Saturday, July 21, 2018

Loon Mountain Race Report 2018

Wow, turns out when you're planning a wedding, traveling, and not really training much, the old blog gets neglected! My focus this summer has not really been on running, but I've still had some things going on. I ran Mount Washington again this year and it was AMAZING again - I started a race recap which perhaps I'll finish someday, but the long and short of it is that that race is just a BLAST. I finished 4 minutes faster than last year and nearly cracked the top 50 women, despite implementing my 100/100 run walk plan much earlier than last year and feeling worse for the first 4 miles. The wind was also insane this year - last year we had a bizarrely calm day, this year's 40 mph headwind was much more typical of the Presidentials. As second years and basically pros, we also had Trillium beer waiting for us at the summit this year, which was excellent.

Summit blankets were actually needed this year!

The following week I did the run leg of a half iron triathlon relay with my coworkers - this meant running a half marathon, which I was horrifically undertrained for given that I have not done a single double digit run since Boston. But no matter! Since it wasn't an open race no one was really going to be judging me, and one of the nice things about maintaining some reasonable level of fitness even in the off season is that I knew I could complete 13 miles without issue. The course was 3 loops of probably the most evil run course I've ever done, which included a variety of short but VERY steep hills, very steep downhills, and a steady uphill slog on a dirt road to finish the loop. As expected, I didn't fare super well on the third lap but it was all just for fun and I managed a 1:38ish, which I was completely fine with on the day. We also were the only women's relay team, so won that by proxy, but also beat the majority of the men's and co-ed teams!
I also had like 4 hours to wait around before the run so I hiked up to the top of this bluff to watch the swim in the lake behind me. As you do.

Now we'll get to what this post is really about, which is the Loon Mountain Race. As I mentioned earlier, I've not been overly motivated by running and training this summer. I've been consistently running about 30-35 miles a week, maybe throwing in a workout if I'm feeling good, but really no specific plan, and that's put me in a position where I am definitely not motivated to race. I don't really enjoy racing in the summer anyway (hot weather = death), and that feeling compounds when I'm out of shape. However, something about this whole mountain running thing has really gotten under my skin, and after Mount Washington I'd expressed some interest in running another mountain race, this one on trails, at Loon Mountain in July. I hemmed and hawed about whether to sign up for WEEKS but finally bit the bullet and did it, since deep down I wanted to see what it was all about. Andrew and I were going to be up in the Whites that weekend anyway to meet with our venue, so why not throw a mountain race in there as well?

The week leading up to the race, I won't lie, I was terrified. Loon's claim to fame is "Upper Walking Boss", a black diamond ski slope that covers about 1000 meters at grades of 40% or more. What? Yes. Because of the insanity of the race Andrew and I also made a somewhat spur of the moment decision to hike a 4000 footer on Saturday (my 19th!), my assumption being that the race would be so ridiculous that who cared if I was going into it a little tired? I stand by that decision completely, because it was a stunning morning for a hike and we had the summit of Cannon all to ourselves. We then proceeded to spend the day sitting out in the sun, mini golfing, and having some beers, in between picking up my bib. Loon was also hosting the US Mountain Running Championships, so bib pickup was full of fast, hardcore looking people. I was wearing my Mount Washington hat so...that totally counts for something, right? 

Raceday dawned and we headed off to the mountain. Because of the championships the men and women had a second start, so my race wouldn't go off until 9:15. It was a beautiful morning, though definitely with the threat of some heat, and I tried my best to stay hydrated and calm. I saw Andrew off up the gondola and did a warmup behind some Canadian women before heading down to the dirt parking lot that served as the starting area. One thing that was pretty cool about this race this year was that they had a promotion through the Trail Sisters organization to offer 50% off the race fee to first time female racers - an effort to get more women involved in mountain running, since apparently the last time Loon hosted the championships it was 70% women and 30% men. Well, it definitely worked, because not only did the overall field double from the previous year, but it was 50% women, with over 300 of them (myself included) apparently first timers. How cool is that? It's not often that I find myself at a women's only start, so there was a great energy in the air as the whistle blew. Someone remarked as we went off "we all smell so nice...like sunscreen and bug spray...and no smelly boys!"

The course began with maybe a half mile of fairly gradual incline (I killed my watch hiking the day before, so I also ran this race watchless...haven't done that in YEARS) and then pretty quickly moved into a steep climb. The footing at the beginning was fairly rough gravel/dirt road and once it got steep it was evident pretty quickly that running was burning more energy than walking with a much higher cost. I wasn't the only one to think so - probably 75% of the field surrounding me started walking on this section, leading one girl next to me to comment "God, it feels so weird to be walking this early in a race!" I was a little concerned at this point because this already felt pretty damn challenging, and we weren't even a mile into the race. But hey, who cares? This is all just for fun. 

After a mile or so we headed into what turned out to be my favorite section of the course, a ~2 mile stretch run on single track and cross country ski trails. It was beautiful, it was muddy AF, it was rolling ups and downs, it was rocky, it was FANTASTIC. We must have gained some elevation throughout this stretch but I was just having too much fun to notice - in fact, I remember thinking to myself "this is the most fun I've had running in AGES!" It was just wonderful. I had a great pack of women to work with, another perk of the women's only start, and since the combination of single track and the knowledge of what awaited later in the race was keeping the actual pace not too bad (not that I know what it was lol) it almost felt like we weren't racing, just enjoying a wonderful romp in the woods together. However, in the back of my mind I knew that this was a mountain race after all and at some point, we were going to start climbing in earnest.

Pretty much as soon as we left the XC trails was when things started to get real. I knew from looking at the course map that the two really bad inclines were at around mile 4.5 and obviously the final stretch to the finish, but I feel like I wasn't aware of the steepness level of some of the sections between miles 2.5 and 4.5. In the beginning when the grades were something resembling normal, I reverted back to my Mount Washington strategy of 50 steps running, 50 steps walking. But I would say the major difference between Loon and Mount Washington is this: on Mount Washington, any given section would theoretically be runnable if you only had to handle that section for say, a quarter mile. On Loon, there are some sections that to my mind just were not even runnable.  Those sections became more and more of a thing as time went on. On the first of 3 big inclines, it was comical - I looked around, and every single person as far as the eye could see was walking. Because what else could you do? Legs already fried from 4 miles of trail running, and here's a ski slope staring you in the face - you try to run, and your legs just tell you to eff off. I think I said something to the effect of "well, at least we're all in this together!" 



Top of the first big incline...laughing because this shit is bananas, trying to run for the sake of the photo. I love the second picture where I am clearly just laughing like "what in the hell is even going on right now"

After the first big ski slope, you got a bit of a reprieve cutting across the mountain, so there was some degree of downhill which I tried to take advantage of as much as possible. Some of the descents were steep and super rocky, and it was almost as challenging trying to stay on my feet down them as it would have been to run up them - in fact, at one point I almost followed someone off course because we were so focused on the terrain that we didn't even see a flag pointing to a right hand turn. Thank goodness for fellow competitors getting us back on track! One of the cuts across the ski slope was also really difficult, as it was such a steep camber that I felt like I was going to tip sideways down the mountain. It was, in a word, ridiculous.

