Borgess Half Marathon Recap

I ran the Borgess Half Marathon last Sunday. It was my fourth half marathon, and last year’s Borgess running of this event was my first half marathon. I really liked the race last year, and I enjoyed it again this year. It’s very well organized, has awesome crowd support, the volunteers are great, and the course has a nice variety of surfaces and elevation changes without being prohibitively challenging.

I absolutely love the sidewalk chalk messages to the runners that line the downtown mall. It was every bit as awesome this year as it was last year.

I really enjoyed running Borgess again this year, and I thought the event was even better this year than it was last year. While the course was the same except for a couple of minor changes, there was one logistical change that made a noticeable difference for me. Last year was the first year for the Kalamazoo Marathon, which is part of the same festival of races – last year, the half marathon and marathon started at the same time and ran concurrently for the first 3.5 miles. This year, the marathon started 20 minutes before the half which helped make the half less congested, though the course was still pretty packed as the number of half marathoners increased from last year. But every little bit helps when it comes to easing congestion on a race course.

I think it’s a great event. It was well organized and well supported, and everyone I encountered at the race seemed friendly and helpful. The race expo isn’t the biggest, but the race has some great sponsors that had booths, and we found some good deals on gear from Gazelle Sports. This year’s race shirt is a purple short-sleeve technical shirt. Unfortunately, I realized after the race that mine has some kind of mark on it that didn’t come out when I washed it, but it’ll be fine for wearing on trail runs this summer. In addition to getting some discounted shirts and shorts at the expo, we stopped by Gazelle’s store after the expo and I got a discounted lightweight New Balance jacket with the race logo.

This year’s jacket.

We got to the race location maybe 45 minutes before the half marathon started. As expected, traffic was pretty congested around the start/finish line. There was plenty of parking available in a grass lot maybe a quarter mile or so from where the race started and finished, and we made it to the race grounds with well over a half hour to spare. We parked about a mile away and took a shuttle last year, but that location wasn’t available for shuttles this year. The only shuttle spot that might have worked for us this year required us to drive through the start/finish area. There was no way I was going to go back through there after the race though, as there would’ve been plenty of runners still finishing the half marathon and marathon and traffic was very congested with the race-related lane reductions. It worked out well for us to use the almost-on-site lot.

The starting area was pretty organized, and everything we needed to find was well marked (gear check, Porta-Potties, starting corral, etc.). They added more Porta-Potties this year, which was a very welcome change as the lines were ridiculously long last year, even by pre-race standards. The PA announcer did a great job, and there were a variety of pacing groups. It was very tough to maneuver up from the official corral entrance (toward the back of the corral) if you needed to get in a pace group toward the front, but we found another entry point that put us much closer to the vicinity of the pace group we wanted to start near.

Not TOO far back from the starting line…

…especially compared to all these people behind me.

I had no race plan other than to try running consistent paces and hope to avoid as much hip flexor pain as possible. Because of my hip flexor pain and the need to not race this with Bayshore coming up, I ran without having time and pace available on my Garmin. I thought about running the race without a watch, but I like to track my runs and the related data, so I wore my Garmin but set every screen to only display the distance field. That way I had no idea what my elapsed time or pace were, and I didn’t have enough data to try calculating it on the fly (yeah, I’m more than willing to do pace- and distance-related math in my head while I’m running). I just tried to run conservatively yet consistently, though I was able to push myself a little bit when I had to pass other runners and when I hit the hills near miles 8 and 12. I had a little hip flexor pain at various points during the race, but it wasn’t too bad considering I had been running on a flat, softer surface for the prior month while this race is run on paved surfaces and has a few hills. The pain didn’t affect my running, luckily, and I felt my pacing was decent considering I hadn’t run more than 70 minutes at a time since Easter. Even though I don’t really need to eat or drink during a half, especially when I’m not running near race pace, I took the opportunity to practice that stuff for the upcoming marathon. I took a tropical-flavored Hammer gel somewhere around the 11.5-mile mark so I could get some practice eating a gel while running in a race, and I also got some water or sports drink at each water stop, even if some of them were only to take a sip and swish it around in my mouth. I ran with my wife from start to finish, and I think we stayed within 10-20 yards of each other the entire race. She did a great job, and set a half marathon PR by about a minute while shaving around four minutes off last year’s time on this course!

