This was the first year the race was held and it didn't show - everything was run incredibly smoothly and professionally. The race runs entirely through Myles Standish State Forest, so there are lots of pine trees (as advertised!) and a very quiet, pretty course. There was a 5K as well as the half, which had just under 400 finishers - a perfect size for a race in my opinion. After spending yesterday at a Pups and Pints event which quickly escalated to full scale day drinking with friends, combined with the fact that running has been pretty low key since Boston, I was not particularly confident in my ability to race a half. But the great thing was, I didn't really care! I just wanted to have a nice long run through the forest, probably faster than I would do it on my own, get a t-shirt, and enjoy the rest of my day. I decided that my goal would be at least to run faster than I ran the half split at Boston - a 1:42, so not exactly a tall order. Because of my limited confidence, and the fact that I got a really cool New Balance singlet at the Boston expo and wanted to wear it at least once to race in, I decided to go incognito and not represent GBTC. Of course, hilariously, as Joy and I were warming up who do we find was at the race but one of our teammates, doing the race announcements/commentary. Well...so much for no one knowing we did this race today, hah. I had said on the way down that I hoped there weren't like a zillion fast women in the race, but I also hoped that I wasn't in a situation to win the thing or something ridiculous, "because then I'll have to try". As we stood at the line with zero women in front of us, I became a little concerned that it was going to be the latter. My teammate sent us off on our "13.1 mile adventure", and we were off without further ado.
Immediately I found myself running completely alone and as first place woman, and I almost burst out laughing. I'm LEADING a half marathon? Where are we, the twilight zone? I couldn't imagine that such a silly thing was going to last, but the end result was that I ran my first mile far faster than I should have. Whoops. I could absolutely feel that this was not going to be sustainable and dialed it back a bit. The eventual first place woman came up behind me and we talked for a little bit about Boston, past marathons, etc - quite frankly I was already working way too hard to be chit chatting about BQ times so I let her go off into the distance. The course can be summed up in two words: rolling hills. That's it. Imagine 13.1 miles of going up and down, up and down, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, but pretty much always being on some sort of incline or decline. Those types of courses really wear me down when I'm running with a goal in mind, but the lovely thing about it today was that I really didn't care, and so I adopted a "just do whatever feels good" mindset. Now with the pressure of winning off, I actually locked into a very nice groove that basically took me through the rest of the race. I was focusing on even effort and getting my breathing back under control after the uphills, and it really went quite well. Once I dialed back after the insane first mile, I was relatively consistent right around 7:20 with a couple of outliers through the remainder of the race.
So spiky. So many hills. Little hills, for the most part, but hills all the same.
Miles 3-4 were on this very open road, the type of road where you can see ALL the hills rolling ahead of you, and also the type of road where you can get a very unpleasant headwind, which was the case today. I did get my first chance to fulfill a secondary (and utterly lame) goal of "get some good race photos" right around mile 3. I think I did pretty well...
As an aside, free race photos are one of my favorite race perks. These are also a little bit amusing though because in the last one in particular, you can TOTALLY tell I'm thinking about my form because I'm running in front of a camera. Whatever works, right?
The course continued out, more rolling hills, nothing too exciting going on. I kept thinking that I had slowed down significantly only to find that I was actually running a fairly even pace. Miles with significantly more uphill would occasionally dip into the 7:3x range, miles with a little more on the downhill end would drop to 7:1x, but everything pretty much stuck right around 7:20, and it felt just fine. I felt like I was working the perfect amount for what I intended to do today. By mile 5 or 6 things had strung out pretty significantly and I was sitting in second place for women with a solid buffer on all sides in terms of anyone I could pass or be passed by. The rolling hills continued. At mile 6 we got another photo op...
Not quite as good, but I'll take it haha.
After the 10K split we ran around a pond and things got a little harder for awhile; the hills were really just starting to be a grind and there were a couple of my least favorite type of hill, the ones that go up and around the corner. But after making it around the pond we did a little lollipop back the way we'd come, and so were running past everyone still running out. I suppose it must have been because I was fairly far up in the front of the race in general (I would come in 13th overall) and because I was second woman, but as I was running by all of these people, running their own race, there were SO many people cheering for me! It was really quite cool to have these random strangers who are ALSO working hard urging you on, and it gave me a surprisingly large boost. Runners! They're the greatest! We turned out of the lollipop and headed around another pond - pretty much the same scenario, more curving up hills, and my legs were getting tired, but my pace was still holding steady. We made it back onto the main road just after mile 9, I grabbed a Gu from the aid station (the aid stations were really wonderful - again, I suppose perks of being in the front of the pack in a fairly strung out race, but it was kind of cool having like 7 people looking at you ready to give you what you want) which helped perk me up a little bit. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the hills and the sun - the temperature was pretty decent at right around 60, but I was warm enough to the point that I threw some water on my head in the second half...further proof of what qualifies as "heat" in my body's opinion.