Soon enough we hit the 4.5 mile ski slope ("only" a blue square ski slope) which I knew was coming, and immediately myself and most everyone around me was taken back down to a walk. I continued to try to run a few steps here and there up the incline, but my legs were really starting to shut down - the phrase that came to mind was "my legs are gassed". The race also helpfully put up a sign at the bottom of this incline that says "this is only a 20% grade!" - a nod to the fact that you get to run up double that shortly. Yuuuuuup. I took a Gu somewhere around here as the sun was blazing and I could tell I was probably low on electrolytes, and that did seem to help to some degree. But unlike any normal race, here we were completely at the mercy of the mountain. 

                                   
Ahahaha I'm smiling because I'm laughing because this is insannnnne

One more fairly steep section and we were headed up to the gondola aid station, the final sight of humanity before the finish. I was desperately in need of some water and was so grateful to get some fluids and also dump them on my head. As I was running through they were announcing names, and I heard my name...followed IMMEDIATELY by a girl who I loosely know who runs for another New England club. Someone who, for whatever idiotic reason, I had decided I NEEDED to beat at this race.

Well. Up until this point there hadn't been much a competitive drive going on in this race, but let me tell you when I heard this name come up behind me something inside me went crazy. Right out of the aid station there's an impossibly steep downhill that I had to exert every ounce of eccentric control in my legs to handle, but then there's one more cut across the slopes before you get to Upper Walking Boss, which is a more gradual downhill. All I could think was that if I could make up enough time on the downhill, we would both hit the wall at the black diamond and the chances of having a 20 second gap closed there were not that good. So I went SCREAMING down this decline like a bat out of hell, literally sprinting, some masters woman gave me a side eye like "what the hell is this crazy person doing, does she not know that we're going to run up a 40% grade in like 2 minutes". Looking back on it it's just comical, but the fact of the matter is I do believe I made it to the bottom of Upper Walking Boss with more cushion than I could have. It also was pretty much the only thing that kept me moving forward up the final slope. I could try to explain Upper Walking Boss, but words just don't do it justice. At one point I literally blurted out "this is impossible", and then took a girl next to me's advice to try bear crawling. People were side stepping, going backwards, bear crawling, hands on knees...I will tell you one thing that doesn't happen on UWB and that's running. My heart felt like it was going to pop out of my chest and my legs were absolutely screaming in a way I've never felt in anything - not a marathon, not an all out mile, not an all out sprint, I had never felt anything like this, where the act of continuing forward motion seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. But the thought of this girl behind me, and of this pain almost being finished, kept me moving as fast as my legs would take me up the mountain.

"What is even happening right now"



Near the top of the boss, I finally saw Andrew, who had been anxiously awaiting my arrival. He was basically laughing at how absurd the course was - and to think he ALMOST signed up for this race! There was one last steep push and then some "flatter" rocks that I somehow willed my legs to jog over in order to at least run in to the finish line. And just like that, 1:32:xx, I was finished!

Here is the problem with mountain racing: 7 seconds after you do literally the hardest thing you've ever done, you look around and you're surrounded by beauty and you realize what you've just done and you realize you want to do it again and again and again. That's exactly how I felt the instant I finished Loon. Caked in sweat and dirt, thirsty, legs like noodles, exhausted, but so in love with everything I had just done. Word on the street is that's how a mountain running addict is born...


These feelings are also evidenced in my Upper Walking Boss sign photo shoot

Yikes?!

 Double finger point, rapidly becoming my signature move

Very unclear how I was able to get airborne at this moment in my life


Andrew and I took the gondola down, I got my results (91st out of over 400 women, I'll take that!) got some Mexican food in Lincoln, and then spent the afternoon at our favorite winery in Derry, where I just literally wore my singlet because I am gross and also lazy.
Apollo Vineyards, we love you

All in all, it was an absolutely epic day, and definitely gave me the itch to continue to try more races in the mountain/ultra/trail realm. I definitely am someone who gets antsy easily - just look at my college track career, when I changed distances every year because I felt like I'd plateaued or was just bored. It's kind of miraculous that I've stuck with the marathon as long as I have because of that piece of my nature. And yes, I definitely still want to run a sub 3:10 marathon. Yes, I still want to improve my PR in the half. But there's something about the insanity about being out on the trails and mountains that is just so fun and exciting and alive, and that's a feeling I think I could use more of in my running. I definitely think I'll be back at Loon next year, and may see if I can hunt down a couple of other mountain and trail races to add to my summer race schedule next year - it's the perfect time to try something new in the "off season"!

Oh yeah, there's also the fact that my coworkers and I may have entered into some kind of pact to do a half Iron next year followed by an Ironman in 2020...or the fact that I'm doing my first relay race (Reach the Beach!) in September...or the fact that I'm doing a sprint triathlon at the end of August...or that minor fact that I'm getting MARRIED a week from today!

But don't worry. I'm sure one of these days I'll be posting another road running PR on this blog. The journey there is part of the fun, am I right? 




Saturday, April 21, 2018

Burn the boats: Boston Marathon 2018 Race Report

I've been trying to think about how to even start writing this race report ever since Monday night. 2 days later, I am still pinching myself and completely in shock over what went down on Monday. I never posted about goals or anything because truth be told, I didn't HAVE any time goals. From the very start of this training cycle, I told myself I was aiming for PRs in the shorter distances and that Boston was a fun icing on the cake, not the goal race. And my training and mileage followed suit - I ran faster (but shorter) speed workouts, raced more on the track and in 5Ks, ran the lowest mileage I have for a marathon in quite some time, and just didn't worry about it. Sure, I put in a couple of 20 milers and didn't let things slip too far below the line, but all the way along I was training for the fun of it. And so, whenever people asked me what I hoped to run on Monday, I was very cagey in my answer. "Oh, I just want to run a strong race". "I'm just doing Boston for fun this year, and I've had so many bad races there that I'd probably be thrilled with a 3:25". "I'm definitely not training for a PR at Boston."

And yet. I would be lying if I said that the thought didn't cross my mind, after I ran my fastest long run EVER on the course in a pace faster than my marathon PR pace, after I ran a (sort of) PR in the half marathon in trash conditions, after I was running the best track workouts I ever had, that maybe I AM in PR shape. The thought certainly did cross my mind. But as soon as it did I tamped it right back down because "I'm just training for fun and I don't have a time goal and I DEFINITELY don't want to put that kind of pressure on myself for Boston this year". As the weather forecast got worse and worse, it only reinforced the idea. The race was going to be insane, and fun in a twisted way, and I was probably going to enjoy it a hell of a lot more than any of the 4 times I've run the race in heat. But a PR? In my dreams.

After the race, one of my friends told me "I think the only person who didn't know you were going to run a PR was you." Apparently putting your training out there on Strava lets your friends see things that you yourself are blind to - and maybe you're blind to them on purpose. I guess I can't say how the race would have played out on Monday if I had KNOWN that I was in shape to run 3:10 - maybe it would have been exactly the same. But I have a suspicion that going in with total freedom, and a race plan that involved no numbers at all, is what really allowed me to fly.

And so, join me for yet another epic novel of a race report, the story of how I ran 3:10:47 on the shittiest weather day possibly EVER, a day that the media described as "horrific conditions" and a day on which the race was won not necessarily by the person with the best PRs, but by the person who was most willing to fight through the conditions. Des Linden has always been one of my absolute favorite professional runners - I so admire her gritty racing style and the way that she never lets things get in her head, just goes out there and executes the race that she knows she can run. To hear that she had won on Monday had me basically in tears. I may have been 30 minutes behind her, but I felt like we were on the same page.

