Friday, March 31, 2017

New Bedford Half Race Report

A very belated race report, most likely because this race was a very underwhelming one for me this year and it's less exciting to write about races that were "meh". But in the interest of immortalizing a couple of amusing things that happened and the absurdity of the wind, I'll do it now.

I run this half marathon basically every year, it's "THE" tuneup race for Boston and is always on the NE Grand Prix circuit, so my club strongly encourages as many of us as possible to show up. I generally run really well on this course; it's not an easy course by any means but I think it plays to my strengths. My original plan was to go guns blazing for a PR, but alas, Mother Nature, bitch that she is, had other plans with absurd 20-30 mph winds. Add to that the low level virus/cold thing I had felt like I had been dealing with for the few days prior and an UNBELIEVABLY low level of interest in doing anything resembling fast running the morning of the race, and, as I said before the race, "I'm putting my PR dreams back in the box". When I got in the car in the morning one of my teammates asked if I was excited and I emphatically stated "NOPE.", and that pretty much sums up my frame of mind going into this race.

It was already very cold and VERY windy by the time we made our way up to the start line; I had decided on capris and armwarmers as my outfit and initially that seemed like a terrible choice. I think I am actually incapable of dressing perfectly for this race - I'm always overdressed or underdressed in some way but these days I try to go with the under. The only way into the corrals is from the back, and I can't say it was the most enjoyable way to spend the 10 minutes before the race trying desperately to squeeze myself past large clumps of high schoolers running their first half marathon, people in costumes, etc to stand near people who might be running near my pace. The upside of this is that by the time Joy and I found a spot on the start line, we were pretty much taking off! Might as well get this over with, anyway.

Out of the gate, I felt MISERABLE. The wind was heavily in our faces to start which was bad enough, but I could also definitely feel the effects of whatever respiratory shit I had going on and while not enough to slow me down immensely, I just felt like crap. I felt like the pace I was running at should have felt MUCH easier for the fact that we had literally just started running, and I immediately realigned my expectations accordingly - this was going to be a slog fest. At one point some gravel flew into my face, which was lovely. I could see Dana and another teammate, Ali, who I haven't seen in ages, ahead, and decided to try and get up with them, at least for the moment. Mile 1 (which is essentially downhill) was a 6:47, which is probably about right, but I could already tell I was working too hard. I told Dana as much and she tried her best to get me to stay with her, but I couldn't hang on. I fell back and tried to focus myself on Ali's bright yellow shirt and tried not to let myself get too far behind. I went down a really bad rabbit hole for the entire first half of the race - though I knew all of the valid reasons why this was just not working out, all I could tell myself was UGH YOU'RE SO SLOW SO NOT FIT WHY DO YOU SUCK WHY CAN'T YOU STAY WITH DANA RAAAAAAAR. The majority of the hills in this race come in the first 4 miles which is both a blessing and a curse - a blessing because there's lots of downhills and flats to follow, but a curse because EVERY SINGLE YEAR I go to the same place in my head on the hills: I suck I suck I suck. And that's a hard place to get out of later on.

Still following Ali at a distance, I came through the hills in 7:16, 7:15, and topping out with the big hill in 7:21. By the very top of the biggest hill I had actually closed the distance somewhat on Ali but I wasn't convinced it was going to last. Still, I decided to try to put myself behind her and see if I could stay there. The next section of the course is one that I usually really enjoy; it's a very slight downhill for like 4 miles and if you can get in a good groove here it feels INCREDIBLE. On this day, I just could not get in a groove. In an ideal race I usually run 10 or 15 seconds FASTER than my overall average pace for the race during this stretch, so the fact that I was seeing 7:0x miles wasn't a fabulous sign. And again, I also just didn't feel good at ALL doing it. I was basically hanging out around 7 flat (7:03, 7:01, 6:59 for the 3 downhill miles) but I was just annoyed by how hard it was - I knew what was coming up shortly and I knew I didn't have enough time banked to handle it in PR time. Still I stuck through it, kept staring at Ali (and/or a guy with a man bun and a Smuttynose shirt who also seemed to be in front of me frequently), grabbed some water, took my Gu, and tried to convince myself I was doing OK.

