No NYC, go grapes
I didn’t get accepted in the non-guaranteed lottery for the New York City Marathon this year. The odds were against me (something like 9 to 1) and honestly, I’m really ok with the outcome. I’m going to be running in Newport, RI a few weeks before and again in Philadelphia a few weeks afterward. If I don’t get in next year there’s always the Brooklyn Marathon to try. And since there’s a month-plus of free time in my fall, I’ve decided to go out to California for a while & run the Healdsburg Wine Country Half. All said & done a similarly priced & reasonable consolation prize.
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One day shy of the one year anniversary of my run at the Baltimore Running Festival, I found myself in the state of my birth running the Amica Newport Marathon. I’ve been looking forward to this since last December, Newport has been my primary focus for a fall marathon. My expectations have been tempered of late as I’m not done dealing with my birthday ankle sprain, and to boot I’m not quite over this dumb cold.
I drove down to Newport arriving at 5pm the Saturday before the race. The expo was at the Newport Yachting Center, which really just meant it was in a big tent in the parking lot outside. It was surprisingly cold here! The weather channel said race day would be 60+ but the afternoon before feels more like 40. I am underdressed.
Race day! I got up at 4:30am, hyper hydrated per usual, breakfast of two bagel halves + extra crunchy Jif. I brought iced coffee with me – maybe a bit too much as my anxiety was running high. I could hear the wind roaring outside and for whatever reason really managed to psych myself out about the conditions. Inside the house I was staying at it was quite cold, and it wasn’t until I went out to the car at 6:30am that I realized the wind itself wasn’t as bitter as I thought it would be.
In addition to my cough & congestion problems I’ve been feeling fairly nauseous lately, pretty much ever since the finish of the BAA Half (I wasted the entire Columbus Day holiday sick in bed). Some of this morning’s sickness may have been normal nerves but overall it was worse than usual, I seriously felt like barfing, before/during/after. The series of texts I sent Christine before she was even up was particularly pitiful but fortunately she was able to snap me out of it somewhat with breathing exercises.
I headed down to the start, arriving at 7am. There was a schoolbus shuttle to the start from the parking lot at Second Beach – I stood in line for the bus for about 60 seconds before I made the executive decision that today would be a two-shirt + long sleeve kind of day.
Bus to the start. Part of the reason I have been so excited about this race is it started right on the spit of land where I stayed for Nate & Lucy’s wedding a few years ago. In fact, the start line is exactly where I sprained my ankle the day morning of the wedding, stepping off a curb and almost into a oncoming car. This pavement, it has long been reasoned, owed me.
So. The race. I was late to the chute and couldn’t figure out how to get in – there were no gaps anywhere on the side I was on. Eventually I limbo’d through the fence somewhere behind the 9:00 split sign. The start was delayed for 10-15 minutes for reasons unexplained – I never heard an anthem, an announcement or even a go. This is a sign of poor organization. But eventually, we went.
The course starts up a small hill into Newport proper. At mile two we were just south of downtown Newport, mile four a small loop through the parking lot of Fort Adams State Park (I had never been there before). Mile 6 was a bit more interesting – this passed by Castle Hill, the area I explored earlier this summer during a wedding I was filming.
Miles 6 to 7.5 was to my mind the most difficult stretch of road I can recall running. The course here was along Ocean Ave, wrapping around the southwestern-most bit of Aquidneck Island. The wind off the ocean was absolutely brutal. I know this area is breathtakingly beautiful – when I was here in July I hung out on these rocks for hours. Today, it was miserable, only way to run was with head down. I thought I was going to lose my glasses, and kept a hand to my number lest that tear off.
Miles 8 through 10 were more sheltered, winding through some cool ponds and houses. At 10 the course turned north on Bellevue, alongside the mansions of Newport. We passed Breakers at 11, and the crowd began to build here. This was one of the more exciting parts of the race, the buildup to the finish of the first half. People around me were picking up their pace and people were screaming that we were almost finished – I actually would have been happy to have been done at this point. I think in general I prefer if there’s a split earlier in the race where the half & full diverge so we don’t have to get all excited about a false ending. Anyway, we turned east past the entrance to the Cliff Walk and the halfers finished roughly where we started.
