I thought long and hard about titles for this particular blog post. In fact, I even came up with some alternatives.
Like, “Running a Personal Best With a Chest Infection”.
Or, “The Heartbreak of Missing a Time Goal by 5 Seconds.”
Or, “Flat Course + Race Fleece Instead of Yet Another T-Shirt + Medal that Doubles as a Bottle Opener = The Perfect Race.”
Trust me, all are worthy titles of my Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon experience.
But let me back up to the angst-filled week leading up to the race.
First, there was the sudden onset of a nasty, lung-hacking chest cold, occasionally coupled with a fever, that started last Tuesday and was just diagnosed a few days ago as being a chest infection/beginnings of pneumonia (hello, antibiotics!).
Then came the sad realization, as my health did not improve, that my goal of finally breaking two hours — one I had been training so hard for all summer — was probably out the window.
Then there was the weather forecast, which I admittedly began stalking on the Sunday before and went from, “Hmm, they’re calling for some rain” to “Holy crap, there’s a hurricane coming!” to “Wait, now it’s looking sunny.” over the course of five days.
So it’s not too surprising that with all those distractions, my mind wasn’t really on the race. Hell, I wasn’t sure I was still going to run it myself, given how lousy I felt. Once I realized mid-week that I could probably power through all 13 miles, I had to really
modify eliminate any expectations for the race. At that point, it was just about finishing. In fact, I joked to Dr. G. that my goal was to finish without a trip to the medic tent for oxygen. #jokingbutnotreally
In some ways, it was kind of a relief showing up for a race without any expectations or additional pressure on myself. Sure, it was a little unnerving not knowing how my lungs were going to handle this, and whether I’d launch into yet another massive coughing fit mid-race, but once I dismissed the possibility of breaking two hours, I felt like huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Dr. G. and I headed up to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire with my friend and training buddy L on Saturday afternoon to grab our bibs (a very smooth process) and — as I mentioned above — our race FLEECES. Seriously, best. idea. ever. It is so crazy comfy and I know I’ll get so much use out of it (so much so that it’s currently in the laundry and I don’t have a photo of it!).
Our hotel was in walking distance to the race (no more horrors like the one we experienced trying to get to the Newport 10 Miler in June) and across the street from the ocean.
The first thing we noticed was the waves. Holy cow! Sure, there may not have been a hurricane headed this way, but it sure looked like it.
After checking into the hotel, we grabbed dinner at a nearby Flatbread Pizza Company, where Dr. G. and I took our carbo-loading very seriously.
The best part about staying within walking distance of the start line is not having to get up super early. So around 6am, I took my last round of cold medicine, ate a bagel with almond butter I had brought from home, and chugged the coffee my husband was kind enough to grab downstairs for me. Thankfully I had laid out all my gear the night before: Athleta tank, Lululemon capris, pink arm warmers, and my ZOOMA Run hat, which has become one of my favorites.
We met up with L and shivered our way to the bag drop off. I generally don’t do bag check-in but we figured we’d want something warm to slip on after the race, so we headed back to the registration area to drop it off. I was nervous there would be huge lines and this would take forever, but again, it was very well-run and well-marked.
But one thing that wasn’t well-marked were the wave corrals, which were self-seeded (ugh). We saw the one for Wave 2 (for the under 2 hour group), which is where we were looking to go — not because we were gunning for sub-2, but because we were hoping to avoid some of the early race congestion.
The only other corral we saw was for Wave 5, but nothing in between. And I know we weren’t the only ones who were confused; there were other people asking the same thing. So does that mean all the people who would have been in Waves 3 and 4 were in 2 as well, since they couldn’t find those corrals?
And apparently the 5K race was starting at the same time (I hate when races mix distances at the start!), which caused more confusion among runners about where to line up.
Anyway, the three of us lined up in Wave 2, then the horn started and Dr. G. was off (part of his strategy) while I hung back a bit — easy to do since the first few miles were pretty crowded — and ran pretty conservatively at about a 9:40 pace, not sure how my lungs were going to respond to all this activity (I hadn’t worked out since the previous Tuesday). We had to dodge around a bunch of slower 5K runners who had clearly lined up in the wrong corral, but otherwise the weaving was pretty minimal.
The first four miles were a double loop around the touristy beach area, which on paper sounded tedious, but in reality wasn’t so bad. Sure, it was repetitive, but it was pretty sweet when we finally took off on the straightaway along Rt. 1A right next to ocean knowing we already had 4 miles in the bag.
Mile 2: 8:59
Mile 3: 9:00
Mile 4: 9:04
L and I had settled into running alongside each other, just like our training runs, except this time there was no chatting. Since we were both sick, we kept making sure the other was okay, but that was it. That, and some frequest pace checks.
We got into a groove as we wound our way along the ocean and I was so surprised by how good I felt, considering I was sick — and how fast that first 5 or so miles flew by. Maybe it was having fresh legs from not running all week? Sure, I could tell I wasn’t 100%, but this was far better than what I was expecting.
