Heels and Hills Half Marathon Race Review

Heels and Hills is an awesome race that happens twice a year and focuses on getting people of all shapes and sizes active.  Their May event is focused on women, and although men run (and they have an all male pace team that wear skirts), men are not eligible for awards.  Their September race is dubbed Heels and Hills and Him.  This race has all-female pace teams, and there are awards across the board.  All races have a half-marathon, 10K, 5K, and a 1-mile fun run so people of all levels can participate.  And for the record, the course is not hilly.  There are a couple of very slight hills, the largest of which is at the turnaround.  But for the most part, this is a flat and fast course.
The directors, Paula Robertson and Libby Jones, are hugely supportive of the running community in and around Dallas.  You may have heard me mention them before, but not only do they run area races, they often attend just to support their fellow runners.  For example, at the Hottest Half, which was utterly miserable due to the extreme temperatures and lack of water, the silver lining was that Libby was there cheering at mile 2 and handing out gummy bears and ice to runners at mile 11.  Paula was at the finish line with cold, wet towels.  Seriously, these directors back their message up with actions. 
I'm going to give one more shout-out to the directors, and then I'll get down to the nitty gritty.  There were a few things that weren't super smooth at the May race, and I was really pleased to see that the directors not only read the feedback, but apply it.  Instead of waiting in line for your timing chip race morning, they were included in the packet this time.  Parking, which was a little congested last time, was super quick and orderly this time.  (In their defense, half of Irving is under construction, so there's just some things you can't plan around.)  Lastly, there was a small section of the course last time that did a quick out and back that caused a bit of congestion.  The course was slightly modified to remove this section and make everything easier for the runners.
Now, let's get to race day!!!  I got up bright and early at 5am.  I had 3 awesome runners that were meeting at my house, and then I would drive us all to the race site - Jenn, Robin, and Elaine.  We left by 5:30am and got there way quicker than planned despite a couple wrong turns due to detours.  I was in the parking lot by 6am.  The race didn't start until 7:30am.  Oh well, better early than late, right?  We all wandered around a little, checked out the race site, took our first potty break before the line got ridiculous.  Then we attempted to take photos, but, uh, it was rather dark.  We thought it would be fun to get photos in front of the mustangs, but apparently camera phones and 6am darkness do not mix.  Although I'm digging the reflective capability of my Brooks Ghosts (yes, I decided to wear the Brooks for race day... more on that later).
Then we discovered LIGHT... up near the building.  Of course we didn't realize the water fountain obstacle course we'd have to leap over to get to it.  But eventually we made it up there and then discovered at least a million other creatures thought that it was the place to be as well.  Have I ever mentioned how much I hate crickets???  Hate them.  Ugh.  But we got a couple of fuzzy photos to document the occassion (unfortunately no one was around so we had to do a couple photos)... 
First is me with my blazing fast friends, Robin and Jenn, who humor me weekly on Thursdays by running my pace.  This is Jenn's first half ever... having only signed up a month ago.  She's crazy.  I think I've mentioned that before.  Robin has run 2 marathons before, but it's been awhile, and this was her first half.  She's aiming to Boston Qualify at White Rock Marathon in December (the same one I'm running but plan to finish a solid hour behind her).
And then, here I am with Elaine.  Elaine and I met when I read an article she wrote in Inside Texas Running.  I posted something about it on my facebook status, and it turns out we have mutual friends and live pretty close to one another... we also go to the same gym (where she also teaches the bodyworks class that often kicks my rear on Tuesdays).  This is Elaine's 8th half marathon.  She is the main instigator in my running a full marathon in December.  We promised each other that if one did it, so would the other.  I intend to make good on that promise - whether we run, walk, or crawl over that finish line.
After a quick trip back to the car to drop off the phones and everything else that kept us entertained for the last hour, we hit the potties again - except this time, there was a line.  Ugh.  But it was perfect timing.  We finished and headed to the start.  That's where we split up.  Robin headed up to take her speedy place between the 1:50 and 2:00 pace group.  Elaine moved to the side so that she could race the way she likes - with her music and the road.  And Jenn, who wanted to stick with me at the start, headed with me to find the 2:20 pace team so that I could find and meet Sherry
Sherry and I actually met through the blog world.  I couldn't be happier that she contacted me a couple days before the race about possibly meeting.  Then we realized we were about the same pace, so figured we could maybe run together.  We made the decision to meet up and start together and see how it worked. 
I found the pace group and was looking for Sherry, but didn't see her.  Perhaps that's because my line of sight was well above her head.  Finally, I hear a sweet voice calling up to the mountain-tops "Lesley?".  We exchanged the awkward - do we shake hands? do we wave? do we hug? moment.  And then we both fiddled with our Garmins to get ready to start the race.  And we were off...
