Sunday, February 28, 2010


The half marathoners are just finishing. I look at them enviously as they stream up towards the chute. My legs are burning. Why did I go out so hard? Why didn't I eat anything? Why did I completely ignore my race plan? I am only half-way finished and I'm a total wreck, pretty much done in. Grimly I begin the long, slow trudge that will take me once again over the course I just finished, each step feeling like it will be my last...and then I wake up. Just an anxiety dream (whew!). I look over at my clock, and it's still 30 minutes before my alarm, but I swing out of bed anyway. I have gotten loads of sleep. I feel strong and ready, like nothing's going to get in my way today.

A couple of hours later, I am in Hyannis, picking up my number and poking around the race expo. They have 26.2 stickers! Superstitiously I decline from buying one, as the race isn't run yet. I also run into Mike and say hello, but I'm feeling too restless to stay in one place and socialize.

I head back to my car to make last-minute preparations. My plan today is simple. I am going to run even splits, as slow as possible for my goal pace of 3:10. I've chosen 7:06's (really 7:00 - 7:06), figuring that would give me 3:07:25, assuming I run long by 2 tenths of a mile. Every 5 miles I'm going to have a gel and wash it down with some water. If necessary I have shot bloks (more runner candy) to eat over the last 10k. If things are going really, really well, I might try to pick it up a little at mile 21, but I'm not counting on it.

I'm actually not thinking of this race in miles at all, but in leagues (three mile intervals). That way I can think to myself, "I'm only running 9! Hell it's even a short 9, that's not so far!").

Minutes before the start, I have lined up by the 7 minute/mile pace sign. (This turned out to be unwise; the starting queue filled from the front, and newcomers pushed us back from our chosen starting position. A little irritating, but the race is chip-timed at start and finish, so I guess it doesn't matter much). Someone next to me says, "anyone here looking to run a 3:10?" and I say I am. He's a pretty fast-looking guy with sport sun-glasses running over his ear warmers, and a 70.3 tattoo on his left calf. That's good-- I won't say no to some company.

Race start. I knew this would be hard and I wasn't wrong. People are streaming by me. Even though I queued up at my goal pace, which I am now running ruthlessly, looking at my garmin every few paces to be sure, I apparently queued up too high--I'm one of "those" runners! d'oh! My erstwhile pacing buddy is off like a shot. Too fast for me; I'll either see him again or I won't.

I see for Melissa for the first time. She looks like she's settled into her goal pace already, just like me. There's a lot of traffic between us so I just drift on, mentally wishing her luck.

Mile 1 passes; for me I am reading 1.02. Worse than I feared, but it's the first mile, which is always hard to run efficiently because the mob hasn't thinned out yet. Second mile comes: 2.04. Shit! I am a little worried. If that keeps up, I'll run 26.7, a full extra half mile; and I thought I was being conservative guessing I would run 26.4!

The miles drift by. The 10ks turn off around mile 5, and things thin out still more. The weather has really cooperated. It's cloudy and cool, with no rain. I am enjoying myself (first 20% of the "enjoy every mile" goal? Check!)

By mile 10, I am pretty much surrounded by half marathoners, and I start to feel a little residual pull as they all hasten into their last 5k. I keep it cool and have my second gel. Things have gone right according to plan so far and I'm trying to keep it that way.

End of the first loop. The half-marathoners turn up towards the hotel to make their finish. I was worried this would be disheartening, but actually I feel super hard-core and kind of inspired that I'm going to be doubling down on what was the entire race for most of the field. I am working on my 5th league, and things still feel great.

As I start league 6, I'm already thinking about league 7; I know it will be a critical one, where I expect to find out if my pacing assumptions were on the money. It's deliciously quiet. The clouds have cleared away and I can see blue sky. A bit of a wind picks up, but I'm not complaining. Given the nor'easter I spent so much time last week worrying about, it would be hard to ask for a nicer day.