Mile 15 was the next notable point for me – coming into this downhill I started looking for my people and eventually found them at 15 3/4ths along Second Beach. I tried to high-five Ebs but missed again – this bothered me because the same thing happened at Quincy earlier this year and I learned later he was upset.
The 16-17 stretch was pretty miserable. This out & back was so windy, similar to 6-7.5, but now with the bonus of blowing sand. Steven told me later that sand gets airborne at 25mph wind – if so the gusts were well above this. Sandblast to the face – I was picking it out of my ears nose and mouth for the next 24 hours. Some guys on the leeward side of the dune were parasailing – this is a smarter choice for an entertainment option than running on a day like today.
At mile 17.5 I saw my peeps again – Steven on the right and Christine & Tate on the left (Eben hiding from the wind in the car). I wasn’t too familiar with the course (I hadn’t looked at the map in some months) so didn’t realize until here that pretty much the rest of the course was one long out & back along the eastern coast. Rolling hills here, fairly reasonably sized but not horrible. More depressing was just how long this backtrack was. I was feeling fairly sick by this point. I saw Nate & Lucy at 20 & again at 22 – those two miles felt like they were 40 minutes apart. I was ignoring my GPS completely by this point but in retrospect it looks like I was above 10:00 splits when I saw them both times. Soon after mile 22 I let myself walk for two minutes, something I’m loathe to do. The urge to vomit was strong, in retrospect I should have done it and gotten it over with.
At mile 24 I saw Team HB again – they had recruited some random old people to scream & shout for me which my brain wasn’t really able to process. Why are these strangers so excited to see me?! I finally got my high five with Ebs, and turned for home. I made it past 25 and the wheels really started to come off. As you can see from the red in the heat map I ended up walking half of the last mile – the entire uphill bit, trying to get my nausea under control. I was vaguely aware that I was giving up what would have been my third sub-4hr marathon but it was the decision I choose to make. Or had to make? I’m not sure. Eventually I picked up to a trot for a looping finish back by the starting beach.
This marathon was my 9th overall and 8th in the past year. It wasn’t my strongest, wasn’t my fastest, wasn’t the prettiest. But it was important to me nonetheless, both in terms of overcoming my adversity-de-jour (wind/sickness/ankle) and in that my people came to cheer for me. And finally doing one in Rhode Island was personally very satisfying. My final time was 4:04:17, 11 minutes faster than Maine, 40 seconds faster than Vermont but well slower than New Orleans and 30 minutes off my PR in Traverse City in May.
After a slightly longer than normal requisite recovery time at the finish, my crew & I packed up & headed over to a Wendy’s for some empty celebratory calories. I felt so lucky that we ended up at this random fast food place that happened to have a large flatscreen TV turned to CNN so that we could watch Felix Baumgartner’s record setting leap into the stratosphere. Utterly amazing. I’m so glad we didn’t miss this.
So that’s Newport. My next marathon is in Philadelphia, five weeks from today.
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Je courir donc je suis
A brief recap of the weekend.
Saturday, I didn’t have much going on. Rainy & gray & no plans. I had written to the New Hampshire Marathon organizers earlier after I sprained my ankle and asked if could defer to 2013 – surprisingly enough they said yes. So that’s great news, but it left me with nothing but a marathon-sized whole in my day, a feeling that I should have been doing something BIG this weekend. Instead I was just sitting watching rain outside the window. Around 1pm I decided to go run my reservoir loop, my first time running outside since the ligament damage. I felt totally fine, slight tightness, but no pain. A mile out I converted to a shorter loop, from five miles to a short shakeout run. I went up to talk to my parents about the possibility of running the Maine Marathon in Portland on Sunday and it came down to this – it’s a known danger, a known potential mistake to put stress on the injured joint, but I was going to let myself be ok with making a potentially wrong decision.
