Parkinson’s Half Marathon 2013

Posted Monday, May 20, 2013

I am posting this report fully a month after the event, but here it is. It was my first half-marathon; I mailed the registration check on December 7, 2012, and it was processed on December 26, so I had plenty of time to train for this race. Being my first winter as a runner, I didn’t know how it would go, but I grew to enjoy the winter runs… even though it meant running in cold, wind and even falling snow. At one point I was set back by an injury, but I quickly recovered from that, and by March 12, I was energetically charging hills once again, despite wind and snow.

Preparing for the race

My longest training run was a 13.13-miler on April 3 (this was my longest run ever to date); assuming a strong but relaxed pace, I finished the half-marathon distance in 2:03:56. I aimed to complete the actual race in two hours, so I knew from this that it should be no problem. Then came the taper; the race was set for Saturday, April 20.

Even the taper wasn’t without incident:

With my half marathon three days away, I feel pretty good except for a sore, stiff muscle in the right quadriceps. I think it happened on Monday’s hill run. It got worse after Tuesday’s easy 2.3-miler. Hopefully it repairs okay by Saturday, with some rest; I can always warm up a bit just before the race.
April 17 at 2:55 p.m.

Possibly my biggest anxiety was the weather: I feared that on race day it would either be windy, very warm (which I wasn’t used to, having trained all winter), or pouring rain.

So far it looks like the weather will break just for Saturday, then turn rainy again on Sunday… this works well for my race! ~ I wish the best to anyone running races or doing anything at all outdoors on Saturday. Enjoy the day!
April 19 at 9:14 a.m.

Then my work schedule threw a wrench into the works:

Worked 6-10 pm tonight, will be in bed by 11… getting up at 5 am; the race is at 8. Goodnight World!
April 19 at 10:36 p.m.

The morning of the race

T minus 2 hours and 36 minutes. Weather will be chilly but with no rain/snow and only light northwest breezes. Nice day to run a half marathon.
April 20 at 5:24 a.m.

Upon arising at 5 a.m. I ate a light breakfast, just a bowl of cold cereal and a cup of coffee. I had been very careful with nutrition before the race, but I did a poor job with hydration; this would become evident later. At about 6:15 Wendi and I started the drive from Janesville to Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, where the race was to be run; we arrived at about 7:00, and the race would begin at 8:00. We went inside to get my race packet and bib (I was #4783). The race was chip-timed, so I had to fasten the chip to my shoelace; this was a new experience for me, still a novice in the racing department (Wendi had to help me with this).

Glacial Drumlin Trail entrance

The race proceeds would benefit APDA, the American Parkinson Disease Association, to promote research and treatment for Parkinson’s and similar movement disorders. We have a vested interest in this, as Wendi’s sister suffers from corticobasal degeneration, which is another disease on the same spectrum; she is my age (55) and already in pretty bad shape.

The race begins

The half-marathon course runs along Glacial Drumlin bike trail between Cottage Grove and Deerfield; it was said to be straight, flat and fast. There was also a 5K race to start at 8:30. Before the race there was a speech by Jefferson Award winner Bob Nasett, the founder of the race, who himself has Parkinson’s but managed to run the 5K. The speech was quite inspiring. After that, everyone gathered at the start line. This was my first time in a race this big! Soon the race started; it took 11 seconds for me to even reach the actual start line, much of it walking… then we broke into a slow jog, everyone chatting excitedly.

Runners ready to race

There was a slight uphill at the beginning of the course, followed by a longer, more noticeable downhill. I wanted to take off down this hill, but the field was still too crowded. After that, the course was flatter. It was primarily tightly packed gravel, but later on it was dirt. It would have been muddy, but it was still frozen since it was 30° at race time. As the runners spread out more, I was able to pass a few people. The RunKeeper app on my iPhone said I hit mile 1 in 9:42 (pretty slow), then miles 2 through 5 at 9:00 or faster (I saw the splits later, after the race). I maintained a good pace (9:20 or better) through mile 10… more on the rest later.

