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?
Racing is definitely becoming less important to me than getting good training runs in. I made a calculated decision some time back that fewer, higher challenge races was where I wanted to go. As a result, my race totals have consistently dropped over the last few years while my aggregated miles per year have consistently increased.
So, the Old Fashioned Ten Miler is a race I’ve done three times now. The first time I did it, it was a part of the “bad ass combo,” a 5k race they tack on before hand, which can be a bit of a challenge – I mean, 5ks are meant to be balls out, and then to run a 10 miler after, that is a feat. BUT, I’m kind of out of the business of getting medals for completing a high-cost 5k, so I’ve not run that in some time.
When I did do it the first time, it was a personal best…my 10-miler time was crap, but the 5k got crushed.
This is a race through the streets and back roads of Foxborough, Massachusetts. If you’ve ever watched a Patriots game, you’ve seen the rotary near the town center, with the town name on a sign. The course runs by there, down past a school, behind Gillette Stadium’s private access road. It’s a nicely organized race, starting and finishing at Schneider Electric and the Foxboro Company. And because it’s sponsored by Ashworth Awards, there is some SWEET Swag for finishing.
I haven’t been feeling great about my running lately, some of which is because I’m still in winter hibernation I suppose, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The fact that I haven’t been racing much at all – my first and only other race on the year was New Years’ Day’s Freezer Five – so all those slow, plodding and high heart race runs led me to believe it could get ugly out there.
As it happened though, the weather was just shy of perfect – about 40 degrees Fahreneheit.
Despite my new Age Group, and despite my lack of confidence going into the race, it turned out to be my fastest 10-Mile time, with my overall pace beating out my then-PR pace 5k time three years ago. My ten mile pace was faster than my 5k. There’s even a youtube of the finish line – don’t blink, you may miss me finish! The funny part is that when last I ran this race in 2018, I finished just 2 places (both overall and in gender) behind where I finished this year. Except the field was much, much smaller.
Another January 1, another Freezer Five. It’s the fourth one I’ve done now. Curiously, it wasn’t as warm nor as windy as last year; wasn’t as cold as it was in 2018. The course was in better shape despite the “winter weather event” we had the previous two days than it was in 2017. More people showed up than in 2018, fewer than last year, roughly equivalent to 2017 though fewer.
It’s the first time I’ve ever had the #1 bib – due only to the time of registration, not actual seeding or anything – but it was kind of fun. Of particular note to me because this will likely be my last race in the M40-49 Age Group. Not sure what to make of that.
In comparing my year over year, I see that last year I found I struggled between miles 2-3. This year it was at the end of 3-and into 4. Nice to know that my struggles are getting progressively further from the start. Depressingly enough, I was maybe 0.4 Miles from the finish when I stopped to check my heart rate – that hurt. You’ve just run 4.5 miles, the finish in sight and you can’t pull yourself together. Ouch. The big difference though, was my actual splits:
Basically even when I struggled I still beat last year – except for Mile 5 and then only because there was that wild tailwind last year that pushed me uphill.
Last years pacing was so much more interesting, Miles 1 &5, 2&4 more or less matching up and then that dreadful mile 3. This year I clearly went out too fast – I perhaps would have last year as well, but for the headwind – but I wonder how well I’d have run if I could have had the same conditions as last year.
This was the 11th time I’ve run the course – 4 as a race, and 7 as recreation/workouts – and it was the fastest yet. I ran it in May and hit a 7:57 pace – a personal record for the course, and faster than my previous race times! So, doing this in less than 40-minutes in a race was a bit of a personal achievement. Despite my better time against the course, I actually finished slower against the field. I’ll chalk that up to the beautiful 50+ degree day last January 1 and more day of registrations.
I woke up today after a great night sleep, but still roughly 7 pounds heavier than I really want to be, so I’m pleased for the pace and the result. As always it’s a great way to start the new year, by going out and kicking some ass on January 1.