I don’t know if this was the former “Shore Park 5k” or just the same setup/course, time of year, or what, but in re-reading that write up there are more than a few parallels – starting with the late registration.
I was trying to decide what to do for a run today, and the RD gave a presentation with a bib giveaway at Sneakerama Thursday evening so I decided to go down and run this. The time of day worked out well so it fit in with my busy lifestyle. <<eye roll emoji here>> The day started off with a slice of cold pizza, a sausage & French toast breakfast sandwich and a large coffee, so why not race a 5k?
This was my fifth marathon. A distance is swore I would never – NEVER – do. Where the Half Marathon is a challenging distance, but still doable, the full marathon is straight pain cave nonsense. The elite runners – the folks who have sponsorships to do this stuff – do this seemingly at will. Sure, they’re training, but it’s also their job. For Joe Average, this stuff is hard work.
The saga of the endless pandemic effects continues. The Black Cat is typically run in March as a training race for the Boston Marathon – with the 20-mile distance being a healthy part of a solid training plan. Well, as we’re aware the 2020 races just didn’t happen, so this got deferred to 2021. Which too didn’t happen on schedule.
Now the company that runs the Black Cat, also runs a half marathon called the “Wicked Half,” a race I ran in 2019…you know, in the “beforetimes.” So, incorporating the majority of both courses and combining the races made sense for 2021 and here we are.
There’s no easy way to say this. It was abominable. The Laborious Labor Day 10-miler is the Labor Day version of the same race a local club – the Highland City Striders – runs near Thanksgiving, the Tough Turkey Trot. It’s basically 8-miles of downhill, until it’s not for the last 2.
On this day, I ran the first 5-miles pretty well. Until I didn’t.
This is one of the situations where I feel like I could have, should have done better. It was a nice day, a familiar – albeit challenging – course. It was a bit of a wake up call for me. “You ran a marathon last weekend!” I heard that a few times, and I’m sure that was part of it, but honestly I know I hadn’t hydrated well. It was a train wreck that never should have happened.
Back in 2019 or so, when I was fresh off my Baystate Marathon personal best, my friend Eric suggested that I should run this marathon. Mostly downhill, beautiful scenery, relatively inexpensive and small. There was a lot to like about this. “Sure. Why not?” and so I pried open my wallet and registered.
As I sat down to write this, I realized I hadn’t read my last write up for this race when it was last held in person in 2019. I was surprised to read that I had essentially the same issues at the same points – I mean, today I didn’t have the foresight to use the porta-potty before the race and paid for that starting about mile 3.5, and my shoelace didn’t come undone – and ran essentially the same race, despite the fact that it was roughly 20-degrees cooler today than then. So, all-in-all, despite running today 27-seconds faster, I’d say I had the better race then.
I’m only about a month behind with this recap, so I’m likely leaving a bunch of details out. It turns out that it’s a little hard to keep all the balls in the air when there are a hundred balls in the air, and they’re made of lead, and the clown in the corner of the room is throwing water balloons at you.
BUT a race is a race. This was the second of two that are on my calendar that wasn’t deferred from last year.
Unlike a lot of trail races, this one was really well marked – there was never a question as to where a runner needed to go. There were appropriate aid-stations every 4 miles or so.
About 5k into the race, there’s a really technical “killer hill” that accounts for most of the elevation gain of the event. Basically straight up, over boulders and the like. Otherwise, the trail itself – although there is a healthy sample of single track trail – isn’t terribly technical. I made the strategic error of wearing my Salomon Speedcross shoes thinking it would be a lot more technical, which compromised some of the cushioning and comfort another choice would have provided. It’s not child’s play – rocks and roots and all kinds of potential ankle twisters are afoot – but it wasn’t highly technical. It was warm and that too slowed things down.
I had made a plan for 3 hours for completion. It took me 3.5 and I really thought I had blown it because I only saw a smattering of other runners near me since that killer hill and the ones I did were basically running away from me, but as it turned out I finished 57 of 133. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to be ashamed of either. My ultrasignup ranking essentially stayed the same and I finished right about where their projections would have put me.
