Race Report: UnitedHealthcare Providence Half

Providence Half Marathon

Phil and me after the race. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

It was a rainy weekend for the Cox Providence Rhode Races in Rhode Island on Sunday, May 12, 2013.

But the rain didn’t stop me and over 3,100 other runners from tackling the UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon and Cox Providence Marathon. A race where “HOPE” is the state motto couldn’t be anything but uplifting.

I certainly looked happy on race day, as this video my husband took attests. He’s newly obsessed with Vine, the 6-second video version of Twitter. I’m saying “Rhode Races” at the end, but it gets cut off a bit.

The Expo

I was surprised by the size and quality of the Health and Fitness Expo for such a small race. Staged at the Omni Hotel Ballroom in Providence, I picked up my bib and got in and out with ease.

Providence Half Marathon

Checking out the course at the Expo. (Photo: Phil Hospod)

I have one complaint here, and I don’t want to belabor it because this is an issue I’ve seen at major races everywhere, not just Providence: they were all out of x-small, small, and medium shirts by the time I picked up my bib on Saturday afternoon. I was handed a men’s large. Sigh. Yet another race shirt I will never wear. I asked about women’s cut shirts and they said they only had them for the marathon. Just once I’d love to be told, “Sorry, all we have left are small and extra-small women’s shirts.” A girl can dream.

The Start

Getting to the start was a breeze. Organizers recommended parking at the Rhode Island Convention Center or Providence Place Mall, so that’s what my husband and I did. The start was just a short three-block walk from there.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, organizers had announced that only clear bags would be allowed at bag check. We were told to bring a disposable bag on race day when we’d be given a clear bag. As we walked to bag check, we saw a “Rhode Island Mass Casualty” mobile command vehicle stationed near the corrals. It was a sad reminder of the reality we now face.

Providence Half Marathon

Providence Half Marathon start. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

The race had only one corral—a general start where runners were supposed to self-align according to anticipated pace. It didn’t really work that way and everyone lined up in one big clump. I started behind the 12-min pace sign because the entire corral in front of it was already full of runners. But it honestly wasn’t a big deal. With only 2,000 runners starting in the half-marathon on large city streets I had no problem finding room to run and getting around the people I needed to pass.

But here’s where I come to my one major complaint about this race: it started 20 minutes late. The race was called for 8 a.m. The national anthem singer began at 8:18 and then the announcer said the race would start in two minutes. While we waited in the corral for 20 minutes, just about everyone around me was grumbling, shuffling, and getting anxious.

Providence Half Marathon

A runner readies his watch for the start. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Some Rhode Islanders I know joke that the state runs on “island time.” As a New Yorker I appreciate a more relaxed pace now and then. The attraction this year was the methadone program fort myers which caught everyone off guard. Where the experts talked about drugs that people consume for pleasure. The runners plan a lot around the start time of a race: their pre-race hydration and fuel routine; rendezvous times and points for family and friends on course and after the race; and post-race brunch plans, just to name a few. Five minutes isn’t so much as to throw it all off, but 20 minutes is. And it didn’t help that it was lightly raining.

But once the race finally got under way, everything else seemed to go smoothly.

The Course

The course surprised me with its beauty and its brawn. What could have been a boring out-and-back run dazzled with waterfront views, old colonial buildings, city parks, and stately homes shaded by blooming trees.

Many, if not most, concurrent half-marathons and marathons share much of the same course. But one of the unique things about this event is that the marathon and half-marathon share a start and a finish, but that’s about it. Near the 2-mile mark, marathoners head south and half-marathoners head north for completely different race experiences.

half marathon, half marathon training

UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon

Instead of building a standard out-and-back course, race organizer Eident Sports built a course that’s just different enough in either direction to feel fresh on your legs and eyes.

The half-marathon course started in downtown Providence’s City Hall Park and continued along the Providence River beside colonial buildings and modern high-rises before heading down to the waterfront at Providence Harbor.

The course then turned northward through charming residential neighborhoods to Blackstone Boulevard, a 1.7-mile long greenway lined with stately homes and towering trees.

After a short jaunt through Pawtucket, RI to the north, runners returned to Blackstone Boulevard and a detour around lovely Blackstone Park along the Seekonk River before heading back downtown via India Point Park at the mouth of Providence Harbor.

There were seven water stations placed roughly every 1.5 to 2 miles. Water and Gatorade were plentiful and GU gels were available at a few points too. I could have used just one more water station between miles 9 and 11.5. At that crucial point in the race, I found a 2.5-mile stretch without water to be a wee bit long.

But other than that, I thought the course was just about perfect. The race skipped the hilly East Side of Providence neighborhoods in favor of flatter roads nearer the water. Sure, there were a few low-grade climbs, but nothing too terrible to seriously challenge your legs or lungs. There was one short, but steep downhill section near the turn-around point in Pawtucket; I heard some runners near me groan about their quads. But I’ll take a steep downhill to a steep uphill any day.

