Formerly the Patrick Henry Half Marathon, this annual event hosted jointly by Sports Backers and the Richmond Road Runners Club is notorious for the brutal weather conditions that are August in Virginia. One year, they ran as the outer bands of Hurricane Irene struck Richmond!
As its name indicates, this race is run in Ashland, Virginia, through many streets I either run on or drive frequently. It’s a fairly small race, and begins and ends on the campus of Randolph-Macon, winding through quaint streets of the town and into the farmland of Hanover County. There’s even a stretch that bikers love since they can practice hills (also mile 11 on the course).
The last time I ran this race was in 2016, when conditions were so poor weather wise, I swore I’d never run it again. Naturally, each year since, we seemed to get an unusually cool day for August for this race. This year, I broke my word. Peer pressure is a dangerous thing, people! Most of my fellow Pink Nation coaches were running, and admittedly, I was tempted because of the new rebranding! So it seemed that half marathon 11 would be the inaugural running of the Ashland Half.
Race morning, I woke up at 3:38am. My alarm was set for 4! So be it. It was time to get up and ready. Getting to the race early was important because the coaches set up canopies for our tailgate after the race! And, as luck would have it, it was my turn to give the benediction before the race (this is what we call our motivational speech pre-run, that is a Pink Nation tradition!)
Here’s what I said:
“As promised, since I signed up to run this race with you, we are in for a day that’s sure to be as hot as the surface of the sun. You’re welcome.
Seriously, though, I’m sure you all are feeling a mix of different emotions today! BECAUSE IT’S RACE DAY!!!
BREATHE. RELAX. We can do this!
If you are feeling nervous, this is good. It means that you care. Use this energy to fuel your race today. We will face the excitement of this challenge together.
I’m quoting Alexi Pappas, professional runner and Olympian, from her book Bravey today. If you haven’t read this yet, you really must. It’s my new favorite book about running and life!
About nerves, Alexi says:
“Nerves are cousin to excitement and excitement is cousin to gratitude. Pay attention to your nerves: If you feel nervous, it’s a sign that a Very Big Thing is unfolding. Be nervous for how good that thing can be.”
― Alexi Pappas, Bravey
About the pain of racing, Alexi offers this advice:
“Racing is about understanding that pain is a sensation but not necessarily a threat, and if you continue to put one foot in front of the other you will break through your rough patch.”
― Alexi Pappas, Bravey
And about persistence, Alexi says:
“Grit is what’s left over when nothing’s left.”
― Alexi Pappas, Bravey
So let’s take some quick lessons from Alexi. Nerves are good. When the race gets painful, just concentrate on one foot in front of the other. And when you feel depleted as this race, heat, and humidity unfold, remember that you have grit. Remember your why. You are trained, and you are ready. Be brave. We can do this!
ALL GO! NO QUIT! COWBOY UP!!!”
(The last bit we say together as a team!)
With the Ashland Half starting 30 minutes earlier with 3 ½ hours to run the race, I felt a bit of relief as we set off from the start line. My last half was 3:20. Granted, this was the Blue Ridge Half Marathon, which climbed 2 mountains, but I was still sort of concerned.
The first half of the race was pretty smooth. We ran around the town of Ashland, which is fairly flat. Then we made our way to the hilly, country roads. I had prepared myself mentally for the worst part of the race for me, which is running down Yowell: a very hilly farm road with no shade. I’ve definitely struggled here before! But this time, it didn’t seem so bad.
The race changes when we turn onto route 666, affectionately referred to as the “devil’s road.” Yet another twisty, turvy country road, which leads to even more twisty turvy country roads… and suddenly you are at mile 10, approaching the long hill that is mile 11 of the course. I was thrilled to see Lisa and Kelly, the only two Pink coaches not running the race. What a welcome sight to see their smiling faces and hear their words of encouragement!
And then, just like that, we were up the 3 hills of mile 11, and there was only 1 mile left of the race. It was so brutally hot and relentlessly sunny at this point. I was grateful that mile 11 was mostly shaded. I had already taken quite a few walk breaks by this stage of the race, as had most of the runners in my company. But I was pleasantly surprised to look down at my watch as I made my turn back to the campus of Randolph-Macon and realized that not only would I finish in less than 3 hours, I would finish in less than 2:50!
Our Pink Nation coaches ran in the final participant to finish together. Another tradition.
Would I run this race again? I don’t know. If I don’t sign up, we will have one of those special, unusually cool August days with clouds and a nice breeze! I am beginning to think that my participation curses the weather for this race!
Bad things about this race? The weather, of course. And midway through the run, my Nathan hydration belt pocket split in 2 places at the seam. I spent a fair bit of energy worrying that I would drop my sport beans or my phone!
Good things about the day? It was a race. In person. It was very well organized, as both Sports Backers and the Richmond Road Runners are pros. The race was just a few miles from my house on roads I run frequently. Hearing the sound of runners striking the pavement at the beginning of the race before everyone spread out was amazing, and a sound I didn’t realize I missed. Seeing friends on the course was equally amazing, as one part is an out and back. Other friends were course marshaling. Having the support of coaches who weren’t running this race was so nice. Seeing their happy faces and hearing their cheers was definitely refreshing as we headed into the series of hills at mile 11! And having the coveted bling and swag of the inaugural Ashland Half!
Do you like running smaller races? Have you run any in person races this year? Do you have any recommendations for hydration packs or belts, since it looks like I’ll need to replace mine? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.