What to Expect: Helvetia Half
By Kelly Johnson, community blogger
June 13, 2008, 9:24AM
The Helvetia Half is a great race for first-time half-marathoners. Why? Because of the huge number of Portland Fit participants running it as a milestone on their way to the Portland Marathon, because of the awesome aid stations, and because of the amazing experience of finishing in Hillsboro Stadium.
Even with all of those things to look forward to, someone new to racing is likely to feel a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the crowd and the anticipation in the air. Here is a little bit of "what to expect" so you can picture yourself there. Trust me--I know. The Drop Top 10k was my first ever running race so I've experienced what you'll see tomorrow.
First, a little background to the race. It's a truly home-grown event, put on by Run With Paula. Paula Harkin, event organizer, graduated from Hillsboro High School and even worked for the Helvetia Tavern for a short time. Developing a course in that area came naturally to her for this event, now in it's 6th year for the Drop Top 10k and the 8th year for the Helvetia Half.
The race was originally designed as a benchmark for Portland Fit participants, and has been growing steadily ever year. Last year, there were around 3,000 participants, so this year, you can expect at least that many.
What to expect: Pre-race Preparation
I'm sure you've heard this before: nothing new on race day. That counts for the night before, too. Eat something you know your body digests well. Do your usual long-run-eve routine. Lay out your clothes, double check that you've got your Body Glide, your safety pins, your sunscreen, your Gu. And double check your alarm. I've found that doing this a few hours before bedtime lets me relax a little more; otherwise if you notice something that needs attention, you could be up later than planned.
What to expect: Race Morning
There will be heavy traffic on 26 heading towards Hillsboro Stadium. That means, leave plenty early, and bring warm clothes so you don't get chilled on the way there. Leaving plenty early will help you stay calm before the race and reserve that adrenaline for when you'll need it most! When you get to the stadium, let the parking volunteers do the thinking for you. They've got a plan for the best way to get cars in (so they can get out later!). And say thanks, they'll appreciate it.
Once you're parked, check out the stadium. Check your watch and remind yourself of your plan--when you need to visit the porta-potty, how much time you need for a warm-up, where you're meeting your carpool or family after your race. If you do a once-over of the area, you'll know exactly where the bag check and bathrooms are. Keep in mind that the closer you get to the race start, the more crowded those areas will be.
Listen up for the loudspeaker to announce when you are 10 minutes, 5 minutes, etc before the start. This will help give you cues as to when to head out in front of the Stadium to the start line. But remember that these cues will be picked up by the thousands of other runners and walkers; so you might want to also keep an eye on your watch and try to take care of business before the crowds are reminded to do so.
What to expect: Waiting for the gun
When your clothes has been checked and your bladder emptied, you'll head out to the start area. It'll be crowded, but remember others are also likely nervous, so just be nice. Some people will be chatty, others will seem rude; but don't take anything personally at this point. Everyone has their own way of preparing mentally for the race. Keep that in mind for yourself too, however. If you're running with friends, you may be wanting to chat away; just keep your voices down in case other people are distracted by your conversation. You can definitely talk, just remember you're surrounded by people who may not care.
When finding your spot in the starting crowd, think of your race plan and what pace you want to go out at. Leave the front of the pack for the people aiming for a sub 1:25 half, and if you're planning to walk in the first mile, start close to the back so other runners don't have to go around you.
What to expect: The first few miles
And you're off! At first, you'll probably feel the urge to run around people that you think are going to slow. Which is fine! It's a race after all! But, you've got 13.1 miles to run, so don't burn all your energy speeding up and slowing down in that first half mile. Focus on how great you feel, and try to bookmark that feeling so you can find it again in the last mile.
If you are using a run/walk method, or need to slow down or walk for whatever reason, please work your way over to the sides of the race. Other runners will appreciate it, and it's a smart way to prevent any collisions.
In my first race, and probably 75% of my races since then, I always thought I sounded like a cow in labor during the second mile. The transition your body goes through between "Hey, we just started running! Super fun!" and "Hmmm, this is starting to get tough" is NORMAL. Again, you're in a race. Don't worry about how you sound, how you look, or how much you're sweating. I personally look my best when I'm bright red and breathing hard, with sweat dripping off my ponytail. (ha ha.)
What to expect: Miles 2- about 8
During the first half of the race, you'll probably be running with a fairly solid group. You will have so many thoughts racing through your mind..."I feel awesome!"..."Can I keep up this pace?"..."What is that guy wearing...is that a speedo?"..."I can catch that girl up there."..."I'm hungry."..."Is that girl singing along to her iPod?"...all in about ten seconds.
The bottom line for this part of the race is to make it your own. You've trained for this. You know you can do this. If focusing inward helps you, focus inward. If focusing on other runners helps you, focus outward. And yes, she probably is singing along. A quick snot-rocket as you pass will get her off your tail. If it's the Spice Girls she's singing along with, make it a double.
Make use of the aid stations, even early on; especially if it's hot. There are nine aid stations for the Half. At the aid stations, listen to the volunteers. They'll call out what they're holding...Gluekos or water. Some aid stations will also have Clif Shot. Grab the bottom of the cup, and pinch the top into a funnel so that you can get a drink without getting it all over you. It's okay to take one drink and ditch the cup. You don't have to drink the whole thing. Likewise, it's okay to take more than one cup. When you're done, just ditch the cup by the side of the road. The volunteers will pick it up for you. I'm always amazed by runners who find the garbage can...you're in a race--just throw it!
What to expect: Miles 9-12
During this part of the race, you may find yourself running alone at times. Don't worry, you're not. I personally think that mile 10 is the best sign you see during a half-marathon, because you only have a 5k left. That's it. Three miles. And, Joe and I will be at the Team Red Lizard Aid Station just around mile 10, so you have that to look forward to.
If you've never raced a half-marathon before, give yourself a pat on the back when you get here. (mentally...we don't want any strange muscle pulls.) There's a reason why you think it's hard...it is! But, you're doing it! No matter your age, it's highly likely that less than 20% of people your age can run more than 10 miles at a time. So be proud of yourself!
If you are feeling sick or that you might have an injury, please do the smart thing and walk for a bit or even drop out of the race. If you're sick, you'll make yourself sicker; if you're injured, you'll take longer to heal. And if you're running this on your way to Portland, you've gotta keep your eyes on that as your goal.
What to expect: The last mile
Here we are, one point one to go. Don't think of it as, another mile. Think of it as, only one more mile. Or, only 10 (or 12, or 8, or if you're really fast, 6) more minutes. You can do it. Take it one minute at a time. Pretend you just started. Remember how you felt at the start. By now, your mental strength is just as important as your physical strength. If you tell yourself you can do this, you just might surprise yourself by just how well you can do!
What to expect: 13.0
Yay, the finish. Remember--you don't finish where you started! You finish in the Stadium! Which is awesome, because the turf in that stadium gives you just a little more bounce. The last 0.1 miles of your race will be tough; because it's the time in the race when you empty your tank and give it everything you have left.
Crossing over the finish line, you will see volunteers ready to help you out if you need it. Some times, you might feel like you might throw up...if that's the case, just walk to the side or to a garbage bin, and throw up. I've done it! Nothing to be ashamed of! Grab some water, your finisher's medal, and catch your breath.
There, you did it. Your first half marathon. Now find your friends and enjoy everything the race's awesome sponsors have...Jamba Juice, Heveltia Burgers or Veggie Burgers, Drop Top Amber Ale, samples, and maybe even treat yourself to a new tech top or hat from Portland Running Company or adidas.