The New England Half Marathon was an inaugural event this year. Because of the immense draw of Millennium Running’s points series, they had a huge turnout for a first-year event. The race was advertised as a fast downhill race from the Loudon NH Speedway to the NH State Capitol building.
My PR, set last September, was 1:36:30, at the Heads Up Half Marathon, also in Concord. I knew I’d be significantly faster, but I really wasn’t sure what to shoot for. Being a “downhill” race, I was hopeful for 1:26:30 to make it an even 10-minute PR.
Before the race.
I arrived at the finish line about an hour and fifty-five minutes before the start. I figured that’d allow me to take the shuttle and get in a solid warmup. I caught the bus, which there were plenty of, rode to the start, and got in line for a porta potty, which there were not many of at all. I mean ten toilets for 1700 people?! Really?! After about 15 wasted minutes and less than 5 lateral feet of movement, the guy on the loudspeaker announced that, hey guys… You know the bathhouse is open right? Commence a nice strider to kickstart my warmup, as I raced over there. I waited in line for about 5 minutes there. (The other line would have been at least the full hour till the start, and I might not have been able to at all.) I changed and started my warmup with… 10 minutes to go. I did some easy jogging back to the start, and did some strides out in front of the start while they were lining up 1700 people.
It’s odd, you know. When I started running, for most races last year, I was at the back of the pack. If the race was small, I might start near the front, but always to one side. At my June ’13 10k, a few months after starting running, I was in the back and caught a very slow first mile. This race, I was literally toeing the line. It never feels normal to line up on the front line of that many people, but I was glad I did.
First, they snapped a few photos while Miss NH sang the Star Spangled Banner (let’s be honest, the ONLY time I’ll be in a picture with Miss NH).
Then, they started the wheelchair racer 30 seconds early, so he didn’t get trampled. He was BUILT.
Finally, they were ready to start the runners. They told us they would be counting down the time from… an iPhone… and there MIGHT be a shotgun, because the starting gun had been locked, with the keys, in the race directors car. Wait… someone randomly had a shotgun at a road race?
BANG. Guess so! And we’re off.
I got out clean with the top 20 or so, and nestled myself into my comfortable pace within the first .4miles. We started to string out pretty quickly; likely before half the field had crossed the start line.
The first 5k, which I split in 20:01, were primarily paved, with only a tiny bump of a hill. I was running completely within myself, and feeling really good. It took a lot of concentration to force myself not to push the pace, but I held it steady.
After some really fantastic dirt road running (my favorite type of road running) with short but steep rolling hills, I passed the 10k mark in 39:49, which is under last year’s 10k PR.
If you look at my Strava “gap” pace, which is adjusted for elevation, you can see how steady I was for the first seven miles. That’s something that NEVER happens for me! Rock on!
Throughout these middle miles, I was running next to a few different guys, chatting, and noticed that my form deteriorated, but I started to run more relaxed… very odd, and something I’ll have to work on.
From mile 6.8 to 8.6, it was mostly downhill, and it felt GREAT to open up a little. I passed at least a two guys through here, and 2nd Female passed me, but was clearly starting to hurt a little early in my opinion.
At mile 8.6 on this course, there is a hill. It’s not much, really, 66 vertical feet in .3 miles… but it was EXACTLY when I started to settle into a rhythm of downhills, and boy did it hurt.
After then 10 mile split (1:04:03), I was starting to feel the fatigue. It wasn’t bad, and nowhere near what I’d normally be feeling in a race like this, but I was trying to tune into my body more, so I really noticed it. Luckily, it was all downhill for miles 10 and 11, so I was able to basically coast. I passed the 2nd Female in here, as well as the guys in front and behind her.
Right at mile 11, we joined the bike path across the river right next to the interstate. This was the worst part of the race for me, as it was a long sustained uphill over the bridge. I was losing ground on the guy ahead of me, but I knew if I picked it up too much, I might lose my wheels before the finish. As we crossed the river, the path veered left by NHTI, we had a 170º right turn up a steep hill, and we could hear a loudspeaker and people cheering…
As I passed that last water stop with 1.5 to go, I downed a quick cup of water, but kept pace even when most of it missed my mouth. I made the left turn, relished a little more flat running, and made another left to cross under RT 202, then a right turn to run.. UP ANOTHER HILL?! Now, really, this was one of the smallest hills on the course… but with half a mile to go in the middle of my finishing “kick,” it was brutal. I nearly walked. But I was able to chug up it at a minute slower per mile.
Finally we took our second-to-last left turn. I saw the guy ahead of me who I’d had within reach for 3 miles. I didn’t want to pass him to early and let him get his strength back, so I waited until here, with half a mile to go. I knew that the next closest person behind me was at least 30 seconds back, and well, you’re probably not going to make up 30 seconds in the last half mile. At this point, I was racing him, not a PR. I kept pace behind him for a few steps, than gave my final surge as I passed him and rounded the corner to the last straightaway and the finish line.
After the race.
After finishing, and walking around for a minute to try and find results (they didn’t have them posted anywhere like most larger races usually do) I went for a cooldown trot of the course backwards. I cheered on finishers and gave high fives the whole way. A lot of people gave really nice comments about how having “someone fast” do that and cheer them on really made their day. Eventually I made it back to the mile 11.5 water stop manned by the NHTI XC team, and helped them hand out water and cheer people on. I stayed until about 2:20 past the start time, and then walked backwards continuing to cheer people on until the 2:40 finishers and I reached the line at the same time. I grabbed my fleece jacket (included with entry) and headed back to my car where I hoped I could find out my results. Sure enough, my email had my place, 11th, but no time. Oh well, I could look at my watch for that.
I was pretty happy with a PR by 12.5 minutes, and 11th place out of 1700 starters. (They told us 1700 registered, it looks like only 1520 finished). I was most happy with my first ever successfully paced race. I’ve never been able to run confidently, but evenly paced like I did for this race. Hopefully this is turning a corner with my “racing intelligence.” Perhaps next year I’ll be fast enough where I can focus on racing people more than myself or the clock. I think that may help make me a bit faster.