I wasn't sure what to expect of the Air Force half marathon, I had heard there were a few gnarly hills and there wasn't a ton of crowd support due to it mostly being on the Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but I hadn't ran it before and it was only about an hour from home so I added it to my race calendar for the year.
I went to the expo Friday at the Wright State University Nutter Center. I love going to them and seeing cool new race gear, trying to win things (I was crossing my fingers that I would win the free Lasik eye surgery but I didn't hear from them), and getting a feel of the crowd. The vendors were lined along the outside of the arena and we had to go down onto the floor to pick up our race packs. They had a runner's yoga session going on and more vendors down there. I was eyeballing a race jacket but didn't want to drop that kind of cash on a first time event. I was in and out in about 20 minutes.
I had my new favorite pre-race steak dinner (thanks to Kelsey and Brittney!) and called it a night. I've heard horror stories of the traffic nightmare to get in and I didn't want any part of that! They also split up the start of the race with the full marathon and 10K runners starting at 7:30 and the half at 8:30. I decided to leave at 5:30AM to make sure I got on the road, could pick up a bagel at Panera on the way, and hopefully get in easily. I sat in a bit of traffic but was in and parked by 7:07 and was happy.
The start/finish area was literally a mile away from where we parked. The finish line was set up with all these cool old planes that you were going to be running under the wings as you finished the race. Getting onto the base there wasn't any real security measures but getting into the race area we had to go through metal detectors. Usually the runner corrals are roped off and there aren't spectators and family allowed in with them but this had a much more casual feel, families were with their runners until the gun went off, and there was no corral system. It was hairy at the beginning with lots of walkers - the race had a 6 hour half marathon time limit so I think that drew extra walkers to the crowd, and no corral system had them everywhere. As a former walker, I appreciate the extra time they offered but it was a little crazy for the half set up. I wasn't sure about splitting up the groups but it actually worked out really well.
The start of the race people were jam packed as expected. We were given a single lane of a road and then onto a path that was about 3 people wide and there were about 10,000 runners between civilians and active duty members running the half. In the first mile was the first big hill that had people slowing to walk already, and I put my head down and told myself the more I walked, the longer this would take, so I kept on. Immediately after there was a nice downhill to follow. There were duty men and women who were running the water stations and directing people. They were cheering US on, in their uniforms, telling us how awesome we were doing, how great we were, and that we were looking good. It was truly humbling to have people who are active duty in our military, in the current state of the world, cheering us on. It gave me chills, I smiled and thanked each one and high fived as many as possible.
We were out in open stretches of the base, and eventually at about the half way point were in the small, residential portion of the base with some beautiful homes and families clapping and cheering. We were lead through the golf course on base and out into a small part of the town, Fairborn, where we ascended a highway ramp (BIG HILL. Yikes) and made our way the last few miles back onto base and to the homestretch. The half and full marathon courses merged when we came off the ramp at around half mile 8 and full mile 22. I felt like they should have kept the lanes separate because those of us that were meeting marathoners at that point were in the back portion of the half, and in the middle front portion of the full with pacers at 8:30-9:30 minute/miles for the marathoners. They were getting tangled up with the half run/walkers at this point and having to dodge and weave through them and I'm sure at 22+ miles that's the last thing they needed. Hense why the half marathon course could be open for 6 hours.
The feeling coming back on to the base was electric. There were flag signs lining the fence to mark the course boundaries, you could hear the announcer and music, and most of all the cheering crowds waiting for their loved ones to finish. There was a long stretch of pavement, a 90 degree turn with increasingly more people for about a tenth of a mile, and then the final home stretch. We ran under the wings of the planes full of history. The crowds were loud, the many veterans spectating and running were inspiring. I got goosebumps crossing the finish just like I did walking in just a few hours before. There was a large number of hand-bike riding disabled veterans participating and seeing the determination as they worked to get themselves up the hills was amazing.
Then came the part that really brought me to tears - and I'm usually always pretty emotional at the finish anyway - but I finished and got into a line marked for the half and was greeted by an Air Force Officer who congratulated me, put the medal on me, and shook my hand and told me "well done". I was humbled and this just capped the whole experience for me. I headed to the refreshment area and was given water, G2, a banana, and best of all some HOT LaRosa's pizza which I quickly inhaled. I am not usually hungry after long runs til I've settled for a little while but I could feel my blood sugar was low and it was a welcomed treat. I hiked the mile back to my car, plugged in my dead iPhone that had left me without music since mile 11.68 right in the middle of a Beyonce song. I had gotten everything in me but the G2 and I was glad I had it because I was starting to cramp up. I didn't do a great job of hydrating this week and I was paying for it, but it helped within a few minutes and the cramping subsided and I was on my way home.
Overall, it was a great race and a great experience. The weather got a bit warm having started an hour later than usual but it ended up being tolerable. I didn't really have any major issues with the traffic and parking, however I didn't love that to make it work I had to be there so much earlier than needed and I was awake for 3.5 hours before I started running. I'm a get up and go kind of girl. The medals were cool, the crowds we did encounter were great, and the military personnel assisting with the event was a neat touch. It's probably not an every year race for me, but definitely one to experience if you haven't before. Thanks to the soldiers and volunteers of the United States Air Force for making it a great race!
Garmin time - 3:01:47
Official chip time (13.2 miles) - 3:03:34