Prerace
Obviously the biggest talk of the town prior to the race was the weather. Honestly, I was pretty flippant about the weather beforehand. I definitely wasn't pumped about the absurd headwind expected but all in all, 50s and rainy, even with a little wind, sounded pretty OK. After all, that was essentially the conditions in 2015, the last time I ran a good race at Boston, so how bad could it be?

Marathon Saturday is always one of my favorite days of the year, and this year was no exception. The day started off bright and early heading down to cheer on my teammates who were running the BAA 5K. We then reconvened for brunch at South Street Diner and headed to the expo, which was held in Seaport this year due to someone at Hynes failing at their dates and booking some medical conference at the convention center. Whoops! It was a little annoying having to trek back and forth but we survived - Saturday the weather was also super nice so it was kind of lovely being outdoors. The expo was, typically, extremely exciting followed by extremely overwhelming. I picked up my number from a delightful man with a Scottish accent who loved that I was from right in town, and then we headed down to the expo proper. After stocking up on nuun and getting my Boston bottle, we went to visit coach Tom at his booth for his book/the Boston documentary. We also took a photo with the author of the book "Runner in Red" - really nice guy, who gave us a copy of the book for our efforts! I'm looking forward to reading it.

As we were wandering back towards the apparel section where I would inevitably spend all my money, Joy was like, "hey, isn't that a famous runner?!" It was Deena Kastor and Neely Spence Gracey doing a photo op for John Hancock - they were somewhat under the radar and so we were able to meet with them...they were both super sweet and Deena gave me a hug! It felt like good luck.

GBTC team shot! 

Joy, Taylor and I then headed back to Newbury to do some more shopping and to meet up with Dana for lunch at McGreevy's ("the official training restaurant of GBTC"). This is a bar that we've always met up with after practice and such and it was SO good to be there with my best friends, drinking a Sam Adams 26.2 and just relaxing before the race.  

Andrew and I went to dinner at Viale, which was delicious, and I fell asleep relatively early. Sunday I woke up to find it was SNOWING (hahaha) and had a standard useless day before a marathon. I did a quick shakeout, spent way too much time trying to figure out what to bring in all of my bags (way more complicated packing a drop bag and Hopkinton gear when it's going to be freezing and raining), watched not one but TWO movies, and just waited for time to pass. I can't say I ever got particularly nervous, although I definitely did check the weather more times that is typical hoping that maybe, somehow, the headwind and monsoon would be removed from the schedule. Despite the forecast I decided I was still going to race in my typical attire of singlet, shorts, and armwarmers - better too cold than too hot, right? 

Sorry not sorry? 


Raceday

My "Thunderstruck" alarm started in my dream, and sure enough, it was time to get rolling. I struggled through my prerace routine and felt unusually scattered - it just felt like there were so many things to keep track of that I MUST be missing something. But finally, the kit was donned, the throwaway clothes set, the various plastic bags packed and I was out the door. I spent the 15 minute walk to the T cursing the lack of handles on the Hopkinton food bag as I struggled to manage my bag of GUs, a bag of shoes, and an umbrella. I looked like a hobo and the day was already shaping up to be a hilarious one. The T was absolutely packed with runners, and I was happy to help a couple of lost looking fellows find their way to bag drop (despite TERRIBLE advice that another guy on the train was giving about "just walking from Park Street". Um no. Just no.") I met up with my teammate Andrea at Parish Cafe, where a kind window washer had let her stand in the foyer while she waited for me - Boston weekend, man, I tell ya. We headed for the buses just laughing at the ridiculousness of the weather. Honestly, at the Common in the morning it really didn't seem like things would be THAT bad - sure, it was misting a little but it honestly didn't feel that cold and the wind seemed manageable. I kept thinking that the weather had probably been overexaggerated and everyone's fears would be for nothing. In line for the bus we made friends with a nice gentleman from Seattle who was running his first Boston, and we all passed the hour long ride to Hopkinton (on a bus that was like a SAUNA) chatting about the weather, our running experiences, and wondering what the day would bring.

Then we reached the Athlete's Village...and it was a SHITSHOW. Almost a literal shitshow, because the amount of mud everywhere made you feel like you were slogging through poop to get anywhere.  People were wandering around wearing the most absurd combinations of clothes, and as I tried to make my way through the utterly PACKED tent weaving around pieces of boxes and mylar blankets thrown on the ground for people to sit on, I couldn't help but laugh. It was a small town of marathon hobos. We got in line for the Porta Potty which actually was the quickest I've ever experienced, although we are pretty sure some random guy was just hiding in 1/2 of the johns in our line just for warmth...I mean I get it, but come on, there are thousands of other people here! I ate my bagel, we unsuccessfully tried to find some coffee, I almost lost my Mount Washington hat when I left it in the porta potty and had to go back for it, and then we successfully found some water. Soon it was time for Andrea to leave for wave one and I was on my own. I settled down on someone's abandoned trash bag and huddled into a ball to attempt to address my clothing situation. I was worried about being freezing in the village (a valid fear) so I had worn a TON of layers: fleece tights, large leopard print pants, 3 shirts, a sweater, a puffer vest, and a poncho. By this point at least half of those items were wet with the rest not far behind. I decided since I had a spot to sit for a second it would be worthwhile to get rid of the tights, which would be impossible to take off standing, and to change out of my throwaway shoes. I managed to wrap the plastic bags that I had brought the shoes in around them and tape them up, creating something of a shield for when I had to pick my way through the mud field later on. I also got my Gus organized in my shorts and tried to figure out what I did and didn't need to bring to the start line. I'm glad I sat down when I did, because it seemed like no sooner did I have my shit in something of an order that they were calling wave 2 to the start. I gingerly made my way across the increasingly disgusting mud field and up through the parking lot.

I'm really glad I decided to stop and have this photo taken. HOPKINTON HOBO LIFE!

I actually think the walk to the start may have been the worst part of the race this year. It was SO. COLD. The reality of the situation that it was actually like 38 degrees and not 50 degrees was finally dawning on me. It was raining harder, the wind was picking up, and I REALLY didn't want to take off any of my clothes. I also realized that in my haste of leaving the village and trying to escape the mud pit that I had headed towards the start earlier than was necessary and increased my time spent out in the cold before starting. One of my shoes started to fill with freezing water despite the bag by about 3 minutes out of the village. It was...unpleasant. I stopped at the porta potties in the CVS parking lot and made a beeline for the back (the short lines!), where I spent a couple of minutes in the confines of the porta potty considering my fate. This was really just shaping up the be the most disgusting weather I had ever run in, and while I was confident in my ability to handle the cold the wet/windy aspect had me wondering how I was going to get through the race in the clothes I had on without getting hypothermia. I took advantage of the extra time I had to wait around here to get out of a couple of my layers with the goal of making it easier once I actually got to the line - I kept 2 shirts, the puffer vest, and the hat under my baseball cap. After we were released from the CVS holding pen, I walked about as briskly as I ever have up to corral 1. Even through the shivering, I got a surge of pride as I displayed my bib number to head up to the first corral. No matter what was about to happen, I knew I had earned this spot at the front of the wave and I was damn proud of it.

