Last Sunday I ran with my friend Amanda in the Historic Half Marathon and had an AMAZING time. The Historic Half is part of the Marine Corps Marathon series. I’ve done many of the races in this series in the past and they have all been super fun, well-organized, with Marines all over the course- all great things! One thing about these races are that they have a reputation to be tough. Most of them are hilly, and in true Marines fashion, they almost all have a hill (or two) at the end. The Historic Half is no exception. In fact, they planned the route to include not one, but two massive hills, from about mile 10 – 12.
Needless to say this course is VERY hard to PR on, but Amanda was determined to make it happen. She worked so hard and pushed herself like she had never done before in training. We ran the course together before the race and practiced the hills, and she was 100% ready. I was so excited to run with her and hopefully help her accomplish her goal!
The other cool thing about this race is that it’s practically in my backyard! Fredericksburg is only about 20 minutes from where I live, but in true northern VA fashion it took almost an hour to get there because of traffic (at 6 a.m.!). Amanda lives in Fredericksburg, so it didn’t take her quite as long. But by the time I met up with her and we ran to the start (almost a mile away from where we parked), we only had about 5 minutes until the 7 a.m. start time. The other thing that you can always count on at Marine Corps races is that they will start exactly on time! We chose to get in our corral rather than wait in the long port-a-potty line, and hoped our urge to pee would go away. Luckily, it did 🙂 The temperature at this time was around 55 degrees. We were chilly at first in our shorts and tank tops but after our warm up we agreed that what we had decided to wear was perfect. There was a nice breeze and we felt comfortable and ready to get started.
Within a few minutes we were off and running. The first mile was very crowded as expected, and Amanda and I tried to make our way through the masses. I knew that she had come up with a gold, silver, and bronze goal for this race. Her bronze goal was just to finish the race. Her silver was the beat her PR, which was 2:09, and her gold goal was under 2:02. To achieve silver or gold I knew we had to keep her pace between 9:18 – 9:52/mile. I didn’t want to go out too fast, but I also knew that she was capable of running at the lower end of that range. Despite the crowds, we ran a pretty perfect first mile, and once it cleared out some and we were heading downhill our second mile was a tad on the fast side. I reined it in a little bit in the third mile, but we naturally fell into a faster pace again that. Amanda told me she was feeling good, so I went with it. She had decided not to wear a watch and did not want to know what her pace or splits were, so I kept it to myself. I also made sure we started eating our Honey Stingers every 3 miles.
- Mile 1 – 9:34
- Mile 2 – 9:07
- Mile 3 – 9:24
- Mile 4 – 9:07
After mile 4 we headed into a part of a course that wound through some of the neighborhood streets near downtown Fredericksburg. Amanda and I have run here many times, and I could tell she felt really comfortable running on such familiar ground. I kept telling her, this is HER town and HER race and she’s owning it! During the next few miles we kept our pace toward the lower end of her goal range and enjoyed the sights and sounds around us. There were tons of enthusiastic marines and spectators on the sidelines, a house with a sprinkler (it was starting to warm up so this felt great), and even a table with tequila shots set out on it. We didn’t take any- although I do love tequila 🙂
- Mile 5 – 9:19
- Mile 6 – 9:24
- Mile 7 – 9:28
I noticed that we passed the halfway point in just under 1:02, which was an awesome pace. However, I knew that we would most likely positive split since the hills were coming up. Shortly after mile 7 we headed into Amanda’s favorite part of the course- historic downtown Fredericksburg. I decided to use this exciting, spectator packed, slightly downhill part of the course and the adrenaline that came with it to boost Amanda’s pace a bit, and give her a little more of a cushion before the hills came- without killing her legs.
- Mile 8 – 9:18
- Mile 9 – 9:31
After we left downtown and hit mile 9 I could tell Amanda was starting to get nervous. I asked her how she felt and she said she was starting to feel a little tired and knew some of that was mental. She had run Hospital Hill and the Cowan Boulevard hill many times and knew exactly what was to come, but I needed her to keep a positive attitude. She had no idea how fast of a pace she had kept so far and although I wanted so badly to tell her, I didn’t want to before the hills because I was afraid she’d stress and worry about maintaining it for the rest of the race. So I held back, and as we hit mile 10 and saw Hospital Hill ahead of us I told her that this was where it was going to start to feel uncomfortable, but that it was okay and she was 110% prepared for that. This is where she was going to show what she is made of!
