Saturday, March 26, 2016

New Bedford Half Marathon Race Report 2016

Great news #1: I actually had a good race!
Great news #2: On my 4th attempt, I FINALLY dressed appropriately for New Bedford!

On Sunday, I raced the New Bedford Half Marathon for the 4th time. This race is such a thing among competitive New England runners that I practically can't imagine doing anything else St. Patrick's Day weekend. Except last year, when I eloped to NYC, but I think we can all agree that the memories made and the huge PR I came away with made that trip worthwhile. This year, with a destination half already in the books, it was time to head back to the delightful streets of New Bedford and do battle there yet again. This course, while somewhat challenging, has always been one I've been able to run well on. Each time I've run this race, I've run a PR. My expectations for Sunday were not quite that lofty; my legs were seriously feeling the impact of several weeks of high mileage and the shakeout run I did the day before the race felt like it could have been done more effectively by a sloth. For the first time in awhile, I was genuinely nervous for a race. I was nervous about my entire left leg - Achilles, hip, et al - behaving. I was nervous about my legs even deciding to show up for the race! And of course, receiving an email from coach Tom entitled "The Teeth of the New Bedford Wind" which basically detailed all of the horrifying ways the wind was going to suck in this race did not do wonders for my confidence.

I ended up staying the night in Joy's guest bedroom before the race which was fantastic, since she lives 2 miles from the course. We carbo-loaded at a lovely little Italian joint right on the course and crashed early...we tried to watch the track worlds, but when we tuned to the channel that said "Track and Field" on the guide it was showing....a muscle car auction. Uh, OK. An 11 am race without a commute means sleeping in until a lusciously late 8 am. I got up and watched Molly Huddle unleash a ferocious kick to win the NYC Half, wished I was there, and then munched on a bagel with PB (first time going with PB instead of butter in like...years) and waited for the rest of our crew to arrive. Now came the most challenging part of the day: outfit selection. The high for the day was 36 and I knew there would be wind, but I also had this sense that every year I've run this race I've found myself too warm at some point or another. I ended up going with arm warmers and capris; looking back I probably could have done shorts but I don't think it made a difference either way.

We started jogging over to pick up our bibs, and the wind was immediately everywhere - it was one of those winds where no matter which direction you're going, it just seems to be THERE. I was still feeling generally not stellar and just way too nervous. I just really, really didn't want this to be awful. I NEEDED this race to be OK. And jogging through New Bedford in a pack with my teammates, I wasn't really sure if it would be.

We picked up our numbers and basically had enough time to stash our stuff in a locker at the Y and then head to the line. We briefly saw Tom who probably said some useful things but I was way too deep in the OH GOD THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW to hear what they were. Then we headed to the line. It was cold and I just wanted to be into it. Luckily I didn't have too long to wait - about 5 minutes later, we were off!

I was planning on going out fairly conservatively, and so I watched Joy and Dana and Taylor go streaming off in front of me. One of the most challenging things about racing with teammates is that while I've learned that I run much better with a more relaxed start, its so damn tempting to stay up with your friends. But I watched them go. My plan was basically to run New Bedford like I've already successfully run New Bedford: go out fairly relaxed and handle the early hills without burning up my legs, cruise the long slight downhill, and then see what's left for the wind and the hill back into the city. So for the first several miles, I had a refrain running through my head: relaxed and smooth and easy. Relaxed and smooth and easy. I must have repeated that to myself 100 times over the course of those first 4 miles. Grand Prix races are awesome because there's great, fast competition, but they also make you feel wicked slow sometimes - I felt like I was just constantly getting passed! Around mile 1 I came up on Joy, who informed me that our first mile split was 6:52 - yikes! Shortly after I came up on Taylor and ran alongside her for a bit before passing and heading off into the hills. There are 3 big rollers between miles 2-4 that get bigger with each one, and while I was aware that my pace would slow a bit as I headed up the hill I was still maintaining the relaxed feeling I was looking for at this point in events. Stay calm up, recover on the down. 3 times, up and over. My splits got kind of screwy on my watch at this point but I think mile 2 was 6:58, mile 3 7:10ish, and mile 4 7:21 - mile 4 is the one with the hill that lasts about a half mile and EVERY YEAR I see a shitty split there and throw a fit about it. Not today! I knew it was coming, looked at it, and promptly forgot about it. Onward!

After cresting the big hill, it was time for my most favorite part of any course ever - about 3 miles of gradual decline, YAY! Unfortunately, despite my relaxed initial pace I wasn't feeling as spectacular on this part of the course as I usually do. My stupid left pelvis/hip niggle decided to say hello around mile 4 and while it never really crossed over into true pain, it was present enough to make me feel like pushing things any further would be a poor life choice. I think there's something really calming and pleasing about running a course you're familiar with, because you know exactly where you are at any given time. The problem with this particular situation was that I was comparing how I felt in the moment to how I remembered feeling 2 years ago, and the answer was "less good". My pace, while OK, was hanging out in the low 7:00s and I vividly remembered throwing down some 6:5x miles in 2014. But for the moment, I felt like I was making the right call with the pace I was at and decided to just continue to try to maintain it. I think there might have even been a 7:15 in there somewhere, which I wasn't thrilled with, but I kind of accepted it and moved on.

