I tried a new strategy at the Salisbury Half Marathon and am inspired to work on speed

Female runner in pink shirt and black shorts running near the end of the Salisbury Half Marathon.
Here I am near the end of the Salisbury Half Marathon in one of the free race photos.

I usually feel like I’m trained to run a half marathon with my regular running and marathon training, but ahead of the Salisbury Half Marathon on April 2, I felt different. My half marathons normally fall during or soon after marathon training, so I’m already doing a decent amount of long runs. This time, I hadn’t done a double-digit run for a month. I was the coach for this race, and I wrote training plans, but I didn’t follow my own plan.

I felt surprisingly good at the Maryland-D.C. RRCA 10 Mile Club Challenge in late February, which was two weeks after the Algonquin 50K, which I did not finish officially (though I still logged the distance). I knew I’d be slower at the RRCA race than in previous years, but after putting in many miles for Algonquin training, I conquered the hilly course in just under two hours, in an 11:49 pace.

I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis, and since the Club Challenge, I’ve been easing back in — and I honestly haven’t been super motivated to run longer distances, even though I’m training for Grandma’s Marathon. With a month off from long runs, though, I am now ready to dive deeper into the training and I did another double-digit run (split into two runs) the weekend after this half marathon.

Because of my lighter training weeks and lack of long runs, in addition to my on-again, off-again plantar fasciitis, I decided to run the Salisbury Half Marathon using run-walk intervals. Though I love run-walk intervals in training, I’ve never used consistent intervals during a road race — I’ve walked hills and through water stops, and when I’ve needed to.

Three people behind an Eastern Shore Running Club Table. Bart Yasso, center, is with ESRC officers Vanessa Junkin and Veronica James.
Veronica and I got a photo with Bart Yasso at the packet pickup.

I ended up with my slowest half marathon race to date (excluding pacing), though I would not blame that on the intervals. I did end up waiting a few minutes for a porta-potty, and without that stop, I may have beaten my time of 2:39:40 from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon last summer (which also included a bathroom stop).

I’m the coach for the RunSBY Events, and I provided training plans for the marathon and half marathon, checked in regularly on the race’s Facebook group and also answered questions that runners asked me. I was given a free entry to the race as the coach.

Last year, I ran 2:20:31 at the Salisbury Half. That’s a 10:44 pace, and since I’ve hardly been doing any runs in the 10s, I figured that was unlikely for this year. However, I figured I could probably beat my pace from the RRCA Club Challenge, because this race is flat — what I’m used to — unlike the Club Challenge course. I was not able to do that, but I think at least part of my struggle was mental because I knew I hadn’t put in the training and went into the race feeling like I wouldn’t do well.

I’ve been running a fast 1600 at the beginning of each month since January 2021, and last year, I ran my fastest of the year a couple days before the race, at 8:18. This year, I struggled to get through the 1600 the day before the race, and ran 9:25. That did not help with mental motivation.

A large group with pasta meals posing for a photo at a long table.
Pre-race dinner at Vino Garden with ESRC team members was a fun addition to this year’s race weekend.

Race festivities started the Thursday before the Saturday race, when I picked up my race packet at the Wicomico Civic Center and set up an Eastern Shore Running Club table, which I, as club president, worked with our club secretary, Dave. The next day, our vice president, Veronica, worked the table and let me know that Bart Yasso had arrived (my office is upstairs in the building where the packet pickup was held). Veronica and I were able to get a photo with Bart, who would be announcing the race the following day. Bart always remembers me, which is flattering, because I’m sure he meets so many people.

After work Friday, Dave had arranged a pasta dinner at Vino Garden, and we had a large group attend. It was great to enjoy dinner and chat with fellow teammates/friends before race day, and I hope we can make this a tradition.

Vanessa Junkin takes a selfie by the Mile 8 marker, which has the Eastern Shore Running Club logo on it.
I got a selfie with the Mile 8 mile marker, which has the ESRC logo on it.

