Helvetia half marathon official results are here.
I got out to Hillsboro Stadium early — more than an hour before race time — because I knew traffic could be a bit of a pain. Even at that hour there was a long lineup getting off 26 onto Cornelius Pass Road; I bypassed that and took the next exit, which gave me an almost traffic-free approach right to the stadium. Following the crowd is not always the best way to go (something I myself have a hard time learning, especially on the highway.) This applies to races, too. During the half marathon, the crowd hardly ever took the shortest line through the curves. Usually they would make a beeline for the inside edge and then hug it, instead of cutting a straight line across the course to just hit the inside edge at the actual point of the curve. Trying to pay attention to the line, I found myself running all alone in the middle of the road a number of times… passing people who were taking the longer route.
Helvetia was my first half marathon, two years ago. I remembered two things distinctly. Number one, finishing in the stadium was fun. The stadium floor is bouncy.
The start (lower left) and finish (in the stadium) of the Helvetia Half
Number two, there are ungodly horrible hills in the middle.
Elevation profile of the Helvetia half marathon. Sorry about the software bug cutting off the top.
I had been hoping that I was misremembering or exaggerating the severity of the hills. It turns out I wasn’t.
Anyway, back to the start. I got my packet, walked back to the car, walked over to the start area, used the portable restroom (I was the first one in there! The toilet paper rolls hadn’t even been opened!), and walked back to the stadium. It started to rain and everyone ran into the covered stands. The rain would pass before the race started; the weather ended up being perfect: overcast in the mid to high 50s. With twenty minutes left, I walked over to the start area again and lined up for another turn at the restrooms. The line was slow and I ended up with only a minute or two to get into the starting area.
Off we went. My goal was to beat my 1:37:57 PR from this year’s Race For the Roses; that meant I wanted somewhere around a 7:30/mile pace. Miles one, two and three were 7:18, 7:20 and 7:29. The hills start a little after that. Mile four was a 7:37. Mile five has the monster hill. It really sucked the life out of me. I managed an 8:10.
Miles six and seven had some steep ups and downs as we made it through the winding out-and-back section. I felt better knowing the really big hill was behind me. 7:23, 7:32. Mile eight started uphill but soon turned into a long downhill glide. I knew I was done with all the uphill stuff and could just let it go. 7:03.
The last five miles were all relatively flat. Even a little bit of uphill was enough to get my legs complaining, though: they’d had enough of hills for the day. Still, I was running well and starting to reel more and more people in. I could also see that the pack in front of me was a lot smaller than I was used to seeing it, in a race of this size. Mile nine: 7:12. A lot of mile 10 is on a gravel road, which I don’t mind.
During mile 10. Photo by Kelly Johnson.
I was running really hard but starting to feel pretty good about my chances of finishing well. Mile 10: 7:23. In mile 11 we caught up with the tail end of the 10K walkers. Everyone did a pretty good job of sharing the road. 7:21. I was definitely passing more people than were passing me.
In mile 12, you have to get up over the freeway overpass, which my legs hated. It’s a short hill but I noticed it. Almost done, though. 7:24. Mile 13 is all flat, and you can just smell how close you are getting to the stadium. Somebody re-passed me and I fell into place right behind them for a few hundred yards. I don’t think he liked that. Then we came to one of those curves in the road that I talked about earlier. He followed the crowd, quickly to the inside edge. I took a lonely straight line inching gradually across. I blew by him. I passed two or three more runners as we hit the stadium parking lot and finished mile 13 in 7:05.
Just as we were about to hit the bouncy stadium floor, someone surged past me. I think it was a young woman, but my memory is a little hazy. My legs hit the bounce and I felt a thrill of tingly fight-or-flight adrenaline surge through the left and forward side of my head. I took off in a sprint, left her behind, and finished huffing and puffing.
I felt pretty good too. A little out of breath, but my legs felt fine. (They are tested quickly at Helvetia: you have to climb a flight of stairs to get out of the stadium.) I got my finisher’s shirt. Helvetia is still the only race I’ve done where you get the shirt after you finish; I like it. I got my free hamburger. Yum. I spent 15 minutes cheering on finishers, then decided I better leave before the traffic stacked up.
Time: 1:37:29. That’s a 7:27 average pace and 2:28 faster than my previous PR. 99th out of 3135 finishers. (99th!) 88th/1064 men; 21/218 in my age group.