Posts Tagged ‘race report’

Note: A shortened version of this report appeared in the April 19, 2011 issue of The New Hampshire, UNH’s student newspaper. All race and post-race photos courtesy of Julie Fortin, who takes pretty awesome pictures (the less-impressive expo photo is by me). Official Boston Marathon photos should be posted online on Thursday.

In my first marathon last March, I trained in the New Hampshire cold, but I raced in the Virginia heat. I got in a decent amount of miles, but I didn’t get my long runs in. I started out fast and took regular walking breaks beginning at mile 17.

Somehow, I still qualified for Boston.

From the moment of that 3:06 finish at the Shamrock Marathon, Boston was immediately on my to-do list. The world’s oldest annual marathon is also its most famous, with approximately 27,000 runners (and half a million spectators) descending on the city each Patriot’s Day, and the eyes of the world zeroing in on the battle of the elites at the front. Plus, pretty much everyone who runs marathons, especially those in New England, gets asked, “Have you done Boston?” (And pretty much every runner knows that your real question is: “Are you fast enough to qualify for Boston?”)

I admit that I thought that Boston might be somewhat overhyped. A lot of people spend years and years with qualifying for the race as their goal, but I never had that stage. Neverthess, as I wandered around the marathon expo at the Hynes Convention Center on Sunday, and as I milled with thousands of runners in Hopkinton’s Athletes Village Monday morning, I realized that I was playing a part in something special, and not just because there were free samples of every sports bar/drink of all time.

The best part of the expo was definitely the video put together by John Hancock Financial Services, the race’s primary sponsor. The camera had the viewpoint of a car driving the course, and the whole time there were cameos from different people associated with the race (past finishers, elites, BAA employees) discussing some aspect of the course. It was a beautiful demonstration of the magnitude of the feat that all 28,000 of us would soon undertake. There aren’t a ton of point-to-point marathons out there (my first one was more of a figure eight). But there’s something awesome about them. In the case of Boston, you start 26.2 miles outside of the city in the town of Hopkinton (population: 14,000) and run into the heart of one of the most dynamic cities in the world.

Wrap your head around that.

My training had been sporadic. I hadn’t been doing more than 30 miles a week, even less than before my first marathon (I averaged about 50 miles a week for that), and my last run over 10ish miles was in early February. But I hoped that the muscle memory gained from September’s 50 mile trail race and January’s 100k, as well as the psychological boost of a 1:16:44 half marathon in February, would pull me through.

My strategy was this: start slow, finish fast. I’d been warned (from that course video, as well as what I’d read online) that Boston’s first half was fairly easy, and that the real battle was the hills between miles 13 and 21, capping off with the much-feared Heartbreak Hill. But having a strategy only gets you so far. Doing it is another matter. Trust me, I’ve got some pretty epic race fails I can share with you (only in the pacing sense, no race is truly a fail).

Annie, a TNHer, her friend and I left Durham at 6 a.m. to head to Hopkinton (I will probably owe her for the rest of the life for our early morning departure). We got to the race drop off point without trouble, and I joined other runners on a school bus into Hopkinton. Then I spent an hour and a half killing time in Athlete’s Village, which basically consisted of peeing, waiting in line for food, putting a temporary tattoo on one calf and writing my name on the other (both of which you could do at the Adidas tent), then waiting in a line to pee again. It was a little chilly, but not bad. I had a ratty sweatshirt with me that I discarded at the race start to be donated (most people do that, unless they elect to outfit themselves in trash bags instead).

It turns out that a slow start in the Boston Marathon comes out of necessity. Weaving through the mass of runners at the start wasn’t worth the energy. I also stopped to pee about a half mile in, which slowed me slightly (yes, I peed right before heading to the starting line, but we got there 30 minutes before the race actually started, and there are these things called nerves that exert more influence over the bladder than scientifically makes sense). By mile five, things were opening up a bit, though I would be within sight of hundreds of runners all race.

The first half was all downhill. I tried to restrain myself while taking advantage of it. I took advantage of the Gatorade handed out every mile. The weather was perfect; the crowds were awesome (I’d never run a race with more than 2,500 runners). It wasn’t long before we were in Wellesley, home of the Wellesley girls and their scream tunnel (No, I didn’t partake). I went through the half-marathon mark in 1:28:21. It didn’t sound great next to my half marathon PR, but I felt like it was a sustainable pace and I looked forward to moving up a bit.

