I raced, I raced, I raced, I raced, I raaaaced! And it was - it had to be - that thing that I desperately needed to wake my mind up, give it a good shake, and be like "HELLO, you love this shit...and you are in way better shape than you even know....so get your act together and let's kick some ass, shall we?"
So what was the race where I chose to make my glorious return after 3 months off of racing? Why, one of the hilliest, hardest distance races in New England, of course! Basically, the sum of all of the things I heard about Cape Ann before running it would go something like this "holy hell HILLS there are so many HILLS and you die and you should expect to run slow because of the HILLS they just never end...oh but it's by the ocean so it's pretty." Needless to say, I wasn't exactly super pumped for the race, but marathon training makes us do some crazy things and I think I knew that I needed some sort of stimulus to get myself out of my mental slump - running a crazy hilly race would be just the thing, right? I really kind of forgot I was racing until I was standing on the start line...I didn't buy any Gu for the race, didn't really prepare any special way, and was just kind of like...woo hoo, this will be fun and random and an insta-PR!
So I was up bright and early Monday morning - so weird to race on a Monday since those are usually my time honored day off - and headed to Gloucester to run through the hills for 15.56 miles. We went on an interesting warmup/adventure to avoid the INSANE porta potty lines (when will race directors learn that 12 porta potties isn't enough for 700 runners with pre-race nerves?), then I hunted down the GBTC coach to get my singlet...yes...believe it or not...I am now an official GBTC runner! Only took me a year to get up the guts to join, but if there's one way to improve its to run with a group and run with faster runners...so while I can't help but be intimidated by a lot of the women on the team (case in point: our top 2 women took 2nd and 3rd female overall at Cape Ann) I know all I can do is train to be the best runner I personally can be, and running with such an incredible group is going to help me get there. So putting on my new, red singlet for the first time was really, really exciting. :) Soon enough we were on the line...after some confusion between the starts for the 25K and 7K and with zero announcements or ado, some kind of weird horn sounded and we were off!
I didn't really know what kind of pacing strategy to go with given that the race was longer than a half and the course was way hillier than any half I had ever run before, so I just decided to focus on staying relaxed and focused and see how things developed. I kept myself entertained the first few miles by counting hills (the course claims "16 major hills"...considering I counted 14 in the first 8 miles, I'd say there were quite a few minor ones as well) and trying to escape the conversations about IT band problems, travel, and boats being had by random groups of middle aged men nearby. Around mile 3 a little kid yelled "only halfway there!" and I kind of laughed...I wished! But so far things were feeling pretty good despite the hills - I was just focusing on maintaining effort up the hills and not hammering, then getting my breath and my legs back on the flats and downhills and just preparing for the next climb. Throughout the race there were spectators kind of scattered throughout (including some random drum circles and a 'mile 11.85 aid station'), and it was really cool to once in awhile hear someone yell "Go Greater Boston!" in my direction...I had to smile every time. It inspired me too to run just a little bit harder, because hell, if you run for GBTC people assume you are FAST!
For most of the first half of the race most of my thoughts were being perplexed that I was feeling so good. I was really holding my own spot in the pack, and I just felt really relaxed and smooth, like the hills weren't really affecting me at all. I just kept ticking off the miles - 7:43, 7:37, 7:37, 7:39, 7:47, 8:01, 7:53, 7:25 - just letting it ride with the ups and downs of the hills and holding a steady relaxed effort. By mile 8 I was getting lulled into the rhythm of the run and feeling quite secure about my life...and then we turned a corner and I was staring down a hill of death and destruction. Hoooooooly crap I thought that thing was never going to end....I so desperately wanted to walk, but one of the pros of hanging with a faster bunch of people in a race is that people at that pace aren't going to walk up a damn hill at mile 8...so I just gritted my teeth and hauled some ass up the hill. When I hit the top I'm pretty sure I sounded like I was actively in the process of dying...enough so that some random woman asked me "are you ok, sweetie?" Argh...ok...so yeah I sounded somewhat death-like but we had just run up an 800 meter hill and sometimes I breath loud when I'm working HARD...no need to go all condescending with the 'sweetie' crap. Sooo obviously the best course of action was to immediately pass her to show her that indeed, i was just peachy. Heh.
Miles 9-12 were kind of a blur...the pack kept weaving from side to side of the street which was...odd....and traffic got really sketchy and sort of disorganized - a couple of cops directing things or cones creating a lane for the runners would have been nice. We ran through a cute little seaside town which was very pretty as far as I can remember, and I started focusing on reeling the few women I could see ahead of me in and getting past them. There was awhile where I was leapfrogging with a cluster of 3 girls, one who looked about my age, and every time I thought I would clear them on a hill they would catch me on a flat. Finally I just kind of said to myself, OK, now or never. Get past them and STAY past them, because you're going to be beyond mad if you let them get away or even keep them in range and then have them blow you up with a kick at the end. The mile markers were off I'm pretty sure during this section (as much fun as it was to look down and see 7:05 for a mile split, the 8:46 that followed was much less exciting...and both were untrue) but I was still staying relatively smooth and feeling relatively relaxed. I was apparently starting to get warm too, which I didn't really realize until I ran through a water stop, drank some water, and dumped the rest on my head, and it felt SO good. It was like...oh...I guess I was hot? Haha. Obviously fatigue was starting to sink in quite a bit, but still nowhere near what I was thinking I would feel based on the horror stories I had heard. I came through the half around 1:42 which is my second best half ever, hilariously.
After that I pretty much just really wished that the race had been a damn half marathon instead of a 25K...because the last 2.56 miles seemed to take forevvvver. The field was really spread out by that point so while I did reel in one more woman and pass her around mile 15, there wasn't a whole lot competition wise to really hang onto. Somewhere in mile 14 was the second hill that really stands out in my memory, mainly because my quads were getting ready to curl up and die, then I came up to this big hill. You get to the top and you think you're heading straight over the hump to a downhill, but instead a volunteer points you to turn right and you keep. heading. uphill. CRUEL! But by this point I knew I hadn't slowed down that much and that I had, in my mind, 'won', because I honestly went into the race thinking I was going to struggle to hold 8:20s based on my long run pace lately and what I had heard about the course. Mile 15 was at sort of a desolate stretch right before we went under a highway, and it was like...ahhh...soooo close...then we ran up the BRICK WALL hill which I knew was coming, but was just this short but absurdly steep hill leading up to the finish. Up the hill, DONE with hills, kick kick kick, through the finish....and DONE! 2:01:25...7:49 pace. Holy effing crap! Because the deal with Cape Ann is this - apparently, given the extreme difficult of the course and how far out it is from Baystate, the pace you run at this race is supposedly a good indicator of the type of pace you could run at Baystate (ie, a flat marathon). Excuse me.....what? Obviously there's only so much stock you can put in that sort of thing, but both Kelly and her husband said that last year it held true for them within a few seconds per mile. Needless to say, that would be INSANE and I would probably die of happiness.
Basically, I'm really pleased with and proud of my performance. It was so incredible to remember what it's like to RACE...and to run a solid race at that. I've never felt so strong on hills in my life, and it was really excellent to see that all of the hill running I've been doing has actually been having some sort of effect. Considering the last race above a 5K where I didn't crash/burn/want to cry/fail at was New Bedford....6 MONTHS ago...it was spectacular and really important I think to get that feeling and remember it...to not forget that while there are times and races when running just plain sucks, there are also times and races when you surprise yourself and things are just wonderful. I think racing longer races is a great thing for me mentally and physically in this marathon training cycle...so logically, my next move is to race the Nahant 30K this coming weekend. Long runs are WAY more fun when you do them with friends...right? :)