After fulfilling my BQ dream earlier this year and then falling short of a sub-40:00 10K in August, I had thought achieving any new running goals would have to wait until 2010. Having decided to skip a fall marathon, I ended up agreeing to pace the 3:50 in Manchester (NH) on November 1st, which then turned into a 38-mile run for legal services. However, as the fall marathon season ramped up, and runner friends near and far, real and virtual prepared to meet their goals, I tried to fit in a competitive half-marathon. The only weekend that worked was October 17-18th, and the Bay State Half-Marathon was the ideal event: close, flat, fast. By the time I went to sign up, though, it was sold out. I e-mailed the Race Director, explained why my fall running schedule had been a work in progress, and got a "late invitational" entry.
As my recent training reflects, by the beginning of September, I'd done very little lactate threshold work. The 6:40 (downhill) mile I ran during a 3-mile LT workout before the middle of September did not inspire me to think that I could knock off 13.1 miles at 6:52 (or better) pace. However, after my performance at Reach the Beach, I was confident that a sub-1:30 half-marathon was within the realm of possibilities, if I trained well for the next few weeks and if conditions were favorable. It turned out that I was half-right.
With my recent weekly mileage consistently in the 60's, including two "quality" workouts each week, I felt pretty confident going into Bay State. The plan was to try to run 6:45 through 10 miles, re-assess then and hold on for a solid, sub-1:30 finish.
At least when it comes to important races, I've had some bad luck as far as the weather, so much so that some running friends are asking - jokingly, I hope - whether I really plan to run Boston next year. :-) The weather forecast for Sunday, October 18, 2009 in Lowell, Massachusetts went from mediocre to bad to awful, with everything from snow, sleet, high winds and heavy rain popping into the reports in the days leading up to the race. I started down the path of negative self-talk, and dealt with my anxiety not by revising my race goals, but by obsessing about what to wear. A stern talking-to by my wife on Saturday night also helped me avoid getting too deep into the wading pool of self-pity.
I opted for having a range of options, with the staples of the day's wardrobe being SmartWool socks and a Gore-Tex cap. I applied a spray-on waterproof coating to some thin fleece running gloves, and wore my favorite new Saucony shorts, a Zoot triathlon singlet, tie-dyed Moeben arm-warmers, along with a long-sleeve tech shirt that I planned to ditch as soon as I was warmed-up.
I got up a little before 5 am, ate my usual pre-race breakfast, got my gear on and applied tons of BodyGlide. I got to Lowell right around 7 am, drove around looking for a spot, and "marked" the spot by dropping a "pin" in my iPhone's GPS application. It was not raining . . . yet.
Getting my bib number took longer than I'd expected, as did finding the gear check en route to the start. I ran into Bendy Wendy from RWOL in the Tsongas Arena, and saw coachbr as we headed over to the start. I wished him them both well.
I felt crunched for time, so my 1.5-2-mile warm-up became a zippy half-mile, with a quick burst at the end. I went to the half-marathon start area and waited. I pushed the sleeves up on my white shirt, exposing the bright orange arm-sleeves. Two fifty-something women behind me started admiring them and pawing me shamelessly. I told them to go ahead, that they didn't need to ask permission and that I was glad not to be wearing similar compression shorts. LOL We laughed, discussed our goals and wished each other well. Another RWOL forumite, Rovatti, stopped by to say hello, as he decided to follow through on his original plan to run the full and shoot for a sub-3:00 finish. I'd miss running with him, but knew he was making the right call. Turns out that all three of them had incredibly solid performances in the full marathon, despite the conditions worsening as the day went on.
As I always do, I lined up in the "second tier" of the start corral. It filled up quickly, and all-too-many people who had no business doing so lined up ahead of me. At 8:07 a.m., a few minutes behind schedule, the Mayor of Lowell started us off, and my quest for sub-1:30 was under way.
- 6:51 - Congestion was the name of the game here; did more weaving than I would have liked, but didn't feel like I was pushing too hard to get to pace
- 6:40 - Settling in, with a tailwind and what seemed like a slight downhill, I took advantage and made up for the first mile's lag
- 6:37 - Finding a rhythm and feeling pretty good; I can tell I'm working hard, but at this point I make the conscious decision NOT to check my heart rate, lest it make me back down unnecessarily (turns out that it was a good thing that I didn't, as I topped out at 178 during this mile)
- 6:48 - Plugging away, into the wind, but trying to stay relaxed; in this mile we broke off from the full marathoners and turned to cross the river, running smack into a nasty headwind as we thinned out
- 6:53 - Settled into a groove with another runner, a younger guy named Pierson; We chatted briefly and agreed to try to hang together for a while, taking turns leading so the other could get a break from the wind; he didn't totally get the concept, but it was nice to have some company; working hard into the wind, with some GI trouble percolating (I'd had a touch of stomach bug the last couple of days, which I essentially "treated" by eating some bananas)
- 6:49 - Decision time about whether to take my one gel (a caffeinated Gu Roctane) and risk aggravating my stomach; I decided to go for it, and didn't slow down much
- 6:44 - Coming up to the end of the first loop, passing right by the minor league baseball stadium where we'd be finishing; effort feels hard, but manageable; it's getting colder, as I can now see my breath, and my ears, hands and other "vitals" feel cold
- 6:41 - Bearing down; Pierson is hurting a bit, while two guys fall in with us,looking all-too-casual; I ended up dropping one guy, while the other guy and I were together off and on until the finish
- 6:39 -The consistent splits are now making me believe that sub-1:30 is going to happen
- 6:40 - Wanted to hit the 10-mile split under 1:08; quick glance at my watch showed 1:07:40; I realize I'm in the hunt and try to stay focused; Pierson falls back (he finished a little more than a minute behind me, getting his sub-1:30)
- 6:55 - The combination of seeing that I had some "wiggle" room and the still-fierce wind might have caused me to ease up; when I saw the mile marker, I hit the lap button (resulting in a 29-second "overage") and told myself not to have another mental lapse; I increased my effort slightly at this point
- 6:40 - Holding steady; passing some of the slower runners who are still on the first loop; starting to creep up on other fast runners
- 6:30 - I dig in and and start picking off a few people; I might have passed 10 or so runners in the final mile-plus, while 2 runners passed me
I was so cold after the race, that I could barely handle the soup, water and banana provided to me by the wonderful volunteers at the stadium. I went into a men's room bathroom stall (unheated) and changed into dry, warm clothes. I bagged my planned 4-mile cool-down run; I was plenty cool, thank-you-very-much. I updated my Facebook status and sought news from other friends' races. At 10:00 am, I headed for my car, following the directions on my iPhone. After cruising the streets of Lowell in the cold rain, I found my car at 10:59 a.m. There's a lesson about not putting too much faith in technology. Of course, that walk would have been much less tolerable if I had not had a good race. ;-)
It was very, very fulfilling to get a solid PR this fall. After a disappointing summer, I feel like my running is "clicking" once again. Now I am brimming with confidence that I can improve markedly when Boston comes around in April, but will not set any specific goals at this point. We'll see how training shapes up.
For what it's worth, I'm starting to feel like a "real" runner, which is not to say that I have any delusions of greatness, but I'm becoming a better practitioner of the sport, especially when it comes to racing. This race involved an honest self-assessment of what I could do, with the development and execution of a straightforward racing strategy, and enough faith in myself to go for it despite adverse weather conditions. Those are lessons which I hope will stay with me in future races.
Having achieved a modicum of personal glory yesterday, it's now time to focus on running for others, via pacing and fundraising on November 1st. More on that later.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. -ESG