We were back on the long bacon strip of a road. I had been closing in on this guy in a gray shirt for a few miles now - I would close the gap on the uphills, he'd open it back on the downhills, but the lead was slowly shrinking. I was now close enough to read his shirt and realized it was a Madison Marathon shirt - Wisconsin connection! I was trying to decide whether to be that obnoxious person who I myself hate and start a conversation at mile 10 of a race when he said something like "oh, I've been wondering which of these hills you're going to pass me on". Conversation gates opened, I asked him if he was from Wisconsin and turns out he wasn't but had lived there for several years. We reminisced on how the hills in Wisconsin are much smaller than in New England, but that the wind was the same, hah. I decided I was going to stick with my new friend and for the remainder of the race we continued the pattern - I'd fall back a little bit, then I'd return. He was very friendly but not obnoxiously chatty, and it was actually pretty fun. At one point I said something like "ugh, I'm so over these hills" and he replied "oh, yeah, see my problem is that I'm NOT over them yet!" Touche haha. We passed a guy in a blue shirt who we'd been gaining on for awhile, and then it was finally almost time to be done. I think I finally understand why pacers are a useful thing, because I guarantee I would have slowed down in this stretch if I hadn't been running with this guy. I was dreading the fact that there had been a pretty solid downhill at the beginning, meaning a nice uphill to finish the race, but other than that I was pleased that I'd just been able to keep plugging away and run a reasonable pace, particularly given the hills. It was also hard to argue about going top 3, something that pretty rarely happens to me!
With a little under a mile to go, we made a turn or something, and I looked back and suddenly I could SEE this teal shirt that I knew did not belong to a man. Shit! I was going to be so angry if I ran the whole race in 2nd only to be passed in the last mile, but I honestly wasn't sure how much I had left to push it up another uphill. For a second I thought to myself "eh, maybe it would be fine to get 3rd and still be top 3". But the better part of my brain shut that down, and of course, now I was going to have to try. With half a mile to go I was literally imagining this girl breathing down my neck, passing me at any second, and I did the only thing that I could - I ran HARD. My new friend said something like "now's the time to make your move" as I passed him, and I'll tell you, maybe this says a lot for what a cowardly racer I am, but I have not gone this deep in the well at the end of the race in a long time. Finishing Boston was hard in a different way - all leg fatigue - but this, I don't even know. I was like wheeze breathing like a fire engine, rapidly approaching the puke threshold...yeah. I knew that if I got passed at this point that I didn't have a next gear to go to, so I had better get the hell to the finish line. And I did, finally, finishing in just over 1:36. The girl who I thought was right on my shoulder finished about a minute back...apparently, my kick worked!
I actually find it sort of amusing that pretty much whenever I run a half "out of shape" or in some other suboptimal condition, I run a 1:36. I guess I can't really complain too much about my "not fit" time being something a lot of people would die to run, something I myself would have died to run if we flash back 5 years or so. I had a great time racing today - I felt like I challenged myself to think differently about how I felt or how I perceived the course (I also challenged myself to run tangents and per my GPS watch I did a GREAT job), didn't worry too much about pace or time knowing that neither was going to be optimal, and just honestly and genuinely enjoyed the feeling of being out there, trying hard, pushing myself, and racing for place. It was great! While the course was certainly not easy, it was beautiful, and overall a delightful race that I'd definitely return to again. They are going to be mailing awards, so I'm curious to see what I get for being 2nd - honestly, just the accomplishment of that is pretty solid!
Also something I can't argue about: wandering around Plymouth going to wine tastings and taking photos with the artistic lobsters scattered around town. This is why I love my running friends....we appreciate the simple, hilarious pleasures in life.
Fruit wines...not usually my jam, but these were pretty delicious. I bought a bottle of the cranberry which I think is going to make some excellent sangria...also, they had delicious jams!
We are 100% normal people
All in all, a really nice day, a fun race, a solid effort - a success! This is what I love so much about racing in the summer/not in marathon training...the pressure is off and it's just purely FUN - which sometimes for me is actually when the best things happen!