Last Saturday, on June 18, 2016, on runstreak day 943, I ran the Laugh and a Half-Marathon in Norfolk, Nebraska for the second time. I ran this race 5 years ago on a much different, hillier course. Learning that the course had been modified and re-routed to follow the beautiful Cowboy Trail in Norfolk, Nebraska, I immediately desired to revisit this course to see it, run upon it, and experience it. The race was delightful in almost every way except for a some minor Garmin watch difficulties. Thus, this race report blogpost will lack the technical precision since the Garmin file from this race is “invalid” and won’t sync with my computer.
Turning back the clock 5 years, in 2011, I ran a 2:10 in Norfolk on a much warmer weather day and tougher course. Also, 5 years ago my endurance and conditioning was not at my current level. That’s perspective. But perspective has changed.
Many advantages helped me in this race: First, this is my home turf. I grew up in Norfolk, I know it intimately. Secondly, I had run much of this course before either in prior runs or in cross-country practice from high school (somehow I remember running mile intervals on Battle Creek Road). Third, the trail portion of the race, especially the crushed limestone was a beautiful sight to behold and experience. I would much rather run on crushed limestone than pavement any day. Fourth, just knowing that my family was there watching at least some of this race helped. My parents and my sister Gretchen and her family were at the finish. Fifth, running this race in my hometown reconnected me to my running roots.
I arrived in Norfolk the night before due to early race time for packet pickup. My Mom offered homemade pasta at home with her homemade spaghetti sauce and with it being meatless, that seemed much better than eating at a pasta feed where we don’t know what we’ll find with quality and/or nutrition. My sister did eat at the pasta feed and said it was ok but nowhere near Mom’s cooking.
It looks like this race is classified as a road race although you could classify it as trail too (4-5 miles on crushed limestone if I remember right).
I checked my Garmin race predictor the day before the race and it predicted a 1:39 finish (a PR). Fortunately, that locked the 1:39 number in my brain and started the wheels turning thinking about what was necessary to achieve and hold that pace for 13.1.
Early on race day, I arrived at Ta Ha Zouka Park and ran a slow warm-up mile. Then walking around, I ran into my sister, Gretchen who told me she was running the 10k (before she said the 5k). That was nice, we got a pre-race picture together and wished each other good luck. You’ll see Gretchen in pictures below with me and by herself with her medal.
Then I settled into my pre-race routine, drank a Mamma Chia Beet/Cherry packet before the race. Carried a ClifBar ShotBloks sleeve with me, ate this early in the race to prevent leg cramps. I didn’t have any trouble with that so it helped.
Shortly after 7am, the race began. The beginning of the race runs east about a mile in a small loop. There were clearly some fast jackrabbits from the beginning: mainly the leader who won the race in 1:14. My first mile split was respectable, about 6:38. Realizing this was faster than anticipated race pace, I slowed down a little closer to my goal pace. I was aiming for a 1:45 or less. I ran a 1:47 at Run Laughlin in December so this seemed like a reasonable target. I settled in closer to goal pace, running repeated 7-something minute miles for the most part for the remainder of the race.
About 4 miles or so into the race, we reached the crushed limestone portion that was a wonderful change from the hard pavement/concrete road. The limestone rocks were pretty small so we were okay running the race without wearing trail shoes. We ran about 4-5 miles on limestone, then the rest was on pavement again.
Laughter as a theme for this race was very helpful. There were wonderful two-sign jokes, some of which were knee-slapping funny. I remember two of the punchlines were “exhausted” and “tired” but don’t remember the preceding questions. Kids squirted us unexpectedly with squirt guns and that was enjoyable. Another water stop was surprising when a lady pulled out a silly string gun and was shooting silly string at us as we ran by. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. The laughter for this race accompanies the Norfolk annual comedy festival (inspired by the late great Johnny Carson who lived in Norfolk as a youth). It’s very unique to have laughter at this level in a race. There were many funny signs as well that weren’t two-part jokes. Some of them I missed as I was running too fast to read them all. It was easier to catch the two-part (two-sign) setup and punchline jokes.
The bridges in this race were notable. I think we crossed the Elkhorn River either 4 or 5 times and one bridge crossing was very long. I don’t think I snapped any photos on the bridges but did record a few Snapchat video snippets so I can string those together later to remember and to post on Instagram. One mental trick that I like to use on bridge races is to pretend that I have secret energy stored there and that I can refuel my energy banks and tanks there. I will repeat the word energy over and over as a race and training mantra. This results in speed bursts and energy bursts that may not otherwise happen during races for me. There was a shorter bridge that was only about 6-10 feet long. The longest one was probably at least a couple hundred feet.