I live about a half-mile from the race start, so I walked there Saturday morning. I’ve walked or jogged to the start each year I’ve participated, as the start is closer to my house than the finish, and the finish is only about a mile away. As I began walking toward the park, I saw one of my cats, Foxy, who had spent the night outside, and encouraged her home.

I also ran into my friend Diana, who had parked near my house. We walked to the start together. I’d suggested a photo meetup to the Eastern Shore Running Club at 6:45 a.m., but I didn’t make it for the photo as I underestimated the distance a little and then also spent a little time getting Foxy to go back toward the house. We got to see some of our other friends at the start, and we were off.

After trying out a few different kinds of intervals in a couple runs leading up to the race, I decided on 4:00 run/45-second walk. One of my go-to intervals in training is 4:00 run/1:00 walk, but I’m just not that fast of a walker and worried it would slow me down. I did skip the first walk interval because of the crowd, but I got on track with the second one. Of course, I was not tired at the beginning, but I wanted to do intervals throughout to conserve energy and be consistent. Particularly since I was not expecting to have a fast-for-me race (I am unfortunately many years removed from a personal record), I figured this was a good time to try intervals.

The race starts near the Salisbury City Park, then goes on South Park Drive and onto North Schumaker Drive. I felt great for the first few miles, running them in 11:14, 11:53 and 11:37 — about what I expected. I’d hoped to run sub-2:30, but also figured that might not be possible.

Vanessa Junkin, running, approaches three kids handing out snacks.
Here I am nearing the Leimbachs’ Goldfish and gummy bear stop. (Michelle Leimbach photo)

Unfortunately, during the fourth mile, I had to make a bathroom stop. I’d thought about it before, but there was never an open porta-potty. I hate to waste valuable time standing around waiting for a porta-potty, but when, to my surprise, I saw one at the start of Nutters Cross Road, I knew I had to stop. There was someone in there and one other person in front of me. I lost a few minutes here, with the mile coming in at 14:51.

This mile brought about a problem mentally. I was happy about the first three miles starting with an “11,” but this 14:51 mile really brought the average down, and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to catch back up.

I skipped another walk break after this and ran Mile 5 in 11:23. Mile 6 came in at 11:54.

It was around Mile 6 that I started feeling the distance, which makes sense, since my longest run since the 10-miler had been 6.5 miles. My feet weren’t really bothering me (they did afterward), but I was having some annoying coughing issues. The coughing issues have been going on for years, but have seemed especially frustrating in the past two years or so. I also just felt like I couldn’t go much faster than I was, but I was appreciating the walk breaks.

In addition to the run-walk intervals, I was stopping for water at each water stop and taking a brief walk, so that might be something else to consider if I were to do intervals again for a race. I might need to run through a walk interval if I’m about to walk at a water stop.

Vanessa Junkin puts her hands up while running as she approaches a a water stop.
Here I am after being told to put my hands up. This was a fun aid station! (John Phoebus photo)

Along the way, I got to see various friends. My coworker/friend Jamie was around Mile 3. Around Mile 9, I saw Carla, who had just run a 50-miler the previous weekend and was out there in her ESRC hoodie. I would then see Jen and Ashlyn at different locations in the next mile-and-a-half, who were also both wearing the same ESRC hoodie.

I originally hoped that if the intervals went well enough, I could speed up and run as fast as I could for the last mile — or more, if I felt really good. However, I decided to continue the intervals, as I was struggling a little more than I thought I would.

Just before the turn onto Riverside Drive, I saw my friend/ESRC member Michelle, who had been training with her young daughter, Faith, for the 5K. They had been coming to ESRC runs together and also attended the dinner the night before. Faith was out there with her sisters, offering Goldfish and gummy bears. I took a serving of Goldfish and congratulated them on their 5K, continuing to the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station just ahead.

Vanessa Junkin runs toward a water stop.
Here I am near Mile 12, approaching the Midshore aid station. (John Phoebus photo)

We’d each gotten a bracelet to hand off to a helpful volunteer, and I was appreciative of everyone who had volunteered for the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station and decided ahead of the race to hand it off at this aid station. I almost forgot to hand it off, but I gave it to Amy. Of course, I was super appreciative of every volunteer who came out to make the race a success.

