Friday, November 14, 2014

#35 – Runner’s World Half Festival, shaved 10 minutes and lessons learned

A historical moment with running legends
Maricar and Bart Yasso.
5K #35 started at the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, PA on Oct 18, 2014. It was the beginning of the Hat Trick, a 3-part race consisting of a 5K and 10K on Saturday, and half marathon on Sunday for a total of 22.4 miles in 1 weekend. Each race was timed separately.

This year was the 3rd annual Runner’s World Half Festival and each year, I participated in various events:

2012, my first half marathon 
2013, first hat trick (6 weeks after my first full marathon) 
2014, hat trick

These races are notoriously challenging. Although they changed the 10K and half marathon routes this year, they were still quite hilly.


For my hat trick last year, I aimed to accomplish new personal records (PR). I was ecstatic when I completed the 5K in 0:29:14 (hours:minutes:seconds) . It was a PR and my first time to complete a 5K in less than 30 minutes. I wasn't successful the rest of the weekend, and I finished miserable and burnt out. 

In the days preceding this race, I reminisced and thought about how to run efficiently to accomplish these 3 goals:
  1. Beat all of last year’s times
  2. Finish happy and healthy
  3. Run hill #7
I’ve always managed to run all hills except hill #7 of the half marathon. After 12 grueling miles (or 21.2 miles if finishing a hat trick), this mole hill looked like Mt. Everest. It was quite difficult to resist walking at that point mainly because of sheer exhaustion. Also, racers who finished earlier walked home on the sidewalk, making the temptation to walk even more irresistible.

I bounced between 2 plans and finally made a decision while I was running the 5K. My choices included:
  1. Run like last year, or
  2. Relax and run it like a marathon: move slowly on Saturday and finish strong on Sunday

5K begins

The 5K was scheduled to start at 8 am, so I got up at 6 am and found a good free parking space at 7 am. It was a little chilly, about 53F and cloudy. However, it was still warmer than the last 2 years where temperatures ranged from 42-45F. This was the first year I wore 1 layer of clothes – t-shirt and shorts.

As we gathered at the starting line for the 5K, I positioned myself towards the back in the 14:00 minutes/mile area. I looked around, desperately looking for anyone familiar. None of my friends who ran the 5K last year was in sight.

I chose to start at the back because it was roomier. I thought this would give me enough space to maneuver to the front after we get started. It was a mistake. About a few yards out of the gate, the space I enjoyed, quickly dissipated and I ended up getting boxed in for quite a while. To my left was a bridge railing, and to my right was a runner pacing with me. Several runners were lined up in front about a foot away. I was pretty sure it was a foot because I was watching their feet closely, making sure I didn't accidentally step on their heels.

As we approached the first mile marker and major hill, the swarm of runners slowly dispersed and I was able to move ahead. The second mile started flat then turned downhill. Only 2 more small hills, I thought, and I was home.

I’ve never stopped for water in a 5K, and today was no exception. This year’s 5K was 29 seconds slower than last year. I was disappointed, but not devastated. Somewhere up the hill, I debated with myself: Do I want to use my energy for this, or do I want to save it for later? At the 2nd mile, I came to accept that it was more prudent to save the best for last.

10K run and learn

Maricar and I at the starting line.
I had 1 hour to relax before the 10K started. After eating a banana they handed at the finish line, and updating Facebook, I headed to my car to warm up, eat more Clif bar pieces, and charge my phone.

I met my friend Maricar at the 14:00 pace line about 10 minutes before start time. Maricar and I had fun taking pictures while we waited. It was crowded just like the 5K. About 7 minutes after we started, I lost sight of my friend.

After about 2 1/2 miles into the race, many started walking while we climbed Church street towards the Bethlehem public library. I felt myself slowing down. Suddenly, a grey-haired
We were surprised to find our friend
Ritchie after the race. This was his first 10K.
man, probably in his 60s, came zooming from the back. He encouraged everyone to “run the hills, run the hills. Swing your arms, just like pulling strings from your pants, or Pilates.” And with these words, he disappeared into the front of the pack. I thought about what he said for few seconds then tried it. I was blown away when I found myself overtaking many people. Exaggerating my swings provided more power. However, the super swings were also exhausting, so I just ran my normal way on flat terrains, and down hills.
In spite of my new found hills secret, I still finished the 10K slower than last year. I must admit, I was a little disappointed but quickly snapped out of it because I had the half marathon to look forward to.

Half Marathon, a time of reckoning

Saturday night, after a well-balanced dinner (unlike my bagel dinner Friday night), I organized everything for my morning race. I stuffed my fuel belt with
½ clif bar, cut into bite size pieces
3 clif shot blocks
tissue paper and $5 wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag
1 ponytail holder (in case the one I’m wearing breaks)
Then I put together my outfit, and packed my race bag with a change of shirt, shades, reading glasses, more clif bars, deodorant, and a beanie just in case it gets really cold. Then, I charged my Bluetooth, and went to bed at 9 pm.

Sunday temperatures dropped to 45F/7C, about 10 degrees colder than the day before. I did my usual routine: woke up at 6 am, checked the weather by going to the porch, and ate a clif bar while changing into my clothes. I wore my 2013 Runner’s World shirt. I love the 2014 shirt, but I didn't wear it because technically, I haven’t completed the 2014 race yet. I also did something I forgot to do on Saturday, that is, pray fervently for strength to finish this race in good health and time.