There wasn’t a ton of crowd support along the course. But the folks that were there were exuberant—like the man playing banjo on his front stoop or the guy cheering in his bathrobe from the front lawn. A few spectators with signs dotted the course along Blackstone Boulevard, and the crowds picked up in the last mile to the downtown finish considerably.

The After Party
Providence Half Marathon

Food trucks near the finish. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

I didn’t stick around too long after the race, just long enough to get my medal and great post-race snacks: water, Gatorade, bagels, bananas and pizza. Yes, you read right: pizza. They also had food trucks lining the way back to the convention center, a beer garden and an after party that I didn’t attend. And runners could also grab a Mylar blanket if they were cold. I figured I’d leave those for the marathoners.

My Race

I set out to do the UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon as a training run after a patchy winter season. I was sick, I lost my motivation, I was traveling, and I was not running as much as I would have liked.

Providence Half Marathon

Rowers on the Seekonk River during the Providence Half Marathon. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

So in my pre-race post, I wrote this:

“My goal for the race is to go out there, have fun, and run a steady easy pace. I don’t know Providence all too well and the course visits parts of the city and beyond that I’ve never been to, so I’m excited to just take in the town as a tourist runner and have some fun.”

There’s something about removing all expectations that allows you to really enjoy a run. And I had one of my absolute best runs in recent memory.

Providence Half Marathon

Phil and I after the race. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

I cooed at barking dogs, high-fived excited kids, waved at smiling babies. I walked through water stations and thanked volunteers. I paused to take a photo of a rowing crew on the Seekonk River. It reminded me of the tranquility of my own college rowing days. I breathed in the fragrance of blossoming trees. I cheered on the winning female marathoner as our courses merged and she sprinted toward the finish. I gave a fist pump when I overheard two spectators say, “She’s crushing it,” when I passed a legion of runners in the final two miles. I even enjoyed the misty rain that lightly sprayed runners for most of the race. It felt refreshing, like someone misting you with a spray bottle.

Quite simply, my run was spectacular. I started slowly. I picked up the pace at the halfway mark, and then again in the last two miles. I ran a negative split to finish 1:08 per mile behind my PR of 2:00:30. It was exactly how I wanted to run.

Providence Half MarathonBest of all, it truly felt easy. And as each mile floated by, I kept thinking, “Wow, this feels great! I can’t believe this feels so easy!” I never think that during training runs.

My finish time was 2:15:44.

Here are my splits. The slightly longer ones correspond to where the water stops were roughly every 1.5 miles.

I’m really happy that all of my last 7 miles were faster than the first 6. I’ve been doing progression runs lately to work on the negative split, and it feels really good to nail it so well. Next time, I hope to nail it in a yet-to-be-determined half-marathon PR attempt this fall.

The UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon Takeaway

If you’re looking for a relatively flat small-city race, the Providence Half Marathon is a great choice. I could easily see this being a personal record course for many runners. The event is well organized, save what I already mentioned, and has one of the best medals I’ve seen for such a small event: an anchor emblazoned with the word “HOPE.”

Providence Half Marathon

Providence Half Marathon Medal

The “hope anchor” has been the symbol of Rhode Island since Roger Williams founded the colony on the principles of religious freedom in 1636. Williams was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views, and Rhode Island quickly became a mecca for colonial settlers looking for a place where they could worship freely. Williams pioneered the idea of separation of church and state and founded America’s first Baptist church in Providence. Rhode Island is also home to the nation’s first synagogue in Newport.

Scholars believe the “hope anchor” was inspired by Biblical verse Hebrews 6:19—“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” It felt especially providential be given a medal with the word “HOPE” in a town called Providence less than a month after bombers attacked the Boston Marathon, a town whose history is inextricably linked. But I digress. Can you tell I’m a former religion major and religion reporter?

Here’s to a great race and to hope—for runners and spectators everywhere.

Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ show about running. She has finished six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla at RunKarlaRun.com, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


05 2013

27 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    Congrats on having such a great race! It sounds like a great course. I was looking for more local half marathons (and by local, I mean driving v. flying there) and so I think I might try this one out next year. Congrats again! :)

  2. 3

    That sounds like fun and I love the medal. It sounds very much like the half I did last month, mostly flat, fast and a small field. I lived in Boston for over 10 years and my parents are still there. If I did this, I could squeeze in a visit with them :)
    Lesley recently posted..Race PicturesMy Profile

  3. 5

    Glad you had such a good time during the race! About the shirts … I’m definitely sympathetic, but my first reaction was “wait, there actually are races that offer XS?????” I had a growth spurt at age 10 and have stuck there ever since, so even a unisex small just hangs on me. Life’s tough for us shorties!
    Sadye recently posted..Friday facetiousness: Is it all in the name?My Profile