After finishing, I received a very nice commemorative medal and grabbed some chocolate milk, an orange slice, and a bottle of Gatorade. I was glad that Refuel with Chocolate Milk was involved with this race and provided some low-fat chocolate milk just after the finish line. I usually don’t have much of an appetite immediately after races, so I didn’t mind that there weren’t a lot of food options for runners who just finished the race. There were some of the standard things like orange slices and bananas (the banana selection didn’t look too appealing to me), but the more heavy duty food was available in a food tent for a fee. I waited near the fence where runners were funneled away from the finish line after the race in hopes of seeing a couple of friends who were also running the half, and luckily I saw each of them before they disappeared into the masses on the race grounds. We walked around the race grounds for a little while before taking off, and we didn’t even think to check for a posting of results. One of the things we saw while walking around the festival area was a table with pickle juice and pickle slices. I had a pickle slice and even decided to try some pickle juice. It wasn’t my favorite, but at least I can say I tried it. I don’t know how people can drink it during a race though!

Pickle juice, anyone?

I’ve learned a lot in every race I’ve run so far, and my biggest takeaway from this race is how much of a difference it made to not race it and just run it like a comfortably-paced long run without placing any expectations or pressure on myself. I was much less nervous before the race and I had a lot more fun during the race. I felt like I was able to notice a lot more of the little things going on during the race, like spectator signs. When I’m racing, I put pressure on myself and set expectations because even though I’m not going to place in my age group unless it’s a very small race and I run really well, I always race against myself and try to maximize my potential. So while it’s not pressure to win, place highly, or qualify for a bigger event, it’s pressure to run a smart race, push myself, and do the best I can. Because my hip flexor has been injured and I’m running my first marathon later this month, it was no problem for to come to terms with not pushing myself too much or racing this one. I accepted weeks before the race that I wouldn’t be racing it, and wouldn’t be close to a PR…keeping in mind the bigger picture of running (and hopefully completing) a marathon was more than enough to dissuade me from pushing it too much during the Borgess half. To sum it up, it was a very good run – I got in approximately 13.1 quality miles with an awesome running partner, a couple thousand other runners, and great crowd support.

A very nice commemorative finisher’s medal.

Chip time: 1:46:55 (gun time: 1:47:15)
Garmin time: 1:46:57 (13.17 miles)
Pace (per Garmin): 8:07/mile
Overall: 284/2241
Gender: 216/910
Age group: 31/140
Slowest mile (per Garmin): 8:32 (mile 9)
Fastest mile (per Garmin): 7:50 (mile 2)

Have you ever run a race as a training run, knowing ahead of time you weren’t going to try to race it or go for a PR? If so, was it easy to treat it as a tempo run or easier run, or were you tempted to race it anyway?

Did you race this weekend? If so, how did it go?

Did you do anything fun this weekend that wasn’t running related, like Mother’s Day stuff or anything else? We saw Blue Man Group this weekend, and thought it was a really cool show.

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6 Responses to Borgess Half Marathon Recap

  1. Nice recap Matt. I love the medal. As you know, I’ve run training runs for races and love that. You can’t PR every time. I’ll run my next as a fun run. No concern over time.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you. They gave out a nice medal last year, too. I really like the event, and it’s pretty cheap compared to many (especially if you register early).

      I really liked using a half as a training run. No self-imposed pressure, and there’s no better way to practice race day routine, hitting water stops, taking gels, etc., than by doing it under race conditions. Carrying a water bottle on an empty dirt road during a long run just isn’t the same as trying to grab a cup of water at race pace without slowing down much or spilling most of it.

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