I entered the corral about 10 minutes before the start, and let me tell you I needed every SECOND of that 10 minutes to arrange my clothing. I was holding the puffer vest between my knees while attempting to take off two shirts underneath my poncho, everything was wet and sticking together, and I just didn't want to get rid of anything until the very last second. Since I was way colder than expected, I decided to start the race wearing one of my base layers (a semi-fleece tech shirt) as a shrug so that my bib number was still showing and I could easily toss it, and another of my throwaway shirts wrapped around my neck like a buff. I really wish someone could have captured this stunning fashion statement because I looked absolutely ridiculous - but then again, looking around, EVERYONE looked ridiculous! Typically in wave 2 you see plenty of club singlets, lots of shorts, etc. Monday it was a mish mash of ponchos, rain jackets, random hats, shower caps, and the odd naked person like myself. Pretty much my only thought before the gun was "god I hope I'm going to be warm enough". I almost forgot to even turn my Garmin on until the "30 seconds, this will be the final announcement before the start" - that announcement gives me chills every time. And then with a bang, we were off! 

As soon as I started running, I found myself completely enveloped in the giddy joy of Boston. I was happy to be running, happy to be here, and oh SO HAPPY to not be hot. We poured down the hill out of Hopkinton, and it seemed like literally as soon as we started running the rain also came POURING down - just an absolute deluge. I really soaked up (unintentional pun hahaha)the crowd for the first 5 miles - the spectators were definitely the sparsest I've ever seen (not shocking given the weather) but the ones who were there were great, and I was hamming it up. I think I pretty much grinned and high fived my way through Hopkinton and Ashland. I had made it a goal not to really look at my watch but I couldn't help but sneak a peek at the one mile mark, mainly just to make sure I wasn't doing anything too overly stupid. Oh, 7:15 you say? Well, that looks pretty stupid to me. But I just decided not to worry about it. This was about running by feel and if that meant I was going to go out like an insane person, well, so be it.

As I gigged about my ridiculous outfit and continued to high five spectators, I vividly remember seeing some women blaze past me with very serious looks on their faces and thinking "man, they are taking this WAY too seriously right now". In my opinion, the first 3 miles of Boston should be a delightful experience - relaxed, happy, fun. You can worry about your race later. Around mile 2 or 3, I realized that my "buff" was soaked and no longer doing me any favors, so I tossed it to the side of the road. I came through the 5K in 22:29, which is like 7:10 pace or something, and far and away the fastest I've ever gone out at Boston. Blah blah blah "I'm not aiming for a PR" and yet here I was, on a course where generally the consensus is that you should go out a little slower than goal pace, and I'm running UNDER PR PACE. What was I doing? And honestly I don't know if I already had an inkling about what kind of day it was going to be, or maybe I just felt like if I did blow up I'd have an excuse because of the weather, but I just sort of shrugged and thought, well, keep staying relaxed and see how long this feels good. 

We kept running through Ashland, and I feel like this same house/group of people must blast Sweet Caroline every year because every year for the past 4 years I've heard it around here. I waved my arms in the air and shouted along - "SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!" At mile 5 it was time to take my first Gu, which was an entertaining experience - I was wearing gloves which I'm not used to and my hands were bricks, so I spent probably a minute running, trying to solve the puzzle that was my Gu in my pocket, before just giving up and deciding to eat the one I had tucked in my arm sleeve. Somewhere around mile 5 was also where I decided that my shrug was soaked beyond the point of being useful and I maneuvered myself out of that and tossed it to the side of the road. I definitely had a moment of "OK, now you're basically naked in a sea of people wearing ponchos and rain jackets, I guess it's time to race". Coming through the 10K split basically having not slowed down at all (when I look at my splits, mile 5 was a little slow maybe because of all of the Gu and clothing maneuvers), I mentally tossed my hands in the air. Obviously, I had gone out fast - faster than I ever have in any marathon, ever, and the only reason I can think of as to why is that it just felt good at the time. Whether or not I was going to be able to hold onto this pace without crashing was anyone's guess, but the choice had been made, the dice had been thrown, and there was no going back now. 

Around mile 7 my stomach actually started to give me some issues, and I spent a lot of my time in Framingham trying to figure out whether or not I was going to have to stop and use a porta potty at some point. (Spoiler alert: the answer was no) I kept breaking my own rule and sneaking peeks at my splits as they continued to sit in the 7:teens. What the heck was I doing? Was I insane? Was I going to blow up? I think in a way the weather gave me the freedom to just not care, because I thought to myself "welp, no one is exactly going to blame you if you blow up in this weather". During this stretch of the course we hit some of the little uphills and I was pleasantly surprised that my strategy from my last long run of even effort seemed to be working quite well - I would feel like I'd had a little bit taken out of me by the top of the rise, but could always get back into rhythm coasting down the back side. I will say that one of my biggest disappointments this year was that the guy in front of the window store at mile 7.6 who's usually screaming into a loudspeaker about "CHECK OUT YOUR FORM, YOU LOOK GREAT!!" wasn't out there this year! Stupid weather...

Speaking of the weather, I feel like I haven't mentioned it quite enough in this race report yet, but in case you haven't heard it was absolutely MISERABLE. I was soaked to the skin within minutes of starting the race and with a headwind and temps that were apparently in the 30s (I might have freaked out more if I had actually KNOWN it was in the 30s - I assumed we were in the 40s somewhere) it was absolutely bone chilling. If there ever was a day where it's clear that my body is really good at keeping itself warm, it was Monday. I kept panicking because the wind would blow my hat partly off my head (I was wearing a skullcap underneath it for the first part of the race) and I would frantically grab at my head to make sure it was still there...my obsession with this hat will become relevant in about 3 miles haha. 

We crossed into Natick, which has often been a thorn in my side on this course both on long runs and in the race. As we crossed the 15K mark and I saw I had once again been holding steady at right around 7:15 pace, I imagined my friends who were tracking me and wondered what they were thinking as they watched me go crazy on the course. "She's running out of her mind" was the phrase that came to mind. But was I running out of my mind in the sense of one who is just being stupid crazy, or in the sense of running a race that I or anyone else would have thought was insane? Only time would tell. The wind seemed to pick up substantially in Natick, but as we approached Natick center the crowds increased and I could hear Springsteen's "No Surrender" blasting from somewhere. This was the one moment of the whole race that almost brought tears to my eyes. Powering through the rain at the fastest pace I've ever run in a marathon, in conditions that were becoming more ridiculous by the minute, I sang under my breath: cause we made a promise we swore we'd always remember...no retreat baby, no surrender. 

Shortly after Natick center and the 10 mile mark, I did maybe the most ridiculous thing that I've ever done in a race. A huge gust of wind blew by, and I was suddenly horrified to find that MY HAT WAS GONE. I looked back and it was one the ground behind me. Without even really thinking about it, I TURNED AROUND AND WENT BACK FOR MY FREAKING HAT. It took me a couple of tries to even pick it up because my hands were frozen and my legs were only moderately functional as I squatted down and scrabbled trying to pick up this stupid hat while trying not to get in the way of everyone else. When I finally had the hat back in hand and had resumed running in the correct direction down the course, I ripped off the beanie I had been wearing under it (and that I blamed for it flying off in the first place), ripped off my gloves which by this point were completely soaked and doing me no favors anyway, tightened the velcro on the hat...and once again felt like OK, NOW we're racing. (Also, I still split a 7:17 mile despite literally going backwards, wasting time squatting down, and fiddling around with the straps of my hat so who even knows what was going on). 