Around mile 18 I start to feel my old friend, the Resistance. He is way ahead of schedule. I am suddenly filled with worry and doubt. I've got another 8 miles to do here! I remember what I said to myself ages ago: "if you run into the Resistance and it doesn't seem like you can go on, just run another 2 miles. That's not so bad, right? 2 miles against the Resistance, and you don't have to feel too ashamed of yourself."

I make it another 2 miles, then eat my mile 20 gel, walking.

I don't want to dwell too much on the next 10k, because it was pretty ugly, and you can probably read most of the story in the pace chart. The disappointment, the gradual certainty of my pace goal slipping away, all present and accounted for. I would pick some visual goal, run until I reached it, then walk for a quick 0.1 until the burning subsided somewhat in my legs, and then repeat. If I were to be a determined optimist, I would say my walk-jogging technique has improved significantly, even since Martha's Vineyard.

(One bright note: remember my erstwhile pacing buddy, the one who took off like a shot? I caught him! He was walk-jogging too, even slower than me).

After some unreckonable period, I reach the last mile. The muscles in my calves are rippling spasmodically and I'm a little worried about them. Despite everything I still want to finish and at least get a time. This is full on Xeno's Paradox mode; the first half of the race seemed equal in time and difficulty to the next 10k, the next 5k similar, right on down to this interminable mile.

The last quarter mile. I imagine myself setting off around a track. One loop, that's it. It's awfully nice of these people to hang around and cheer in us marathoners. Somehow or other I make it up the hill to the finish. The clock says 3:25:56.

I really wanted to hang around and find Mel and Mike after the finish, but my mental state just then was not so good. I don't think I really appreciated how much I had invested physically and psychologically into the race until it was over. Now all I could think about was slinking away some place quiet to sulk, and that's what I did.

I am still working out how to feel about my first marathon. I am mainly disappointed, but on the other hand, I know plenty of people who would be happy to run a 3:26. I am not ashamed of it or anything. I could certainly have run a mentally tougher race, but even if I had fought like a tiger I don't think I could have shaved 16 minutes off my time. I wanted to enjoy every mile. I wanted to be so strong that I could run the last 10k of a marathon with strength and confidence. And I wanted to qualify for Boston. I did not do any of those things.

Well that's all a bit of a pity-party, but it feels good to get it out of my system. The nominal purpose of this blog has concluded, but I am somewhat in the habit of it now and I expect it will continue. Stay tuned for a post about my next running goal!

Final Tally:
Time: 3:24:56 (edited; official results took 60s off my time)

Distance: 26.2 (26.55 by garmin)
Place: 39 overall, 18AG (out of 383 finishers).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

blast from the past

Last year, just around the time I started running with the GNRC, I ran a small trail 3M and was lucky enough to win it. The race only had 60 people or so, but as runputt will vouch, a win's a win, right? Anyway, I kept circling back to the CRR website, hoping to find they posted some pictures showing how awesome I was, but gave it up after a few months. Now as I look at the 2010 races, I see pictures from 2009 appeared at last!

I think being the "Bunny Hop" winner pretty much says it all.

I thought hard about whether I wanted to come back and run the trail 10 miler (well, it's anywhere between 9.7 and 10.2 miles, depending on what tweaks they decide to do to the course this year), or to run James Joyce the same day. At last I decided I couldn't give up a race in the Blue Hills; rocks, roots, choppy hills, muddy puddles, and at least one stream to jump over; in other words exactly my kind of race. I'll swing by JJR afterwards so I can cheer on the rest of you! (but no double-header this time).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Foxboro Old Fashioned 10-Miler Race Report

We had a warm and sunny, albeit rather blustery, day today for the running of the Foxboro 10 Miler. I had woken up this morning with a bit of a scratchy throat, but by the time I got to the race site the cruddiness had more or less subsided and I felt ready to race. This run was to be my last real sharpener before Hyannis, and I was hoping it would be a confidence booster. Also I have no time on the books for a 10 miler, and I wanted to leave a respectable mark in the sand.

