Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Wet, windy, and fun! (Photo: Phil Hospod)

A wet, windy morning welcomed runners to the inaugural Bristol Independence Rhode Race Half Marathon on Sunday, June 28. The event is the newest part of the month-long celebration that is 4th of July in Bristol, Rhode Island. The hamlet on Narragansett Bay is home to the nation’s oldest 4th of July parade, which celebrated its 230th anniversary in 2015.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Waiting for the parade to start with my family (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

How serious is the town of Bristol about the parade? Bristol officials actually got Congress to pass legislation allowing a red, white, and blue stripe to act as the center road divider—in place of a double yellow line—year round. To wit, from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration’s  “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:”

Section 353(b) STRIPES — Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a red, white, and blue center line in the Main Street of Bristol, Rhode Island, shall be deemed to comply with the requirements of Section 3B-1 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices of the Department of Transportation.

That’s how serious Bristol is about its 4th of July Parade.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

The carnival (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

A host of festivities mark the month-long build-up to the parade, including a free concert series in Independence Park, a Drum and Bugle Corps Competition including bands from around the U.S., tours of a visiting Navy ship, a carnival, fireworks, and now the half-marathon among them.

The Bristol Independence Rhode Race Half Marathon was also my first race since February’s Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. I was one of 462 finishers at the inaugural event. It’s great to be back!

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Running in my Red, White, and Blue.

Running Costume

What’s a theme race without a running costume? You know I loves me some sparkle. So in honor of Independence Day, I busted out my running stars and stripes. Amazingly, I already owned all of these pieces in my running wardrobe. The only new addition was the giant red, white, and blue bow.

Here’s what I wore from bottom to top, with handy affiliate links in case you want scoop up any of them yourself (and help me keep this blog running in the process):

ASICS Women’s Gel-Nimbus 17 Running Shoe

Runningskirts Stars & Stripes Compression Socks

Sparkle Athletic White Sparkle Running Skirt

ASICS Stars Printed Calf Sleeve

New Balance Women’s Running Singlet

Red, White & Blue Sparkle Bow

2XU Run Visor

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

The course

The Bristol Independence Half Marathon Course

The Bristol Independence Rhode Race started and finished, appropriately, in Independence Park on Bristol Harbor.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

The start

The first four miles ran through town and, in part, along the parade route before taking runners on an over the hills and through the woods out-and-back through Colt State Park—464 acres of towering trees, lush lawns, stone walls, groomed gardens, protected marsh, and glimmering shoreline.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Colt State Park

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Bristol Harbor

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

East Bay Bike Path

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Tree-lined lanes

It was absolutely beautiful. Save three miles along residential streets, the entire course either runs along the waterfront or through Colt State park. Plus, Bristol offered a delightfully flat course with just two climbs from sea level to about 70 feet.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Rhode Race

Elevation chart per my GPS watch

Fluid stations with water and Gatorade sat about every 2 miles, and Carb Boom Energy Gels were at every station from Mile 4 on.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Bib pick up this way! (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

The Organization

For a small race with less than 500 runners, the Bristol Independence Rhode Race had some excellent amenities thanks to race company Eident Racing. Bib pick-up was offered in Providence and Bristol in the days before the race, as well as on site race morning.

Our goodies bags were filled with samples: mini Clif Bars, biPro protein powder packs, Quic Disc Simply Carbs tablets, Speed Stick Gear deodorant, Unburn aloe gel, and a $20 coupon for a local spa—all goodies I’ll actually use.

Runners received a unisex tech race shirt in their choice of color: red, white, or navy. And finishers picked up a lovely medal, too.

Rhode Island Road Runners offered pacers for runners looking to hit 1:30, 1:45, 2:00, 2:15, 2:30 and 2:45.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

The 2:15 pace group.

Best of all, the race offered free race photos from Gameface Media. I love when races offer free photos. The Nike Women’s Half Marathon did too, also through Gameface. Honestly, that right there was worth the $60 I paid to register, since I almost always buy some photos.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

T-shirts came in red, white, and blue. (Photo: RunKarlaRun)

Registration was $55-$75, depending on how far in advance you signed up.

My only complaint about the event was the lack of women’s cut race shirts. I got yet another men’s shirt masquerading as a “unisex” shirt. In a world where 61 percent of half-marathoners are women, this has to change. Instead of having a choice of color, I’d rather have a choice of cut.

Think about it: if race directors offered only women’s cut shirts and called them “unisex,” some folks would be up in arms.

Honestly, I’m never going to wear the race shirt. If it was women’s cut, and especially a tank, I definitely would. If you want to read my rant about why race directors should offer women’s cut shirts, you can: Why Every Race Needs Women’s Cut Running Shirts

But women’s shirt or no women’s shirt, it wouldn’t stop me from running this one again, especially since I’m not in it for the shirt. I loved everything else about this event.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

I salute you (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Karla’s Race

This time last year, I was setting a 5-mile PR at the Firecracker 8K in Southampton, New York. This year, I was staring down my comeback.

I’m back, baby! After getting sidelined by a stress fracture that was then downgraded to a bone bruise, missing my May goal races—The North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain and Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon—and rebuilding my mileage from scratch, I’ve finally gotten back to where I was when injury struck.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

I’m back!

