Monday, April 1, 2013

Race Recap: Clemson Easter Bunny Half Marathon

Clemson, SC

Rewind about six weeks ago - my Ragnar teammate Shannon mentioned he'd be in Athens for Easter weekend and did I know of, or want to find, a 13-mile route he could get in for training? Lucky for him, I'd already been eye-balling a half marathon just 90 minutes up the road in Clemson that was decently priced ($55!), close to not waste an entire day, and well... it looked cool because I'm a nerd and I like running through college campuses (that's a post for another day). HP joined on the (intended) fun. About three weeks ago, Shannon decided it wasn't a good idea, given that short amount quality time he'd get with his family that weekend (legit), and I hadn't registered yet anyway, so didn't think too much of it. Until Thursday. When they posted that registration would close at noon. I had 8 solid miles on my training plan anyway, so what if I ran 5 extra? I'd been looking at the race page even in the last three weeks anyway. And then I could also cross-off one more state on the States I've Raced list. Sold. I'm in.

So Saturday morning at 5:30, I was out the door and on the road to Clemson, South Carolina, and directly to the South Carolina Botanical Gardens, hosted on campus at Clemson. (Side note: it's such a weird concept that another state is just an hour up the road. You don't get that where I lived in California or Texas, or Arizona for that matter!) I hadn't been to Clemson yet, but I heard the campus was gorgeous (it is), hilly (oh, it is), and that it'd at least go hand-in-hand with my college campus nerdiness.
Gorgeous morning!
I was parked and at packet pick up by 7:10, grabbed my stuff, picked up my assigned chip, and made my way back to the car for some last warmth and to get my self together. I wasn't sure if I was running with my Nathan or not, did I want my headphones, how hard would I push it, where were those hills again? I was a mess, needless to say, until about 5 minutes before the start. There were a couple hundred folks, but I couldn't make out the difference between the half-marathoners and the 5Kers, so I figured I'd just wait until the end of the day to see who came through with what (final answer: 180 half-marathon finishers).
Fun things I appreciate about this race: 1) they give everyone ears to run with, whether you take them or not is your call. But most folks were in ears, which I loved. 2) There are hidden foam eggs along the course (about 6 inches big, so you couldn't really miss them). I appreciate the fun! Perks to small, local races.
Who doesn't love running in ears?
My goal for the race was simple: it was hilly, and I knew that (apparently didn't know how hilly), so I wasn't gunning to PR, but I wanted to run smart, strong, and solid. I wanted to know that when I finished, I was ballparking (yes, it's a verb) near my PR, which would show how hard I've worked lately and that I'm closer to that sub-2 goal than I think I am at times. I wanted to run in a way that would force me to push harder than I normally do, that I would feel it at the end, and be proud of my effort. Do-able, all around.

The start: immediately sets you on an uphill battle. Rude. The course starts (and finishes) on a service road through the gardens, so it's not as wide as one would like, even for a small race like this, so the first mile I spent weaving through folks trying to find my own groove. About .6 miles in, you hit the real road and everyone can do their own thing. Once I had space, I bolted out and tried to make up for some of that. See Mile 2 split for proof. Happy running morning already! I was planning on fueling smart: had a pack of caffeine Sport Beans 30 minutes before the race, and brought along Bloks for every 3 miles. Intentional, for pretty much the first time ever.

It was somewhere around the course's Mile 3 sign that I noticed that at every mile marker, my Garmin was about a quarter mile behind. I didn't think too much of the quarter mile, being that it usually catches up with itself, and that we'd make up for it.
Seriously. So pretty.
The middle: Amazingly, felt really good, even on those beasts of hills they call town. Happy with my strides, was watching my form, and felt pretty great. Was rocking through Clemson, enjoying the scenery, trying to find those hidden eggs, and just see how hard I could push through this race. Loved miles 4-7ish, where we ran across three dikes along the river (lake?), so were on grassy trails and at some point all-dirt trails. It was a surprise, but felt really great on my legs and enjoyed the views! Awesome. I also PRed my 10K (too bad this wasn't a 10K race!) split, at just about 58 minutes (woo!). Coming out of the woods and trails around mile 6, my Garmin again only read 5.49 - a whole half mile behind?! Now I was worried. I asked a guy near me what his watch read and he said the same. Hmmmm.... Mile 7 brings you back on to campus in the golf course, takes you up and around the center of campus, around the athletic complexes, and back across where mile 7-ish began. And where my downhill started...
The end: ...which is funny, 'caus miles 8-12 are basically all uphill. Seriously. Who didn't tell me this? So first off, without too much detail, I'll admit to breaking a cardinal Ragnar rule. I'll leave you guessing which one. It was an emergency. And then trudged along uphill, just ready to be done. I never saw a mile marker for 9, but when their course said 10, I had barely passed 9.00 on my Garmin. Started to freak out. Miles 10-12 are the worst: one, long, straight uphill shot until you get to the road that leads you back into the botanical gardens. I jogged along in here, but mostly walked, and figured I'd save the little I had left to get back down into the gardens. The only good part about the race starting on an almost-all-uphill is the casual downhill back to the finish. Somewhere along where my watch said 12 miles (their 13 mile marker), I was at 1:58:xx and gave everything I had into the end. My Garmin ended at 12.17 miles. 
#9... kind of?
I got my medal, and walked back to the chip table to return mine. One of the triathlon students (the race partially benefited the Clemson tri team as they try and make their way to Nationals) was there, and upon my asking if the course was certified (I know, silly me), he says, "I mean, it's short... but a mile short? Don't think so. But definitely short." Super. After walking around a bit and listening to folks, heard quite a number of people commenting on how short (a mile+ for most folks) their race was. 
Today was I looking closer at the maps and found where part of the change occurred. Mind you, there were no folks out on the race (minus the aid stations and police officers at road closures), and the course is only marked with signs and duct tape arrows on the road. So I'm not sure how/where/why we missed that extra half-block, but apparently that shorted us at least .7 miles.

