This past Sunday, April 7th, ten members of my running club ran The Great Bay Half Marathon. The race starts in Newmarket, NH and winds runners through the Great Bay Estuary and National Wildlife Refuge.
Great Bay Pre-Race Routine
On my way over to our meeting spot I got a flat tire. I was on the Lynn Fells Parkway just cresting the hill in Stoneham when I knew I had a flat. I slowed and then stopped at the bottom of the hill to get out and get a visual. I was close to a local restaurant called J.J. Grimsby’s on the corner of The Fells and West Wyoming Street. I managed to get my car into their parking lot and parked near the back along a fence. I hoped that I had not ruined the rim, because the tire was destroyed.
I texted Gail and told her I had a flat, where I was and could they swing by and pick me up. No problem. A few minutes later the caravan pulled into the parking lot. As I grabbed my stuff out of the car my buddy AJ jumps out and looks at my car and says, “Dude, you know you have a flat?” with a dead serious look on his face. He later told me I had a WTF look on my face. At the time I didn’t know if I should tell him to fuck off for being a douchebag or laugh. He must have been joking. AJ is a joker, right? I wasn’t in a joking mood.
There weren’t any signs in the lot, but I was afraid they’d tow my car after it had been there all day. I was also aware that my pre-race routine had just gone out the window. Who the hell knew how this race would go now? Gail chatted away with her friend Amie as I obsessed over my disaster of a morning.
Operation New Market
We got to New Market without a hitch. After a few turns we found a lot right next to the high school to park. We walked over, got our numbers, used the facilities and headed back to the cars for the final race prep.
Looking back on the scene, we were a welled oiled machine. Everyone had their pins, selection of clothes to choose for how they thought the weather would be. Everyone had their food and drink. Gail’s friend was doing yoga in the parking lot and even brought her roller. AJ did some hand-stand yoga pose, which just looked dangerous before a race. We may not be fast, but we know what we are doing.
Into the Woods
869 runners started and completed the scenic 13.1 mile route through classic New Hampshire countryside. The first two miles of the race wind through several neighborhoods of Newmarket, but at about 2.5 miles we turned right onto Dame Road and entered the country side.
Dame Road is a dirt road with alternating woods and meadows on both sides. Stone walls and old farm houses can be seen from the road. New development has inevitably crept in but this part of the race has a nice old New England feel to it.
Due to the nature of dirt roads I had to pay close attention to each foot fall so as not to twist an ankle. Wearing Oakley’s is not helpful in a wooded and partially shaded area like this. There are a number of rolling hills on this section of the race which are just a taste of what was to come.
Approaching mile three I knew I was not going to hit my PR. I had set RunKeeper to a pace of 8:30 which would bring me in at 1:50 and be a course PR. I went out a little fast with the 7:30 pace group and ran with Jeff for the first two miles. I knew I couldn’t keep that pace up for 13.1 miles and managed to cut back to about 7:45 for miles two and three.
Jeff went on ahead and I settled into my plan pace around 8:30. There are a lot of hills on this course so my pace wasn’t as consistent as it usually is. I took my first PowerGel before mile 4.
At mile five we descended a hill to make our first crossing of Crommet Creek. I seem to recall the descent as being steep and that I had to hold back for fear of slipping on some gravel. The area around the creek is marshy and is probably beautiful and teaming with life in the summer. It was quiet and mostly brown and grey as we ran by.
On Great Bay
Just before mile 6 we turned right onto Durham Point Road. As we descended the hill to cross the bridge over the inlet for Crommet Creek, the Great Bay came into view. This gentle bay is several miles up the Salmon River from Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth, NH but is in lascivious congress with The Atlantic.
As a strong breeze rose off of the bay and roared through a narrow row of pine trees I inhaled deeply the salty aroma of the ocean and the sweetness of white pine. The aroma was intoxicating and brought on a rush of memories.
As we crossed the bridge the road turned into Bay Road. No sooner had we left the bridge and one of the major hills of the race began. We were approaching mile seven and the many rolling hills previously traversed had taken their toll on many of us. After mile 7 the 8:00 minute pace group caught up to me. I decided I would try to stay with them up to at least mile 8. I had some time banked already and if I kept up with them for a mile or more I would come in ahead of my goal. My legs were quite tired but I managed to push up the hill with less difficulty than last year. I’m pretty sure that I walked part of this hill last year.
The views of the bay were fantastic and I envied all of the people who owned homes or cottages along the road. They have the benefit of being on the ocean with the protection of several miles of land between them and Portsmouth which is on the ocean directly.
