When I toed the starting line at the Run for the Animals Half Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 29, it was the first time I was attempting to run a half marathon for speed in nearly a year.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, numerous races were canceled or went virtual this year. The Run for the Animals is a smaller event in a rural area, Onancock, Va., so it was able to keep its postponed date of Nov. 29. The race benefits animal welfare organizations serving the Eastern Shore of Virginia, according to the race website, and it is normally held in the spring. This was my fifth time running this race — I have now run this half marathon twice and the 10K three times.
I have run the half marathon distance several times this year, but none of those efforts were really for speed. Although I obviously realize why many races went virtual and I fully support not having large events and keeping runners, spectators and volunteers safe, I struggle to have the same motivation for a virtual race as I do for an in-person one.
However, since I have been doing a lot of slower running recently and hadn’t pushed myself at the half distance in a while, I didn’t want to set any super ambitious or unrealistic goals for Sunday. Before the event, I figured I would come in between 2:20 and 2:30 (of course, meaning 2:29:59). I’ve paced 2:30 for at half marathon races several times, so that usually is not a huge challenge for me. However, I hadn’t done a long run in the 11s in a while.
Because of COVID-19, there was a COVID screening at check-in/packet pickup, and the race went off in waves of 25 rather than a mass start. It was also a small race, with 55 finishers in the half marathon, 32 in the 10K and 42 in the noncompetitive 5K. I appreciated the small size, because I have been pretty cautious regarding COVID-19, but running outside is one thing I do feel pretty comfortable doing.
The race began at 9:30 a.m., and it was pretty warm for the end of November. I had on a short-sleeve shirt and shorts, but I changed into a tank before the start, and I’m glad I did. I set off in the second wave, which was one minute behind the first wave. For most of the race, I tried to look at my watch only when it beeped for that mile. I did look at it more toward the end in particular, because I was doing more calculations.
I ran the first mile in 10:34, and I was pleasantly surprised that it did not seem like a difficult pace to keep up. I figured I would try to keep each mile under 11:00 for as long as I could. Since the average pace for a 2:30 half marathon is 11:27, this would keep me well under that number.
I kept feeling good, and I ran the next miles in 10:48, 10:53 and 10:43. During Mile 5, I ate a few of the chews I’d brought, and that mile took a little longer: 11:35. I stopped at every water stop throughout the course, and there were a lot of them.
For Mile 6, I was back to a sub-11 mile, at 10:54. It was around this point that I noticed some soreness in my quads. I kept going, of course, though my pace slowed during the next two miles. I looked at my watch at the halfway point and I was at about 1:11-something. I walked some during Mile 8, felt like I got a bit of a second wind after that, then walked when I got to the Mile 9, 10 and 11 mile markers.
Around the mile marker for Mile 11, I started getting a weird feeling that reminded me a bit of the overheating feeling that I have had at races in the past. Knowing that it was most important to finish the race healthy and not wanting to overdo it, I walked a decent amount in the last two miles and had a couple small cups of Gatorade at the last aid station. I walked even in the last half-mile, but I sped up once I could see the finish arch. Once I started having a tougher time, I tried to calculate how slow I could run the last two miles and still come in under 2:30.
Because of the small size of the race, we spread out relatively quickly. There were some people I was somewhat near for much of the race, but it was pretty much a solo run for me, just with the feeling of being in a race and water stops along the way.
Unfortunately, I noticed my watch was running after I finished the race, so I think I stopped it and accidentally restarted it. So, while the time recorded on my watch was 2:29-something, my time on the results was 2:28:54 — an 11:22 average pace. That would have been consistent with what I saw on the clock, as I remember seeing 2:29:40-something as I approached the finish, and I started one minute later than the clock did.
Although it was my slowest-paced in-person half marathon that I was not pacing, I was totally happy with the result. Though I’d like to get faster, I have not been training to be fast. I came in under 2:30 and in the range that I thought I would.
I was also talking to a friend afterward about how many of us haven’t really been training hard this year, with so many races canceled. I’ve been running a decent amount, but a lot of it has been at an easy pace — I’m one of those seemingly few people that never has a problem running easy.
I was one of the later finishers (No. 45 of 55 in the longest distance race), so many people had already left by the time I finished, and it wasn’t crowded. I got a bottle of water and some venison chili with chips and cheese and cookies from volunteers, and ate outside, finding an empty table for social distancing.
Everything was outside this year, which I also appreciated because of COVID. Previously, there were food and bathrooms available inside, and this year, there were outdoor tables and porta-potties with hand sanitizer and wipes.
I was surprised to hear my name called for an award. I won first place in my new 30-34 age group. Once the results were available online, I saw that I was one of two in my age group. The awards at this race are always really nice and unique. I also got a finisher medal.
The next Run for the Animals isn’t even a year away — next year’s race is May 2, 2021.
Mile 1: 10:34
Mile 2: 10:48
Mile 3: 10:53
Mile 4: 10:43
Mile 5: 11:35
Mile 6: 10:54
Mile 7: 11:18
Mile 8: 12:02
Mile 9: 10:54
Mile 10: 11:29
Mile 11: 11:45
Mile 12: 12:54
Mile 13: 11:50
Last part: Watch accidentally ran long so it’s inaccurate, but it had 2:00/13:29 pace, 2:29:44 (11:23 average pace)
Official Time: 2:28:54, 11:22 average pace