After the long downhill you make a series of turns and usually at least one (if not several) of these turns puts you directly in the path of some sort of wind. I was prepared for the worst, but bizarrely, as we made the first turn, I randomly started feeling GREAT. I passed Ali and several other people in the stretch between mile 7.5 and 8 and even though the downhill had ceased I still ran a 7:01 and a 6:58. Wow! I thought. Maybe I'll be OK? Maybe a 1:33? That would be alright! Just gotta keep pushing! It was a strange turn of events but one I really welcomed after the total trash I had felt like for the last several miles.

We continued on along the ocean and the wind wasn't as bad as I had expected - it was definitely around, but not atrocious. Oh, but then. BUT THEN. We crested a little rise and got ready to make another turn, and you could LITERALLY see people go from standing upright and running normally to hunched down shells of human beings. The direct headwind that we turned into was absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever run in. It was not even possible to continue moving forward at a normal rate of speed. It was like being hit by a truck. For 2 STRAIGHT MILES we ran directly into this 25-30 mph headwind and I almost started laughing when I saw my mile 10 split because it was a 7:52, and WOW what even is that. After conferring with my teammates after the race, all of us ran an entire minute slower for that mile than the previous mile, and lost time on the following mile as well. At one point a bizarre cross wind blasted through and I literally got blown off my feet and into a guy running next to me; I proceeded to screech HOLY SHIT THAT'S NOT OK and he laughed, or maybe said something, but it was lost in the wind.

I assumed that when we made the turn back into town just before mile 11 that things would get a little better, but really they did not get that much better. My legs were so trashed from trying to fight the wind in the prior 2 miles that I didn't have much left to push with, and the only thing I could think was "that wind literally sucked out my will to live". Mile 12 is pretty flat and I made it through that OK with a 7:09, but then we turned again BACK into the wind with the added insult of a large hill just after mile 12. I was absolutely cooked. I felt like I was staggering along the road. I somehow found my way up the hill, past the hideous row of fast food restaurants, and finally made the turn to plow down the hill to the finish. Every year when I make this turn, my brain suddenly turns back on and is like OH MY GOD YOU DEFINITELY DIDN'T RUN FAST ENOUGH BACK THERE YOU SHOULD PROBABLY MAKE UP FOR THIS NOW GOOOOO and I literally almost fall forward down the hill. I hadn't looked at my watch in ages so when I finally saw the clock around 1:34 I felt...ambivalent. I wasn't particularly happy but I wasn't devastated either. It was the definition of a "meh" race.

I quickly found Dana who had finished about a minute ahead (an exact role reversal from last year!) and we headed back to the locker room where several of our teammates were waiting. The talk of the day was of course, the wind, and the general vibe was "holy shit, that sucked". We decided to forgo the traditional fish sandwiches and chowder (I thought this was charming the first time I ran this race, I have since realized that the fish sandwiches are really pretty gross) to jog back to Joy's. My blood sugar definitely bottomed out on the cooldown and I had to stop and walk, then eat almost an entire bag of gummy worms, before I really felt better. After looking at the results I feel like the wind must have really had a major impact, because the winning times were quite slow compared to prior years and despite finishing a minute slower than last year, I achieved my highest New Bedford placing across the board (AG, women, and overall) ever - so I think that says something.

All in all, I don't really think this race is representative of my true fitness, but all things considered it could have gone a LOT worse. If a "bad" race for me these days is a 1:34 half I really can't complain whatsoever. I wish I'd felt a little better out of the gate because I do think I could have made up for more before hitting the wind, but these things happen and sometimes you just have to take what the day gives you. I think I tried really hard and didn't give up on myself even when things got pretty bad, so I can't complain about that either.

I was originally planning on racing the next race in the Grand Prix series tomorrow, a 15K, but the weather is AGAIN absurd (possibly a snowstorm in the area where the race is, sleeting/hailing where I am) and they actually took the race off the Grand Prix as a result. I feel like I'm a little over-raced right now and the only reason I was going to do it was because it was a Grand Prix, so the fact that it no longer is removed any interest I had. I'm tempted to tempo a 5K in my long run on Sunday mainly for amusement purposes and to break up yet another long run, but we'll see how I feel. I'll have to write again about my last long run, which was probably the best 20+ miler I've ever done in training and again under circumstances that made no sense (I guess I should go clubbing in Vegas more frequently the weekend before long runs) but I think that's a story for another day.

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