This is my age group trophy, which is carved from wood and is what inspired me to work so hard to place in this race. Anytime two of my loves collide, I am awestruck, and to top it off, I love swamps almost as much as birding and running. I had to do this race, even though it’s been 20 years since my last half marathon.
My little one participated in the 1/2 mile cub run.
I can’t help but see pre-race concentration here, but actually, she tells me she was just scared.
She actually looks like a runner in this shot, and I think there’s a little bit of pleasure on her face. They had the kids line up by age, which put her at the back of the pack, so when she returned from the out-and-back at the front, I was totally surprised. I was so proud of her willingness to just run and forget about her fears.
She was such a happy finisher.
The Dismal Swamp Stomp is a small, somewhat simple, but very well-run race inside the Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Before the race I read that the run basically is on a road that runs along a canal, but you don’t see a lot of water. You mostly see asphalt and trees, sort of like driving along Mississippi highways. It’s really flat, and makes for a good PR course, not to mention it’s an out-and-back course, which I have always liked.
I had not run a half marathon in 20 years, and my last race was in Savannah. I think I ran 1:26 or 1:27 for second place in my age group. It’s been a long time. Before this recent race, I’d been running approximately 11-minute miles. I don’t know what happened, but the last few years, I just kept getting slower and slower, not because I couldn’t go faster, but because I wasn’t worried in the least about speed, and it just happened—as I’ve never carried a watch. After reading about Phil Maffetone’s program online I got his book, The Big Book of Endurance Training and started low heart rate training, which usually slows people down. The theory is you establish your maximum heart rate accordingly:
1. Your target heart rate is 180 - your age. This will be your maximum heart rate.
2. Then there are other factors you will use to adjust it further. If you’ve been injured or are a new runner, you’ll subtract 5.
There are reasons for this. Maffetone believes we build our aerobic base this way, learn to better burn fat rather than sugar, and will stay away from injury due to the slower speeds. The best part about the program is that within 4 months you are supposed to be able to run much much faster with this much lower heart rate. Results are expected as early as 4 to 6 weeks and will continue for the next several months. There is much more to the program as well because it’s a holistic program addressing stress reduction, diet and other lifestyle issues. A lot of successful runners and triathletes have used this program and have lots of PRs to show for it.
So for my training because I’ve been such a slow runner these days, I’ve actually had to increase my speed a bit. I am able to run within my target heart rate at a 10 minute mile and even am beginning to move into the 9:40 range on cooler days.
That said, I did not expect to do very well in this race because of this slow training, and yet I really, really wanted a trophy. To complicate matters more, I found this chart online that said if I was training at a low heart rate at a 10-minute mile pace, I could race at an 8:20 pace. Wow. That sounded really wrong to me, but I could not keep myself from dreaming that it might possibly be correct.
Race day arrived with all kinds of troubles—like my small fender bender on the way to the race. Yep. And a terrible night sleep on the night before the big day. But something just took over my mind and body. That trophy. My stubborn determination. The sound of morning birds in the swamp.
There were pace groups, something new to me as someone who has not raced in years. I decided to stick with the 1:45 group until the halfway mark, which was only an 8 minute mile, but for me, it was like an all-out race in a 5k. I honestly had no idea how I’d stay with this pace until the turn around, but then I did. Gradually I did fade, but not that much until the last 3 miles. Still, I was able to hang on and finish at an 8:23 average pace, which considering my very slow training, was a surprise and enough to clinch 3rd in my age group and a trophy, which made me really happy. It’s hard to describe what training for this race has meant to me without saying too much, but I will say it helped connect me with my younger self in a very good way. It also was something fun to do to keep my mind off of my worries. It was just fun—pure and simple pleasure.
Where will I go from here? Well, I am not finished with the low heart rate training, so my plan is to continue with that and see how fast I can go at the lower heart rate. I’ve only been doing it about a month now. Then I’d like to shoot for another half, but with some 5ks and 10ks thrown in. But I’m slow these days, so this will probably take place in the fall.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Swamp Stomp and would recommend it to anyone who is up for a small, local half-marathon.
I’ve run dozens of races, most of them in my younger days, but a lot about racing is different today. Here are some first time experiences for me:
1. a turtle crossing the race course
2. women running in tutus
3. a young man throwing up again and again on the side of the course
4. a finishing video
5. no one calling splits, which must be because most have watches and there are chips that record splits
6. pacing groups