I expected hills immediately afterward, but the next few miles were more mild than expected. All systems appeared to be go, so I picked up the pace as we rolled through Natick and Newton.

In the ultimate display of my course naivety, I didn’t realize I was at Heartbreak Hill until I crested it and saw Boston College’s display at the top. Don’t get me wrong: I was glad it was behind me and it took something out of me, but the hills of Boston were less a factor than I expected (Side note: Best race sign was the BC college girl at the bottom of Heartbreak who held up “Just like our bras, we support you”).

The last five miles were a glorious descent through the streets of Boston. I saw – well, heard – a girl I worked with over the summer on Long Island (she graduated from Boston University and lives in Boston) cheering for me at mile 22 or so, which was incredibly awesome. Things started hurting around mile 23, but by that time I was too close to get discouraged. It helped that my quality-over-quantity entourage had elected to group near the end; seeing familiar faces definitely brought a surge. I tried to put on a little show when I came across the five awesome staff members of The New Hampshire (plus one staffer’s friend) who had gathered to cheer at mile 25. That show is slightly captured by this photo:

As I turned on to Bolyston Street, I tried to take it all in – the crowd, the noise, the pain, the finish line just ahead. More than anything, it was beautiful – and inspiring – for a city to transform itself for a marathon, for the humble runner to be elevated to the stature of the divine, if only for a day.

I crossed the line in Boston 2:56:05 after I’d set out in Hopkinton. The second I slowed, my legs seized up, my face seized in an unavoidable scowl, and the combination of sweat and Gatorade that I’d spilled on myself meant I was cooling down – fast. Ah…running.

It was a personal record (PR) by more than 10 minutes for me, a very welcome time after minimal training. And as I slowly meandered through the finishers chute – assuring dozens of medical staff that I was indeed fine, I just really felt the need to walk with my hands on my knees – I reflected on the fact that, basically, I’d done Boston because of all the hype it gets in the running community.

And what do you know – the race lives up to it.

After a wonderful 20+ minute sit (much-needed), I met up with the entourage, who had all managed to have an interesting Monday of their own, to say the least. The running gag for the rest of the day was that they were in worse shape from their activities than I was. But I digress.

As we made our way back via the T (Marathon finishers didn’t have to pay! Thank you, Boston), I plowed through the post-race nourishment we’d been giving, notably some potato chips, diced pears, 100 calorie pack of cookies (no joke), five+ powerbars, and Gatorade recovery drink. Aside from a brief, I-need-to-sit-down-now moment on the T, I was pretty much good to go, and didn’t crash until midnight, after throwing together the piece for TNH.

Boston was an incredibly amazing experience.

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I apologize for the fact that the couple picks I snapped post-race suck. But I’m not a huge fan of posts without pics and it gives you a sense of the place.

My favorite part of today’s Half at the Hamptons came in the form of a comment from a spectator to me around mile 12.5:

“I’m loving the shorts attitude”

As of last night, the weather forecast for the 10 am start of today’s half marathon was 24 degrees, 16 mph winds and a windchill of 10. I can’t say what it actually was at the start, but it certainly was close to that.

But yes, I ran in shorts.

I ran in shorts because, well, I pretty much always run in shorts. But I view that comment as emblematic of the broader attitude behind the Half at the Hamptons itself. It’s February (so it’s cold), it’s New Hampshire (so it’s cold), it’s a beach town (so the wind makes it colder), and there’s snow and ice everywhere. Screw it, let’s run 13.1 miles!

When life gives you snowbanks, just put your speakers on top of them and host a party race.

The Half at the Hamptons is my first repeat race in New England. Last year, I ran 1:17:56 and placed fifth. I loved the course and the atmosphere. This year, I was looking to beat those marks, as I wrote about on Friday.

I am very happy to say that I did just that, running 1:16:44, which put me in fourth out of about 1200.

I did a fairly minimal warm-up due to the cold, but all systems seemed to be go while I did so. I lined up in the front row and we were off.

Within a half-mile, I was in fifth, last in a group of three: me, “guy in red,” and “guy in orange” (The best part of race reports is making up names for the people you ran with). At one point before mile 1, guy in red asked what times we were looking for. I said sub-1:17:56, and the guy in red responded that he was looking for 1:15. That made me concerned that I might be going out too fast, but we went through the mile mark in 5:52, which was fine.

