I’ve run the Lake Sammamish Half three times before (2013, 2014 and my 1:46:00 PR in 2018) because it’s flat, fast and falls at the perfect time to give me a reason to keep slogging through cold, rainy winter runs: the beginning of March. In previous years, it’s also been dry and sometimes even sunny, with the promise of spring just around the corner.
This year we were missing the “flat” and “dry” elements I loved so much, but that’s okay! We can’t get too greedy.
After I ran the Cascade Express Marathon in September and got Covid for the first time in October, I really struggled to get back into running regularly. Once I recovered from everything, it was the holiday season and food and wine and blah blah blah. I take an “off season” every year—usually the month of December—to just relax, indulge and work out whenever I happen to feel like it, but last year’s was a bit longer than usual and I entered 2023 feeling out of shape and ready to recommit to running.
I jumped right into the Snohomish Running Company’s 100-mile challenge for the month of January, as well as half-marathon training using a modified version of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 plan. I went from barely hitting 15 miles a week at the end of 2022 to 20+ miles a week, eventually peaking at 34 miles two weeks before the race. Since I started on January 1, I really only trained for nine weeks.
That said, I’m super proud of how fit I was able to get in that amount of time. I started training with very low expectations for the race; sub-2:00 felt like it would have been a huge win. But as the weeks progressed and I began to do some speed work, I was pleasantly surprised with the paces I was able to hit during goal-pace runs. My goal time began to creep lower and lower until eventually I was convinced I could PR (sub 1:46/sub 8:05 average pace).
I went into race day feeling confident, but not pinning all my hopes and dreams on a PR. I had already signed up for the Snohomish Women’s Run half marathon in early May (because Des will be there!), so I knew I had that coming up as another chance to PR if this one didn’t work out. I really just wanted to run strong and have a great race.
Finally: race day! I woke up at 5:00, ate a lemon chia blueberry Superhero muffin and an everything bagel with oat milk butter, and left the house at 6:00. I carpooled with my friends Chelsea and Beth to the finish at Lake Sammamish State Park, where we picked up our friends Kyra and Brad to drive to the start near Redmond Town Center; we left Kyra and Brad’s car at the finish so we didn’t have to take the shuttle afterward.
Race morning is always more fun with friends! It was in the 30s and lightly snowing as we drove, so we were all nervous about exactly which layers to wear and how wet we might get during the race. I wound up wearing a thermal pullover hoodie over a merino wool base layer, which was perfect.
We parked at Redmond Town Center at 7:00, which I thought was perfect for the 7:30 start time (lol, no). I even stayed warm in the car for five minutes since I figured I had plenty of time to go to the bathroom and warm up. But after I said goodbye and good luck to everyone—they all stayed in the car even longer, since they were just running for fun—and walked five minutes or so to the start, I found a super-long porta-potty line and immediately jumped in since I really had to go. I must have spent 10-15 minutes in line, munching on two sheets of graham crackers the whole time. By the time I did my business, I had only five minutes until the start time, which wasn’t nearly enough to do the warmup run and dynamic stretches I’d planned to do. NOTE TO FUTURE SELF: leave plenty of time for these important things!!!
On top of that, the narrow start corral was already packed with runners. There were little offshoots of people lined up just to get into the corral, but there was no room for them to do it until the race started and pockets of space opened up. I could have and should have squeezed my way into the corral, found the 1:50 pacer and made sure I was ahead of them. However, my PNW politeness and deference convinced me that wasn’t fair, and I should wait my turn to feed into the corral once the race started. (What?!? No!)
The result? Once I started running, I was well behind the 2:00 pacer. Disaster! Not only was the field super packed for the first mile or so, but I was behind people running much slower than I intended to run. I guess the plus side was that I hadn’t warmed up, so the first mile (9:21) served that purpose. However, it immediately put me over a minute behind on my time goal.
I simultaneously tried to weave around and pass people, but not waste too much energy in the first mile. I was also mentally split between losing hope for a PR and convincing myself I could make up the time with several sub-8:00 miles later on. I just decided to run my best and see what would happen.
