2013 Plano Balloon Festival Half Marathon Recap

by Kim on September 25, 2013

Plano Balloon Festival Start Line

I didn’t get a lot of pictures after this race since I found out seconds after crossing the finish line that my Aunt passed away.  When I signed up for this race, Nick and I were still living in our condo in North Dallas and I was excited that this race was practically in our back yard.  Well not quite, but it was a short 15-minute drive away.  Then we moved and I doubled the drive-time, but still, it wasn’t THAT far away.  Every month, Nick asks me where my race is as though I will be traveling for it.  September is keeping me pretty close to home!  Not as close if we were still in the condo, but close enough!

Race Day Weather
A cold front came in over the weekend and it was nice and cool at the start of the race.  With the cold fronts (after storms) the sky always seems to be crystal clear, and this cold-front day was no different.  The sun was shining bright.  A little too bright if you ask me, but I’ll get more into that later.

Plano Balloon Festival Weather Before

Finally, it is starting to feel like fall!  The start of the race was 61°F with the humidity at 75%, which felt 75% higher than it actually was.  (I tend not to notice the humidity when it is cool out, but even a drop of moisture in the air when it is hot out makes it feel like 100% humidity.)

I forgot to take a picture of the weather after the race due to the circumstances I mentioned above, but as I was walking to my car about an hour after the fact, I realized it then and did a quick screen shot.

Plano Balloon Festival Weather After

I’m guessing it warmed up about 2 or 3 degrees from when I finished the race, so my rough guess was the temperature when I crossed the finish line was hovering around 70° F, with the Real Feel at about 72°F.

Feelings Going Into The Race
September is hit or miss here in Dallas.  We can either have really nice weather or really hot weather.  The months leading up to the race, I’d been half dreading it and half not thinking about it.  Really, getting through August was my biggest concern.  Once I was over that hump, everything hopefully would feel a heck of a lot easier.

I also had a 22-mile long run scheduled that weekend and I really wanted to do that separate from the race, so on Saturday, I plowed through my 22 miles and decided I would take it easy at this race on Sunday.  When I woke up and got ready Sunday morning, my legs felt fine, but I set a projected goal of keeping my pace very comfortable, between 10’00” and 11’00” in order to not risk getting injured.  I wouldn’t PR at that pace for sure, but if I stayed in the middle, at 10’30” that would put me at 2:17:33, which I would be happy with for running on tired legs.  I also made the decision to NOT look at my Garmin and just focus on how my body felt.  If I was feeling bad, I would ease up and walk if I needed to.  If I was feeling good, I wanted to maintain.  No pushing it though.  I really didn’t want to risk getting an injury this close to the Chicago Marathon.

Meals Before The Race
For a pre-race dinner, I made Cowboy Chowder.  I’ve made it a few times before and I really like it.  Seeing as we had a cold-front come in, chowder seemed appropriate for the weather.  It isn’t exactly the lightest meal to eat the night before a race, but for the most part, I can usually eat whatever the night before and be fine in the morning… again, for the most part.

Cowboy Chowder-3 In the morning, I had my usual; a whole wheat English muffin (from Trader Joe’s this time), nut butter (Peanut Butter & Co.’s Smooth Operator) and jam (Trader Joe’s Blackberry preserves).

Plano Balloon Festival Pre-Race Breakfast

What I Wore
A lot of same-old, same old here.  I wore my newer C9 yellow sports bra.  On top, I had on my raspberry and purple Nike tank top and on the bottom I wore a pair of black and pink Nike Tempo shorts.  For socks, I wore a pair of raspberry Features.  I wore those with my  Brooks Glycerine 11 running shoes.  I also wore my grey Flip Belt, my Garmin Forerunner 610, and my RoadID bracelet.  I carried four Margarita Clif Shot Bloks in my Flip Belt.

Plano Balloon Festival Outfit 1

Plano Balloon Festival Outfit 2

The Course
The Plano Balloon Festival half marathon starts at the base of Collin Country Community College and Oak Point Nature Preserve and winds through the neighborhoods for the first half of the race, before entering Bob Woodruff Park and Oak Point Nature Preserve and finally winding back out to the road separating the community college from the nature preserve.

