Fields, Flowers, and Alpacas: A Corvallis Half Recap

This past weekend I raced in the Corvallis Half Marathon. I had mentioned to my coach Greg that I was interested in trying some new races this year and this was the first one he suggested. I’m so glad he did! I had never been to Corvallis, which is home to Oregon State University and located a couple hours south of Portland.

I was feeling pretty confident leading up to the half marathon. I had a strong race at the Portland Shamrock 15K last month then finished within six seconds of my 5K PR at the Willamette University Invitational in Salem a couple weeks later. I didn’t get a chance to write a race recap, but here’s a pic!


It was really fun to mix it up and compete with collegiate runners. I didn’t race with a watch or focus too much on splits but tried to just stick my nose in it and race. I placed fifth in my heat and finished in 18:19, my second fastest time ever.

After the 5K I had some bigger training weeks with increased mileage and two speed workout days instead of one. I was definitely feeling the change and specifically remember feeling like garbage the weekend before Corvallis. My legs weren’t particularly happy with me I was craving a noticeable amount of more sleep and food than usual. Last Monday I woke up around 6am, had some coffee and breakfast, but then literally couldn’t keep my eyes open and ended up crawling back into bed. It felt so silly but I didn’t know how I would make it through the day otherwise.

I had a track workout the Wednesday before Corvallis, 8 x 1000m @ 10K race pace and I really wasn’t sure if I could handle it. I ended up approaching it ultra conservatively, tried not to go faster than I absolutely had to, and ended up nailing all my splits! It definitely wasn’t a fun workout, but it gave me a ton of confidence because I still hit my goal even when I wasn’t feeling 100%.

Anyway, back to Corvallis. I went down the day before and drove the course so I would know what to expect. It began at OSU campus then made its way out into the country among fields and rolling hills, then eventually looping back through some residential neighborhoods and back to campus. I couldn’t believe how at home I felt. The terrain and scenery reminded me of my alma mater, Greenville College in southern Illinois, and the training runs I did with my team there every day. As it was a particularly warm weekend in Oregon, the heat was reminiscent of my days running in Illinois as well.

Driving the course on Saturday night

The race began at 9:30AM Sunday morning. It was the most luxurious amount of time to get ready for a morning race maybe ever. I got a ton of sleep, had hours to laze around and sip coffee (I still woke up at 5:30AM), and took my time deciding between which combo of race apparel I would wear. I parked about a quarter of mile from the start area, jogged over to the expo to pick up my bib number, did a few strides and drills and arrived at the start line with a few minutes to spare. I said a quick good luck and gave a hug to my speedy Oiselle teammate Trisha Drobeck, then lined up a few rows back.

The first few miles went off without a hitch. I had forgotten to reset my watch after warming up and totally messed up starting it again. I also kind of missed the first couple mile marks. So really I had no clue how fast I was going! Looking back on my Garmin data I had settled into about a 6:30-6:40 per mile pace.

One of my goals, based on what I had seen in the results from previous years, was to place within the top five overall women. Trisha had taken off at a blistering pace in the beginning and a woman in a black sports bra strode off not too far behind. After that was a woman in a white t-shirt and another in a green tank top, then there was me. White tee and green tank got away for a bit in the beginning, but I slowly gained on them as we made our way through the campus of OSU. I passed them for third, but soon after another woman coasted right by me, cool as a cucumber. She had a friend running alongside her, and I heard him say something along the lines of, “We’re good, we’re right on pace,” so she must have been going for a certain time goal. Her effort seemed steady and measured. I felt okay, but it was so early in the race I wasn’t sure if I should expend the energy to stay with her. So I let her go and hoped she’d come back.

Be cool, be cool!

We made our way off campus and onto a bike path that brought us out into the countryside. There were fields, flowers, and adorable alpacas grazing about. Or were they llamas? This was my favorite part of the course by far. I did start to question whether this would be an “A” day for me, because I had already run 4 or 5 miles at 6:30-40 pace, which was slower than my personal record pace, meaning I’d need to run a fairly sizable negative split in the second half of the race to match it.

A little after mile five the course took the runners to the road again, then the first major climb of the race began. This was the point where I felt it was okay to start pushing a little. I was deep enough into the race to know my legs were holding up okay, and we were getting close to the halfway point. I was running solo at the moment, but focused on picking off the runners ahead of me one at a time. The climb lasted for maybe one or two miles, and while some of the runners around me were starting to falter, I was beginning to pick up steam. My eighth mile uphill split read 6:53, which wasn’t too much slower than my pace on flat turf! I could also see that the woman with the pacer friend was starting to come back to me. My competitive mode kicked in and I put all of my focus into reeling her in. We hit a flat portion where I gained a bit of ground then had a push up one more major hill. I chased her to the top, around a corner, then as soon as the road sloped downward I zoomed on by, moving from fourth to third place. I opened up my stride and put as much distance between us as possible. I ran the next two miles in exactly 6:16 each.

Corvallis 3.jpg
Lots of brow furrowing going on.

I turned the corner that marked mile 10, and while I had visualized the previous day how good I would feel at that point, I felt pretty darn terrible. It was a little after 10:30AM at that point and the sun was getting hot. I was thirsty, despite having taken water or sports drink at every aid station. My breathing was starting to get out of control (as usual). At around mile 10.5 I realized that I had totally forgotten to take a second energy gel back at mile ten like I had planned. Stupid stupid stupid! I quickly ripped open the gel packet I had on me and sucked down about half of it.

I don’t remember a lot about the last few miles, except that I was hot and tired and wanted to stop. I remembered something Sally Bergesen, the founder & CEO of Oiselle, said on Julia Hanlon’s Running On Om podcast on the topic of running through pain and having to override your brain in a sense. I kept asking myself, “Can I do more?”, and the answer was yes. Of course I could do more. I kept pushing and pushing.

Just dying a little.

Somewhere between the 12th and 13th mile my brain was in such dumb-dumb mode that I dashed straight by a group of volunteers, missing one of the final turns on the course. They yelled and yelled for me to come back and eventually I heard them! I turned around and went back the correct way. Oh, the agony! I knew I would be so mad at myself if I missed out on my goal time (1:25:00) because of a silly error, so I went into total overdrive and kicked it in as hard as I possibly could to the finish.


I crossed the line in 1:24:54 and placed third overall woman! Trisha (who won and set a course record in 1:19:39) and Camille Shiflett, who finished second with a time of 1:23:51, hugged and high-fived me at the finish. A reporter was interviewing Trisha about her win and then soon after several people took our photos together. We were told that we’d all earned cash prizes, which was a first for me! Afterward we shared our race stories with each other and what we were getting ready for next. I immediately felt this sort of shared experience and sisterhood with these women and it was so cool to be on the figurative podium with them!

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.10.24 AM
From left to right: Camille, Trisha, Me

Overall I couldn’t be happier with how this race went. I felt like I was ready to PR and I did. I received more confirmation that I’m on the right track with training. This was also the most fun I’ve had racing in a while.

Next up, I’m planning to race the Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, WA on May 1st. Bloomsday is a huuuuge race with over 40,000 participants and a large international draw. This will be my goal race for the spring, so I’ll be tapering and resting up for this one!

‘Til next time,


One response to “Fields, Flowers, and Alpacas: A Corvallis Half Recap”

  1. The Lilac Bloomsday Run: An Epic Journey of Ordinary Heroes – Running Liz Avatar

    […] felt pretty confident leading up to this race. I had a strong half marathon in Corvallis without a taper in my training. Bloomsday was my spring goal race, so I rested a lot more and had […]


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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