The starting line for the half marathon was different from the 5 and 10K. It was nearer the Sands Casino which was about ½ mile away from the finish line. I parked at the Casino lot at around 7:10 am, and waited in the car to keep warm while convincing myself to race without a jacket. Thank goodness for Facebook. I posted my dilemma and quickly got a response from Wendy of Taking the Long Way Home. All I had to hear was “You can do's not that cold!!” and with that, I got out of the car, ran around the parking lot for about 5 minutes, threw my jacket in the car, then headed for the starting line. By the time I reached the gates, I already stopped shivering.

Half marathon started at the Sand's Casino.
I started at the 11:00 pace line this time. I thought about staying in the 14:00 group but after my experience in the 5K, I decided to move forward. I also wanted to take advantage of the warmer crowded area.

This year’s first 2 miles were flatter than last year which provided a good warm up. After approximately 20 minutes, I saw the first hill about 200 yards ahead. It looked daunting but I kept quiet. Other runners weren’t as calm. I don’t understand why the hills would be a surprise to anyone. Course and elevation maps were on the organizers’ website, and they sent it via email too.

I walked through all water/aide stations except for the first because it was too early, about 1/4 mile from the starting line.  
It's the same station we went through after the eleventh mile.

My first walk was at mile 6.  I started slowing down about 50 yards before getting to the aid station to grab a piece of clif bar from my fuel belt. Then I started walking so I can eat because I cannot eat nor drink while running. I wasn’t hungry but I didn’t want to risk feeling weak later, especially when there is no hydration available. I took a glass of water, and Powerade then combined the 2 because the Powerade alone was too sweet. By the time I had these liquids in my hands, I was already done chewing and used my diluted energy drink to wash down the food. 
Runningskirts gave out water and skirts at mile 8. I took
this picture from their youtube video.

Mile 8 water station was fun. A group of cheerful women, and men, dressed in pink tights and skirts handed out hydration fuel. Later, I found that they gave away running skirts too. Yes, for free!

Temperatures dropped further. At mile 10, I couldn’t feel my right arm anymore. Just a 5K left, I thought, and I’m done. As I approached the aid station at mile 11, I deliberated on walking through it or continue running. I wanted to finish strong so I walked through it, and took a sip of diluted Powerade.

Passed mile 12, and I mustered all the energy I have left to conquer my nemesis: the dreaded hill #7. I used everything I learned about running hills, and ignored anyone who walked. Success!

At the finish line, I met my friend Nina who welcomed me with a big smile. I tried to talk to her but found it difficult to speak, not because of exhaustion, but because my face was frozen. I didn’t realize that it was that cold.

Sorry I didn’t get to take pictures. My phone died as I was finishing the 13th mile.  I found another friend, Jason (Maricar's hubby) who also finished the half.  After partaking in the post race buffet of bagels, bananas, Powerade, and water, we headed over to see if there was anything left of the Expo.  To our disappointment, they were all gone. We missed our chance to get a Runner's World cover photo.

The Expo this year, and post race festivities didn't seem as extravagant as last year. There were less vendors, and less giveaways.  No beer tent too.

In retrospect, I’m very happy and grateful with the results of this race because I met all my goals:
  1. Beat all of last year’s times. Although my 5 and 10Ks were slower than last year, my half marathon was at least 10 minutes faster. Bottom line, my hat trick was 8 minutes better than last year.
  2. Finish happy and healthy. After this 22.4-mile weekend, I’m thankful that I still had energy to clean the house and enjoy family time.
  3. Run hill #7. I survived all the hills, including #7. Surprisingly, the hardest climb was between mile 7 and 8 on Illick’s Mill Road (#4 on elevation map). 

Lessons Learned

Running hills

Keep heels down (source: chi-running) 
Turn upper body slightly to the side (source: Betty Olmstead, Facebook) 
Swing your arms forward as if you were pulling strings from your shorts (source: the unknown runner) 
Eat nutritious well-balanced meals, especially in the days before race. I tend to lose appetite during the 3 -5 days before a big weekend race, and I end up eating more carbs than anything. On Friday night, I ate 2 bagels with peanut butter. On Saturday night, I had 4 oz of steak, 3 oz of grilled potatoes, and some vegetables. Next time, I will have a meal plan for the week. It's just as important as a training plan.
Eat breakfast. I’m not a breakfast person and sometimes have to force myself to eat a whole clif bar. On Saturday morning, I only ate half a bar before the 5K. On Sunday, I ate a whole bar. 
No alcohol at least 5 days before race? Not sure about this, but I did it anyway.


  1. Failing to thank the runner who shared a valuable tip on how to run hills efficiently.
  2. I Didn’t get a free running skirt.
What's next? More 5K's and a marathon in January 2015.

2014 Tech Shirt

2013 Tech Shirt


  1. OMG!!! I had no idea that a comment would get you moving!! Great job! Aren't you so glad you ran it?

    And I'll be channelling this advice tomorrow at my 8K. It's going to be CoLD!

    1. Words can be powerful. And your timing was just phenomenal. Thank you for your support =)

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