Meanwhile, while we were running, Kevin and little Kevin were hanging out at the finish line, cheering on the other runners! Kevin’s getting really good at his, “Go, go, go!” and loves calling all the runners, “Mommy” :).
As we started climbing Hospital Hill I asked Amanda if she wanted me to run beside her or slightly in front of her. She told me to run slightly ahead of her to help pull her up and keep her focused. This hill is a long, slow, incline, and just when you think you’re at the top, the course veers off to the right and makes you do an extra semi-circle before hitting the top. Amanda looked so strong and confident on this hill, and I told her quietly to look around her at all the people she was passing. I knew a little friendly competition was motivating to her, and it worked and made her smile too.
She kept an awesome pace despite the hill, and although we did slow down it wasn’t by much. I knew we had a brief period of more flat ground before the second hill so I told her to focus on breathing and getting back into a comfortable rhythm before pushing it hard again. The second hill is shorter and steeper, but I think it hurts more than Hospital Hill because you’re already tired from it. Once she had her breathing and heart rate back under control, I started to go into tough coach mode. I told her she had this, and reminded her that she didn’t walk up these hills when she ran this race as her first half marathon 2 years ago, and she wasn’t going to walk now. I also reminded her about how she ran all the way up that monster bridge at mile 23 of the Outer Banks Marathon without walking. She’s done harder things and she was going to do this today.
So often I have run with Amanda and she’s finished amazing races and runs with regrets about what she should have done differently. I didn’t want her to feel that way today, so I told her it was time to leave it all on the course. I wanted her to know that she truly gave it all she had. As we started going up the second hill I looked at my watch and realized that with a little more than a mile to go, she was definitely going to PR. I decided to tell her this for a little extra motivation. I said to her, “I just want you to know, that you’re definitely going to PR- but it’s up to you to decide by how much. Now is the time to push it.” Told you I was in tough coach mode! She said she was going to do it and pushed ahead- I was so proud of her!
The ground started to level out after we hit mile 12 and we were about to turn right to run the final mile back to the finish line. A week before we had run the same part of this course at the end of our 8 miler, and I had her practice finishing strong once we turned the corner. I told her we were going to do the same thing today. After turning onto the straightway she picked up her pace as much as she could, and I told her we had just hit the 2 hour mark with a little more than a half mile to go. She was in shock when I told her that and she said she never thought she would be able to run that fast on this course. I told her she was doing it, and I got all emotional as I saw how happy she looked and how proud she was. The last half mile was the most exciting part. The roads were lined with people cheering and the music was playing loud. I saw Kevin on the sidelines cheering with little Kevin, and then I let her go ahead in front of me so I could take a picture of her finishing and PRing!!!
- Mile 13 – 9:26
- The last .1(8) – 9:01 pace
- Finish Time – 2:05:12 (9:33 average pace)
I was SO proud of Amanda. Not only did she PR by almost 5 minutes, she set a course PR of 15 minutes! Last year when she ran this race, she finished in 2:20. It is a TOUGH course and she killed it!
I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding as a coach than to see someone you’re coaching accomplish a goal they’ve worked so hard to achieve. It brought tears to my eyes watching her push herself at the end, and seeing the smile and shock on her face when she saw the clock. She left it all out on the course and I am so proud of her. I also had a few other friends who ran- including one who PRed by 11 minutes (!!), and one who finished her first half marathon- redemption after she was hit by a truck a year ago, only a few days before she was supposed to run the Historic Half. It was such a great day all around.
The Historic Half is one of the best half marathons ever- fun, well organized, full of awesome spectators and Marines… it’s just awesome! Every runner should come to Fredericksburg, Virginia to do this race! I know I’ll be back every year.