice, and for “breakfast” Saturday morning, I ate a blueberry Luna bar. I can never stand forcing myself to eat that early, especially pre-race because I actually have to fight my gag reflex. Nerves, I guess. I also brought along two sample-sized LÄRABARS in coconut cream pie to eat pre-race. I had one while we were sitting in the car and the other on the bus.
Ready to go!
We boarded our bus around 7:35 and headed up the mountain. The ride was just long enough to give us time to feel anxious – it was interesting, everyone around us said basically the same thing at the same time. Runner brains think alike!
Finally, we reached the starting area. Our mission was to find the porta-potty line, because I had read ahead of time that there would not be very many at the starting line. There was rumored to be one around mile 7, but I prefer not to stop during a race if I can help it. We never did see that porta-potty, so I’m glad we didn’t rely on it.
As soon as we got off the bus, though, I saw a coworker from an old job so we stopped to chat for awhile. Bill said that he had run this course before and it was a great run. Mostly shaded, all downhill, but asphalt for the last three miles or so. We wished him luck and got in the porta-potty line. They were in a shaded area and we were actually cold! This was great news for me – that meant the temperature wasn’t going to be unbearable.
We made our way to the starting line, about 1/4 mile down the trail. I was truly struck by the beauty around us – Deckers Creek to our right, stone & mountain to our left, and a canopy of lush green leaves over our heads. The surroundings gave me a feeling of excitement – like something amazing was going to happen.
Something amazing… like PRs, perhaps? LET’S GET IT.
There were no starting mats, so I started my watch as I crossed the starting line – not with the gun. Angela said there was about a 15 second lapse between the gun and our actual starting time. We didn’t want to line up too close to the front of the field because we were hoping for a sub-2:30 time – fast for us, not so much for others. We wanted to stay out of the way of the speedy folks.
We began running at a pretty good clip, keeping it right around 11:00. Even though we know better than to start a race fast, we were feeling so good that we decided to just go with it and increased our pace to sub-11:00. We could actually see the downhill grade of the trail, which meant we felt it even more. Our pace was faster than it would have been on a flat surface, but our effort was less. My favorite kind of running! I’ve been so trained to expect uphills that I was holding my breath as we rounded each bend in the trail. Fortunately, all that greeted us was more glorious downhill.
The miles actually flew past, and before we knew it we had already gone through two aid stations. We decided that our strategy was going to be run the whole race, with the exception of walking through the aid stations to drink & refuel. Barring any unscheduled stops for porta-potties, injuries, stretching, etc., we would need to maintain an average pace of 11:24/mile if we wanted to reach our goal of a sub-2:30 finish. Since we had started off pretty fast, we figured that if we had to slow down later, our speed for the first five miles would be beneficial to keeping our total time down.
Around mile 5, we saw a woman up ahead of us taking photos – yay! I was not expecting a race photographer. I love when that happens – I always have photos of the start and finish, but for races where the course doesn’t allow Luke or my support crew to catch me mid-race, I always struggle with the race recap. Things are way better with pictures. With that in mind, we cheesed things up.
Angela is like, really really cute.
Seriously, we actually had this much fun pretty much the entire time. Our smiles are not lies! The miles continued to blow past us. Around mile seven or so, Angela was starting to feel some pain in her hips. We had banked enough time to stop for some stretching, but fortunately she felt good enough to keep moving.
Soon we came upon the paved portion of the course, which meant less than 5k to go! Unfortunately, after having crushed limestone under our feet for the last 10 miles, we felt the pounding of the pavement immediately. This was also the portion of the course that was not covered in a canopy of trees, so the sun was beating down directly on us. Again, after ten shady miles, this was tough to get used to.
We had a road crossing just before mile 11, and I was ready to finish hard and strong. I increased my pace to sub-11:00 and slowly left Angela behind. I felt bad, but she told me to go on ahead if I felt strong enough, so I gave it a shot. I passed quite a few people in the last two miles, something I was not expecting. I was also vigilant of running the tangents of the trail – basically running the shortest distance as the trail curved. This way I wouldn’t be running extra distance that could negatively affect my finishing time.
I began seeing runners walking towards me, cooling down or returning home, which meant I was close to the finish line. Then I heard the cheers and bumped my pace even faster. I ran sub-10:20 for the last quarter of a mile.
I can see the clock and I’m about to burst with happiness…
2:40 minus the 15 minute delayed start time equals A NEW PR!!
Here comes Angela!
I was a little disappointed in my official time, because my watch time was more accurate (20 seconds faster) since there was no starting mat. Either way, dramatic new PR! 2:25:19.83. That’s eight minutes faster than my previous best half marathon time! Angela blew hers out of the water, too. I finished 490/563 overall, and 77/87 for my age group.
We wandered over to the food & post-race festivities, ready to relax and refuel. Everything was set up in an amphitheater looking out onto the Monongahela River. We grabbed pizza, Gatorade and water and finally sat down to rest.
My splits were pretty decent for this race – not consistently negative, but pretty good. You can see the miles where we slowed down at the aid stations.
We did it! We’re awesome and we know it.
I was hesitant to say it during the race, because I didn’t want to jinx anything, but this was truly the best I have EVER felt while running – racing or training. I felt strong, no major aches or pains, an amazing running partner, beautiful weather, no GI issues – this was simply a perfect run. For the first time in a long while, I felt incredible… invincible, even. It was an all-around amazing experience.
“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”