Men are faster than women — this is a fact that no amount of women’s lib will ever change. But, not all men are faster than all women, that’s for sure. A number of races pay a “challenger bonus” — start the females first and see if the winning woman can stay ahead of the winning male — as a way to make the competition more interesting.
But what happens if you take men out of the equation altogether? Women-only races have waxed and waned, with a few having major staying power — Freihofer’s Run for Women, the NYRR New York Mini 10k. And don’t forget newer but hugely popular races like the Disney Princess half and the Nike Women’s Marathon.
This year, I decided to try it. The Indianapolis Women’s Half was entering its fourth year, but had been acquired by the Carmel Racing Group in January. I’ve run the CRG’s Carmel Marathon and found it to be well-organized and well thought out. Kudos to Todd Oliver and his team, because it was a selling point to get me there instead of to another half also in Indy a few weeks before.
I was also intrigued by a ladies-only event. How would it change the dynamic? The pace?
I started to worry a bit, though, when the event Facebook page was littered with ladies asking a) what the shirt looked like so they could plan their outfit; b) what their bib number was so they could write it on their shirt (no idea why, it was a bib chip so you were going to have to wear it); and c) ladies saying they were bringing their hydration packs. These signs pointed to a lot of new runners — which is great, don’t get me wrong — but a large group of new runners can make things a bit of a headache.
Expo first. We got there about an hour before it closed, so it was pretty quiet. No problems obtaining packet, which included a seeded bib. It excites me to no end to be handed a bib in the double digits. 16! Granted, these were based off estimated finish times, but in a race this size it should prove a pretty accurate predictor. Expo was small, not crowded, mostly local businesses so we didn’t have much interest.
My worries about race morning headaches proved to be unfounded. There was also a 5k that drew a lot of women new to running, and it started 15 minutes later so there was plenty of room for the half marathoners to get sorted out. Pacers in 10 minute increments established the corrals.
One really cool part of the race was that they did a live TV and web broadcast from the start. And good starting line music — probably in part because they asked for suggestions on Facebook.
So here I am, a wannabe standing in the second row next to a girl in bun huggers and braids. Surrounded by fast ladies. There’s plenty of Indy women, but quite a few out-of-towners, too — they listed the top five to watch in the race program. I joke with the girl next to me (who will finish second) about how they are live streaming the finish line, which I find amusing. Who is going to watch that? She says she told her mom to watch. I hope her mom watched and got to see her crush that course.
Requisite gun firing and I am sucked in, trying to slide out the back unsuccessfully in the first mile. My Garmin, meanwhile, is having fits with all the downtown buildings.
In summary, I ran the first two miles way way too fast even though I knew better, felt good through five miles then faded through the end but not tragically — my pace for the first half was about three second faster than the second half.
While running, I chatted briefly with a couple of other runners, including Rachel Chambers, originally from Indiana but a Sarasota, Fl. resident. Three miles into the race I realized we were wearing the same sports bra, and she was also wearing a pair of shorts I frequently wear. Both pieces are New Balance, and so were her shoes. She confirmed she did run for a New Balance Store team in Sarasota — I run for one in Louisville. After, we hopped on the photo stage to grab a photo of this random Team New Balance meeting.
A couple course notes for anyone who wants to run in the future: there’s a horrendous hill hiding at 7.5, not long but really steep; there were lots of gnats because we were running along the river; the last four miles are so are straight into the sun and no shade. There were also very few spectators — after the first 2 miles (which looped back through the starting area), I saw maybe 10 people. Maybe they came out later as the bigger pack came through.
The finish line was great, with military servicemen handing out medals and plenty of medical staff on-hand. You got a snazzy butterfly medal, a rose, and plenty of snacks … but you had to get your snacks while still in the chute and you couldn’t come back. I can live with that, but there should have been another water station outside the chute.
As far as the dynamic? I didn’t encounter any women in the elite pack who acted, well, elitist. Everyone was friendly and happy, and there were lots of high fives and congrats. For a race that pays cash to the top ten, I think that’s awesome.
As for me, despite poorly executing my race, I still walked away with a PR, a wine glass (AG win) and a cool medal. More importantly, the entire experience was very positive. I’m glad to have met all the ladies I did and have the chance, I hope, to inspire other women to get out there.
Note: After this column was written, CRG decided to move the race to September starting in 2015. So no June event next year.