The three of us were together until mile four or so. We were winding through residential areas during this time, and mostly staying in a line to dull the effects of the wind. I felt like I was the winkest link of the three of us, so it was surprising when the guy in red fell back as we moved on to a nice straightaway in the fifth mile.

And so it was just guy in orange and me. We would run mostly side-by-side for the next few miles.

At mile six, guy in orange mentioned that he was jealous of my decision to wear shorts. Indeed, it had warmed up a bit, and the wind was less of an issue since we weren’t on the coast. I took off my (heavy) gloves and carried them the rest of the way. I didn’t have a target mile pace, per se, but it looked like we were both beating the 5:56/mile pace that I clocked last year in, so I was pleased with that.

I started to gain a few feet on guy in orange around mile seven, but it was short-lived. He passed me by mile eight and began to put some registerable distance between us. My mile eight split was right around 46 minutes, approximately 5:45 pace.

We turned onto Route 1A, which runs right along the beaches and would comprise the final five miles of the race. I knew I had a PR unless things imploded, but it was still definitely a sufferfest for those final miles. The guy in orange was in sight the whole time, but just far enough out of reach.

I hammered the final tenth, crossing the line at 1:16:44, or 5:51/mile.  That gave me a 72 second PR, which I was quite pleased with. I’d also held the fourth place finish. I thanked the guy in orange (it’s nice having someone to gun for, even if they beat you), and set about rehydrating (I typically avoid aid stations at half marathons). Of course, the water bottle I picked up was half frozen.

I won my age group, which meant I got a cool Half at the Hamptons fleece and a pint glass. I joked with the guy in orange that the real reason that I hadn’t caught him was that I knew that I couldn’t have the Smuttynose beer that the top three finishers received, so there was no motivation. It would have been nice to nab that spot just to make things awkward for the race director.

It was great to return to the half after getting into ultras; 13.1 miles is no longer worthy of the word “long.” A lot of people use this race as a tune-up for Boston, and I find myself in that category this year. I’m interested to see how this effort translates. But we have 58 days until I find out the answer.

There’s something special about this race. I referred to last year’s version as my most effectively-executed, tactically-pure race ever, and now this year’s version gets to steal that title.

I’m loving the half marathon attitude.

Note: Thanks to everyone who shared photos from the race online. None of these photos are mine, they are all theirs. Photos came from these three Picasa web albums.

Official race results here. Race results with splits here.

Yesterday’s Weymouth Woods 100k featured 14 laps of a 4.47 mile loop, and it was on the seventh that I began to slow.

From the start, it was myself and two other guys in the front- one a thirty-something-year-old from Blacksburg, VA who I had a pleasant chat with, and the other a early-forties guy named Vladimir (I didn’t know his name until the finish though, so during the course of the race I referred to him as “Music” (he was listening to headphones), “The Man in Black” and “Black Magic” (he was wearing all black)).

The Weymouth Woods course is a marvelous trail with relatively few roots or other obstacles. And it also doesn’t have any of the killer uphills that the Vermont 50 course had. In other words, it’s completely runnable.

That’s a good thing. And a bad thing.

The three of us switched the lead for the first six laps or so. Eight minute pace felt effortless. The course was icy at first, the result of the snow/ice storm that swept up the East Coast earlier this week, but it was the type of thin ice that shattered when you stepped on it, as opposed to being slippery. After a few laps of 75 runners barreling over it, it was a non-issue.

At the aid station that began each lap, also known as “Mrs. Doom’s All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet,” I’d down a couple cups of Gatorade and some assorted foodstuffs. Toward the beginning of the race, I took in m&ms, oranges, coffee cake, a piece of pb&j, etc. I was cruising. Temps were comfortably in the mid-to-upper-40s, and I was outfitted comfortably in shorts and a short-sleeve t-shirt (I started in long-sleeves and gloves, but shed them after two laps). Given the aid station situation, I took the light-and-fast approach and ran without a hydration pack/belt or handheld bottles.