Natick, I think? WITH MY HAT SAFELY ON MY HEAD. Also, already starting to pick off those red bibs. 

The quiet section of Natick that follows the 10 mile mark is an area where I've struggled in the past. I wouldn't say I struggled there on Monday but I was just having sort of a weird experience where I couldn't quite figure out where in the road to run. The wind was increasing and I was trying really hard to stay with a pack and not fight the wind on my own, but the pack kept shifting and I couldn't seem to find a group to consistently run with. We were also all running way on the right side of the road which I found strange, but I wasn't going to go off and brave the wind by myself on the left. It probably didn't help that there were almost no spectators in this area and it was super quiet - all you could here was the wind and splashing footsteps on concrete. We also got one of the several absolute downpours that would happen on and off throughout the day during this stage of the race, so you could barely even see what was coming up in front of you through the rain and fog. It was insane, but secretly? I was loving it. I was feeling really strong in a way that I've only felt a few times before in a race, and the next couple of splits only drove the point home. I glanced at my watch at mile 12 to see a 7:01 staring back at me and almost burst out laughing. Wasn't that, like, my half marathon pace? What in the world was I doing? The best way I can describe the majority of this race was feeling like a giddy dream - the wind and the rain, running these insane splits and they don't feel that bad, continuing to pass people, and just wondering how am I doing this?

Thankfully the Wellesley girls did not disappoint and despite the sparser crowds elsewhere on the course, even with the roar of the wind and rain, you could still hear that scream tunnel coming up from a quarter mile away. Having some crowd noise was infectious and powered me to yet another 7:02 mile, despite the uphill. There was definitely a little fatigue in my legs as I crested the hill into Wellesley but it seemed totally manageable - once I got over the hill I coasted and recovered, just like I had practiced. Even effort. I crossed the half marathon split in 1:34:52, which is probably in the top 1/3 of half marathons I've run in my LIFE. Once again, I imagined those splits beaming off to my friends who were tracking me and what they were thinking (I found out later they were completely FREAKING OUT with excitement). And just like in 2015, this was the first place on the course where I got a little shiver of...huh...if I don't slow down...or even if I slow down a little bit...could this be one of those magical days? 

Wellesley....I don't honestly have too much to say about Wellesley this year! I was cold and I was wet and I was a little bit tired but I didn't slow down, just kept grinding down the road. I took my 3rd Gu at 15 which again was quite a process, with my increasingly frozen hands and the logistics of maneuvering my hands to the back pocket of my wet shorts. I still stand by my decision to ditch the gloves at 10 - while I know my hands were bone cold beyond the point of functioning well, I don't think soaking wet gloves would have made a difference. I rolled on the downhill after mile 15, just letting myself fall down the hill. All along I'd been thinking that there had to be some point where the wheels would fall of, or I'd get cold, or SOMETHING awful would happen, but here I was at mile 15 with things still really going remarkably well. I felt strong, running felt good, and I was beginning to reach the point of the race where the wheels were indeed starting to fall off for some of my competitors. This is by far the most place hungry I've ever felt in a marathon and particularly at Boston - the feeling of plowing through fields of my slowing competitors was just intoxicating. 

We finished the long descent and headed into what is typically one of my least favorite parts of the course, the hill over the freeway overpass at mile 16. One thing I noticed in the middle miles of this race was that I was unusually distracted by things (possibly my brain functioning on survival mode due to cold), and here was a great example. As we headed up towards the hill, I noticed someone wearing what had to be a GBTC singlet over a poncho. I spent the next several minutes trying to figure out which teammate this was while simultaneously trying to catch up to her, and in the process DID NOT EVEN NOTICE THE HILL. By the time I had finally figured out that a) it was my teammate Shannon and b) she had to be having a great race (she was, eventually finishing first for our team in 3:03 with a huge PR), and c) that I wasn't going to be able to catch up to her, we were over the hill and headed down towards Newton Wellesley! So that was just delightful haha. 

I knew that the real make or break point of the race was coming up in Newton. In my mind I was still on the train of "you could die at ANY time!" and was trying not to make a big deal out of my splits (half of which I hadn't even seen because I was trying really hard not to fixate on my watch). As I headed towards the Newton turn I could almost palpably feel the energy of the crowd pick up. By this point the road was practically flooded, it was absolutely pouring, the wind was whipping everywhere with only a more direct headwind expected as soon as we made the turn at the firehouse, and the fans in Newton still. showed. up. We made the turn after mile 17, and it was go time.

The first hill, fondly known in my mind as "Ass Panther Hill", is probably my least favorite on the course as I find it to be more jarring than Heartbreak (which you sort of expect) and just seems to get me right where it hurts every time. But oh, NOT TODAY. I remembered feeling powerful running up this hill in 2015, and what I got on Monday was that multiplied by 4. I can't remember ever feeling so strong on a hill! The crowds in Newton were really latching on to my Greater Boston singlet - I think because so many people were just wearing ponchos and jackets with no identifying features, anything to make you stand out especially Boston related got the crowd's attention. The constant GO GREATER BOSTON! and LOOKING STRONG! cheers buoyed me as I passed people up the hill. At one point, per usual, I heard someone asking about "was that it? was that Heartbreak?" No one in the vicinity seemed to know, or they didn't have the energy to say, and I so I made the correction that sorry, but this is only #1/3! 

This actually may be the second Newton hill but whatever, we needed a photo to break things up

I knew that after the first hill I had a decent amount of time to coast before the second, and it was helpful to break it up that way. Get up this one, sure you feel the burn for a second, but then you get to coast. Then again. Then one more time. By this point I had finally gotten something stuck in my head, a song that had rapidly shot it's way up to the top of my list of training anthems - "This Is Me" from the Greatest Showman. As the rain continued to pour I sang in my head: another round of bullets hits my skin...well fire away, cause today I won't let the shame sink in, we are bursting through the barricades and reaching for the sun, we are WARRIORS, yeah, that's what we'll become. In the wind and the freezing rain I ABSOLUTELY felt like a warrior, and it was amazing. 

Newton continued. I saw DANA around mile 18 or 19 which was amazing, and I threw up my arms and screeched. I had so much more extra energy than I ever have during this race - multiple times I found myself hamming it up for the spectators, trying to pump up the crowd, waving my arms in the air, etc. I coasted the downhill before the next major hill and was rewarded with a 7:06 split, though I didn't know it at the time. I'm still looking at these splits in just total awe, as I've never run a sub 7:10 mile in a marathon before in my life, and there were a LOT of them happening in this race. Soon enough we were at the second hill, which wasn't too much of a problem. For the first time all race, I started to think that I actually might be doing something special here. If I could get over Heartbreak in one piece and then turn on the jets on the other side...well...what would that even mean? My brain was definitely losing the capacity to do math, since when I passed the 19 mile mark in 2:17 I thought "oh my God, I could run 6 miles in an hour and still run a best for the course!" Except, ya know, there are actually 7 miles left in a marathon when you pass mile 19...lol. I figured it out when I passed the 20 mile mark (2:24 something, a 20 mile PR). OK, NOW I could run 6 miles in an hour and still run under 3:25! The mental math that happens in the late stages of marathons is really just hilarious. Somewhere in here we got another burst of the Noah's Ark style deluges, which was just nice and refreshing. I also saw a gentleman and a maybe 10 year old kid randomly breakdancing under a tent, which was hilarious and memorable. 