So that was it. My final chip time is 2:02:28 - let's say I had bolted out another .8 miles at least, just to get over the 13-mile cusp, I would have PRed by seconds, or at least hit my current standing time (2:09). With that, given the challenge of this course, I'm happy. Given the mileage, I'm disappointed. 
First half of the race = awesome. Really, until mile 7 = awesome.
Race Pros
- Great, small local race
- Incredible scenery, especially if you've never been up to Clemson before
- Adorable shirt & medal to match 
- Decently priced (can't beat $55, and the price never changes)
- Well-run, great staff, great student volunteers

Race Cons
- No course volunteers for actual directions, all via signage or duct tape arrows on the road... thus that missed turn
- Short course? 
- Those blasted hills. Miles 10-12 are really the only part that are just insane. Rest are manageable!

I then drove around campus (being that we ran most of it, I knew where I was going) to get more of the Clemson experience in. I even got to break in found my way into the stadium! It was kind of cool - spring must be incredibly gorgeous up here and can only imagine how pretty it is when everything's in bloom, botanical gardens too. 
Hello from Death Valley!
All in all, I ran strong. I ran solid. And ran mostly smart. Ready for the next four weeks and this sub-2 quest to take off! Last race until April 28. Here we go!
Awesome medal at least? Photo cred to Adventure Geeks.
 Did you race this weekend? Would you wear ears for 13 (or 12) miles?

Side note: ViewSport giveaway winner revealed Wednesday!


  1. Aw I love the picture of you at Death Valley. When I was in high school I toured the campus and went to a NCSU vs Clemson game there :) Clemson was the only other school I applied to (besides NC State of course). My grandparents went there!! Maybe it's a race I can do next year, the medal is super fun but I agree with you I would rather run a half that is actually 13.1 miles!

    1. The stadium was awesome! Just loved it - can only imagine it on Game Day. You should definitely look into it next year - it's close, it's pretty cheap, and a great challenge, all things considered. :)

  2. "Who didn't tell me this?" Heh, I'm pretty sure I mentioned it on a comment to a much earlier post where you mentioned this race. lol.

    I'll have to look at my Garmin record to see if I missed that turn last year, but here's where I think most of the discrepancy came - look at their intended start/finish lines, and look at "your" start/finish lines - which of course are the *actual* start/finish lines that they used. They are off by at least a quarter mile (which means a half mile lost right there when you add start + finish together). So their actual course didn't match their intended course.

    1. Haha, I know. I always study course maps and I knew it was coming, I just didn't realize how LONG of a hill it was.

      And good point - I didn't notice the start/finish line discrepancy! Curious to see what your run looked like last year.

    2. My route was like yours, didn't have that extra block. But I think I found the mapmyrun that they used for last year's race, and it would have been correct last year: So it looks like they changed the course and it was either mismarked or people ran the old course not realizing there was a change. In addition to the start/finish location issue. I want to run this again sometime but only as a training run until they get their distance taken care of.

    3. Oh, also interesting then. Hm. I would run it again too - it's brutal enough it'd be an AWESOME training run, but I agree with the distance. Either way, it's (always?) been short, whether by a mile or .3, and needs some amending!

  3. Love the medal!!

    And that's really frustrating about the missed turn... especially considering how close you were to your PR.

    1. Love the medal too! And yeah... bummer. But it gives me a little more fire to make sure I make Nike DC count for good.

      Yo, I miss you!