Nevertheless, at the end of the seventh things were catching up to me. With the exception of stopping and walking for a minute or so at the aid station at the start of each lap, I’d been running constantly for 31 miles. (In contrast, at the Vermont 50, fairly-regular walking breaks began at mile eight). So at the end of the seventh lap, Vladimir, who would go on to win, passed me (the other, I would later learn- dropped after the seventh lap- he had raced a 3:30 50k the weekend before and said he couldn’t keep anything in his stomach).

So the two of us went through the 50k mark essentially together. We were halfway done. Four hours and 17 minutes had passed. That’s approximately 8:13/mile.

I wasn’t expecting to keep that up, but I’ll admit that things went a little more downhill than I would have liked. Walking breaks quickly became quite frequent.

Things were about to get interesting.

At lap seven, I started counting down the laps I had left, as opposed to counting the ones I had completed (I was unsure if I would be able to trust myself with double-digits after fifty miles…). The laps went by a lot slower than they had been before.

The goal for the race was to run ten hours, but that was admittedly a completely random number that I’d picked because it sounded good. That would equal a 9:35/mile pace, or 42:50 for every 4.47 mile loop. I was obviously well ahead of that pace at the 50k mark, but I knew even then that I might need every minute of surplus that I’d built up.

At mile 40, I ate a hamburger (volunteers were making hamburgers, cheese quesadillas, soup, and brought in pizza every now and then). While I thought that might have been a questionable choice, I was running within a half a mile and definitely had some added pep out there on the course.

At the mid-point of the 4.47 mile loop, there was another small stop with water and Gatorade. During the entire latter half of the race, I’d grab a cup of Gatorade there and reward myself with a nice, extended walk break until I finished it.

This worked fairly well. I was nowhere (and I mean nowhere) near the pace I’d been sustaining before, but I was still passing people fairly regularly. It was hard to tell what lap other people were on, but as far as I knew the only person ahead of the was the guy who’d passed me at the 50k mark.

I hit the 50 mile mark in approx. 7 hours, 55 minutes, about half an hour faster than my finish in Vermont. Despite the fact that I had two hours to run 12 miles, I knew at that point that 10-minute miles was a bit of a stretch, and I’d probably be coming in a little over the 10 hour mark. This realization had little effect, as I’d long ago shifted from “competitive” mode to “control damages” mode.

At that point I had three laps left, so I finally felt like I was close to finishing. I had a cup of chicken noodle soup each lap, which hit the spot.

All this while, I’d been surprised that the frontrunner hadn’t lapped me- I’d fallen far off pace and he had seemed to be in I-could-do-this-all-day mode at the 50k mark. I finally saw him at the tail end of my 13th lap; he was finishing his final lap. He came in at 9:23. I congratulated him, had a final cup of soup, and headed out for lap 14.

It was getting dark by this point, but I elected not to grab my headlamp because I’m young and like to make occasional irrational decisions. Within a quarter-mile in, I decided that I was just power-walking the lap, as my legs were pretty much spent. I eventually teamed up with a 70-something year-old guy and another man who were also power-walking at essentially the same speed. As total darkness set in, it occurred to me that I’d essentially run from sunrise to sunset. Quite the feeling.

The older gentlemen (he referred to himself as “elderly,” to which I responded “I don’t think you can call yourself ‘elderly’ if you run 100ks”) had a headlamp, so I walked and chatted with the two of them (the other guy happened to be the supervisor at the preserve where the race was held) for the final miles. It’s cliché, but I hope I’m doing 100ks when I’m old. The two of them were finishing their ninth lap and were hoping to finish by midnight (this was about 6:15 pm). It was a whole different deal being out on the course at night – I give a lot of credit to everyone who had to cover a substantial distance at night (the race had a 20 hour time limit – which meant the race officially ended at 4 a.m.).

And so I crossed the finish line for the 14th – and final – time. I got congratulations from the race director, my finisher’s award (a shallow bowl-shaped piece of pottery – got to love races that give you something unique), and a little awe for being a 20-year-old in an old man’s sport.

I was the second-place finisher. The last lap had taken me a little over an hour. Ten minutes later, the third-place finisher – and first woman – would cross the line. I threw on some warm clothes, grabbed a couple handfuls of peanut m&ms, and headed inside to try and suppress my uncontrollable shivering.

10 hours, 34 minutes, and 25.75 seconds. 10:08/mile. All in all, there were 47 finishers out of 77 starters. I was the youngest finisher by five years.

100k. Check.