When Jaime first told me about the Downhill at Dawn half marathon near her neck of the woods, I immediately wanted to run the race. As a kid, my church’s youth group had attended retreats at Ridgecrest, NC. I knew the scenery would be gorgeous; the early morning weather would be mild for June, and downhill? This had all the makings of the perfect race.
We arrived at the race at 5, as per their instructions. We had plenty of time to hit the bathroom a couple of times, stretch out, and just relax a bit before the race. I ate a whole packet of shot bloks (along with having a Lara bar for breakfast) and drank a bottle of nuun enhanced water waiting for the gun.
Jaime had given me a bottle of G2, which I poured into my hand held. Gatorade wouldn’t be available until mile 8 on the course, but water would be more prevalent. My hydration plan was a success, and will be repeated in warmer races.
(from here on out the pictures are taken from Jaime, with permission)
We lined up at the start beside some friends of Jaime’s. We realized too late that we were practically the front row, but we were too close to gun time to migrate backward. The race was small enough (just under 400) to make passing easy. In the first few miles, I felt like I did a lot of being passed and a lot of passing.
Mile 1 – 8:10
True to the name, the first mile was downhill. The first half was in the 7s, which is crazy fast for me. I tried to hold back, knowing that there were some uphills coming.
Mile 2 – 8:32
This mile was mostly flat, with a bit of a decline. The only out & back section of the race, I started seeing the top runners coming towards me. This meant that Jaime & I had the right direction in mind when driving part of the course the day before.
Mile 3 – 9:22
At this point I could see the slight incline and settled into a steady pace in anticipation of what was to come.
Mile 4 – 10:20
This mile was hard yo. Downhill my @$$!! This was the first point where I wondered if my sub 2 goal was attainable. I hadn’t trained much for this race (no long runs since my last half) and I knew it could easily catch up with me. As I rounded the top of the hill, I was reminded why I was running this race.
Mile 5 – 9:33
Turns out, Jaime and I were wrong when we assumed we knew which direction at the fork the race would take. Instead of downhill, we went up. Again. Hurrah! Or something like that. Thankfully the incline was brief and took us to the trail portion of the course.
Around this point I realized I hadn’t taken Gu yet (I normally take one every 3-4 miles), so I quickly took one, turned on my music, and got after it.
Mile 6 – 8:51
The serious downhill section is on a dirt/gravel road. There were some big rocks which required me to keep myself alert, but weren’t painful as I had feared.
Mile 7 – 8:40
I very much enjoyed this whole section, and not just because of the downhill. The foliage was a gorgeous green; there was a waterfall, and a stream. It reminded me of running in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Mile 8 – 8:51
My paces were good, but not great. I regretted changing my watch from average pace to lap pace. I wasn’t sure they were good enough to pull up that slow mile 4. Thankfully the downhill portions didn’t hurt, yet. My calves were starting to tighten up, but nothing I couldn’t push through.
Mile 9 – 8:53
Around mile 9, we went off the gravel road and headed for the pavement. I noticed my Garmin started to read short on distance. I had read other race reports from previous years that this was a short course, although the web page shows the course certification information. I started rounding the corners to try to add on more distance.
Mile 10 – 9:06
Heading into town, this mile straightened out. Still gorgeous surroundings, only now we had fans cheering along the side of the road. Nothing like in the big city races, but just enough to get me down the road until I saw the next set.
Mile 11 – 9:33
This mile had the final uphill. After all that down, my quads were screaming. I didn’t want to go this fast. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was going very fast. Once again, I found myself thinking “downhill my @$$”.
Mile 12 – 8:55
I was thankful when we finally started running downhill again. I did the math on the run (knowing that math-in-my-head skills are sketchy at best), knowing I’d really have to screw something up to not finish under 2 hours.
Mile 13 – 9:27
Turning the corner off the road we’d be traveling, runners were directed toward a sidewalk. The race finishes in a small town. There was very little shade and I’m fairly certain it was an incline. When I saw the finish area, I tried to push but found nothing left to give. The uphill turn into the parking lot was brutal (and very typical of Asheville area races per Jaime).
Finishing Time: 1:57:47
12.9 my garmin read. A short course? Seriously?
I grabbed some water, and then headed around the church to finish my race on a side street. When I came back to the finish to cheer Jaime and her friends in, I found them already done. She had used both her Garmin and her phone to track her paces/distance. Her Garmin read short (and she noticed at several points along the course it had lost signal) but her phone showed the full 13.1 distance. Thus explaining how a certified course was short. It wasn’t, but satellites and tree canopies don’t always get along.
(total garmin time 1:59:14)
Not only had I met my goal of running the race in under two hours, I also met my 8:XX average pace goal. Just barely! 8:59 was my average over the 13.1 miles.
Overall standings: 134/398
Age group: 10/42
In hindsight, I wish I would have taken training for this race more seriously. Who knows what I would have been able to do. Also, downhill races, while fun, aren’t easy. My poor quads & calves still hate me today.
A Sub 2 Hour Half Marathoner