I took my last Gu at 20 which felt like an epic accomplishment, since it was tucked in my more makeshift shorts pocket which was nearly impossible to access with my increasingly frozen hands and soaking wet everything. But I did it! Achievement unlocked! Unfortunately then when I threw it to the side of the road I way misjudged my throw and basically threw it at a fellow runner...sorry, random guy! I haven't mentioned hydration much in this report - I was definitely taking water but basically was doing so because I knew I was supposed to, not because I wanted to. I took a cup with each Gu and probably grabbed cups at maybe 4 or 5 other water stations throughout the race. I tried to thank each and every volunteer I came in contact with because seriously these people were ROCKSTARS. My personal favorite was the lady yelling "water, ICE COLD WATER....yeah that's just what you guys need!"

Finally, Heartbreak loomed. I haven't commented on it recently but in case anyone was wondering it was still pouring, still freezing, and the wind was still in my face. The pack was the sparsest I had ever seen in this section - something I would realize afterward that probably was because I was running well from the front of wave 2 - and so I wasn't really able to do much in the way of drafting, but I tried. I saw my friend Adina cheering like crazy just before we headed into the meat of the hill, and that was enough to give me a boost. I put my head down and hauled ass. Somewhere on my left, a group was handing out beers and shouting TAKE A BEER! TAKE A BEER! Maybe some other day, kids. Today is a different kind of day. Heartbreak was and probably will always be my slowest mile of Boston, this year clocking in at 7:39, but that's the fastest I've made it up it and now I knew I was home free. When I thought about this race beforehand, literally my only goal was to have enough in the tank after Heartbreak to hammer the last 5 miles, a la my performance in 2015. There weren't specific splits or times attached to the hammering, I just wanted to be able to GO. 

Newton somewhere, maybe Heartbreak? It's hard to tell exactly where some of these photos were taken. Also just continuing to plow my way through the red bibs.

Well, here I was. I had fucking made it over Heartbreak, all systems go, somehow still running at PR marathon pace, and it all started to hit me. This day was utterly insane in every way, a day not built in the slightest for fast running, and for me to be running so well seemed like the most insane thing of all. I sort of smiled to myself because clearly, we are now 100% sure of what kind of weather I thrive in - THE INSANE KIND. As I started powering down the BC downhill, I noticed that the crowds were both sparse and quiet - a total turnaround from any warm year at BC. This was unacceptable to me, so I spent the entire downhill waving my arms and trying to fire up the crowd. I'm sure what looked in my head like a badass pump up gesture actually looked ridiculous, but I got my wish and the crowd made some extra noise as I ran mile. The graveyard mile I focused on just maintaining - relaxed and focused. I kept finding a pack to draft off of only to find that they were running too slowly for me, and I would have to move on and find a new one. I probably spent more energy than would be ideal weaving in the road in my attempts to find a shield from the wind during this stretch, but it took my mind off the increasing fatigue in my legs and the tantalizing thought of how close I was to the finish. 

Very quickly, we were at the Cleveland Circle downhill, where I stepped very carefully in an effort to avoid being wiped out by the train tracks. Just around the corner I experienced my absolute favorite random spectator moment of the day: a group of college age guys started chanting "GREA-TER BOS-TON *clap clap clap clap clap*" and I was so overtaken with glee that I turned to them, beamed, and clapped right along with them! I felt like a powerhouse as I headed towards Washington Square. Naturally things were starting to get harder, but I found that I could hold onto sub-7:10 pace with what felt like just the right level of effort. I continued to pass people constantly - it was funny, because I was running near a couple of other girls around my age and wearing a similar (read: not warm enough) outfit, and the 3 or 4 of us were just motoring past the detrius of wave 1 men like they were standing still. It was hilarious and I loved it. When I ran a 7:08 for mile 23, it finally really dawned on me that I was running a fucking PR. After swearing up and down this wasn't a PR attempt, give me a goddamn freezing headwind monsoon and all of a sudden I show up to light the world on fire. It was incredible. I also knew that in just over a mile I would see my teammates who had been tracking me all morning, and when I did they did NOT disappoint. They were there just after mile 24, going absolutely nuts. There's really something special to have teammates at a race where you're running well, when they know exactly what you've put into your running and know exactly how much better this race is than anything you've ever done before. I literally gave them like a shrug or something, like "I have no idea how I'm doing this?!" And then, just after I passed, I hear my friend scream at the top of her lungs "DESI WON!!!"

OH MY GOD I literally whipped my head around in disbelief, nearly cramped up my leg, and almost burst into tears. The professional runner who I admire the most, who had been somewhat under the radar in the overall American women at Boston this year conversation, had WON! If I needed anything else to get me through the last 2 miles, this was it. The fatigue was finally starting to show up but I knew that I was still feeling better than I had during my last marathon PR, and I had this. Improbably, unexpectedly, gloriously, I HAD THIS. I somehow managed to get distracted again during the little spike of an uphill that comes just before mile 25, and again almost didn't percieve the fact that I'd had to run uphill - this time because I was trying to avoid a woman who was attempting to run but struggling and kind of weaving all over, and didn't really seem OK - I hope she made it to the finish line alright! Then it was mile 25, and the downhill, and I tried to do some math in my head but couldn't quite make it work. What do I even have to run this last 1.2 miles in to run a PR? Who knows. Just do it.

Thunderstruck.

NO ONE HAS EVER CAPTURED ME WITH THE CITGO SIGN BEFORE IN 7 TRIES I'M SO EXCITED (now I'm excited, then I was pretty much like OK please this can be over now thanks)

The last mile of the race was absolutely the hardest mile of the race (and one of my slowest as well, though I didn't really perceive it at the time). Finally my body was completely over the whole being absolutely freezing thing and my legs started becoming less interested in the whole idea of moving forward. This was made even more difficult by the fact that I again kept running into the backs of people slowing down in front of me - I nearly wiped out trying to dodge a guy in a poncho. I locked eyes onto the back of a fellow lightly dressed woman in a Prospect Park Track Club singlet as we dipped under the bridge and back up that final little uphill. It was an absolute fight, but I was a warrior. I was almost there, almost about to run a PR on the day of Boston weather that everyone is going to be talking about FOREVER, and I was not going to give in.