Plano Balloon Festival Course Map I had read a couple of reviews before that this course was on the hilly side and those comments were no joke.  The major hills took place right off the bat, within the first few miles, and after that, everything else seemed to be less steep, but there were still several climbs.  The course zig-zagged quite a bit in the neighborhood, so what hill we ran down on one street, we immediately ran right back up on the next street.

Plano Balloon Festival Elevation Chart

When the race started, I noticed we were going down hill and I spotted the 12-mile marker, meaning we would be running back up this hill to get to the finish line, which I wasn’t looking forward to during the entire race (I hate finishing going uphill), but once I got to mile 12, that hill didn’t seem nearly as bad as I thought it was… I guess I’d just run MUCH steeper hills.  And there was a small decline at the very end.

The Race Organization
This race was put on by the Plano Balloon Festival and Racing Systems, an offshoot timing company from RunOn!  I like Racing Systems/RunOn! races because they seemed to be prepared well.  Packet Pickup was held in three locations: two RunOn! stores and Central Market in Plano.  When I initially registered for this race, Central Market was the closest packet pickup spot and with the way the bibs were printed out/labeled, I wasn’t able to switch locations.

Plano Balloon Festival Packet Pickup 1 Packet pickup was over two days; Friday and Saturday, with NO race-day pickup.  I went on Friday and it was PACKED!

Plano Balloon Festival Packet Pickup 2

Plano Balloon Festival Packet Pickup 3 I couldn’t believe how many people were at packet pickup!  Usually when packet pickup is at RunOn! or another venue like this, I usually see one or two other people getting their goods, but I had to stand in line for about 10 minutes.

Plano Balloon Festival Swag The loot… A race tank, two free tickets to the festival, a $10 gift card to RunOn! (hello new shoes!) a parking pass, and a sample of Tommy’s Salsa (I think… it doesn’t actually say what is inside the container, but after doing a quick Google search, I deduced that it was most likely salsa).

On race day, I thought the race was well-organized with water stops every mile or two (I think I counted 9 total water stops).  Upon arriving, the volunteers we helpful in directing runners where to go for the race and for bag check.  The only downfall about the organization was the website said the hot air balloon launch would be at 7:00 AM and the half marathon would start at 7:30 AM (and 5K starting at 7:45 AM), but the hot air balloon launch didn’t start until after the race started, so we weren’t able to see the balloons go up as we were standing close by.  The course did take us on a route that we were able to see them when they were finally up, but at that point, they were a bit far away… particularly for picture-taking on an iPhone.

Plano Balloon Festival Arrival 1 Arriving to the festival

I’d also say that parking was a crazy-town.  I drove around for 10 minutes trying to find a spot!  But as part of our race packet, we got a free VIP parking pass, so I can’t complain too much.

One feature that was unique about this race (besides the hot air balloons in the distance) was there were a couple of hot air baskets (minus the balloons) with the flames shooting into the air along the course and at the start/finish line.  It was a fun sight to see, but I also didn’t want to be too close to them as I ran by because, man, that air is hot!

Crowd Support
The volunteers were the main crowd supporters in this race.  There were a few people walking out of their houses in their robes to get the morning paper who acted as “crowd support” as we made our way though the neighborhood.

When I finished the race, I talked to my friend, Jenny, who came to support her husband.  She said that the course was poorly laid our for crowd support.  Once inside the festival grounds (where the start/finish line was) she couldn’t leave and re-enter without paying again.  She also said that from looking at the course map, it seemed as if she could cut through the preserve and catch the race at mile 11 and then head back to the finish line, but she discovered that there was a stream in the way, so she wasn’t able to see any of the race except the end.

The Race
I ran into my friend, Stacey, before the race and we huddled together, hoping to see the balloons go up. 

Plano Balloon Festival Friends

Alas, the horn blew sans hot air balloon release and we were off.  Stacey was running with another friend and I took off at my own pace, making the commitment not to look at my Garmin.  We hit the hills almost immediately, starting with steep climbs around a mile and a half or so.  Somewhere around mile 2, I got my first peak at the hot air balloons that had just been launched.  (See, kinda far away, especially for the iPhone.)

Plano Balloon Festival Mid Race 1

While I had my phone out, I decided to take a picture of the runners.