I checked in, got my number and swag bag, and met up with some other club folks (so great to run into people I know at races... (Grand Prix <3!). Then I retreated to my car to relax where it was warm and quiet until it was time to head for the line. Outside, a fallen pine bough stirred restlessly in the gusty wind; beyond the trees I could see some of the more hard-core runners doing warmups. I felt pretty comfortable heading straight to the line, as I guessed (correctly) that my first mile would be an endless litany of keep it slow keep it slow keep it slow, nope too fast slow it down... no need to compound the problem by coming hot to the line.

Race start. A crisp beginning. My breath came easily and I payed ruthless attention to my GPS to keep it that way, determined not to get sucked into a faster pace than I planned. I was aiming for 6:15s; my half marathon PR pace is 6:27, but on an easier course (and in considerably better shape), I was pretty sure I could nail that speed.

The first three miles passed very quickly. We ran through the center of town and then turned down a tranquil winding little road surrounded by forest. By mile four the wind had started to push against me in earnest, but not enough to really sap my strength; I carried on, holding to my target pace.

The whole course proved to be pretty windy. I frequently found myself following the line of the runners in front of me as we weaved back and forth across the road, cutting tangents. Not all of it was well advised, but the cars were generally pretty forbearing in their not-running-over of us.

At mile 5 I heard hard breathing and was surprised to see the same girl I had beaten by a few seconds at the Norwood TT pass me decisively. I followed her for the next mile or so until we hit another patch of rolling hills and she faded off a little. I passed her, figuring not to see her again. I also passed an HFC guy, but I didn't recognize him from the super-fast pack-of-five that showed up for the TT last November.

Mile 8 saw us running over the last big hill. I was beginning to feel it by now of course, but I wasn't really hurting as badly as I expected. My GPS was reporting pretty even splits and that gratified me (granted it's much easier to avoid overrunning a 6:15 pace than a 6:45 pace, but still).

The last two miles of this race proved to be dead flat. My pace opened up a little, but I'm sure everyone else's did too; I certainly wasn't gaining much ground on the next runner. At about mile 8.5 I was passed. That girl again! I pieced together later that she was making a bid to catch the #2 woman, who ended up not far ahead of us in the chute. At any rate I was really impressed; usually when I start tailing off, you can stick a fork in me, because I am done.

The last flat mile passed in a blur. I think I could have turned on a lot more juice here, but for whatever reason I didn't. It was enough today just to finish in a good time and redeem myself a bit for blowing up last week.

Final tally:
Time: 62:01
Place: 23 (6 AG).
GPS distance run: 10.1 (damn, even with all that tangent cutting!)

After I made it out of the chute, I paused for about a minute and then turned around for another 4 miles. This wasn't really a "warmdown", exactly; the idea was to practice running into extreme aerobic debt and then let myself recover on the run. I probably did it too slowly to really prove anything, but it was nice to feel that 10 miles didn't leave me exhausted (it better not...!)

On the whole I felt that I ran a good but very conservative race -- fine since this was mainly just a rehearsal for Hyannis. For a while now, one of my long-term running goals has been to break the hour mark at the 10 mile distance; this race left me feeling that this is certainly possible for me, and perhaps even this year.

look at that even pace line! Much better than last week.

the hat--good swag; I have many shirts, but few hats. Also included was this reusable bag. Maybe some of you can help me out...why is the flap to the side-pocket at the BOTTOM of the pocket??


Next Sunday is the Hyannis Marathon, which was the greater part of the inspiration for starting this blog. I will be sure to put up a good write-up for how it went when I get home, good, bad, or ugly. In the meantime, maybe you could all whistle up some good weather for me...?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Martha's Vineyard 20M : race report

Yesterday I traveled down to Martha's Vineyard along with Trace and Mel B for the island's 20 mile race. I heard about this only early last week and immediately jumped on it, hoping it would school me in the ways of racing over half-marathon distance. And boy did it school me. I am very schooled.