Around the 10K mark (where I also noticed my time was nearly identical to my time from the ZOOMA 10K the previous weekend), we turned left away from the beach into more of a residential neighborhood. I took my arm warmers off and shoved them in my hydration belt, now that I was all warmed up, and ate my first Vanilla Clif Shot Gel.
There was a slight incline here, but given the hills L and I trained on all summer, it was a piece of cake. And we kept with our consistent pace.
Mile 5: 9:00
Mile 6: 9:15 <– the incline
Mile 7: 9:04
Mile 8: 9:17 <– not sure what happened there, other than fatigue
Because around mile 9, my legs started getting tired, but I didn’t want to lose pace. Thankfully L was there with me — if I was alone, I’m pretty sure I would have slowed down by this point and pointed to my being sick as an excuse. But I knew deep down I could squeeze out 4 more miles, and having company with me was definitely motivating and kept me accountable.
Finally around mile 10, we ended up back on Rt 1A by the ocean, and boy did I need it, especially since mile 11 has historically been my toughest in the half marathon. Even though I was exhausted by this point, seeing those waves and smelling the salty air was invigorating. I drank some more of my Nuun and kept going.
Mile 9: 9:06
Mile 10: 9:03
Mile 11: 9:00
Now here’s where things get interesting. All along, I knew we were running close to a sub-2 pace. L knew it, and I knew it. But we didn’t say anything or acknowledge it to each other, maybe for fear of jinxing ourselves — or psyching ourselves out. It kind of reminded me of a pitcher during a no-hitter: everyone ignores him in the dugout so they don’t jinx what is a rarity in baseball. That analogy kind of holds true here. For us, breaking two hours was our no-hitter.
I knew that conservative first mile had put me back a little, but I had worked so hard to get here and this could be the closest I come to breaking two hours. I knew if I had any hopes of going sub-2, I had to find a way to push hard through the first half of mile 12, and then just go for it the last half mile and .1.
I was sooooo tired. And I couldn’t see the finish line, which was tough, because it’s always so much easier to have a visual in sight when you’re gunning it at the end of a race. But I summoned up whatever I had left and just went for it, lungs screaming and legs aching.
Mile 12: 8:56 <– fastest mile yet!
Mile 13: 9:00
Last .10: 7:45
I looked at my Garmin after I crossed: 2:00:06.
Oh, God, I remember thinking. Please let my watch be off. Please make it possible that somehow I shaved 7 seconds between my watch and the official time.
But you guys know the answer to that. As soon as I reunited post-race with Dr. G. (who KILLED it, finishing in 1:57 and shaving 10 minutes off his previous half time!!!) and L (who was less than 15 seconds behind me), we collected our medals/bottle openers and I found a place to scan my bib and get my official results.
My pace was the same (9:10) as those who finished in under two hours. But it came down to those five seconds. FIVE SECONDS.
I let myself be disappointed for a few minutes and then I realized that, HELLO?!, a new PR! Yay! (My previous best was 2:00:27). And to have it happen when I was feeling lousy and had been sick all week? That’s pretty awesome and something to be proud of.
By this point, the day had gotten very chilly and windy, and my stomach wasn’t feeling so hot (not to mention the veggie food items were slim to none, aside from bananas). We saw the massive line for the beer garden, and given that we needed to run back to the hotel and quickly shower so we could check out in less than an hour, we had to skip the celebratory Smuttynose post-race brew (which we made up for when we got home, although I didn’t get a chance to use my handy-dandy new bottle opener!).
Personally, there were so many positives to take away from this race:
- Running at a consistent pace. This is a huge one for me. I joked with friends last weekend that my racing splits are generally so schizophrenic, a clear sign of my wanting to go out too fast and too early in races. But Sunday was as steady as she comes. Not sure if that’s a result of my training or having a friend to run with? I’ll say both.
- Negative splits!
- Good fueling and hydration: I ended up taking both (but not finishing) my Clif Shot Gets and regularly grabbed sipped of my Nuun water bottles.
And the positive vibes continue for the actual race itself:
- Every half participant got a blue fleece jacket instead on yet another T-shirt. GENIUS.
- Smooth bib pick-up and bag drop-off/retrieval.
- Fabulous course that actually lives up to its claim of being the “flattest half in New England.” I think if this had been a hilly race, I would have been in trouble.
- Speaking of the course, I found the ocean to be distracting (in a good way) and something to focus on. Even the segments of the race that ran through neighborhoods were pretty.
- There seemed to be lots of aid stops (although I didn’t use them, since I carry my own).
My only complaints? More vegetarian food options post-race (lobster rolls and clam chowder were the big draw), clearer wave/corral signage, and not having the 5K runners start at the same time as the half marathoners. But that’s it, and trust me when I say I will definitely be back next year.
Because in my heart of hearts — considering I was sick — I feel like I ran a sub-2, even if it’s not reflected in the final results. And if I did it once, I can do it again.
Have you ever raced when you’re sick?