Also in the back of my mind was the upcoming wind situation. We were already getting a pretty stiff crosswind whenever there was a break in the buildings on the left, and that did NOT bode well for what was going to happen when we turned into the wind. The lovely downhill stretch seemed to pass much more quickly than I remembered in the past, and soon enough we were passing mile 7, where I saw Brenda and Allison cheering, and getting ready to head towards the wind. Phew. Here we go.

We made the first turn towards the ocean and IMMEDIATELY, it was like being blown backwards. I had mentally prepared for this to happen but it was still kind of a shock having it actually happen. I immediately found a tall Somerville Road Runners guy to tuck in behind and basically decided that whatever pace that he was running at the moment was now my pace until we got rid of this wind. I don't think I've ever managed to draft effectively before, but I actually noticed a significant difference running just off his right shoulder. Around this time, Joy's friend who is much faster than me but who had somehow started in the back of the corrals passed me and asked how I was doing. "Eh, so-so" I responded, which pretty accurately summed up how I felt - not bad, but certainly not great. She reported that she thought Taylor might have dropped, which was a bummer, and then sped off on her way to finishing in 1:30. I had no delusions of going with her, so I stuck behind my guy in yellow and just motored along for a bit. I was pleasantly surprised to see an 8 mile split that was still in the 7:0x range - I really thought I had slowed down more than that. There's a small incline before another turn where I briefly felt like shit, but as soon as I made the turn? I suddenly started to feel a LOT better. As an important side note, this was also the stretch of road where I had to run around what looked like a diaper and/or paper towel literally filled with poop. It smelled like poop. It looked like poop. A guy behind me let out a hearty chuckle when he saw it. It was a very strange thing to see sitting in the middle of the road during a half marathon...I guess that's New Bedford for you. Poop aside, for whatever reason, my legs had suddenly decided that now would be a good time to start rolling. I figured, why not? At this point, I had honestly made my peace with running a 1:34 high/1:35 low - I couldn't imagine with a slower start than 2014 that I was going to manage to pull off anything better than that. So I figured I would just let my legs do what they wanted to do and find out what would happen once we made the turn into the REAL wind at mile 9.5.

I spent some time running with a girl from Cambridge Running Club who I desperately wanted to pass but just couldn't seem to make it happen. I'm sure I was driving her crazy - I kept pulling up right off her shoulder, she would pull away a little bit, and then I'd pull right back up again. There's another turn and a little downhill right before mile 9, and it was at this point that I suddenly saw a familiar red ribbon flying in the distance. It was Dana! I was sort of thinking that she had totally disappeared into the distance forever, so to see her up ahead - I knew I had to go get her. With CRC girl yo-yoing along with me, I felt myself starting to increase the pace, just a little. I figured if I could just get UP with Dana, then I could decide my next move as we headed into the real wind. Slowly but surely, I pulled on the string. I tried not to overthink it, but just kept my eyes on her red bow and saw the distance between us shrinking, bit by bit. Finally, just after mile 9, myself and CRC girl pulled even with her. We exchanged waves and I tried to ask how it was going but Dana had her headphones in, so I decided to just be content with running with this little pack. Unfortunately, just as our pack formed, we turned into the REAL wind; the teeth of the wind, as Tom put it. More unfortunately, the next tall gentleman (or any runner for that matter) to draft off of was a solid 20 feet ahead, a distance which would require a significant pickup which just didn't sound like a good plan while running into a 20 mph headwind at mile 10 of a half marathon.

So then, it was time to make a choice. Originally, once I had caught Dana I had thought that perhaps I should just sit behind her and run it out from there. It felt good to be working with a group and to kind of share the brunt of the wind for awhile. But after a few minutes I suddenly had this bizarre, completely out of character urge to just GO. To push into the wind and see what would happen. For some reason (and this NEVER happens to me late in races) I just had this feeling that if I were willing to make a push, my legs would go with me. I had been thinking about a quote from Tom's email about the wind: "It will suck, but remember, you don't suck". This somehow morphed into a line from the Sia song "Bang My Head": "If you feel like giving up just don't/You might feel like dying but you won't". I kept thinking that in my head as I pushed into the wind: You might feel like dying but - YOU WON'T. Slowly, slowly, I drew away from Dana and the CRC girl. I had no idea if either of them would put up a fight to get back with me but my goal was clear: I fixed my eyes on the next tall dude ahead of me and pushed as hard as I could to get behind him.