Over the course of eight weeks, I rebuilt my mileage from scratch. I started with a 2.25-mile “long run” and built up to this, running 13.1-miles in one go. As my first race since February and my first since taking time off to recover and rebuild, I had zero goals other than finishing. I really didn’t know what to expect from myself. And the weather was proving to be tough.

The race day temp peaked at 65 degrees, humidity hovered between 83 and 100 percent, and the wind blew between 11 and 20 mph, with gusts up to 28 mph. What a day for a race!

The day before, the forecast called for 100 percent chance of rain, 90 percent chance of thunderstorms, and 20 mph winds.

Race organizers e-mailed runners to let them know that they were watching the weather, and would make any changes to the race or start come race morning. I don’t mind running in a summer rain, but a lightning storm? No thanks.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Made it out of bed and into the rain!

The thunderstorms stayed away, but there was still one problem: our alarm didn’t go off on race morning.

My husband, Phil, woke up with a start and leaped out of bed like a fireman when he realized what time it was.

Me? Not so much. Cinderella, my fur baby, had laid the entire length of her body on mine, rain was beating against the window, and, for a moment, I decided I wasn’t going to get up.

But as I heard Phil eating breakfast, brushing his teeth, and rustling around as he dressed, I slowly came to, and dragged myself out of bed. I told Phil to leave without me. We were walking distance to the start, and I didn’t want him to be late on my account.

I got dressed as fast as I could, inhaled a piece of toast with jam, and ran—quite literally—to the start. Everyone was gone and workers were already collapsing the starting banner. I got there almost 6 minutes after the race started, apparently. But they told me to go ahead and run, that someone else had just started before me.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Chugging along

So I set off in the rain, running a bit faster in the first mile than I would have liked, just to catch up with the back of the pack. I’m pretty sure I was the very last person to start the race. That’s a first!

Right away, my visor blew off my head. I scooped it up, tightened it on, and settled in for a wet, windy ride.

As I closed in on the 1-mile marker, I spotted a walker up ahead. I’d caught the back of pack. So I eased up on my pace a bit and came up with a strategy to keep myself entertained in the wind and rain—see how many runners I could catch.

It’s a game I play a lot in triathlons. Since I’m a terrible cyclist, I get passed a ton on the bike. But when it’s time to run, I’m able to catch many of the bikers who’d cruised past me.

I play a few mental games. I pretend I’m a lion and they are gazelles. Or I visualize a bull’s eye on their backs. Or I pretend I’ve hooked them on a line and slowly reel them in. Call it macabre, but it works for me.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Hi Phil!

By the end of the Bristol Independence Half I passed 127 people.

I just chugged along, picking off runners. By the 3-mile mark, I’d caught the 2:45 pacer. Near Mile 6, I passed the 2:30 pacer.

The back-end of the course was an elaborate out-and-back that weaved through Colt State Park. We didn’t follow exactly the same path coming and going, but you could still see the other runners at certain points along the way. I spotted Phil shortly after that as he cruised by the 10 mile marker before I reached Mile 7. I gave him a wave and a shout. As far as he knew, I might not have made it to the start in time.

Come Mile 7, my legs started to feel heavy. But I just tried to channel the energy of the runners around me.

The rain would intermittently turn to drizzle, then pour down again. Along the water and a few other spots on the course, the wind was pretty rough to work against.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Turning up the heat.

But I just took it one step at a time. I walked through water stations and grabbed two Carb Boom Energy Gels at aid stations along the course, since I’d barely eaten breakfast. I tried Grape Pomegranate, which was very grapey, and Vanilla Orange, which tasted like a creamsicle.

Despite all that—tired legs, wind, rain, and a late start—I was really enjoying myself. I was so happy to be back out there running a race. No, it wasn’t the PR attempt I’d planned before injury struck, but I was running just the same.

The course was mostly flat with a few gentle inclines and only one real hill to speak of—a climb going into the 8-mile marker. It was my slowest mile of the race. I chugged up the hill, knowing that what goes up, must come down.

But as I cruised down the hill, I decided to push a little harder for the last five miles. My average pace for the first 8 miles was 10:49. My average pace for the last 5 miles was 10:12.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Working harder with less than 3 miles to go.

Mile 1—10:11
Mile 2—11:01
Mile 3—10:50
Mile 4—10:47
Mile 5—10:41
Mile 6—11:06
Mile 7—10:35
Mile 8—11:20 *slowest
Mile 9—10:14
Mile 10—10:00
Mile 11—10:24
Mile 12—10:41
Mile 13—9:54 *fastest

Only a handful of runners passed me as I walked through water stations, but I managed to pick off every single one of them as I picked up speed. I was shocked to find starting dead last in a race to be such a confidence builder and great way to mentally get through a run.

When I cleared the towering trees of Colt State Park and reached the Bristol waterfront again, I knew the end was near.

So I kicked it up a notch again for the last mile, clocking my only mile under a 10 minute pace.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Yay! The finish line! (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon


I finished in 2:18:54 by my watch, at an overall pace of 10:36 per mile. But since I started almost 6 minutes late, my official time from the starting gun was 2:24:37.