Plano Balloon Festival Mid Race 2 The 7:30 AM start-time meant that the sun was shining bright and strong.  I felt like we were running into the sun the ENTIRE time.  Obviously, this isn’t true, but we definitely had the sun blinding us as we made several steep climbs.

As more and more balloons when up, people stopped to take pictures, but I was in a grove and I didn’t want to stop.  I passed through the first two water stops and by mile 3 we came off the main street and entered the residential neighborhood.  I decided to grab some water at the third water stop but sip while running.  To me, this is not an easy skill to master, but I did okay with it and was able to get down most of the cup before the trash cans ended.  My legs were feeling good and I continued on my way.  With little crowd support, this race was pretty quiet, but I actually didn’t mind it at all.  I don’t listed to music during races, but even being a small race, I didn’t get bored without the music.  I’m amazed that I am able to entertain myself with my own thoughts for that long, but in the moment, the time usually goes by pretty quickly.  Somewhere around this water stop, I accidentally looked at my watch, but only out of instinct and I realized what I was doing before I was able to process the information that was displayed on my watch, so I continued on blindly.

The hills became annoying as we zig-zagged in the neighborhood, but I refused to walk on any of them.  I’ve noticed recently that I’m not as strong on hills as I was a year ago.  I blame this on my lack of strength training over the past five months.  With that said, the steep hills are usually a killer for me and I get passed a lot by people who also refuse to walk up them, but I am excelling on the gradual inclines.  It’s here that I tend to pass other people.  I have the Dallas Running Club to thank for that!

Anyway, the course took us out of the neighborhood and into Bob Woodruff Park.  We were on a paved hike and bike trail here, which got kind of annoying.  The path was comfortably wide enough for two people and tight for three people across.  There were tons of people running in 2’s, making it a tight squeeze to pass them and nearly impossible if they were in larger groups.  I had been running back and forth with a couple for a few miles and the women had some knee issue, so they kept stopping to walk (and eventually start running again).  This got me SUPER frustrated.  I get it, you are hurt and you need to walk, but make room for runners trying to pass you!  Once they started running again, the man in the couple would pull them up (probably faster than the women should have been going if she constantly needed to stop and walk) and run right past me.  This cycle happened six or seven times.  I really wanted to say something, but I kept my mouth shut.

We wound our way out of the park and back into the neighborhood for a short stretch, starting with the mile 8 water stop.  I decided that I needed to walk through this one and take more liquid in.  I took two cups of water and a Powerade before picking up my pace again.  Somewhere around here, I noticed that my watch didn’t buzz at the mile maker.  I had been keeping track of the miles and when to fuel based on the buzz of my watch, since I wasn’t looking at it, so I quickly looked down to see what the deal was.  The screen had changed on it.  How the heck did that happen?  I swiped it back to the main screen and everything seemed to be fine.  I continued on my way.

We looped back around and it the mile 9 water stop (which was the same as the mile 8 water stop) and I again walked through it.  This part of the course was sort of fun because we got to see people passing in the other direction.  I attempted to cheer people on, but just about everyone had headphones in and my cheers went into thin air.  As I wound back down into the park, I saw my friend, Stacey again.  I was running into the sun at this point, so I’m glad she shouted my name out, or else I would have run right past her without knowing.  I veered off and headed into Oak Point Nature Preserve.  We were in FULL sun in the preserve (which is basically a big open field with a paved trail).  This part, similar to Bob Woodruff Park, was miserable in my mind.  I was grateful that it was “cool” out, even though it was quickly warming up.  Had the day been hot, this race would have been awful with the lack of shade.  Also the park and preserve are pretty wide open, so there is very little visual interest.

My Garmin continued to not buzz on the mile markers and so I checked a few more times to discover the screen kept changing.  I don’t know what the heck was going on with it.  It has never done this before.  Anyway, I ran through the mile 11 water stop, drinking while running again and began to pass people left and right.  People were dropping like flies in the preserve.  I wasn’t giving up, though, even though I could feel some tightness in my left IT band.  I wound my way out of the preserve and hit up the last water stop at mile 12, walking through it to maximize the liquid in-take again.  I began my climb towards the finish.  In the middle of mile 12, I decided to look at my watch to see how much was left.  Based on my few glimpses when trying to fix the screen, I calculated the mileage was about .2 miles off from the race.  Based on that math, I had about a half a mile to go.  Almost done!

