Sunday, January 26, 2014

Derry 16 Miler Race Report

I've been pretty quiet on the blog, which is too bad because actually plenty is going on. I closed out last year's season with the Manchester Road Race (terrible), the Gilio ho-ho-ho 5k (won it; competition light), and Charlotte's new years day 5k (17:40, well back from the winning time--I blame the holidays). I joined a new club, and payed USATF dues for the first time. I set a goal of running a fast half marathon at New Bedford in March, and I've started working toward it.

I also decided, late last Thursday, to do Derry again. My history with this race is: 2011; started the race with a "workout" mindset, ran conservatively through the hills at mile 11-12, and managed to survive the last 3 miles well enough to run a decent time; 2012; started the race with a racing mindset, felt great, ran hard, went through the half marathon in 84:53, and then suffered one of the three epic bonks of my running career (and the only one not heat-related); 2013, signed up, was in lousy shape, realized I needed to frantically prepare that weekend for an international trip, DNS.

Most people reading this will already be acquainted with Derry, but for those that aren't, it's a 16 mile road race, run in New Hampshire in January. It's notorious for being hilly and cold (duh), and is theoretically supposed to be a good pace-predictor for the Boston Marathon.

So, 2014. I had one plan for the race, and it was not to repeat 2012. (By the time I finished the 2012 race, I had sworn bitter oaths never to run Derry again, or indeed any distance over half marathon--fortunately you kind of forget that end-of-race feeling).

I car-pooled up with Dan from HFC, and we arrived in good time to get a parking spot at the middle school. Conditions were sunny and windy, with ambient air temperature around 14 degrees fahrenheit. This was fairly warm next to the local Massachusetts temps we've been having over the last week, and would have been down-right pleasant except for the wind gusts. I went with XC skiing tights, tech shirt, nylon vest, mittens and headband, with some energy chews in my vest pocket.

At the start of the race, I fingered the chrono on my wrist-watch, then decided to leave it alone. I would start my chrono at mile 13, the same place I blew up in 2012--that would set the stakes: the first 13 miles don't matter--only the last 3.

I started easily and fell into a rhythm, using the time-of-day mode of my watch to very roughly estimate I was opening at around a 7 minute mile pace. It was a nice conversational start, and I exchanged pleasantries with some of the other runners. Weather was New-England-winter-gorgeous, with white fields glinting under a blue sky, and spindrift snow curling into the air from the banks beneath the deep shadow of the evergreens.

By mile 3, I was clearly running under 7 minute pace, but I didn't know exactly and didn't want to know. I was still running well inside myself, thinking all the time of mile 13--how I would feel when I got there, and what it would feel like to really put the pedal down.

I was mostly, slowly passing people through mile 9 or so. Shortly before the first big hill, two guys caught up to me. I debated chasing them, but decided to keep to my plan: 13 mile workout, 3 mile race. As it happened, they slowed way down on that first steep bit after you take that left turn, and I slipped by them again.

Round about the series of hills at mile 11, another guy around my age caught up. His pace was a hair faster than mine, but I let it pull me along. We grunted encouragement to each other, and reeled in another couple runners.

Coming off the hills, we had a brief conversation. I don't remember exactly what he said--something about this being a good time to go. I said, "yeah--just trying to make it to 13--it's going to be game on from there." He agreed. A minute later one of his friends had caught up with us, and he mentioned in a friendly way how I had been talking some smack about the last 3 miles.

Then the mile 13 marker came into sight. I felt a thrill of excitement. Up until now, even through the hills, I had been running contained, but now the thought I had been patterning in my head, over and over, rose to the forefront of my consciousness: that the mile 13 marker was a start line, that I would hit it and begin to race. I wormed one hand out of its mitten, and with clumsy cold fingers maneuvered to start my chrono.

The mile 13 marker. I hit my watch, and surged forward. Floating behind me, I heard the words, "holy shit, you weren't kidding!". My stride lengthened, and the two other guys in my pack started to fall away. I felt pleasure mingled with doubt, remembering the feeling of being betrayed by my body when the wheels popped off in 2012. Still, there are times when a little faith is called for, and this after all had been the plan all along.

The mile 14 marker came up with surprising speed. The field was sparse here, but I saw ahead of me a girl running (the lead woman?). 6:03 on the watch. I dug in, holding the pace. Gas still in the tank! It was a wonderful feeling. As we rounded the curve onto the 3rd-to-last road, I pulled in the girl ahead of me. She was running hard, but you could hardly tell--very clean stride. I kept pulling. Mile 15, 12:05. In the distance I saw two figures running together and I started to work toward them. The distance closed as I flashed down onto the little cross-street where the race had started, and now I could see (despite vision slightly blurry from the cold), that ahead was the BAA girl leading the woman's race.

I worked the last uphill to the middle school, but despite closing hard I still finished 6 seconds back from the two people I was chasing. I clicked my watch and found I had run 18:10 for the last 3 miles, a bit better, even, than goal half marathon pace.

So here was a run that went perfectly to plan, and sweet redemption for 2012. I had played conservatively with my physiological resources, and come out with a PR. It amazes me to think that in 2012 I was five minutes faster than today at the half-marathon mark, and five minutes slower at the finish. I ran almost an inverted version of that race--slow at the beginning, then slightly accelerating, then accelerating a lot, and ultimately negative-splitting.

  49   694 David Woodruff          M  30 NEEDHAM           MA    8   32:00  6:24    7 1:03:46  6:23    8 1:24:53  6:29 1:51:30  6:59 
   25  5  David Woodruff  M32 Needham, MA   34:12/6:51  1:29:56(est) 1:46:47/6:41