The weather felt chilly as we stepped off the ferry, but 45 minutes of running around, trying to get my racing kit together and my bag on the bus, left me feeling warm. It was almost almost warm enough to go without my vest, but I was afraid of a stiff breeze coming off the ocean so I kept it on. I ate my hour-0 energy bar about 10 minutes before the start of the race and then headed out to the line.

We didn't have long to stand around talking at the line before suddenly the gun rang out. The crowd started like a herd of antelope and then surged forward. I do admire brevity at the start of a race, but that was a little too much. I settled in, meticulously watching my pace on the garmin, and let the speedy crowd surge by me.

My plan was to run precise 6:45 splits, as a prologue to running 7 minute miles at Hyannis. I stuck ruthlessly to this plan for the first league.At that point I was feeling so fantastic that I dropped my pace to 6:30s. I can't reconstruct what I was thinking exactly; in retrospect it doesn't make any sense. I was racing way farther than I ever had before and I knew it would pay to be conservative. But somehow all that reasoning went right out the window when I was in the thick of it. Just goes to show you can have the best pacing tools in the world and still be an idiot.

Around mile 8 I caught up to the female lead and one other guy, and we ran together for a while. Our group swept up Don somewhere around mile 11 or 12, after we had turned onto the bike path and begun our return trip northwards. I didn't look back to see if he was sticking with us.

I should mention that at around this time my race plan had me eating my hour-1 energy bar, but it seemed like too much trouble at the time. I abstained.

Passed the half-marathon point, still feeling fairly strong, but with more burning in my legs than I expected. First prickle of alarm.

Somewhere in mile 15, form deteriorated. Almost fell on ice due to careless foot plant. Heard Don call from behind to "watch out!". He surged by not long after.

Mile 17, walked for the first time. It's a dubious point of pride to say that this no longer brought me to the point of despair. Maybe I've just hit that point enough now where instead I just felt like alright, here I am again. Let's try to make it more run-walk than walk-run.

People streaming by me at this point. Fairly long stretch walking on sidewalk. Girl in hot-pink jog bra. Yow! I feel over-dressed, not to mention slow.

Manage most of the last 3/4 mile running, if you can call it that. Cross finish line with a theatrical grimace on my face.

And that was the disappointing end of my race. I'll get to the 'lessons learned' in a moment. The organizers put on a good spread at the high school, with hot soup and bagels and cookies. A newlywed couple had run in "Just Married" shirts; very cute. Also they had cake for everybody(!) We got to hang out a bit with Mo and DaveR, and some of their running friends. I had more or less gotten over my disappointment by now but was feeling a little peaky, as I sometimes do after a hard run. Trace, Mel and I took the 3:45 ferry back to Woods Hole, and that finished up my first visit to Martha's Vineyard.

Finish: 61st, 10th AG
Time: 2:26:46 (7:20 pace) (or 20.12 miles / 7:17 pace, by Garmin).

That chart pretty much says it all.

Lessons learned for Hyannis:
  • Plan physically and psychologically to run 26.4. Much better to get this into my head beforehand rather than have to confront it mid-race.
  • Pick a conservative pace and plan to run even splits. If I am trying to hit a certain time, my instinct is to run a bit faster than necessary to build up a "buffer". Unfortunately, if the time I am trying to hit as at all ambitious for me, this is a misleading impulse. It will take less energy to run even splits; if the pace is really too conservative then sure, I can drop the hammer in the last 5k. But the alternative is to risk a bonk, and if that happens it's all over. I need to run 7:11s to cover 26.4 in 3:10. Consequently I'm going to try to run 7:06s, allowing for some hills later in the course.
  • Eat gels during the race. I realize this is accepted wisdom, but sometimes accepted wisdom puts me in a contrarian mode that makes me do occasionally stupid things to prove out the idea for myself. Mel and Trace gave me a bit of a hard time when they asked how many gels I had taken and I told them "none". I couldn't really defend myself either, since what I did clearly didn't work. Ah well. Today I'll go and buy a variety. There must be one reasonably palatable flavor I can find.

...just as well I didn't tell them about my pre-race dinner of bacon and eggs??