The home stretch was rather anticlimactic with a lack of crowd support, but at that point, it didn’t really matter to me.  I picked up my pace and finished as strong as I could.  I crossed the finish line and I was done!

Plano Balloon Festival Medal

Post Race Food And Vendors
There were a ton of vendors.  I didn’t go to any booths after the race other than to get the post race food, since I was somewhat in shock from the news about my Aunt.  I did take a picture before the race started, though.

Plano Balloon Festival Arrival 2

Corner Bakery has handing out food before the race, but I declined, hoping they might have some after the race.  I should have known better.  The 5K’ers ate everything.  Oh well.  Central Market was the main food sponsor.

Plano Balloon Festival Post Race Food 3

They were serving up bacon, eggs, hash browns, yogurt, and muffins.

Plano Balloon Festival Post Race Food 1

Since I had run into my friend Jenny and her husband, Adam, after the race, Jenny and I decided to grab some of the free food together.  (Adam wasn’t feeling well).

Plano Balloon Festival Post Race Food 2

For Central Market, the food was mediocre.  For a race, the food was pretty decent.

No Pain No Gain
Surprisingly, following a 22-mile run, I really had little to no pain during this race.  My left IT band was a little tight of the second half of the race, but it wasn’t painful.  My shoulders we definitely tight and I tried to drop my arms and relax my shoulders every few minutes in the last couple of miles.  Immediately after the race, I sat down when I saw Jenny and Adam (and was bawling my eyes about the news of my Aunt) and even before I made the move to sit, I knew that was a huge mistake, but I did it anyway.  When Jenny and I got up to get the Central Market breakfast, my legs had immediately tightened up, but throughout the rest of the day, I was moving around quite a bit, so I wasn’t sore at all come Monday.  Not to shabby for 35 miles in just over 24 hours!

Other Random Thoughts
I often see people dressed up for races, but there were a few women who had really cute and appropriate hair decorations.

Plano Balloon Festival Costumes

Overall Opinion
The weather definitely made this race!  I doubt I would do it again because September is such an unpredictable month here in Texas and with very little shade for a good majority of this race, I DO NOT want to run this race on a hot day.  With that said, I thought this race went well and without any issues (that I noticed).  The medals are HUGE; the hugest I’ve received to date and the medal ribbon is cute.  Would I recommend this race to a friend?  Maybe.  It depends on the friend.  If it is a friend who is interested in setting a PR or doing their very first half marathon, I’d say definitely don’t do this race.  If it is a friend looking to get miles in and doesn’t mine full sun, I’d say go for it!

Doing this race blindly (not looking at my Garmin) may have been a blessing for me.  I didn’t torture myself over what my watch said.  I just ran at what felt comfortable, but by still carrying it, I have the data, which is even more fun to look at after the fact!  I came out at the very fast end of where I wanted to be for the day and I never once felt like I was pushing my body into the risk-of-injury or fatigue zone, so with the hills and the tired legs, I am really pleased with my time.  As I expected, it wasn’t a PR, but I wasn’t in it to set a new PR or come close.  Maybe I’ll run Chicago blindly!…

Race Stats
Bib Number: 2173
Division: Female 30-34

Official Chip Time: 2:12:19
Official Race Distance: 13.1 miles
Official Average Race Pace: 10’06”
Overall Rank: 379 out of 866
Gender Rank: 164 out of 517
Division Rank: 35 out of 100

Garmin Time: 2:12:23
Garmin Distance: 13.34 miles
Garmin Average Pace: 9’55”

Garmin Splits
Mile 1: 10’13”
Mile 2: 10’01”
Mile 3: 9’54”
Mile 4: 9’46”
Mile 5: 9’44”
Mile 6: 9’35”
Mile 7: 9’46”
Mile 8: 10’05”
Mile 9: 10’04”
Mile 10: 10’08”
Mile 11: 9’54”
Mile 12: 9’55”
Mile 13: 10’16”
Mile 13.34: 8’54”

Plano Balloon Festival Finish Line Medal

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