What can you say about the Soaring Wings Marathon / Half Marathon / Relay Race? To me it is one of the best races located here in Arkansas because it is well-organized and has a ton of support from the volunteers and spectators, but it has a low degree of difficulty because of the hills.
I have had the pleasure of running the Half Marathon a couple of times, once in 2011 with a 1:47 time (where I hurt my knee at mile 6 and still finished with a good time) and 2012 with a time of 2:18 (where I had a horrible race due to lack of training). So in actuality, I have had issues both times running the course. This year, though, I decided to mix it up and run the Half Marathon as a Relay with my little running buddy, Braden. I didn't even know the relay was a two-person event until September and my first thought was to actually see if I could have Braden team up with someone else for the relay, then I thought, "What am I thinking, I could run the relay with him instead!"
We did have some obstacles we had to clear before I officially signed us up. The big sticking point was Braden's age. Since he is only 7 years old, the rules stipulate that he has to run with someone for his portion of the relay for safety reasons. Our only option was for him to run with his papa Bernie (who was running the Half) and initially Braden wasn't liking the fact that he would have to run at a slower pace to participate. After a few conversations, I told him that he should treat it like a fun run and he would still get a big medal at the end regardless on how we finished, so after finally relenting and seeing the bigger picture, we signed up.
The way the relay is set up is that the runner who starts the race runs 6 miles and then switches the timing chip to the second runner who finishes the race running 7.1 miles. At first I was going to let Braden have the glory and run the second leg to finish up the race, but since he had to run with Bernie, it would have done us no good for me to run a fast six miles and then having to wait for Bernie to arrive so he could finish out..not to mention the longer distance and hillier terrain on the second leg.
The great thing for Braden was that he got to experience a hilly run the week prior at the Survivors' Challenge 10K, so what little hills he had for his portion of the relay wouldn't be so difficult. Something that we hadn't had in any of our races, we were prepping for all week...the rainy weather. It seemed like an eternity since we had our last rain, and wouldn't you know it, it was predicted to rain the whole weekend. I swear it seemed I was looking at the Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and Weather Underground every hour for the 72 hours leading up to the race. The worst scenario would've been if there was lightning, then the race would've been canceled all together.
After I picked Braden up for school on the day before the race, we went to go get our packet and received clarification on how the relay worked, purchased a hat for him at the Sporty Runner to keep the rain out of his eyes, drove the course and talked about logistics, and had some Italian for dinner. When we got home, we went straight to bed because we had to get up at 4:45 a.m. to get ready and get out to Conway for the 7 a.m. start.
When we got up in the morning, I checked the Weather Channel and it said there would be thunderstorms during the race, but AccuWeather said rain, but mostly periods of just being cloudy during the two hours we would be on the course. I was keeping my fingers crossed hoping that AccuWeather would be correct!
Once we got to Conway, we dropped Braden and Bernie off at the starting area and drove to the relay point where I'd have to wait for Braden and take over from him. At about 6:20 it started to rain hard and I was praying that the race wouldn't be delayed by weather, but the rain only lasted a few minutes then it stopped all together. At 7 a.m. it was cloudy and the temperatures were in the upper 60's (which was good), but it was very humid.
Braden's part of the relay went really well. They got off to a good start and a quick pace as well. Braden said that he told Bernie that he was going too fast at the beginning for his half marathon and that he needed to slow it down a little if he was going to have a good race time. Braden also said that he didn't like going slow up the hills, but even though the pace was a little slow to his liking, it was only about 6 seconds slower than his PR pace at the 6 mile distance. In the meantime, I was waiting patiently at the relay point hoping that we wouldn't be too far behind the other teams once we made the switch.
Prior to the race, I had looked at last year's results for the relay and I figured if we finished with a time of 1:56, we would place in the top 5. The thing I noticed was that none of the teams who finished in the top 5 were running as teams this year, so I though we might have a shot at getting an award for finishing in the top 3. The first relay person came in at a very quick time, but his partner admitted that she was going to be a lot slower. A minute later the second relay person came in and he handed it off to his teenage son (I knew they were definitely going to be the team to beat). A few minutes after that the third relay person, a 10-year-old girl, came in and handed it off to what looked like another fast runner. Another couple of minutes went by and I was hoping Braden was getting close. As I went to try to get a good vantage point to wait, here he came! After stopping to take the velcro strap off his ankle (which took forever!) and putting it on mine, we were in 4th place and he ended up running a rain-free part of the relay.
Braden's splits were the following:
Mile 1 - 8:41
Mile 2 - 9:02
Mile 3 - 9:11
Mile 4 - 9:14
Mile 5 - 9:05
Mile 6 - 9:05
Overall, 9:00 per mile pace
I wanted to get off to a quick start, not only to start catching up to those in front of me, but to also put distance between me and any other relay teams that were behind me. The first mile for me was mostly downhill and I went at a much quicker pace than I had for my most recent training runs. I was passing runners right and left and no one was passing me, so I knew I was in pretty good shape. I started to slow it down because I knew I couldn't keep the pace I was going and it started to get a little hilly as well.
When I got close to the mile 9 mark, I was able to pass the runner from the first relay team and at that point we were now officially in 3rd place and at this point it finally started to rain a little, which actually felt good to run in. I tried to keep close to the 8:00 per mile pace that I had been maintaining, but I knew that miles 11 and 12 would be tough because of the hills (especially mile 12). My strategy once I started mile 11 was to try to keep a good pace, conserve some energy, don't let anyone pass me, and hopefully catch up to whoever was in 2nd place. Everything was going ok until the hill on mile 12. It was just so long and tough and for the first time I had a runner pass me who I had passed just earlier. I rarely do this in a race, but during the last few miles, I kept on checking behind me to see if I saw any purple bibs (the color for the relay runners) and once I reached the summit of mile 12, it was pretty much all downhill to the end and I knew I wasn't going to let anyone get past me.
Making the final turn toward the finish line I was thrilled to know that we were going to place and as I was getting ready to cross the line, Braden was cheering me on as I told him the good news!
My splits were the following:
Mile 7 - 7:36
Mile 8 - 8:16
Mile 9 - 8:01
Mile 10 - 8:18
Mile 11 - 8:24
Mile 12 - 8:40
Mile 13.1 - 7:57
Overall, 8:11 per mile pace
We finished with a total time of 1:53:02 at an 8:38 pace and finished 3rd out of 54 teams!
Our combined finishing time was faster than I had anticipated and my pace was quicker than I had been doing on my training runs that had been on flatter roads. Most of all, I was happy that we were both able to run a clean race without any issues.
This was the first time I had ever run a relay race and I had a blast being able to do it with Braden. Not only did we have a great result, Bernie came in 1st in his age group in the Half Marathon, and my brother Greg came in 2nd in his age group in the Marathon. Braden, because he loves to run, helped my brother and another Conway Running Club member finish out their marathons by running the last tenth of a mile and encouraging them along the way. Once again, the support and volunteers were outstanding (along with the food at the finish!) and it was wonderful seeing all of our friends from our running club as well.
Ultimately I was happy to see that AccuWeather was more accurate with their weather predication and even though I won't be here next year to run as a team with Braden, we'll definitely do it again upon my return!