  4. 7

    Great recap! Congrats on a great race, your last 2 miles were some of your fastest which is amazing! I feel like I deal with that shirt (xs/s) problem a lot more than I should. I know not all runners are small, I think there is a bigger percentage that is, and that we shouldn’t be paying to get race shirts which turn into oversized painting or sleep shirts. Oh and I really like that medal, I’m a sucker for medals that are different shapes!
    Laura recently posted..Stages of Grief: Taper edition.My Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Thanks! I feel like really training negative splits is going to help me next time I actually race a half. And agreed on shirts. I’d rather have a lower race fee and no shirt than pay for a shirt I’m never going to wear. And I love medals that are different that your standard circle too!
      Karla recently posted..Race Report: UnitedHealthcare Providence HalfMy Profile

  5. 9

    Come do the Wineglass Half Marathon with me in the fall! It’s in Corning, NY. I’ve been to Corning before and it’s a cute little town. The course is a gentle decline (great for a PR) and it has a snazzy finisher’s medal.

    Elle recently posted..Track Attack!My Profile

  6. 11

    Congrats on a great race!! Starting 20 minutes late would have annoyed me. I love the medal. And pizza as a post-race snack? Love it!! I’m going to put this on my list of potential races.
    Emily recently posted..2013 Kirkland Half MarathonMy Profile

  7. Arun #


    Last Oct I ran the United HealthCare Half in Newport, RI (part of this same series) and it also started almost 20 minutes late — with NO announcements or explanations. Also, there was NO obvious start line visible from the shuttle bus drop-off, and no one seemed to know which way to go — I asked two volunteers; one had no clue and one sent me the wrong way. HELLO??

  8. 15

    Good to hear you had an enjoyable race, in spite of the delayed start. You’re right – 20 minutes is too much – unless you slept in 😉

    I guess the race is a bit small for it, but the Gold Coast & Melbourne races here let you order the shirt size as you enter, so you get (hopefully) a good fit. Ah, re the video – your hubby needed to lash out and make it an 8 second one.
    Ewen recently posted..I’ve been told not to runMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Some of the bigger races here do ask you your shirt size when you register and sometimes they STILL run out. But agreed, that’s the best way to do it–most often it works out. I once started a race as the last person to cross the start because I slept in! That was funny.
      Karla recently posted..Race Report: UnitedHealthcare Providence HalfMy Profile

  9. 17

    Yay, glad you had a good race and came in so close to your PR! Awesome job :)

    Earlier this year I entered a race that started over 20 minutes late. Here in south Florida we often joke that events run on “caribbean time” meaning they always start late so I wasn’t surprised… although it is annoying when you’re trying to beat the heat (as I always am!).

    The medal is really cute and intricate! The organizers were able to get a lot of things into a small design – it’s a really unique one to add to your collection :)
    Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted..New Weightlifting Max + A Weird Running ThingMy Profile

  10. 19

    This sounds like a great race, definitely one I’ll consider for the future! Love that you used this as a training run and it felt nice and easy, I’m thinking about doing the same thing and registering for a half (really last minute) next weekend.

    Oh and I’ve been holding on to all my race shirts that don’t fit (or that I just don’t like!) to one day make a quilt out of! (Well, I most likely will not be making this quilt…but you know what I mean!)
    Danielle recently posted..Weekly Training RecapMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      A quilt is a great idea. I usually just give mine to my husband. Maybe I’ll start saving them. And I’m a HUGE advocate of doing halves as training runs, especially before a PR attempt half or marathon. They’re a great chance to practice pacing, hydration, race morning preparations, etc.
      Karla recently posted..‘On The Run at the Brooklyn Half’ is Coming to ABC-TV!My Profile

  11. 21

    Sounds like so much fun. (With the exception of the late start of course: As someone who has to time the drinking liquids thing very precisely, that would be an absolute killer! Esp. for the poor marathoners!)

    Anyway, I love the idea of just enjoying it–I love the video and that totally shows.
    Diann_D recently posted..Where Books+Body Meet: Interview with Novelist Erika RobuckMy Profile

  12. 23

    Glad you had such a great race, Karla! Sounds wonderful. You would have been proud of me today. Though I stayed pretty focused throughout my 5k, I couldn’t resist hollering to myself and my fellow runners to “Giv’er” as we pumped our way to the top of Citadel Hill and the half way point. Felt great to take a moment to revel in how good it felt to give it all I had.

    Congrats again on a great race!
    Janice recently posted..Race Report: Fredericton Marathon 2013My Profile

  13. 25

    Congrats! What an awesome medal :)
    Megan recently posted..What do you do with your old running shoes? Kindrunner.comMy Profile

  14. 27

    Thanks for the review, I ran it too and so glad to hear you were frustrated by the start…I thought I missed something, but really threw me for a loop!
    Run On-


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