Some homes were modest ranches while others were classic New England homes or modern splendors. A great deal of the land along this road remains unspoiled and is easy on the eye. Around mile 8 another hill began and I had to walk part of it. The 8:00 minute group moved on ahead of me.
I had been running pretty well up to mile 8. But my legs were tired and my poor pre-race preparation was beginning to take its toll on me. My pace for mile 8 dropped to 8:41, I rallied for the next mile, benefited from some downhill and hit 8:25, but then dropped to 8:58 for mile 10. At around ten and a half miles we took a sharp right onto Cushing Road. Cushing Road is an out and back loop and where we turn there is a good sized intersection.
There was a crowd of people there cheering us on and race officials to make sure we made the turn. There were also two porta-potties, blue havens of relief! Because my pre-race routine was completely trashed I really needed to make a stop. I knew we would pass by this intersection on the way back down Cushing Road, so I decided to hold it and push on.
I managed an 8:35 mile out to the cul-du-sac at the end of Cushing. I kept telling myself that the faster I ran the sooner I would be in one of those blue havens of relief. On the way out I noticed an incline in the road. On the way back it seemed like we had more of an incline and my pace dropped to 9:11 for mile 12.
The Final push for The Finish
My goal pace was 8:30 to come in at One hour, fifty minutes for the race. While my early
lead on this pace had diminished significantly, I was still ahead of my goal pace by six seconds, per mile. The mile 12 marker was about a quarter mile before the intersection. With only 1.1 miles to go until the finish, I decided not to stop.
I ran the last god-forsaken hills as hard as I could. There are two hills in town and the next to last almost broke my pace to a walk. I could hear the crowd at the finish and the sound helped me rally and drive up that hill, and then the last hill which is the bridge. As we passed the mile 13 marker I dumped everything I had into those legs. There wasn’t much left and I wouldn’t call it a kick.
Somehow the last 1/10 of a mile in these races seems to be the longest mile in the race. Just like last week at the April Fool’s 4 Miler, I could see the clock ticking down to my target time. This week I was more confident that I would make it. I felt spent but I knew my legs had the juice to get me over the line before the clock flipped to 1:50.
It was close. My official net time was 1:49:54.7. It wasn’t a PR but I had bested last year’s time of 1:53:13, and my 2011 time of 1:57:21. Going into the race I knew I wouldn’t beat my PR of 1:47:29 because that PR was run on an easier course. Tossing my pre-race routine out the window really gave me cause for concern.
Experience Trumps Catastrophe
I did not have any coffee at all before the race and I did not have my bagel with butter. When I got to the race all I had to eat was my banana and a Cliff bar. That’s plenty for most people, but I like to run on a full stomach. By planning ahead and having all of that food I was able to minimize the impact of skipping most of my routine.
Missing my post breakfast visit to the men’s room almost cost me several minutes and my goal. Years of running experience allowed me to make an informed decision as to how far I could run without exploding. I read on a tri-athletes blog that the sphincter can tell the difference between solids, liquids and gas. The brain often can’t and it’s been my experience to be extremely careful late in a race letting my ass make decisions for me.
The Finish Line, Finally
As I crossed the finish line there were lots of people there with water and medals. I fumbled for my medal and clumsily pulled it over the visor of my hat, then grabbed a water. I managed to stop RunKeeper and hit the save activity button. It did stop, then I heard it start talking again and saw it had started a new race. I stopped it, erased the new event and thought I was done. Well, I guess not. RunKeeper had my mile 14 at a 207.4 minute pace!
RunKeeper has some advantages over Garmin. But I have found my “smart phone” to be as sensitive as a 16-year old virgin when I don’t want it to be and like a brick when I need it to actually do something. Both devices have come close to becoming projectiles.
Both Jeff and Gail ran Half-Marathon PRs. This is the 4th straight PR for Gail this year as her new training program is really paying off for her. My buddy AJ did not get an official time as he was running on the number of our injured friend. He had a tough race and I don’t think he PR’d.
Jeff had to head home early for family business and I had to go fix my flat tire. We went to the VFW to grab one beer before we left. There wasn’t a line and we were able to grab a Smuttynose and spend a few minutes with our other friends who had run the 5K. They seemed to be happy and had a tall stack of empty cups on the table in front of them.
We drank down our cups like the chalice of life, wiped our chins and headed for home.
Run well my friends,
© anagelin 2013