The weather was a little humid but not too hot. We had decent shade from trees and buildings for the most of the race. It was lovely to hear the delightful birds along the way, some bird songs sounded very unfamiliar to me so I wondered which songbirds those were. The scenery of this race is beautiful. The Cowboy Trail is very scenic and makes you feel like you are way out in the country instead of near an urban city.
Within the first hour of the race, I noticed I had polished off 8.2-8.3 miles or so of the race. Everything seemed to be clicking well. I was able to avoid water stops by carrying my OrangeMud hyrdraquiver vest with a water bottle. Except for one stop at mile 12 water station, I didn’t stop at any others.
My Garmin Forerunner 620 appeared to be functioning well early but by mile 9 it failed. Could not revive it despite several valiant attempts. I did notice I was sweating a lot and it was salty sweat: maybe that jammed up the Garmin GPS sensors on the bottom of the watch. (I frequently have to clean these sensors with rubbing alcohol to keep them clear.) The watch would turn on, then shut off repeatedly. Switched to Vivofit2 to count mileage/time. Then I had to get creative. I had my iPhone 6 to tell me what time it was. But I also had Snapchat speed filters that tell you how fast you are running pace-wise either in a split-second time slice or in a :10 slice. Combining these creative solutions with a little more running by feel than usual, I was successful in keeping the pace pretty steady to finish strong. I knew that I had roughly a half hour to work with remaining in order to beat my Run Laughlin time. I considered asking other runners what the elapsed time was after I lost GPS but decided that I had a combo of satisfactory race hacks figured out to finish the race strong.
A few of my race pace checks with the Snapchat app showed I was running slower than I should be to stay on pace so I picked it up until my pace was on target from what I could measure.
It became apparent by mile 11 or so that I was going to be under goal pace/Run Laughlin pace and that a PR might be possible. Achieving a PR without precise timing equipment that is working is a challenge, however. But I was confident enough to take that very brief water stop at mile 12 and to snap a great picture of the winding course that you see above at the top of the post.
Nearing the finish line, I finally saw the mile 13 sign (it was a little nondescript, tough to see in bright sunlight but right there before you turn left for the finish line). I remember seeing/hearing my sister Gretchen before the finish line and that helped encourage me. Also heard my parents/saw them before the finish line. I stopped very briefly before the finish to try to snap the elapsed time for posterity since I had my GPS malfunction.
I was a little confused about my time at the finish. It looked like it said 1:43 when I crossed but I had salty sweat in my eyes. Then I realized we started 2 minutes late. Checking the results sheets at the park, I learned that I ran a 1:40:55. For a short while, I was confident that I might have possibly placed 3rd in my age group. But then I remembered: this is a broad 40-49 age group.
First I learned my sister Gretchen won her age group in the 10k (35-39) running 50 minutes or so. So we congratulated her and watched her receive her medal. We reconnected with my parents and family.
Then we waited for the posting of the race results. Meanwhile, I ate a delicious pancake breakfast at the park.
Finally, the results were posted. I finished 33rd overall, 5th in my age group, 25th among the men. I realized I had a very competitive age group. The silver lining was learning that I had run a 1:40:55, not a 1:43. I chuckled over that. 7 minutes faster than Run Laughlin! It helps to be running without bruised ribs and with adequate rest/sleep. Fastest half-marathon in 17 years! My last run this fast was in 1999 in Lincoln Half-Marathon (1:39). So happy that the chip recorded the time. Chip times sometimes preserve what GPS cannot or won’t if there is a technological failure. Still working to retrieve the Garmin file (I think it recorded 9-10 miles of data but the file is all messed up). 7:42 pace for the race. With the challenges that I encountered with technology in this race, I am amazed that an ad hoc solution can be cobbled together and work so successfully, combining running by feel with some “limited tech”/run hack solutions.
My race review of this race can be found at BibRave.com and I highly recommend this race to anyone to run. Wonderful half-marathon, much improved course from the previous hilly course that was a 2-loop challenge. My sister thoroughly enjoyed her 10k experience. There was a 5k and a kiddie run that was shorter than that so it’s wholesome laughing family fun. Laughter is sprinkled frequently from beginning to end and makes it a much more enjoyable experience. As you may know, the more we laugh, the more healthy and relaxed we are and running becomes easier, more effortless. The laughter breaks in this race did help me and it seemed the volunteers were determined to make everyone laugh somehow. So laugh and run effortlessly: relax and let the running flow naturally! Happy trails!