After 7-months of not racing, I had the truly good fortune to have back-to-back weekends where I got to do just that. Last week, New Hampshire hosted the New England Half Marathon. This week Connecticut hosted “Tackle the Trail.”
This race they offered “On Ground” and “Virtual” options – as though the “Virtual” folks don’t actually run on terra firma – but yeah the idea is there. Additionally, there were options between “Individual” and “Relay” teams. My squad chose various flavors of relay. I ran the full 20-miles.
This is a cool thing to participate in, not just because it’s an actual race – we’re midway through October and I’m talking about Race #6 here, so this is a big deal to me – but it raises money for students at Quinebaug Valley Community College. I’m led to believe roughly $100,000 was raised.
By my Garmin, it was a little more than 700′ in elevation gain, so not overly challenging. Segment 2 was “technical” trail…technical as compared with the fire-road/rail-trail the rest of the race was run on, which is to say, not technical. However, I’m always slower trail running, and because it was a relay, there were more opportunities to stop: I took off my windbreaker at one point and left with with a volunteer (as the course looped back there, so I could pick it up), I stopped to tie my shoes, pick up my windbreaker, give the windbreaker to a friend to hold, etc. I may have goofed up a bit on the on-course directions as well. This said, it wasn’t my slowest trail half marathon (in fact, I reckon it would be my fastest were it a half), wasn’t even my slowest road half marathon.
I seemed to get faster and stronger as the race went on in the later miles, which was nice. I was concerned with making the 4-hour cut off time, but finished in a little more than 3.
The course was well manned, and well marked (except for the runner brain in me that misunderstood a sign, but that’s okay). The COVID protocols weren’t quite as rigid as last week’s race – of course it was a smaller race, and a trail race – so it was a rolling start, start when you start as opposed to start at x-assigned time. That said, they did have protocols around spectators, gathering, etc. It was appropriate given the size of the race.
It’s been 7 months and 10 days since my last race. 3 half marathons canceled. 2 marathons. A 50k. 2020 has been a difficult year in a great many ways. Today was at once a throwback to the “before times” — before the world shut down, before we had ever considered such a concept as “social distance,” before we came to see being together and being close as dangerous — and at the same time something new, perhaps alien, but definitely the way we go forward for the immediate future.
Today was a glimpse into what races look like now. It was different, but familiar enough to feel like a race.
After 7 months of not racing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it wouldn’t be what I’ve come to know, but wasn’t sure how it would look. Millennium Running put on what I could consider a masterpiece of COVID-era events, and I’m hopeful others will see the blueprint here. It wasn’t the start we’ve come to know, but they more than made up for that.
In the days leading up to the event, Millennium emailed participants with very detailed directions. Parking in Concord, NH vs. being dropped off. Specific shuttle assignments, physically distanced queuing for the shuttle. Specific groupings based on self-reported projected pace. The physically distanced starting order – time trial format -was taken as an opportunity to give each runner a shout out and a few seconds in their own spotlight.
I was super impressed by the organization and the commitment. Well done.
Now, before I get into the race specifics, while it was a real race, with real people running – en mas and competitively – and while it was a USATF certified course, it was also officially 510′ of elevation gain and a whopping 984′ of loss. Meaning that it’s not like it was a truly difficult course. 13 miles running all out is always difficult, but let’s just say running 13 miles where it’s almost 2:1 down to up stacks the deck differently. Contrast this with the Clearwater Half Marathon where the elevation gain was 344′ with a loss of 367′ and I ran it in 1:56.
Each hill up was immediately preceded by a significant downhill, so you could see the incline, and it always looked worse than it was. Except for mile 10, where the course took you up by the local hospital, and then along an old rail trail – complete with asymmetric rocks and defects in the trail which tripped me up a bit; I came that close to rolling an ankle – that mile was my slowest of the race 8:19.
