State #25: New Hampshire
Well…I finished! If you want to talk about blowing up at a race, you can talk about my performance at the Clarence DeMar Marathon. I’m not sure if I had it in me to run a PR, but the rookie mistakes I made ensured I would never find out. Even though I didn’t run the time I’d hoped for, I learned a lot from this race. I had a blast road tripping up north with friends, and got to check another state off of my list. Not to mention that running in New Hampshire on Sunday meant that I hit a new milestone: I’m now halfway through my 50 state goal!
The drive up north was much easier on the way there than it was on the trip home. I know the roads and the area well from visiting my husband’s family lake house in upstate New York each summer. It was a breeze on the way up, but we drove home on Sunday afternoon and sat for hours on 87. Sunday was a looooong day that resulted in me taking Monday off of work to catch up on some much needed
time to sulk over the race sleep.
Located in Spaulding Gymnasium at Keene State College, it was exactly what you’d expect from a small town race expo. No vendors, just packet pick up and information about race day. The pasta dinner was sold out before we had the chance to get tickets, so I made a dinner reservation for a restaurant called Nicola’s Trattoria in town. We had a nice group of runners from the Lehigh Valley running the race, and we all ate together.
On Sunday morning, we drove from our hotel to the gym at Keene State College to catch a shuttle to Gilsum. It’s a point-to-point course that started north of Keene. In Gilsum, we had a scenic place to hang out, a decent staging area, restrooms, and bag check. The start was about a ten minute walk from where we were dropped off, so after checking our bags we began the walk to the starting line. It was freezing, and I was starting to get nervous.
I knew the winning female time from last year was 3:13, and my PR is a 3:06. My original intention was to try to run a PR and possibly win the race. Since my final spring marathon in Charlevoix, I’d been having a tough time with my right calf. I strained it, healed it, and re-strained it over and over all summer long. I’d get to a point in my training where I finally built my mileage up again, and it would relapse. Eventually, I gave it the rest it needed and got in for some physical therapy, but the damage had already been done. I spent the summer running slowly (no track workouts, no tempo runs) and on flat terrain. The odds were already against me, but it wouldn’t be like me if I didn’t try anyway.
Unfortunately, I got too caught up with trying to win and didn’t run my own race – right from the first mile. I lined up at the start, right in the front. There were two other girls up there with me and I started to get nervous. When the gun went off, I shot out at full speed. My initial goal was to run a seven minute miles for the first half and then see how I felt from there. My first mile was a 6:38 – and I didn’t stop there. By mile 14, my overall pace on my Garmin read 6:50. I ran with the first and second place females for the first 10 miles of the race until it finally dawned on me (about 10 miles too late) that I shouldn’t be trying to catch up to them. I should be patient, run my own pace, and let the race come to me. I’ve never been good with patience. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of person. But I also never lined up at the start thinking I could actually win, and this was my first taste of that.
On my best day and after a summer of ideal training, my goal was to average seven minute miles. But I knew before I started that this was not my best day. I was in pretty good shape from cross-training and triathlons, but I was not in my best marathon shape. Not to mention the elevation profile of the course. Somewhat hilly, but with a net descent over the first 14 miles. It’s almost identical to the elevation profile of the Boston Marathon:
I know (a little too well) what happens when you go out too fast in Boston, and this course was very similar. While I absolutely went out too fast for my current fitness level, I also went out too fast on a course with a net descent. By the time I got to mile 14 (the first long, steep climb and the first mile where I got off pace, 7:16), I reached the top and it was a little more of a struggle than it should have been at that point in the race. I began descending the hill and thought, “Oh, shit“. My quads were shot, and it was to the point where I thought they were going to completely give out while running downhill. I knew I started too fast right from the first mile, and I knew it was going to catch up to me at some point. What I felt at that moment was way worse than anything I’d ever expected or experienced in the past. In past races where I made this same mistake, I was never running 6:45-7:00 minute miles. This was a whole new level of “I’m so screwed“. Panic set in, and the realization of what I’d done hit me hard.
At this point, I was in third place. But the race turned from trying to PR/win to trying to survive. My new goal? Not to walk – and I didn’t. Not even for one step. I knew if I started walking, it would result in a REALLY long day. So I stopped looking at my watch, and was at peace with whatever pace I ran so long as I was still running. I was able to keep my pace in the 8-8:30 range but I didn’t bother to push it anymore at that point. My slowest mile of the race was an 8:31. The damage was done, and pushing anymore at that point would just make the experience that much more frustrating. Oddly enough, I wasn’t that upset while I was running. I think some part of me knew that if I had a prayer of having a decent finish time that day, I needed to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other.
I finished in 3:18:02, 7:31 pace. 31 seconds per mile off of my goal. Ouch. I was the 6th female and 3rd in my age group, but they only recognized first and second place winners in ten year age groups (so 30-39 instead of the usual 30-34). There’s always a silver lining, and there are always positives that come out of even the most terrible of race experiences. Even though I took a beating, it was far from my worst marathon ever. Although it was nowhere near a PR, it was still my 3rd fastest marathon finish to date. It’s a solid 2016 Boston qualifier (BQ -17:58). Most importantly, I am beyond thankful that I finished this race without aggravating my calf. The pace, combined with the amount of climbing and descending, could have been catastrophic. To really put it into perspective, if someone would have told me a year ago that I would be crying about running a 3:18, I would have died laughing. One year ago, I couldn’t break 3:31. All things considering, Sunday was a great day.
The whole experience reminds me of when I ran the Baltimore Marathon in 2009. I trained all summer and planned to attempt my first BQ. I’d run a 3:46 on a harder course a few months prior. This was still during the time period where females under 34 years old needed a 3:40, and the race didn’t sell out in a matter of minutes. Except on that day, I didn’t start out too fast. I was running with a pacer and he was spot on, but I just didn’t have it. I ran the marathon in Baltimore in 4:08 that day – 22 minutes slower than my previous marathon. I did, however, end up running my first qualifier less than a month later in San Antonio. I think the race in Baltimore was worse because I trained hard all summer but just didn’t have it on that day. Here, I didn’t put in the mileage and suffered for my arrogance and stupidity.
As for the race itself? Eh. I’ve read that it’s one of the most scenic courses – I disagree. While the first 13 miles are very pretty, the second half isn’t quite as impressive and a little depressing. There’s section of the course run on a bike path around mile 20 that I ran completely alone, and part of it was overlooking a highway.There’s a cemetery that you run through around mile 23 with a decent climb – like on the path through the cemetery (I already felt like death, so it was quite fitting). The last three miles wind you back into Keene through a residential area, and it wasn’t too special. If I were going for scenic, I’d go back to Maine (by far the most beautiful race I’ve run), Alaska, Utah, Vermont, Rhode Island…and I didn’t pick those based on my finish times – 4/5 of those were far from great performances.
Feeling like you gave a race your all and feeling like you gave a race more than you have to offer is a fine line, but one I never want to cross again. The the lesson I learned, however, was invaluable: let the race come to you and run your own race. I need to remember what I trained for and trust that it’s enough. I’m over it now and actually, I’m almost glad it happened. Almost. Of course I’d rather be writing about standing on a podium and setting another PR, but that can’t be the case with every race. I’d gotten too far last season on going out too fast and having successful results. Before 2014, I used to plan to run negative splits. I’d force myself to start off slowly and then speed up. I’m not sure where all of that changed, but this race really reinforced the importance of pacing.