We turned right on Hereford and the minor uphill that exists here just about killed me. A guy in front of me spent the entire street ripping off his heat sheet in what seemed to be slow motion and all I could think was that he was going to throw it on the ground and trip me. My legs were locking up and finally, 25.5 miles later, I had arrived at my stop on the pain train. 
PAIN TRAIN (and red bibbed guy with his heat blanket that thankfully did not get thrown at me)

And here we were at the most glorious of all possible turns, left on Boylston. Usually at this point in the race I'm just celebrating my survival and try to soak in the crowds, but I stayed in race mode. I found the blue line that they draw on the ground and I stared at that line like my life depended on it and tried to keep moving forward as fast as I could. This year there was no mythical, magical, chills inducing moment on Boylston, it was just me racing as fast as I could go - which in a way was magical and chills inducing on it's own, but I was too deep in the cave to notice. I've only had the experience of having something left in the tank at the end of a marathon a couple of times, and while there wasn't a whole lot after 26 miles into the wind and the rain, there was just enough to dig in and find a little bit more, just a little bit longer. When I passed the mile 26 sign I was way too far gone to do math but I was able to get eyes on the finish line clock which was somewhere in the 3:09s with .2 miles to go. I couldn't even believe it. I locked eyes on the clock and powered forward, willing my body to arrive at the line before the 3:10 that I could now see turned into a 3:11. I sprinted out the life in me and found just enough energy to throw my arms in the air and smile as I crossed the line in absolute triumph with a FREAKING PR. 

I love this pic - I ran stride for stride with and crossed the finish line with this girl, as we lead a sea of men in red bibs. Who run the world? Girls.

Final sprint to the finish, giving it everything


I crossed the line and squealed, then give my new friend 9502 a high five. "I can't believe I just ran a PR!" I shrieked. "ME TOO!" she replied. We high fived again and then headed briskly towards the volunteers with heat ponchos. I hardly even felt the cold because I was on cloud 9. I was grinning, thanking every volunteer I saw (the guy yelling "COLD, WET BANANAS, GET YOUR COLD WET BANANAS HERE BEFORE THEY'RE GONE" just made me giggle) and just loving every second. The feeling was different than what I felt at Baystate, because that race was and felt like just this huge culmination. This just felt like...hilarious, giddy, joyful, wonderful craziness. 

I look kind of awkward when I'm smiling too hard lol

I made my way through the finishing chute half laughing and half happy crying and over to bag check, where I immediately became aware of the fact that I must have been WAY up in wave 2, because the wave 2 bag check tents were deserted but the wave 1 tents were chaos. The only person in front of me in line was a gentleman who had literally stripped down to his underwear in front of the gear check tent, lol. I got my stuff and headed to the changing tent which was yet another hilarious spectacle that I've never experienced. EVERYTHING was wet, there was a giant puddle in the corner, and everyone was trying desperately to keep their dry stuff dry while attempting to peel off soaking clothes with frozen hands. One girl next to me was like "does anyone's hands work, because I can NOT zip this zipper?" We were all laughing at how absurd it was. I also ran into my teammate Shannon, the mysterious mile 16 runner, in the tent and I congratulated her on an awesome race as we commiserated at how cold and wet we were. I successfully managed to change into my dry layers on top, but gave up on the idea of trying to maneuver spandex tights, and so wound up walking to the bar where the team was meeting up clad in warm upper layers, my race poncho, shorts, and Ugg boots. Definitely one of my finer looks that I've achieved in life hahaha. 

With my cheer squad and coach post-race...still looking like an absolute hobo hahaha

Even wrapping up this post almost a week later, I'm still a little bit in disbelief at what an amazing race I ran on Monday. The day before the race I made a couple of posts on twitter in an attempt to psych myself up for the weather. The first was related to running by feel no matter what the weather and sticking to the plan, even knowing that the final number on the clock might be higher than expected due to the conditions. The second one said this: 
"The takeaway is that 90% of the time, conditions aren't going to be optimal, and even if they ARE it doesn't mean your race will match. So I'm psyching myself up to draft like crazy, embrace the madness, and burn the boats tomorrow!"

I thought of that phrase, "burn the boats", a few times during the race, actually sort of a hilarious mantra on a day when you practically NEEDED a boat to get down the course. I had read it somewhere, I think in The Morning Shakeout newsletter, as the idea that in pursuit of a goal you need to make it so there's no turning back. When I went out for the first 5K, 10K, 15K in a faster pace than I'd ever run even a 20 mile race at, let alone a marathon, I was unintentionally (or was it?) burning the boats. There was no going back. Somewhere deep down I knew that I could handle and even thrive in the insane conditions, and that I could run a marathon at that pace. My brain didn't know it until I crossed the finish line, but I think my gut instinct and my body knew it long before, and after almost 10 years of long distance running, those are the things that I'm finally learning to trust.

After Baystate I said I was setting my sights on sub-3:10, but not until 2019 - I've NEVER run two PR marathon races back to back in my entire running career. To now be so close to that and having run it under clearly less than ideal conditions (maybe in some ways ideal for me, but I don't think anyone would disagree that I could have run faster without a 30 mph headwind blowing in my face) makes me think that not only is it doable, but maybe even a little faster is doable? I'm still certainly not in club #sub3dreamers but Monday made me wonder if in a couple of years something closer to 3:05 might be a possibility after all. If you'd asked me 2 years ago if I'd ever run a 3:10 marathon, I'd have laughed in your face. 3:10s and aiming for below that were for the fast girls on my team, the ones who scored points. On Monday, I was 4th runner on my team of very talented runners, and was out of scoring position by less than a minute. Consistency, it seems, and a little bit of willingness to embrace absolutely batshit crazy conditions, paid off for me in a big way. And freeing myself from the weight of expectations or specific goals and just going out there and just running - wind in my face, rain pouring down, totally present and alive and in the moment - was what made the magic happen.

As Des Linden said: "Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better. My advice: keep showing up."

Boston Marathon 2018
3:10:47 (PR)
3492/25746 OA, 300/11604 F, 273/5783 F18-39

Splits:
7:15, 7:08, 7:13, 7:08, 7:21, 7:10, 7:12, 7:19, 7:13, 7:15, 7:18, 7:01, 7:02, 7:07, 7:19, 7:06, 7:32, 7:28, 7:06, 7:18, 7:39, 7:04, 7:08, 7:08, 7:09, 7:36, 6:41 pace for final 0.2

This race is dedicated to Dayton, truly the best boy, who crossed the rainbow bridge 3 days after Boston but stayed with us long enough to be awarded this medal for best dog ever. 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The "close enough" PR: New Bedford Half 2018

Another long overdue race report! Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to get caught up on this thing, but then I remember how much I enjoy reading my own old race reports (seriously, every year before Boston I go back and reread ALL of my ever-growing number of Boston race reports) and how having those memories will be pretty cool 10, 20, 50 years down the line. So, 2 weeks ago I ran the New Bedford Half Marathon. I ALMOST didn't do it - in fact, I literally signed up for the race 29 minutes before online registration closed. This race is THE Boston tune-up race to do if you're a competitive New England runner. It falls 4 weeks out from Boston, has been a USATF-NE grand prix race for as long as I can remember (meaning excellent competition across the board), and is a course with its own quirky and delightful set of challenges. Because I have typically run well on this course I think I trick myself into believing that it's easy, but that's a lie; miles 2-4 involve 3 large hills which increase in size and slope topping out with a lovely half mile slog over a highway. The middle miles of the course really are a delight, including a long gradual downhill that is often protected from the wind, giving you a chance to really fly from miles 5-9. However, the end of the race rains on your parade in epic fashion: first of all, there is ALWAYS a headwind of varying degree from miles 10-11. Seriously, I've run this race 6 times, and every single time there is a headwind. There's also a long slog of an uphill that hits just after mile 12 - of course, EXACTLY where you want it in a half!  All of these things considered, I really had questioned whether I wanted to put myself through the trouble of racing this course when I felt I wasn't in ideal shape. But peer pressure and loyalty to the team caught up with me, and so I found myself making the journey to the land of whales, wind, and fish chowder.