Sunday, I woke up at 3am, had my toast & coffee & hit the road. It’s just over 100 miles to Portland from Burlington, I arrived at 6am & found one of the last parking spots in the USM lot closest to packet pickup. The morning was dark & gray but no rain. Somehow I am assigned the #12(!) which gives me momentary panic attack. I cannot live up to this number today, for sure. I really prefer races like this where we can kill time in a gym before the race starts, but there are always too few bathrooms, here as well.
At 7:15 I meander around to the race start. There’s roughly 1000 marathoners in this race and twice that many half runners – we’ll all start & stay together for the first six miles or so. With three minutes to go before start, it starts to rain. OK. A screechy anthem later there’s a serious cannon bang and we’re off!
Start: The first few miles the rain is light – we’ve got water on the right and heavy foot traffic. I’m not pushing anything, letting the crowd flow around me instead of the other way around. I spend the first three miles thinking about my ankle, trying to decide if we’re really ok or if I’m deluding myself. I decide it’s ok.
Mile 4: I get passed by this dude who is (no joke) dressed like a moose. Technically the front half of a moose, the back half is bobbing along behind him. Funny guy. Reminds me I need a costume for my Halloween race.
Mile 10: I don’t pass many people all day – but here I move past a dude running in a soaked and extremely bedraggled superman costume. I run with him a while and leach off the energy he creates from the few soggy spectators along the road – people LOVE to cheer for superman and I pretend it’s for me.
Mile 13: My least favorite part of the race – a brief out & back on a dirt road that someone has tacked on to get the mileage right. I was having difficulty seeing the road due to wet glasses and this feels incredibly dangerous ankle-wise. Slow slow careful, it doesn’t last all that long before we’re back on pavement heading south again. Endomondo puts my half time at 1:57:03, an 8:56 pace. This is not fast for me but really not all that far behind where I was at the halfway point for New Orleans earlier this spring.
Mile 16: My iPhone (safely ziplocked in my camelbak) dies, so no more music or endomondo mile splits from this point. No idea why it went so fast – to blame iOS6? It was fully charged when I started. At this point I decide to mentally split the remainer of the race into two five-mile chunks and deal with them one at a time. The worst thing about running without music is the shuffle ended on an Adele song which was stuck in my head for the next two hours.
Mile 18: Rain lets up a bit, to a light sprinkle. I have a terrifying thought that the sun might break out and steam us like a lobster, fortunately it does not. Since I’m without headphones I can interact better with the few supporters out on the course – they’re cheering for me mostly with Go Chicago! since I’m wearing my Chicago half shirt. I like this.
Mile 21: Five to go. Pouring again. Now I’m manually doing splits on my watch and they’re creeping up mile by mile, and I simply do not care. First to high nines, then low tens. I start doing worst case contingency planning at 11:00/mile (so 55 for the last five miles) and decide I really don’t even want to do that math – instead to just focus on finishing carefully without injury.
Mile 25: We’re back on the USM campus and there’s almost nobody here. Usually the last mile of even smaller races have some runners who have finished drifting back to cheer but the rain has driven them away. Also – and this is going to sound bitchy but by this point I am – the road here has an appreciable crown to it. Even running as close to midline as I can I feel like I’m being pushed one way or another. It’s like running on the top of a big pipe and my ankle is starting to burn. I had promised myself I’d walk if there was pain but so close … this is the first time since mile 3 I’ve even felt it complain.
Finish: Stumble across the line. It’s a deluge. I’m less coherent than usual, and there’s nowhere to sit that’s not floating. It normally takes me ~30 minutes to recover but I don’t want to stay here. I grab a half-banana and two granola bars from the foot tent and a wave of water from the roof of the tent channels straight down my back, I take that as a sign that it’s time to move on. I stumble the last few blocks back to my car to dry out before driving back to Boston, to some ice & the Pats game. Abandoned is my original plan to spend the evening & Monday poking around Portland but given the weather and the immediate onset post-race calf cramping I just want to get outta dodge.
