Wintery Fall Classic Half Marathon: 3rd Place in the 2013 SR Race Report Challenge!

And we love reading your race reports and giving you free stuff!
And we love reading your race reports and giving you free stuff!

It’s finally time to reveal the winners of the 2013 Salty Running Race Report Challenge! Because we love you and wanted to read and share your amazing race reports, we asked for your submissions and we selected our three favorites!

Third place wins a Salty Running tech shirt (soon to be available to all readers!)

Second place, a Salty Running tech shirt, a sparkly soul head band and reflective speed laces!

And the grand prize winner, our favoritest of all the race reports wins a Salty Running tech shirt and a FREE PAIR OF SHOES! Woohoo!

Today we’re posting our third place winner’s race report. We love it because she took a crazy situation and turned it around, running her own race. It left us wondering what we would do in her situation. If it leaves you feeling the same way, let us know in the comments!

Enjoy Carla H.’s Winter Fall Classic Half Marathon race report!

Getting ready for a run in her native U.K.
Getting ready for a run in her native U.K. where she doesn’t generally need to don fleece-lined tights.


Coming from Northern Ireland I’m accustomed to the 12 months out of the year swinging between not too cold, not too warm and nearly always wet. Arriving at the start of this year’s Cleveland Fall Classic after a night of snow and gale force winds when even the hardiest of runners had opted to stay in bed I didn’t quite know what was in store for me. I turned up in my “winter warm gear” only to have my running friends exclaim “you’ll freeze!”, “You’re running in those gloves?”, “You’ve no hat?” (To be clear, I have never worn a hat when I run and only discovered the virtues of a baseball cap to keep the sun and sweat from my eyes courtesy of the humid Cleveland summer). No I don’t have mittens or a neck warmer – one of my friends generously passes me hers, she never needs it. My winter kit, or sportswear as you Americans call it, is woefully lacking. Dutifully plastering the Vaseline over my cheeks as instructed and tucking my gloved hands into the inners of my friend’s mittens I wonder how on earth I am going to manage 13.1 miles in -4 degrees. Yes, that’s centigrade, I still convert everything. In the end I resolve to just run as fast as I can because after all the quicker I finish the quicker I’m back in the warmth!

The strategy doesn’t start well. I hear my friend’s call of “don’t step there!” only too late as I walk straight through the finish line on my way to the bag drop. As I hear the distinctive bleep of a race chip timer I realize I’ve started my race before I’ve even begun. Great. Right on time, my race nerves kick in and I head towards the line for the porta-potties, telling my friends I’ll join them at the start. As I stand in line smarting at my own idiocy for not seeing the finish line marker I hear the familiar sound of a starting gun. How has that happened? And I’m still in line?! I shake my head in despair but know I cannot leave the line without risking a real race disaster. Better to stay put and just run for my watch time. I’ve read enough of the Salty Running blog posts and decide that yes, a race time exists even if it’s not the official race result.

When I eventually canter across the start line and set my watch to “Timer Started” I wonder can I catch anyone? How far ahead are they now? Must be at least half a mile…luckily it seems I’m not the only one who has missed the start and as I pull up next to a girl who is blasting Katy Perry loud enough from her iPod for me to recognize the lyrics I kick into race pace. She’s knocking out a good 7:50 min/mile which gets me warmed up. I love how one person in a race can make all the difference; I follow the girl’s swinging plaited ponytail all the way through miles 2,3,4 and 5 as we catch the crowd that started ahead of us. At this point I know enough to realize that the course is long by at least 0.2 miles and it’s then that I make my second big decision of the race – I am going to stop my watch at 13.1 miles, whether that’s the finish line or not.