Either way, it doesn’t matter to me. This race wasn’t about time, but about getting the distance back under my legs and rebuilding my base so that I can look to run some fast times this fall. So I’ll take it!

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

The medal

At the post-race spread, I grabbed an orange and slice of breakfast pizza, and called it a race.

USS Tortuga

In addition to the race, I took part in a ton of the 4th of July festivities in Bristol. I hit the carnival, watched the fireworks, cheered the parade, and toured the USS Tortuga, a working dock landing vessel. The ship was visiting from its home base in Little Creek, Va., after a nine-year stint in Japan.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

The USS Tortuga

A free ferry shuttled civilians from the Bristol town docks to the Navy ship, where service men and women led us onboard. We saw water hover craft, hand-to-hand combat demonstrations by a Marine detachment assigned to the ship, Humvees and various assault weapons (which you could actually hold), sailors’ quarters, the control bridge, and lots and lots of ladders.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Landing at the USS Tortuga

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Don’t mess with the mess

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Sailor bunks

My nephew gets a humvee tutorial from a marine.

Humvee tutorial from a marine.

Here’s a fun fact about me: I seriously considered joining the Navy. What?!

From the age of 12 to about 17, my plan was to attend the U.S. Naval Academy or Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Yale University (hello, overachiever!). I even met with the NROTC recruiter and scholarship coordinator in my district, along with admissions officers at Yale. When it came time to actually start the college application process, my parents talked me out of it for a number of reasons.

But seeing what my life could have been like is like peeking into a parallel universe. And whether you ever thought of joining the Navy or not, it’s incredibly cool and humbling to see what life for some of our armed forces is like.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Happy Birthday, USA!

Bristol 4th of July Parade

The finale of the celebrations was the parade itself. Some 200,000 spectators come to watch the 3-hour long, 2.5-mile parade on Independence Day, along with TV viewers on ABC local in Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Navy and Marine personnel from the nearby Naval Station Newport and visiting USS Tortuga marched. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Marching bands come from all over the U.S. to take part. This year, bands from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, and California marched, along with one band each from Canada and the Bahamas.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Marching bands come from all over the U.S. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

The band from the Bahamas played “Happy Birthday” as they marched by my seat. I thought that was really clever.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Clydesdale horses at the 2015 Bristol 4th of July Parade (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Other units included cultural groups, kids clubs, clown troupes, pageant queens, NHL players, one of the New England Patriots Super Bowl trophies, veterans of foreign wars—Korean war veterans marching side by side with the Korean American Association of Rhode Island was especially moving—and so much more.

The Takeaway

I’m so glad I dragged myself out of bed and into the rain for my first race and first half-marathon in four months. It reminded me once again that I’m always glad I went for a run.

And the Bristol Independence Rhode Race Half Marathon was a great way to kick off the 4th of July celebration in Bristol.

Race Report: Bristol Independence Half Marathon

Crazy eyes!

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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.


07 2015

12 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    What a fun race. I think it is hilarious you were late, but still did very well and had so much fun picking off runners. It’s funny how we all figure out ways to get through races and pretending to be a lion or gazelle, it really does not matter as long as we get to the finish line! Congrats on your first half after injury, that is a huge victory and now you can focus on speed!
    Pam and Christine recently posted..2015 Running goals updateMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Thanks! I think that’s the first time in 90 races that I’ve missed the start! I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later, haha.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Race Report: Bristol Independence Half MarathonMy Profile

      • 3

        Great, now all of us who fear we’ll miss our alarms have a real-life story about it HAPPENING to reinforce that fear! 😉 But seriously, how scary (yet what a great race recap it turned out to be).
        Sadye recently posted..What I’m doing instead of the Des Moines MarathonMy Profile

        • Karla Bruning

          We usually set two alarms for races, but for some reason we didn’t! The ONE time… Lesson learned!

  2. 5

    I pick off runners like that too. Since I run/walk, I’m constantly passing the same runners, and they’re passing me when I’m walking.
    Lesley recently posted..BookwormMy Profile

  3. 7

    Cheers to your comeback!! And in that weather. So symbolic: You will kick butt no matter what. Here’s to the faster times you’ve set for yourself. And such a dramatic start.

    As for: “Amazingly, I already owned all of these pieces in my running wardrobe.”

    Somehow I don’t think that’s amazing at all. ; )

    Diann recently posted..Mindful Month Days 6 Through 13: Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)My Profile

  4. 9

    Double alarm next time! You did well to jump out of bed and chase the race. Turned out pretty well, in spite of the dodgy weather. Props to the organisers for the free photos but I’m with you on the shirts, esp as tech shirts to fit all runners are so available these days.
    Ewen recently posted..2nd O50 in the Sri Chinmoy short course Off-Road DuathlonMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      We normally set two alarms for races, but just spaced this time. Lesson learned! I’m glad it turned out OK in the end.

  5. 11

    What a comeback!! Late start, crazy weather, but you did it! It must have felt so good to be back running. I love it when the race includes free photos as part of the swag!
    Emily recently posted..To Princess or Not to PrincessMy Profile