All in all – I’m quite happy with the race despite the rain, despite the injury. I paced myself from slow to slower and survived, no harm no foul no long term damage. I didn’t get to see as much of the Maine foliage as I had originally hoped but will make an effort to get back up next year. My official chip time was 4:15:20 (matching the watch time exactly!), a 9:44 split. Next up, the BAA Half next weekend & the Amica Marathon in two weeks!
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I don’t have much in the way of photos from the Chicago Half Marathon today as I decided to run light without my phone (or extra water). I got up at 3:30am, Mikey’s friend Tom picked me up from their place just after 5am and we drove down south of the city to Jackson Park. This was a big race, bigger than anything I’ve run recently with 12,000+ runners, so a crowded start. Fortunately I had a low corral number based on an slightly overly optimistic time estimate on my part. The first couple miles were relatively slow in a big square loop around the park before we merged onto Lakeshore Drive for the bulk of the race. Beautiful views of the city here, particularly on the northbound half of the race. I didn’t have any music or headphones with me, the first half I’ve done without, but didn’t really need it as there were several bands along the route. There were also a few drumming groups from (I presume) local high schools. The most motivating music though was up near the turn-around where a bridge was booming James Brown.
I hadn’t really planned to push this race too much, but it was flat course and I was aware that my splits were somewhere in the neighborhood of my prior best, the Half of Quincy. If you look at that green squigly line under the heat map, over the last few miles I was able to push it down, running the final mile in fast (for me) 7:04. My official time was 1:35:43, a new half-marathon PR by just over a minute! Very, very happy with today’s effort.
Mileage has been pretty consistent in the 41-42 mile range the last five weeks. This is week 15 of 18 for the New Hampshire/Maine Marathon double, and week 13 of 18 for the Amica Newport Marathon. Fall racing season is upon us and I could not be more excited.
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It’s almost the end of August and I’m realizing that specific resolution #3 (a race every month) is at risk. So poking around the internets I’ve come up with a solution, the Greenbelts Beverly Commons Trail Run this Saturday. This race starts in Bev Farms, a community close to my own heart as it’s where I slept on my kind sister’s couch without dollar one to my name when I first moved to Massachusetts some 11+ years ago. Long before I had any thoughts of road racing I spent that summer running back and forth along Route 127 from Bev Farms east to Manchester by the Sea, and west back to Beverly proper. Rinse, repeat. Mostly happy memories from a simpler time. I’m more than happy to be returning there for 7.3 miles this weekend.
Since I’m thinking about it, here are the other seven qualifiers this year from my own personal monthly race series for 2012: January was Boston Prep 16 miler; February, the Super Sunday 5; March, the New Orleans Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon; April, Ring Around the Neck in Marblehead; May, the Bayshore Marathon; June, the Squantum 5; and July, the Mad Marathon in Vermont. And looking forward, September will be the Chicago Half Marathon & New England Double Marathon; October the BAA & Healdsburg halves + Newport whole; and November the Philadelphia Marathon. December is the only remaining blank spot – I’m holding out some small hope for the Hoover Dam Marathon.
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Breaking on Aquidneck
Of all the fall races on my schedule, the one I think I’m looking forward to the most is the Amica Marathon in Newport, RI, not far from where I was born. I’m particularly excited about this race in part because the course itself is consistently described as beautiful (check out the map!), but moreso because my people (SMB, NP & co) may make it down. Running in a pack is always more fun. Plus, there’s a chance for epic weather – here’s a race report from 2009, monsoon running sounds AWESOME…
The course was a point to point race, first passing through downtown Newport before heading into some picturesque neighbourhoods with the large historic mansions Newport is famous for. We ran for a while along a road by the seashore, where the weather was at it’s worst. In addition to the lashings of rain and wind, waves crashed over the seawall onto the course. The scenery was dramatic at times, and wild. I found myself sometimes running but almost stationary, stopped by a wall of wind. I began to feel I was participating in something special, a legendary race, tales of which would be passed down the generations.
I can only hope for such memorable circumstances this October. The prices go up in two weeks (July 1st) so please consider this motivation to go ahead and sign up today! Full, half, 5K, whatever (consensus seems to be that the half is a better course than the full). A bunch more reviews are over here if you have some time to kill.
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