The weather for New Bedford is notoriously unpredictable, but this year winter was decidedly still around on March 18 and the temperature at the start of the race was 25 degrees and windy. Not pleasant! The parking and porta potty situations were also complicated and by the time everyone was able to get their numbers, find a locker, and use the bathroom our warmup time was limited. Huddled into the corral with the wind whipping around, I wondered again why the hell I was doing this. I certainly wasn't going to run a PR today, oh no. Just a good workout, don't worry about it, whatever whatever. And go.

The first mile of the race is pretty much downhill which is nice, but this year we were also running straight into the freezing headwind which was...decidedly less nice. Still, I felt better than I did last year, so things were off to a good start. However, during mile 2 I began to have problems. I have this problem, to greater or lesser degrees, EVERY TIME I RUN THIS RACE - 6 times now! I start having to deal with hills early on in the race, and lose all semblance of mental composure. This year it was worse than normal for a couple of reasons - first, whatever direction the wind was blowing this year had us directly in the line of fire while ascending the hills. Second, I had been sick pretty much the whole week before the race (literally the day before was the first time I even thought myself capable of running) and I felt like I was being suffocated by my own bodily fluids. Snot was running down my face, into my throat, I was coughing and spitting and trying to catch my breath which was hard ENOUGH while running up this stupid uphill. It was terrible. I'm not exaggerating one bit when I say that between how I felt and how slowly I was running, I wanted to drop out at mile 3. The splits I ran on the hill section (7:10, 7:32, 7:27) were the slowest I've run that section of the race except for maybe the first year I ran it, when I ran a 1:38.  It was bad.

And yet, I did not drop out. Instead, when we finally turned the corner out of the wind and into the long downhill section, I tried to get a groove going. I wasn't really looking at my watch any more but just trying to fall into some sort of rhythm. It took awhile. When I saw coach Rod at mile 5 I must have still looked like a wreck, because the cheers he gave me were something like "it's OK!" haha. I actually took a Gu here, much earlier than usual, in the hopes that it would help me somehow. Oddly my arms of all things were actually cramping up, I think because I'd been tensing them so aggressively against the freezing wind. But whether it was the Gu, the downhill, being out of the wind, or something else, all of a sudden a switch flipped. I then proceeded to run the best middle miles of a half marathon that I've ever run in my life, feeling amazing while doing so. I continued accelerating through the downhill: 6:48, 6:45, 6:31! I started finding my way back past women who had passed me on the hills. Suddenly, everything was glorious! Coming back from such a trash performance on the early hills to now be running the fastest I ever had through this section was a huge confidence boost. We came off the hill at mile 8 but the course stays flat, and I tried to keep my foot on the gas - with an amount of success that shocked me. 6:46, 6:47, holy shit. I was perplexed, but also delighted. How was I running so well?

But then, the part of the race that I knew was coming came...and oh boy, suddenly things were not so delightful. Right around mile 9 you make this turn that every year turns you straight into the wind. This year definitely wasn't as bad as last year (when you could see people's posture physically change as they turned the corner) but it was still a cold blast in the face. Still, for the first mile along the water I thought I handled myself pretty well. I slowed down a little bit (7:03) but a reasonable amount considering the wind and the stage of the race, and I was delighted to notice that I had run an unofficial 2 minute 10 mile PR of 1:09 something as I passed the 10 mile clock. I had a really great mantra running through my head at this point that I can't remember for the life of me, but it was something along the lines of "you can handle this" stated in a more poetic way. However, no mantra could save me from the escalation of the wind as we passed into mile 11 - such a subtle curve in the direction of the road that took the wind from manageable to a whole lot less manageable. It didn't help that I had found myself without a pack at this point, so couldn't draft off anyone or find shelter anywhere. At the same time, my legs were also starting to be like "hey remember when you ran that 10 mile PR back there? WE ARE TIRED NOW". The wheels were starting to fall off.

We finally got off the water and I was hoping for some sort of reprieve, but unfortunately mother nature was extremely cruel this year and found a way to send the wind blasting straight in our faces as we headed towards the final hill. Mentally I really started to lose it here. I was so exhausted and just the idea of getting through the next two miles was already overwhelming, so to have an icy wind blasting in my face to the point where my eyes were tearing up was just too much to manage. I literally felt like I was crawling up and over the final hill - it never seemed like it was going to end. I feel like this last hill hits me differently every year; some years it's totally manageable but this was not one of those years.

But then we made it to the top of the hill, and I knew there was less than half a mile left and a lot of it was down hill. I had stopped even looking at my watch or trying to do math but I knew just based on my general knowledge of splits I'd run over and under 7 flat pace that I was somehow, bizarrely, in position to potentially PR. And so I summoned up every last bit of strength that I had left in my legs and I sprinted my guts out down the hill and into the final straightaway. Coming up on the clock I saw that there was a 1:32 on it. I've only run a 1:32 once in my life and that was my PR. So coming down the stretch, obviously I was only thinking of getting there as rapidly as possible, but I was also thinking about the fact that my PR was a 1:32:34 - exactly the gun time as I crossed the line. As I had started 12 seconds back from the start, my official time was a 1:32:22 - a hilarious, unexpected PR!

Now here's where the story gets a little bit funny. I had run a 12 second PR, and a time that I hadn't even approached since 2015, and it was the most anticlimactic thing. It had just been such a bizarre race that I found myself just sort of being like, huh. How did THAT happen? THEN I went home and looked at my Strava from my previous PR (the NYC half on the old course) and found that my PR was actually a 1:32:23 - so my 12 second PR was actually a 1 SECOND PR. That was funny enough - only then I was looking at my PR page on this here blog, and my PR from that race is listed as a 1:32:21! So was I 1 second over or 1 second under?? In the end, I've decided to give myself credit for a PR performance at New Bedford, whether or not the time was officially a PR. My previous PR was run on a much easier course under essentially PERFECT conditions (low 40s, overcast, NO wind to speak of) so this was clearly a more impressive race in the end. This also clearly means that somehow, I must be fit. This season I've run a near PR in the mile, a PR in the 5K, unofficial PRs in the 10K and 10 mile (both in this New Bedford race and yes my 10K PR is just unbelievably soft- I've gotta work on that), and essentially a PR in the half marathon. That's like...pretty much everything! I honestly have no clue what I've been doing to set myself up for this, as I haven't been doing anything crazy training wise and have in fact been doing probably a little bit less mileage than usual - definitely down significantly from the summer/fall. The only thing I can think of is that I'm taking the fitness I built over the summer and maintaining/continuing to capitalize on it, and also that the experience I've gained racing some shorter stuff is benefiting me in the longer stuff as well. While I still think the half marathon distance is sort of my nemesis (the pace required is just so hard to run for such a long distance!) this race did make me very curious as to how I could bring down my time in the half with an actual half-specific training cycle, which I may end up tackling in the fall. It's funny, because when I thought about my plan for Boston, my real plan was "train for a 5K PR, then train for a half PR, and then run Boston for funzies". I wouldn't exactly say I did the specific training part of those first two items, but I got the results, so I must be doing something right. Maybe having some fun at Boston will yield a surprising result too! Who knows? Running definitely is never boring!