Now there were only a couple miles to go, but I didn’t have it in me to pick up the pace much. The 2:45 pacer ended up in front of me, even though I knew I was not on pace for a finish after 2:45 (I did pass her at the end).

I could hear the last aid station, the Midshore one, well before I got there. The pacer looked a little confused by the sound, so I let her know it was just the aid station up ahead, although it sounded like it could have been the finish. From a decent distance away, I heard my name and to put my hands up. I was impressed they could tell who I was from so far away. Midshore was the aid station where my official Algonquin journey ended, so it was nice to make it through with plenty of time to spare this time. After the Midshore aid station, I saw Karla cheering me on.

After six straight miles starting with a “12,” I picked it up a little bit toward the end, with an 11:52 mile and then running the last bit (my watch had 0.23) in a 10:51 pace. I’d skipped the last walk break.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin, wearing pink shirt and blue visor, holding beer in plastic cup.
Here I am with my medal and a post-race beer after finishing the Salisbury Half Marathon.

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 2:42:19, an average pace of 12:23. I’d mostly been hoping to be a little faster because I am pacing 2:45 for the Coastal Delaware Running Festival Half Marathon at the end of the month, but I paced 2:45 in December and felt great. Also, without the bathroom stop, which I probably would have been too afraid to take if I were pacing, I would have had more of a cushion. I do think the bathroom stop did mentally derail my race a little bit, too.

When I finished the race, Bart Yasso was announcing, and he announced me as “my friend Vanessa Junkin,” and also mentioned my involvement with the Eastern Shore Running Club, which was fun.

After grabbing a piece of pizza in the chute, along with some cheese and peanut butter crackers and a bottle of water, I then headed to the stage area, where the Eastern Shore Running Club would be presenting our scholarship awards. I spoke briefly about the club before fellow member Eddy presented.

I then went to get my post-race beer (which was Evolution — I always appreciate a craft beer at the finish!) and connected with friends. One was Chrissy, who had used my training plan and checked in with me during her training. I’d been following her training on social media, too. It was so nice to be part of her finishing her first half marathon!

Group of five smiling female runners wearing medals.
Here I am with friends after we each finished the Salisbury Half Marathon.

After getting my second beer, I got a latte before walking home. It was nice to be back to the normal race experience, with food, beer, live music and socializing, after we were encouraged not to congregate last year (for obvious reasons — I’m not complaining about that, it was just nice this year).

I am continuing to get further and further away from my fastest races. My half marathon personal record of 1:50:18 dates back to 2013 (that was an unofficial race with friends, but I also ran 1:52:23 at a race in 2011), and it often seems like I will never get back there. It can be tough to think about how now I can’t even run two miles at a pace I held for an entire half marathon.

However, I know I need to make small steps (clearly, I’m not going to instantly cut 40, 50 or even 20 minutes off my half marathon time), and I also need to change something. For a long time, I’ve been doing the same things and running at the same types of paces.

I’ve decided I need to focus more on speed work (though I’m still planning to have 80 percent of my runs be easy) and start doing strength training. I have been doing yoga, but I also recently purchased a medicine ball and a monthly membership with classes. I’m hoping I will be able to run faster at Grandma’s Marathon in June than I did at the Philadelphia Marathon this past November. Stay tuned!

Race swag laid out — shirt, medal, picture frame, note, 13.1 sticker.
Here’s the swag for this year’s race, including a shirt, the finisher medal, a picture frame and handwritten note. Free race photos were also included.


Mile 1: 11:14
Mile 2: 11:53
Mile 3: 11:37
Mile 4: 14:51 (bathroom stop)
Mile 5: 11:23
Mile 6: 11:54
Mile 7: 12:36
Mile 8: 12:22
Mile 9: 12:04
Mile 10: 12:40
Mile 11: 12:30
Mile 12: 12:56
Mile 13: 11:52
Last bit (watch had .23): 2:28 / 10:51 pace

Final Time: 2:42:19 / 12:23 pace; Watch Time: 2:42:24 / 12:17 pace

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