Another runner, a local guy named Brian, ran alongside me for miles 5 through 8, and we chatted along the way. He lost me at the water station at mile 8.3; later I learned that he finished over three minutes ahead of me.

A tough but rewarding finish

I began feeling weak at about mile 8.5, and the feeling got worse after mile 10. By mile 11 I was feeling numbness in both arms. I knew I was in trouble. My choices were limited: A) keep going and coast or jog to the finish, or B) stop and phone someone to come and get me! Having come this far already, I went with A, but my splits for miles 11 through 13 reflected my condition: 9:52, 9:43, 10:08. I was passed by many of the same runners I had passed earlier in the race: one lady said she was making up lost time after a two-minute porta-potty stop; another man alternately passed me, then I passed him, over and over, as he was doing run/walk intervals. Finally he disappeared in the distance ahead. Adding to my predicament were a few muddy spots, as the temperature was now above freezing.

Remember the long downhill at the start of the race? Well, it came back with a vengeance at mile 12.7. Like a trooper, I tried to run up it, and when I realized that I was gasping for breath, I had to stop running and hike for a short distance, probably 50 meters. Then I broke into a jog and approached the finish line.

I was overjoyed when I saw the race clock; it read 1:59. I would still finish in under two hours! Wendi met me at the finish line and put the finisher’s medal around my neck. In my weakened condition, I nearly fell into her arms. She led me to the table where the food and water was. I got a piece of pizza, some fruit and a bottle of water, then sat down and slowly ate and drank, chatting with a lady named Rachael who finished right ahead of me. As I ate and drank, I began to feel better. During the next hour and a half I consumed four 10-ounce bottles of water; it was now obvious that I had gotten dehydrated! Wendi, in her wisdom, had advised me before the race to take a sports bottle with me, but I had said, “I’ll be fine. It’ll be chilly, and there will be water stations.” Little did I know! Though I faithfully stopped at four of the water stations, the tiny cups only held a few ounces each, and I had to stop running to drink from them, losing 20 seconds or so each time. Between that and my dramatic slowdown due to dehydration, I probably finished about three minutes later than I should have… but I was still happy with my performance and the experience overall.

Wendi was a real trooper: she was on her feet a lot that morning and even took part in what they called “The Amazing-Like Race”—it included activities to promote awareness about Parkinson’s Disease. After the race, she brought me water bottles while I sat and rested. We were both tired but upbeat for the drive home, but my day wasn’t over yet:

Work 6–10 last night, half marathon this morning, work 5–10 tonight. I wouldn’t have planned it this way… I’m really spent! Chances of sleeping well tonight are excellent.
April 20 at 10:51 p.m.

Race results and off-distance

Official results are already in from yesterday’s Parkinson’s 13dot1 Half Marathon and 5K in Cottage Grove, WI. My finish time was 1:59:06 - I was 6th of 14 in my age group and 182nd of 358 overall. Middle of the pack… not bad for my first half. I’m very sore but very pleased. Thanks to everyone for all the encouragement!
April 21 at 12:44 p.m.

For some reason, my RunKeeper app showed the race distance as only 12.74 miles instead of the full 13.1; the mile markers were coming up about .03 mile earlier each time. Later I measured the route on Google Maps and came up with 12.77 miles; this puzzled me until I received this note from the race directors, on the day after the race:

As you are reviewing your results we want to let you know that we had an error in our GPS equipment when setting our mile markers for the race. We can confirm that the course was not the full 13.1 miles, however we have had varying reports as to the actual distance. We are unsure if this error affected the 5k distance as of right now. We apologize for the error on our part and want to assure you we will avoid this error in the future by getting the course certified. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you.

At 9:00 per mile, this made up my three lost minutes. I have no regrets; it was a great race and a great experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat!