Vancouver Lake Half Marathon - A New PR Thanks to Negative Splits

by Jodi

On January 25th I got to run the Vancouver Lake half marathon with not one, not two, but with FOUR of my friends.  How fun is that?  Dawn, Ruth, Natasha, and I all enjoyed carpooling to the race, meeting up with Hillary at the start, and sharing the race experience together both on the course and the ride home.

I had no expectations going into this race. Ruth forwarded the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon registration link to a crew of other Newberg runners in mid-November.  Her email promised a fun, fast, and flat race and warned that it sold out quickly.  Since it was cheap and close, I signed up the same day then promptly forgot about it.

I ran a lot in December.  138 miles to be exact, but most of these miles were slower miles with friends. In early January I remembered the Vancouver Lake half marathon and checked my Run Less Run Faster (RLRF) training plan to see what I was supposed to be running if I had been "officially" training for the race.  I did two long runs at the prescribed pace and distance, managed one tempo run, and completely avoided the track.  Based on my unfocused training, I thought I might be able to run around a 1:40 finish time.

Two days before the race, I drove to Cottage Grove and did an 8 mile trail run with Raina.  We called it "trail tapering," and I'm pretty sure it's not recommended in training plans two days before a race.

The day before the race I had a blonde moment and suggested to my husband that we take the family to the beach the next day since it was supposed to be foggy in Newberg.  He looked at me and asked, "Ummm... don't you  have a race?"  RIGHT!  Yes.  Yes I do.

Race morning dawned and my stomach was upset.  This is not uncommon for me on race mornings, but it persisted longer than usual and I approached the start feeling depleted and void of my normal race day energy.

Ruth, Dawn, Natasha, Hillary and I took the obligatory pre-race selfie at the start.
SELFIE!  Note the customized bibs.  Dawn was super pumped about having her name on a bib.
When the gun went off we fell into groups.  Hillary was ahead of us the entire time - racing herself to a new half marathon PR and a 9th place overall finish with a 1:33:16 finish time!  Since this race had quite a few out-and-back portions we got to see her gracefully and beautifully tearing up the course.  Hillary makes running look easy and beautiful.  I'm not sure if she even sweats.  You go Girl!
Look at her go.  Photo credits to Mike McKinney 
Dawn and I were the next group, with Ruth and Natasha a few minutes behind us.  Dawn is a much faster runner than I am, but she was in the same boat as I was.  She hadn't trained specifically for this race and had no idea what to expect from her body.  We agreed to start off slow and increase our pace around mile nine if we felt we could tolerate it.

The first mile felt long and slow - not a good indication.  I checked my watch three times before it beeped the first mile.  Dawn and I were eerily consistent with our pace. The miles clicked by: 7:33, 7:33, 7:34, and 7:30 for the first four miles.  When we passed Natasha and Ruth on the first out-and-back they told us we were in 22nd and 23rd place for the women.  It gave us something to think about as we ran toward the half-way point and another turnaround.

We were running through a beautiful area but couldn't see any of it because the fog was so thick.  I was keeping the pace, but couldn't find my running mojo.  The first six miles of this race felt like a long, hard training run. I told Dawn around mile three, "This is definitely not a PR kind of day for me.  I'll be lucky to break 1:40."
Dawn ignored me and increased our speed for miles five and six: 7:24, 7:27.  My first thought was, "I can't run this pace.  There's way too much race ahead and I'm not mentally in this.  I'm tired and this is hard.  I don't want to suffer."

But as soon as that thought ran through my brain a question followed.

"Why not?"

My legs weren't tired, just heavy.  My lungs were tolerating the pace well since there were no hills.  There was no physical reason why I couldn't run a faster pace.

Then the Holy Spirit gave me a little nudge with this reminder, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." (from Paul's letter to the church at Philippi)

I thought of my non-biological brother Jon who is in the process of kicking cancer's butt.  He's a runner, but isn't strong enough yet to start racing again.  But I can.

So I did.

Every couple of miles, Dawn increased our speed.  Each time we stepped it up a notch, I went through the same mental battle.  "I can't do this.  Why not?  Just run.  You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.  Do it for Jon."  Then repeat.

Miles seven and eight were 7:11 and 7:10.  I had finally found my Zone.  I was ALL IN this race.

And then Dawn dropped the hammer.  Mile nine was a sub-seven.  When my watched beeped 6:59, I freaked out.  I NEVER run that fast, especially not with four miles left to run in a race.  So we slowed down.  By three seconds per mile.

I told Dawn to go ahead and leave me in the dust, but she lied promised she was happy with our pace.  Dawn stuck with me and we ran at the edge of my ability, as fast as I could without wheezing.

Mile ten and eleven clocked in at 7:02 and 7:04.  I happened to notice that our average pace per mile had dropped down to 7:18's and I told Dawn, "Oh my gosh.  I might PR.  The pace we're running will give me a PR if we hold it to the end."

With each mile we caught up to and passed more women.  We saw Ruth and Natasha at the last out-and-back and Natasha hollered, "Pick it up.  They're right in front of you." 

My body said, "NO WAY!" but my mind said, "Why not?"   So we did.

Mile 12 we slowed to a 7:14 but still managed to pick off the three women Natasha was referring to.

With one mile left in the race, Dawn's legs were tiring and my lungs were burning.  It was harder and harder to keep our pace.  We grunted to each other, "We've got this.  We can do it.  Almost there."

I thought about Jon.  About how my body was doing what my mind told it to do.  About the PR that was dangling in front of me.  About the fact that God was enabling me to run much faster than I thought possible.

It was a LONG mile, but we ran it at a 7:09 pace. This photo from the race photographer captures how we really felt at that point. We even managed to pick off the lady in orange before the finish.
.1 to go.  Photo credits to Mike McKinney
With the finish line in sight, we looked at each other and I said, "C'mon Dawn.  Let's do this."  Hillary cheered us in as we sprinted through the finish. Dawn's official time of 1:36:09 put her in 1st place for our age division and 13th overall.  My official finish time of 1:36:11 gave me a new personal record by thirteen seconds, 2nd in our age division, and 14th overall.  I'll take it.
Thanks Hillary for cheering us into the finish! 
Ruth and Natasha ran well too, finishing under 1:45.  When the final race results were in, all of us won a beer mug for placing in our age divisions.
Ruth, Natasha, Dawn, and me
So many things about this race were unexpected blessings.  Running the entire race with Dawn when neither of us planned to do that was cool.  Because the course was so odd, we got to pass and cheer for our friends three different times. Running another race with negative splits was oh-so satisfying. I was able to manage my breathing/wheezing during the race.  Post-race recovery was a bit sketchy for the first five minutes, but once I was breathing normally again I was fine.  I can still run and I view that as a giant gift from God.

Dawn and I have logged a lot of miles together in the past nine months.
I give Dawn all the credit for pacing us.  She has been running for years and is a wealth of knowledge. It was so fun to pound the pavement with her in a race setting and glean from her experience.
My race by the splits.  Taken from my exercise journal.
Vancouver Lake half marathon solidified in my mind that negative splits are the way to go EVERY.SINGLE.TIME!  I told myself I wouldn't run a spring marathon this year, but now that I have my Running Mojo back, I'm researching my options.  Oh runners...  We're a crazy breed.

What about you Sole Sisters.  Have you run negative splits?  Gone out too fast?  Do you think it made a difference in your finish time or the way you felt about the race?  We'd love to hear your stories.


  1. Yes Jodi! Such a fabulous victory and a wonderful race recap. I love it. So proud of you Sole Sister!

    1. Thanks T. Love you too! Looking forward to our May race.