One new thing I did in this race was keep my Garmin on the screen that shows only the pace/time of the mile I’m currently running. In training, I did this during my goal-pace runs to more accurately pace each mile and found it worked really well.
In the first few miles, I tried to keep my pace in the neighborhood of 8:05 and not too far under. I didn’t want to do sub-8:00 miles quite yet and risk blowing up later.
Mile 2: 8:08
Mile 3: 8:02
Mile 4: 7:58
Mile 5: 8:06
I took an orange UCAN Edge energy gel just before mile 5 and another just before mile 10. I also sipped Nuun throughout the race from both of the bottles in my hydration vest. I felt perfectly fueled and hydrated and didn’t need to use the aid stations.
Mile 6 is where the course diverted from the flat East Lake Sammamish Trail up to the shoulder of East Lake Sammamish Parkway. The trail was formerly all dirt/gravel, but has been in the process of being paved, section by section, since 2011; three miles of the trail are currently closed for that reason. I knew there would be a short, steep hill to run up to get to the parkway, and I powered up it as best I could, having done zero hill training. Once I was up, I figured I was good and only had a downhill to look forward to once we rejoined the trail in a few miles.
Mile 6: 8:20
Mile 7: 8:05
While I’m intimately familiar with running the trail, I have only ever driven the parkway (and biked it once) and didn’t realize there was a pretty decent hill (117 feet) in mile 8. Ruh-roh. This is the part of a half marathon where I kind of start hating running anyway, so the hill wasn’t great for my mental game. Again, I just did my best, but my legs were gassed after reaching the top.
Mile 8: 8:36
But I should be able to make up time on the downhill, right? I’m a terrible downhill runner, so no. 😂 For some reason I’m unable to let my stride open up and take advantage of gravity; I tend to put on the brakes instead. I suppose I’m afraid of losing control and falling. Anyway, we lost 104 feet in mile 9, but I didn’t have a great split to show for it.
Mile 9: 8:12
Here’s where I needed to really kick into gear and run all sub-8:00 miles to even come close to a PR, but I didn’t have it in me after that hill.
Mile 10: 8:03
Mile 11: 8:05
It started raining with two miles to go—big, fat, freezing-cold drops—and I wanted to give up, but instead resolved to get to the finish as fast as I could so it would be over sooner.
Mile 12: 8:03
Mile 13: 8:05
Those last miles seemed to take forever, per usual. I finally caught sight of the 1:50 pacers and used them as my rabbits. I passed them in the final stretch and was super proud of that.
Final 0.1: 7:32 pace
I had no clue what my time was until I stopped my watch and was pretty happy to see 1:47:54 (official time was 1:47:50)—only a minute and 50 seconds off my PR! If I had warmed up, seeded myself with the correct pace group and maybe done a little hill training, I probably could have PR’d. I’ve got another shot at the distance in May, so we’ll see.
Once I collected my medal, water and a few snacks, I took a quick selfie and hightailed it to Kyra and Brad’s car to change into dry clothes and shoes. Then I went back to the finish to cheer as all my friends finished—so fun! They had to endure the brutal rain for longer and crushed it. I’m so proud to have such badass friends.
The half remains not my favorite distance. I’d much rather run a 5K, 10K, 15K or even a marathon. But it’s great for its accessibility, and the training feels like so much less of a lift than marathon training.
I underestimated my recovery for this one, though; my quads were very sore for three days, so even easy recovery running didn’t feel like a great idea. I went into the office to work on the fourth day, so my day felt too busy for a run anyway. I finally ran an easy three on day five, and whew, it was not a picnic! Even a week and another easy three-miler later, my body still feels a bit beaten up. I guess that’s an indication I gave it my all, so I’ll take it.
I have fresh determination to see what I can do at the Snohomish Women’s Run in eight weeks. Let’s go!
Merino wool base layer: Rapha
Top: Brooks Notch Thermal Hoodie (old; current version)
Leggings: Zella Live-In Leggings (old; current version)
Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam 880v11
Sports bra: Brooks Dare Strappy Run Bra (old; current version)
Hat: Oiselle Runner Trucker
Hydration vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta (old; current version)
Fuel: UCAN Edge
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