From a running experience, it was odd to be out there solo from the start, but I think I quickly adapted to the Ragnar accounting of “Kills” until I lost count – right about mile 9 or 10, there was a group of us all bunched up and I was trying to keep track of how many people I passed vs. having been passed. Ultimately I lost count, but that didn’t matter because the competition was it’s own reward. It was an actual race. To this point, I wound up finishing perfectly tied with some guy who likely started half hour or so after me, and whose butt I’d kicked pace wise across the three check points, but he crushed me in the last mile or so.
Were this the “before times” competition I’d have been chasing him head to head, or something close to it. I think this is pure age discrimination straight up.
I generally make it policy to not sign up for races that take me longer to get there than it will to actually race, thankfully in this case while it came close it didn’t cause a policy violation. However, had it, I’d have gladly surrendered the policy to race today. I needed this, and this race delivered. Oh did I mention, it was a Personal Record?
This was a bit of a change of pace for me. For a number of reasons, I wasn’t available to follow through with my original plan for this weekend, but sometimes – when you put yourself in the right position – things work out. This was one of those times.
Earlier this week, I just happened to find a Facebook message hanging in suspension because it came from someone with whom I’m not connected, so it didn’t show up flagged. It turns out it was sent a week or so previous asking me if I’d be interested in running a relay race.
Honestly, I thought my opportunity had passed but as it turned out it was still open – as it happens, all the fast people I know are all the same fast people other people know and they were all committed. Suffice to say, I was the fastest person still available – which is to say, my team was scraping the bottom of the barrel when picking me up off the bench.
I don’t mind
I’m a middle aged dude whose found running really late. I do okay, but I’m never ever going to be anyone’s speed demon. I just like that people think I can contribute. That’s all. And that’s what this was, but man…I thought I was competitive. Not so much.
The race is 27 +/- miles from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lawrence, Massachusetts, including some of the same course as the Bay State Marathon, I ran the first leg. 5.6 miles. Roughly 200′ of elevation gain. I haven’t been running well so I wasn’t sure I knew what to expect from this leg. Or any leg really. My running has been really labored and really slow; I’ve suspected it was a combination of a few things not the least of which were dehydration, sleep, and poor nutrition. Since I couldn’t really do much about the nutrition thing so soon, I decided to control what I could control. I got a good night sleep, eazed off the beer, hydrated appropriately, and ate well.
It was 5-degrees when the race started. at 8 AM That’s cold, for the uninitiated. That temperature probably helped me out, if I’m honest. I maintained a 8-minute pace for the leg – a pace I hadn’t kept in some time – and my heart rate was well under control too. I’m sure that the issue was my hydration because my average HR was substantially below what I had been doing, with shorter mileage and slower pace over the last week or so.
I felt generally pretty good, although I was cognizant that I was working hard, but I feel like that that was the external pressure of running a race versus a training run. I knew my leg was 5.7 miles or so, so when you’re less than 10-minutes into the race and figuring, “Oh, I have less than 5 miles to go..” it may be a long day.
For a guy my age, my heart rate was high – but not obscenely high – and I maintained a 7:56 min/mile pace for my leg. I’m pleased with that – even given that was one of the slower marks for my leg (and perhaps for the race, I’m not sure). This puts me at exactly 1947 miles for the year – 72 miles from my secret goal of 2019 miles; my stated goal of 1600-miles was surpassed back on October 7 with a 5.6 mile run. According to my spreadsheet I’m on pace for 2071 miles – over the last couple of months my averages have dipped; there was a point at which I was averaging close to 2100 miles.
My knee has been bothering me since the TARCkey Trot, so I’ve been easing up on that, but I really want to be sure I’m keeping my fitness level up. If 2019 has been the year of doing badass things, I want 2020 to be the year of doing an increasing number of badass things. Longer races, Longer training runs.
2019 has kicked ass.
My team “Friends of Wormtown” finished 64/185. Definitely not last, in 3:17:23 Literally seconds slower than the Assembly Square Animals and the Bionic Women. I like to think I helped here.