It’s mile 6 and the plaited ponytail is now swinging at my side and I pull away from my race starter digging in and feeling good about running in the cold. My hands are toasty and my neck is warm and I’m thankful for my generous friends who have made sure I’m not struggling to keep warm. I start to pass my friends on the loop back to the start and wave off their looks of surprise as they see me at the back of the pack – “it’s ok” I think, “I’m running my own race”. This thought gives me a feeling of confidence I’ve never had before as it strikes me that I’ve never truly been free to run my own race before now. Too often I get caught up in who’s ahead of me, where am I in the pack? How many miles further, what’s my pace? This time knowing that I’m not a slave to the gun, I’m free to really run.
This freedom lets me pick up my pace and as I start easing through the ranks of the pack I realize I’m on target for a Half Mar PR. I’m thinking about my last PR and remembering the rolling English countryside where I raced alongside my old colleagues in London. I ran to beat a friend that day and lay down the gauntlet for her to challenge me. To be clear, I don’t think of myself as a good runner but like everything I do, I work hard at it and I’m a sucker for a competition. In my last Half Mar I had looked down at my watch with a mile to go, chest burning, begging my legs to run faster to beat Becky. All I had to do was beat Becky. I made it in 1:41:41. My record stood for 2 weeks until Becky went out and ran 1:40:17. Becky is now in Hong Kong looking for a new running club and settling in to her new life. And me, I’m in Cleveland, far away from the London crowd and running strong. I’ve got 3 miles to go. I love getting to 3 miles to go in any race. I like to convert it and tell myself I’ve got 5km to go and hey, 5km – I’ve run long enough to do 5km in my sleep.

I’m on the home stretch of the race and look down to check my time again. Still on track for that PR. I tell myself to be grateful just to finish the race. To try and just place in my age category. Don’t be greedy, just run strong and don’t focus on the time. At this point I make the third big decision of my race: I’m going to really run. Whilst I am competitive to the point of crazy (my family call me Competitive Carla for a reason) I have discovered that when I run I always hold back. I have developed a fear of going all out and in most of my races I reach a point where mentally I sit back. I know I’m running well but I won’t push it. Today is different, I decide to just race, pure and simple. Never mind the consequences – I’m going to really go for it. If I keep going now I know I can do it.

Carla on her way to finishing the frigid Fall Classic Half Marathon.
Carla on her way to finishing the frigid Fall Classic Half Marathon.

This seems like a great idea as I pull off; 2.5 miles to go. Then I realize I can’t feel my fingers. They’re completely numb. I’d pulled my mitten covers off back at mile 6 and now I lack the dexterity to unzip my pocket and put them back on. Never mind – you don’t need your fingers to run. 2 miles to go, my right foot feels heavy. It’s cold too. Stop complaining and just keep running. 1.5 miles to go, where is that last water station? It should be around here…forget it, frozen Gatorade, it’s not going to do much to aid me. 1 mile to go and why, why does it feel so long? But I will not give up. I can feel my hips start to roll, a weakness of mine, as I tighten my all too weak core in an effort to maintain form and just think it’s only around the corner. Now I’m desperately watching the mileage on my watch – I round the last corner as someone cheers, “you’re almost there!” – 13.12 and I click it “Timer Stopped”. I stumble over the last few steps through the finish line for the second time and heave a desperate rush of air as I finish my race.

I look up at the volunteer holding out this year’s medal and say “Is there any water?” or at least that’s what I meant to say. What came out was a garble of nonsense as I realize I’m so cold my face has frozen numb and I can’t form words anymore. What is happening? Why can’t I speak? The volunteer kindly points me in the direction of the food hut where I look dazed and confused collecting a cup of steaming hot chocolate. As my face thaws and I look around for friends I gaze down at my watch and see 1:39:57. I did it! I PR’d! I’m remain quiet about my success though and as my friends pull through the finish line and we gather our bags with yet more layers and rush back to the carpark eager to get warm I am bursting with pride. I did it. Despite everything I made it and really, it doesn’t matter what the race board says, or what anyone else did because what matters is that I know I really ran and I did it for me.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Loved this…and I was laughing so hard too. Being a fellow Brit in the USA, I have to convert temperatures into centigrade as well! Congrats Carla, on the PR and the swanky new tshirt!

  2. Great article. I was cold for you reading it! Congrats on the PR. Way to power through such a rough start:)