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Honor Run race review: The good, the bad and the hilly

This year I focused on goals such as my first 50-miler and qualifying for the Boston Marathon. That left little time in my calendar for training specifically for and racing half marathons.

When I heard of the 2017 St. Elizabeth Healthcare Honor Run Half Marathon, held on Veterans Day weekend, I immediately researched it and signed up. The timing, location and other aspects with the race all fit in nicely with what I already had planned.

Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Honor Run Half Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out to review find and write race reviews!

Before the race

The event includes the half marathon, as well as a two-person relay, Nature Nate's Honor Run Half Marathon 5K and Honor Run Kids One Mile. Proceeds from the races benefit Honor Flight Tri-State by sending veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials. Additionally, funds go to Habitat For Humanity of Cincinnati to help support a local veterans home repair.

Of course, those are very worthwhile charities and I enjoyed being able to help them out.

I arrived at packet pickup around 7 p.m., about two hours before it shut down. Packet pickup essentially was a couple of long tables staffed by helpful volunteers inside the local mall.

Runners received a long sleeve tech shirt, which was a nice change from the standard tech T-shirts that are overflowing my closet. The extended hours were welcome for out-of-town runners. While the race encouraged participants to pick up their bibs the night before, they would allow runners to get them the morning of the race, starting at 6 a.m.

The early start — 7 a.m. for the half and relay — worked well for me as I easily found a hotel a short drive from the start/finish area. And, with the race being on a Sunday, the early start time gave me a head start on getting home in advance of the work week.

It was fairly easy to get to the staging area, the Florence Mall. Parking was free and the mall opened early for runners to stay warm and use the restrooms. This was a great bonus on a chilly (30s) autumn morning.

The race

The rolling 13.1-mile course includes several noteworthy climbs, primarily around Miles 2, 8, 10.5 and 12. Most runners could run the whole way, even if the uphills slowed them down. Runners go through the city of Florence and parts of unincorporated Boone County; the race starts and finishes under the iconic Florence Y’All water tower. The rumor I heard was that for years the water tower was labeled Florence Mall, but then someone got the idea to turn it into Y’All. In any event, it’s a large landmark the whole town seems to take pride in.

There were water/Gatorade aid stations every two miles. And I mean exactly every two miles, as they were set up next to the mile markings. And around Mile 4, there were at least a dozen volunteers handing out tissues, something I had never seen before at a race.

This was my one shot for a half marathon PR this year, which I would need to beat 1:41:29 to get. My A goal for this race was 1:40:00, with a B goal of 1:45:00.

Since this was eight days after the Indianapolis Monumental, I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I took the first mile easy — which was challenging because there was no organization at the start to seed anyone. The randomness meant that there were runners zipping past me as I was buzzing past slower runners.

My first mile clocked in at 8:10, well off my 1:40:00 goal pace of 7:37 a mile. I checked in with my legs, breathing, etc. and decided to rev it up and give it a shot. I quickly moved into a 7:30-7:40 pace, which I maintained even through the ups and downs of the course.

As the miles ticked by, it became clear that I was going to be real close to my goal finish. I took a Honey Stinger waffle at Mile 9 and washed it down with a swig of Gatorade at the Mile 10 aid station. That helped refuel me as we weren’t done with the hills at that point.

In fact, the steep but short hill at Mile 12 was in full view as we neared it — a mental challenge as well as physical. Two runners — one male, one female — passed me as we pushed up the hill. But I knew once we summited it, I would be good to go.

At the top of the hill, I passed the female runner and looked for others to pass. I ended up passing three more runners — but not the guy who passed me on the hill — in the final half-mile of the race. I finished with a sub-7-minute mile.

Official time: 1:39:55, good enough for fourth in my age group and 47th overall out of 735 runners. Goal achieved.

After the race

All race finishers received a custom finisher’s medal, and post-race food and drinks. For those who set PRs, start-up company Grateful Sons handed out coupons for a free pint of ice cream.

During the pre-race announcements, the organizer said that the main post-race offering (cheese coneys from Skyline Chili) would not be available because there was an equipment malfunction. As someone who cannot tolerate gluten, this didn’t affect me and certainly this was something that was out of the race director’s control.

I was disappointed that there were not any gluten-free options (other than drinks) after the race for refueling. The race website did promise “bananas and granola bars from Costco.” However, the race director told me later that he decided not to do that because there were so many bananas and granola bars left over in previous years. That is certainly his decision to make, but the website should have reflected what would actually be available to runners so those with food allergies could plan ahead.

In any event, there were plenty of water and Gatorade bottles available, as well as coffee from Crossroads of Florence and chocolate Milk from Snowville Creamery. Food items on site included Jersey Mike’s sandwiches and cookies, cupcakes from Gigi's Cupcakes and bagels.

And last but certainly not least, race photos were free to download. All in all, the fourth edition of the Honor Run Half Marathon was a good experience — nice, challenging course; helpful volunteers and an overall good event that supports veterans.

Run this race if you:

• Want to support veterans, especially those in the Kentucky-Ohio-Indiana tri-state area.

• Are seeking a challenging but doable half marathon with rolling hills.

• Are training for an ultra distance and are looking for a low-key half marathon on the second day of a weekend back-to-back.

Don’t run this race if you:

• Are gluten-free (unless you bring your own post-race nourishment).

• Desire a lot of crowd support.

• Prefer races with scenic views.

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