Me, Jenn, Sherry, and Sherry's friend, Amanda, headed out with the 2:20 pace team.  It seemed steamy and humid at the start, and I was mentally preparing myself for a hard race (and saying thanks that I decided to bring my handheld with me for the first time during a race).  About half a mile in, Sherry's friend broke off to fulfill her need for speed, and we kept at our steady pace.  Both Sherry and I run our long runs closer to 11:15 or 11:30, so pushing a 10:40 pace or below for the whole time is definitely a hard effort... but we kept at it.  Jenn was the engine... she wanted to go faster and kept pulling us along, though occassionally I would ask her to pull back a tad.  She's a lot faster than me, but she has also never gone 13 miles and was worried about running out of steam.  Slowly, though, the three of us pulled away from the pace team.  Just a little at a time.  Sherry and I enjoyed knowing they were slightly behind us and used that as the motivator to keep moving. 
Finally, at mile 7, I could feel Jenn pulling a little harder, and I gave her the nod to go on, and she was ready to pull ahead (at which point she changed her pace from about 10:40 to 8:50 for the remainder of the race).  Sherry looked at me and said she understood if I went with Jenn.  Huh?  Uh, no.  I've been running long enough now to know my body, and that pace would have eaten me alive.  Sherry was the perfect pace partner.  We were both pushing the pace of what we thought we were capable of, without being unrealistic and driving our bodies into shutdown mode before the finish.
Around mile 7.5 or 8, they were handing out cold wet towels.  Ahhhhhhh, it felt so good.  Although I should mention that by this point the temperature actually started to drop.  The headwind picked up.  And the skys were very overcast.  Sherry and I would look forward to each water station where we would take a really brief walk (probably 20 seconds) to get the fluids down.  This very brief walk breaks were our motivator for the next couple miles.
As we hit mile 11, I could feel my gas tank hitting the "E".  And on my heels, I see EW.  He is another one of those really supportive runners that is very active in the race community.  We've only met a few times, but that doesn't stop him from being a great motivator.  I made a small joke about not letting him catch up to me.  He ran next to me from mile 11-12, which was when I was having a really hard time pushing through.  He gave me some great encouragement and then told me to push on. 
As Sherry and I hit mile 12, we could feel the finish, but we were both totally spent.  We saw the 2:20 pace team behind us, and were excited to still be ahead, but were having a tough time pulling through the end.  Sherry pulled back a couple times, but then would catch back up in no time.  As we rounded the final corner, I really wanted to sprint to the finish, but didn't know if I could find it in me.  I pushed harder, I just wanted to finish.  Then Sherry pushed harder and was just a few feet ahead of me.  So I pushed harder again.  We crossed the line within seconds of one another.  (Seriously, what are the chances that someone would contact me through my blog and turn out to be the perfect pace for me AND be a decent person and enjoyable to talk to along the course?)  DONE.
Garmin time - 2:22.  Garmin distance - 13.45.  Pace based on Garmin distance 10:35.  Pace based on race distance - 10:52.  Considering the winding paths, especially under tree cover, I'm not surprised that my Garmin showed a longer distance.  Although typically my Garmin shows 13.2-13.3 at the end of a race. 
Either way, I was happy with my time (and despite our 2:22, we still finished in front of the 2:20 pace team).  It wasn't a PR, but I PR'd in May in much more pleasant weather when I was in great shape.  Also, I just went through a Texas summer of running which was really discouraging.  I didn't know if I could still push the pace I had in the spring.  My PR is 2:19, so I wasn't that far off.  I am glad to know that I finally know my body and what it's capable of.  I know how hard I can push it and still finish.  And Sherry was a rocking pace partner.  Seriously don't think I could've done it without her (despite the fact that I look like an amazon in this photo of us).  AND I still managed to place second in the Athena division.
On a side note, Heels and Hills has a "Lucky 13" run team.  They are supposed to be ambassadors of the Heels and Hills vision - "staying active in a fun and unintimidating atmosphere, with a friendly personality, warmness, and positive attitude!"  Let me tell you, they must have a magic wand when they select these people.  My awesome friend, Elaine, is a new Lucky 13 member.  The girl who helped me struggle through the last 3 miles of the miserable Hottest Half, Trish, happened to be a new Lucky 13 member.  And guess what?  The awesome Sherry who turned out to be an amazing pace partner is a new Lucky 13 member.  I couldn't think of better people.
Afterwards... Mexican food!!!  I think we earned it, don't you???
Curious about my outfit???  Fear not.  That review is coming soon - probably mid-week.
And don't forget my current TMB Endurance Band Giveaway that ends this Wednesday.