The past 4 years, I have participated in an all women’s race, held in Grand Rapids – the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon. It’s a race weekend that is great to enjoy with your girlfriends, showcasing the empowerment of women! The weekend includes a 5K and half marathon, resulting in over 3500 participants total.
Admittedly, I was in need of a good Gazelle Girl race. The first year, the river flooded and we experienced hail throughout the race. The second year, I had my first DNF. And last year, I endured leg cramps, finishing 12+ minutes slower than expected. Like I said, I was in need of a good race!
Brent and I headed to Grand Rapids on Saturday, and went straight to the Expotique. This has changed locations each year, however I really liked the set-up for this year’s event. The expo is small, but there was a lot to do! Spectators could make signs, there were food samples to try, various speakers to listen to, you could make your own jewelry and there were a few vendors to speak with. There was also a section of official Gazelle Girl merchandise, however it was already very picked through, only 3 hours after the expo opened. My favorite was a Dream Tree!
Since Michigan decided to finally bring out the spring weather, Brent and I took a walk outside in the gorgeous sunshine. Downtown Grand Rapids is really growing, so we walked along the Grand River, taking in a few sights near the Gerald R. Ford Museum.
Soon it was time for dinner, then some rest before the big race!
My plan for this race was to treat it as a training run, as I continue to train for the Bayshore Marathon. I knew that I hadn’t been working on speed enough to pull out a PR, but I did want to see what my legs could handle. I told Brent to expect me to come through between 2:05 and 2:10.
The weather was beautiful, full of sunshine and right around 50* at the start. However, the temperatures were expected to hit 80* later that day, so I knew it would warm up quickly throughout the race. I started in between the 9:00 and 9:30 pacers, yet ended up with the 9:00 pacers after the first half mile or so.
This race takes you north (where the other races I run in Grand Rapids take you south), which is a nice change of scenery! We headed toward Riverside Park, with some nice spectator support along the way. I was feeling great, keeping up with the 9:00 pacers fairly easily. I walked through the first two water stations (knowing I needed to stay hydrated), then began walking for a minute at each mile marker.
After getting through Riverside Park, we made a little loop toward White Pine Trail, as we headed toward Fifth Third Ballpark. The heat and sunshine was starting to become a factor, so I made a decision to hit the halfway point, then begin my 4:1 intervals and use the rest of the race as a training run. Lo and behold, I ended up with a 10K PR! Completely not expected, but I couldn’t help but smile when I saw 57:45 at 6.2 miles.
My legs were definitely feeling it, but I figured it was good to run another 7 miles on tired legs. I took a gel (and realized it was a flavor I had not tried before – yuck), and followed the course south on the White Pine Trail. Going south, the trail is actually on concrete, which my legs did not enjoy. The good news is that spectators were along this path (and back into Riverside Park), which definitely helped keep the runners’ morale up!
The water stations came around every 2 miles, but did increase a bit toward the end. I was definitely grateful, as I was kicking myself for not bringing my smaller handheld water bottle. I took another gel around mile 11, knowing there were two hills coming. Seeing downtown Grand Rapids ahead, I pushed through the uphill and let gravity take over during the downhill. Then it was through Ab-Nah-Awen Park, across the bridge, and up another hill filled with spectators! I waved to Brent and headed toward the finish line.
I finished right within the window I had originally planned, 2:08 and change. While not my best race, I am very happy with that time considering my focus is on the marathon at this point. Now it’s time to hold that pace (plus some wiggle room) for another 13.1 miles!
After finishing, we were given our charms. This race is unique in that you receive a necklace charm (made by a local jeweler) instead of a medal. The runners were then directed to the after party. Bottles of water, bananas, muffins, oranges, granola bars and chocolate milk were available, along with a few food trucks. There was even a live band!
This was definitely the confidence booster I needed, but what put the biggest smile on my face were all the women participating in this race. There was nothing but encouragement from one another, along with an overall sense of empowerment.
I am very grateful that I have many wonderful runner friends and can’t wait to keep this race on my calendar for years to come!