Air Force Half Marathon took place on September 16, 2017 in Dayton, Ohio. This race was on my "racing bucket list" for some time, but because of cost or time of year, I had never run it before.
I found out about this race at the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon Expo, and the medals were always impressive. Last year, I decided that I would put it on my calendar and register on the opening day, to get the best price. I have always had the utmost respect for our military branches, and wanted to race Air Force and someday Marine Corps Marathon (in Washington, D.C.). It wasn't on my mind to run the full here, since I had already received entry through the Chicago Marathon lottery system.
It wasn't until mid-summer when I realized that I would have to start training again for fall races. Normally, my goal race has been in November, so having a full marathon in October threw me off a bit. I should have started training at the end of June, or at least the beginning of July. Since, I had tons of traveling, I didn't start officially training until the beginning of August, leaving a mere 8 weeks before Chicago race day. Because of the full marathon goal, Air Force became a "training run" in my mind, and the timing was not the best: 3 weeks before the full. This means, I would have to make Air Force into my LONGEST marathon training run, and add miles afterwards. (I wouldn't necessarily recommend this strategy).
So, with a few weeks under my belt, I had worked my way up to my 18-mile long run, and Air Force Half Marathon was falling on my 20-miler Saturday. I went up to Dayton (a 3-hour drive), knowing that it would be a quick trip and a way to get in those miles, get a medal, and most of all, get to hang with one of my best friends, Kara.
Kara had gotten my bib the day before, so on Friday afternoon, I drove to Dayton area and settled in for the evening. We talked about goals, and I really wanted to get another sub-2-hour half marathon again. I had hit my sub-2 half last December at Country Music Highway Half, and in the spring, I was training for my first ultra marathon (Playin' Possum), and hitting sub-2s in all of my training runs. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it again, even with some time off and less training. But, if I missed that goal, I just wanted to finish healthy and complete the rest of the 7 miles that I needed for the day.
The morning of the race was BEAUTIFUL. Kara had left her phone and Garmin, so I kept my phone for music, and she used my watch to track our mileage. She had run this race several times before, so we planned to park and run to the starting line to get a "warm-up mile" in beforehand, leaving less to do after it was over. She was right. It was exactly 1 mile from our car to the starting line! We stopped for some pictures and enjoyed the sights and sounds around the base. It is a really awesome place to take in. I kept thinking of how much my boys would love the giant airplanes and all of the things around the museum.
The starting line was crowded and it was warming up VERY quickly. I was getting super nervous because I usually do not perform well in the heat. At all. We watched the parachuters and the national anthem was sung perfectly. I quickly texted my husband to pray as the sun was already full out. I already felt dehydrated. Then, I put out a message on Facebook for prayers as it was already 70 degrees at the starting line (at 8:30am). But, no backing out, so off we went!
The first few miles were pretty good. Kara and I talked and my mind was going all over, without my Garmin to tell me all the details of where I was. The entire course was on the base and on paved roads, so there were no problems there. We were on target for pace at Mile 3, but already slipping a bit by Mile 4. We were ahead of the 2:00 pacer still, but I was doubting if I could keep up. It was hard to breathe and the hot air was thick. Several of those first miles were shaded, but it was still hot. By Mile 5, I saw the 2:00 pack and I could see that Kara was trying to drag me along and get me up to that group. I didn't keep water on me, so I stopped at every water stop, and was alternating Gatorade and water each mile.
By Mile 6, it wasn't enough. I was really thirsty, and my sub-2 was far gone. At that point, I was mad at myself for not being as trained as I had been in the spring, and I was disappointed that the heat got to me so quickly. I was double-fisting each water stop after that, grabbing a Gatorade and then a water each time. By Mile 8, Kara was dumping water on my head at each stop as well. Mile 8-9 had a decent incline and I was really struggling to breathe. It was ugly. I wanted to cry, but didn't. I was embarrassed that my run was so far from what I knew I could have done before. Kara helped me stay kind to myself and just run. We both knew we had miles ahead, even after the finish line, and all I could do was to keep going.
The course was relatively flat, but the few long ascents felt like mountains at that point. Sponges soaked with cold water were a welcome sight at Mile 10. Somewhere after that was another long hill, and Kara encouraged me to run the whole thing, and I gave up and walked half of it. By Mile 12, I decided that it was going to be what it was, and sulking about it doesn't help anything. I'm my own worst critic. The crowd picked up a bit at Mile 12.5 to the finish line. Kara took my phone to snap some pictures, and she ran ahead of me a little bit to get my finish pic. It's a very strange feeling to see the finish line and know that you STILL have 6 more miles to go... in the heat... after that.
I crossed the finish line and was SO happy to be done. I couldn't wait to down a bottle of water and just stop running for a few minutes. There were airmen at the finish with the medals, and it truly put everything in perspective for me.
No matter what I was feeling during the race, I was ABLE to run, and I completed it. There is nothing that compares to the sacrifice our military men and women make on a daily basis. It was a true HONOR to run the Air Force Half Marathon.
This is the 70th anniversary of the Air Force, so the medals were really well done. The volunteers were amazing, and just the atmosphere around the base was positive and celebratory.
I had thought about running back to the car to get another mile in, but my stomach turned on me, and we had to walk back to the museum area before we ran again. I had two full bottles of water at the finish and a cinnamon bagel from Panera, but nothing settled it. I actually felt nauseous for a while after that. Once I was able to collect myself, we tried running again to the car. It was about 0.60 miles at that point, so we clocked it and set out to a local park to run/bike the rest of my miles for the day.
Air Force Half Marathon was a well-done race. The swag included the hat I raced in, plus a long-sleeved tech shirt to match. The medal and patch were top quality, though I'm honestly not sure what I will do with the patch! The water stops were well-stocked and volunteers were great. Around Mile 5-6 there were even people cheering alongside the course with bacon!
My biggest issue with this race is the start time and potential for heat. In fact, when speaking to others who have done this course, heat has been a consistent problem for the last few years. I learned a while back not to race in the summer, but September 16th still felt like summer! The full marathoners were coming in to the finish about the same time as the half marathoners just after me (My finish time was 2:05). They had an earlier start time as well. Since I am used to starting my long runs at 6:00am, the 8:30am start threw me for a loop. If the race was at 7:00am, I would definitely do it again.
I am thankful that I got to have this experience. And more than anything, I am glad to spend some time with my dear friend, as she has been a mentor for my running since the very beginning. Kara and I ran my very first half marathon together in Columbus in 2013, and I'm so glad to have her run my 19th half with me here. God knows exactly who and what we need in our lives at the perfect times. I am thankful to have had her by my side at Air Force Half.
Wife. Mother. Runner. Coach. Adoption Advocate. I strive to share HOPE through my journey and help others reach their goals.