Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hell (vetia) Half Marathon

The title says it all.  This was the most miserable race I've had in a long time (maybe ever!) 

I signed up to run the 2012 Helvetia Half Marathon with high hopes. Last year I'd conquered its hilly course with a sub-2 hour finish time. I foolishly expected a repeat performance.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Race swag

The weekend before race day, my running partner Cami and I did one last long run.  Cami was planning to do Helvetia with me, and set her sights on a sub-2 finish.  But our training session was fraught with aches and pains - Cami complained of a sore foot, and my right hamstring started talking.  And it didn't help matters that I went for a 8-mile hike the next day.  By Monday, my hammy was not happy!

Cami and I ready to run!

I took it easy all week, icing and taking lots of ibuprofen (vitamin "I").  Cami was doing the same for her foot.  But Saturday came way too soon, and I felt less than 100% - way less.  Cami wasn't feeling up to par either.  And to top things off, race day morning her tummy was a tiny bit upset.

The sun came out for the occasion

Aches and pains be damned - Cami and I had paid our money, and we were going to run this race.  The weather forecast was iffy all week, predicting rain up until the night before.  Race day dawned cloudy and chilly, but the sun came out right before the 8 am start time!

Starting line crowds

Before we knew it, Cami and I were in a moving mass of sweating runners.  The field was extremely thick for the first mile.  Lots of dodging the walkers and slower runners, but we managed to stay together.  It's always so much fun to run a race with a friend.  Cami and I chattered away, and celebrated our first mile with "the wave."

Balloon arch after mile one

But shortly after the first mile marker Cami suddenly gasped and slowed, limping slightly.  When I asked her what happened, she said her knee had buckled under her.  Cami turned down my offer to walk saying she'd "run it off."  We continued on (slightly slower) until we reached the bridge over Hwy 26.  This point was marked by a colorful balloon arch, a water station and a bank of port-a-potties.  It was good timing, as Cami needed to make a pit stop.

Despite everything, Cami was all smiles

After a quick bathroom break, we left the "comfort stations," and crossed the Hwy 26 overpass amid cheering ODOT workers (who had closed the ramps for the race).  Then our course entered the beautiful farm country of Helvetia.  The green fields looked downright peaceful and the blue sky made our spirits rise.  The air temperature, in the low 60s, was perfect for running.

Beautiful farm country

Right after mile three, the hills began.  Helvetia's course is known for its tough hills.  We climbed up a couple of steep inclines, and up at the top was the Helvetia Tavern.  A local landmark, this ramshackle building is known for it's delicious hamburgers.

The historic Helvetia Tavern

At the tavern was another water station and port-a-potty bank.  Cami needed to take another pit stop, so while she was waiting in line for the loo, I took photos of the passing runners.  I wasn't paying attention to what was going on in the bathroom line, and thought I heard someone call my name.  Thinking I'd just missed Cami, I took off running to catch up with her.

Helpful volunteers at a water stop

I ran a fast pace for a good half mile or so, but didn't see any sign of Cami.  Then I got to wondering, was the shout I heard meant for someone else?  Maybe Cami was still back at the tavern waiting for me.  Uh-oh!  I'd just ditched my best running friend!  Feeling really awful, I stopped at the top of a big hill to wait for Cami. 

I sat at the crest of the hill for a good 3-4 minutes, scanning the runners, hoping to see my friend.  I was hoping I didn't totally miss her.  It would be a bummer if we ended up not running together.  To pass the time, I shot some pictures of people gasping up the hill.  Finally, I saw Cami's shirt in the crowd and hollered.  Yahoo!  Back together again.  Turns out, Cami was waiting on one side of the line of potties, and I was on the other, and we didn't see each other.  She thought I'd gone in to use the bathroom too, and was waiting for me to come out.  What a comedy of errors!

The course went by the entrance to Roloff Farm

Teamed up once again, Cami and I began tackling the rolling hills that characterized miles 4-6.  About this time, my hamstring started letting it be known it didn't like uphills.  Cami's knee and foot weren't happy either, so we stopped at the next water station (next to a cute little white country chapel) so Cami could take some more "vitamin I."

I waited for Cami at the top of a big hill

Around mile 6, the course took a corner and did a quick out and back, following a winding country lane downhill.  Cami and I looked at this hill and both thought the same thing - we have to come back up it!  The road was lined with the most fabulous homes - huge McMansions and country estates.  We kept ourselves occupied oohing and aahing over the gorgeous real estate.  At the turnaround, Cami and I powered back up the hill, realizing it wasn't as bad as we thought it was gonna be. 

But just after mile 7, Cami needed another potty stop.  Not wanting to miss her this time, I waited right outside the honey bucket's door.  As we started out again, my hammy protested loudly.  In the short time I'd spent waiting for Cami to finish, it had tightened up.  It took a half mile of running before it grudgingly loosened some.

The horrible gravel road

From miles 8 to 10 was the longest stretch of the race.  We ran down one road that seemed to go forever!  And I started to feel crummy.  My leg was hurting, my energy dropping.  Someone passed us wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed "running sucks!"  I told Cami that's how I felt at the moment.

From last year's race, I knew there was a short portion of the course that's run on a gravel road.  When Cami and I finally hit the gravel, around mile 10, it instantly slowed us down.  Our footing unstable, the rocks underfoot hard and sharp, it was no fun!  And poor Cami needed yet another bathroom break badly.  Luckily, an aid station was not far, so Cami sprinted ahead.  The potties were next to a lovely green field.  The break in the action gave me an excuse to snap some more scenery photos.

Friendly ODOT guy

Back on the road again, for our final push.  But there wasn't much push left in me.  Normally a chatty person, I ran in silence.  My smarting hamstring put me in a grumpy mood.  I just wanted to be done with this miserable race.  Cami, who I know was hurting way more than me, was still upbeat and tried to raise my spirits.  She is one tough lady.

We trudged along, finally leaving the gravel road, on our way back to the highway overpass.  Once the overpass came into sight, I gained a small bit of hope.  Just a little more than a mile left!  Cami and I stormed up the bridge, to the encouragement of some orange-vested ODOT workers.  Those guys were super!

Back to the balloon arch

But shortly after mile 12, I got a horrible side stitch right below my ribs.  I told Cami I needed to slow down.  I trudged along, trying to take deep breaths, hoping it would go away.  As the stadium came into view, Cami tried to encourage me to run faster, but I just grumpily replied "This is the best I can do!"  We turned into the parking lot, amid some cheering spectators.  Then I followed Cami onto the field of Hillsboro stadium, and to the finish arch.  What a wonderful sight! 

I was never so happy to be done with a race!

I was never so happy to finish a race!  Our time, 2:15:40-something was a lot better than I expected, considering all the bathroom breaks, and losing each other at mile 4.  After walking around to relieve my side stitch Cami and I went to claim our reward - a burger from Helvetia Tavern.  And yes, believe it or not, it tasted really good!

After all she went through in this race, Cami kept such a great attitude.  She never complained once, and was always cheerful and encouraging.  A good person to have by your side when race day doesn't go your way.  I'm glad she's my running partner.

Now it's time for Cami and I to set our sights on the next goal.  We've both signed up to run the Portland Marathon, the third marathon for both of us.  Race date is October 7th, so we'll be starting our training cycle next week.  Wish us luck!


  1. Good job finishing even if it wasn't your best. I feel like a slug hoping for a sub 3 hour on my half next weekend. I only hope done day to do a 2 hour race. This will be the first race I do some running in the previous two I walked.

  2. Nice job - I could never do that. I just can't get into the running. You are impressing me with your determination.


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