Strangely, my experience with the next couple of miles into the wind were actually not that bad. I almost feel guilty saying that, but it's true. It sucked, but it only sucked a little bit. Maybe I had just talked it up so much in my head that I had this idea of how AWFUL it was going to be, and then when it wasn't quite that bad it was amazing, but I just felt like despite the fact that the wind was there, I knew I could push beyond it. It was similar to what I felt at Boston last year, where I had this concept of the wind existing around me, and I knew logically that it was a problem, but physically I just couldn't process it. There was also something to be said for getting past that CRC girl and also for passing Dana, who I consider to be just as strong as a runner as myself. I had been running the whole race thus far under the assumption that she was going to crush me, so getting past her lit up in my brain this funny thought of "huh. You're doing better than you thought. You've passed all the teammates that it's reasonable for you to expect to pass. Why not really try these last 3 miles? Why not?"

Eventually we made the turn away from the water, a glorious reprieve from the wind and also a hilarious example of the New Bedford spectators. As I was coming up on the turn I was kind of by myself and I heard voices cheering but couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Suddenly, I realized there were two little kids in the second story window of the building on the corner of the turn, and as I passed they happened to scream something to the effect of "Nice job! Way to go! Nice relaxing day!" Hahaha I might have almost broken out laughing at the 'nice relaxing day' bit - can't say that's something I've ever heard before from a spectator, especially after fighting a nice headwind for the better part of the last half hour! My mile 11 split was in the low 7s which I couldn't BELIEVE. By this point I was definitely starting to look forward to the whole "not running" thing, but my legs were still pushing forward. Mile 12 was a 6:50 - what?? Then we hit the huge mile 12 hill and UGH, I felt like I had run into a brick wall. Suddenly I wasn't having fun anymore. I feel like last time I raced this course, this hill was shorter than I remembered. This time it felt like it lasted FOREVER. For whatever reason it also seemed like there were fewer spectators out this year, so I just felt like I was running up this endless mountain wasteland by myself. But once I finally crested the beast, I knew that there was half a mile or so to go, and it was time to GO. Just after the top of the hill I saw Tom who shouted some encouragement; he seemed pleased that I was looking reasonably good. Down the ugly row of fast food restaurants I ran, waiting for the last part of this course I knew was coming: a MASSIVE downhill to mile 13. Once I hit the downhill, I basically started sprinting. Everyone who had passed me on the uphill suddenly came right on back - I was flying. My 13 mile split was 7:02 despite the hill, which was pretty awesome. I turned the corner and could see the finish clock somewhere in the high 1:32s. 1:33! I was going to do it! I was finally going to break the string of bad races! I tried my best to kick down the straightaway and pulled even with a GLRR girl. I kept kind of looking at her and my head was thinking "please don't kick please don't kick please don't kick". Well, of course, she turned on the gas into a full sprint the last 50 meters, and what was I supposed to do but respond? So with my last ounce of energy, I turned the cadence up a notch and powered with her, then channeled my inner Molly Huddle and outleaned her at the line! I'm actually laughing in my finisher photo because it was kind of ridiculous.

I walked through the finishing chute and a guy came up to me and said something to the effect of "nice finish! Way to come back from that hill!" I think he was one of the people I passed while sprinting down the final stretch haha. He hadn't run the race before and so was not aware of the mile 12 death hill either - that's not a fun surprise! My left leg pretty much immediately seized up once I stopped running - it had actually been feeling better the past few miles but now, ouch. I grabbed water and my medal, and waited for my teammates. Dana came in shortly after me, followed by Joy and our other friend Ali. Once we were all together, we headed back to the gym to get our stuff from the Y because now that we weren't running, it was COLD. The cooldown back to Joy's house was frankly awful - my leg was hurting, I was exhausted, and I wanted nothing more than to crack open the can of seltzer in my hand and just chug it. We then had brunch with some of the guys team at Joy's recapped our races, and then headed off for some beers. All in all, it was a quality day!

Teammates! <3 p="">
I feel like when I've been thinking about this race this week, I've sort of been "meh" about my time. Sure, it's my second best half ever, but it's not a PR or anything, But then I consider all of the other factors - how bad my legs felt in the week leading up to the race, the fact that I was pretty much still at full training volume, the whole hamstring/butt debacle, and the wind - and I realize that I was able to run a really strong race despite all of those things. Mentally I was tough, and I executed my new go-to race strategy of having something left to finish with perfectly. I surprised myself with how well I handled the wind at a point in the race where I typically sort of give up at the first sign of any obstacle. So thinking about that, this was a really good performance for me! I of course didn't score for our team (and I shouldn't - that would not be good for our team haha) but the women's team ended up winning the team competition which was AWESOME! My butt was kind of a bitch for a couple of days after the race, and I ended up having to take Tuesday off because I was hit with an awful cold in addition to that, but I was able to have a really strong workout on Thursday (4 x 1000 at 10K pace, followed by a 5K tempo) with no pain so I can't have done too much damage. I'm hoping that things are all coming together at just the right time - I can definitely feel the strength from the higher mileage coming through in these workouts and the late stages of races. Last big long run tomorrow - it seems crazy that we're already here! It feels like yesterday that I was getting ready for Boston 2015...I've put a lot more miles in the bank in the last year, and I'm looking forward to seeing the results in a few weeks.

New Bedford Half Marathon
441/2480 OA, 83/1161 F, 36/263 F20-29

1 comment:

Gracie said...

Way to go!