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Eastern States 20 Mile Race Recap

On Sunday, March 24th, five friends and I drove up to Hampton Beach for the Eastern States 20 Mile Run.

We left nice and early and easily found a parking spot. Eastern States is a point to point race so the race organizers had buses to take us up the coast to Portsmouth, New Hampshire where the race began.

Eastern States 20 Mile race
The logo and medal for the Eastern States 20 Mile Run

We arrived at Portsmouth High School around 9AM and had two hours to kill before the 11AM race start. The high school looks quite new and we hung out in the spacious cafeteria. We also got to use their new and comfortable bathrooms, which was a nice change from what we usually get at a race.

The number distribution was as smooth and as quick as any that I have experienced, though it was obvious that this was a first time for some of the crew.

We hung out, did our final prep for the race and made numerous trips to the bathroom. There were hundreds of runners hanging out, stretching and making new friends or catching up with old ones.

Great day for the Eastern States 20

Temps were forecast in the 40s with sun and a 10-15mph breeze. For March this was quite pleasant, anything above freezing feels great! Many people were wearing shorts and some had short-sleeved running shirts on.

I opted for Under Armor shorts, my Asics running shorts, Under Armor top, 2009 Boston Marathon running shirt and my vest. I loaded my vest pockets up with a GU and the Power Gels and grabbed my winter running hat and gloves. I like to keep my head and hands warm and if it gets to hot these items are easily removed.

To the start

Around 10:45 we headed outside in search of the starting line. We didn’t find any race officials or signs to direct us to the start but some other runners directed us up a hill. It was about a quarter-mile to the start area. We figured we were in the right place because there was a police car and motorcycle on the side of the road.

They did not use timing strips in the race bibs to time this race so the usual starting mats were not to be found. There was a mis-communication with the police on the starting time and we had to wait until about 10 past 11 to start. It was chilly but I didn’t hear any complaints.

There were 445 runners at the start and we got off to a quick start on a verbal command. My first mile was 7:47 which was way too fast. My average pace for the race was 8:36 according to RunKeeper and my official pace was 8:42.

I didn’t go into this race with a plan. A friend tore his ACL a few weeks back and could not run, so I decided to run for him just a week before the race. I’m not training for a marathon so my weekly miles are in the 25 miles per week range and my long run was the Derry 16 mile race. So I had no plan and no business running under 8 minute miles at the beginning of a 20 mile run. But here I was running 8:14 or less for the first ten miles!

We are about three weeks out from the Boston Marathon and a lot of Boston Marathon runners run this race to gauge their fitness. This is also their last big race before they begin to taper. So I was out there with a lot of well conditioned runners who were testing their metal. And I had a goal pace of 9:00 punched into RunKeeper!

Still, having 10 minutes “in the bank” at mile 10 was thrilling to me. I knew I did not have an aggressive goal but just being in this race at my level of training took guts. If I kept it up I would finish at 2:40. But I knew I was not conditioned to keep up that pace. At some point I would have to slow down and I even told myself that it would be okay to walk a water stop or hill at some point. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone, including myself.

At about mile10 I began to feel the lack of training weighing down on me. My left hip-joint was starting to hurt and it took more effort to keep going. I knew I was getting to the point where 8:00 miles were no longer in the cards.

I struggled for the next mile and around mile 11 I made a bargain with myself. If I could get to 13.1 miles with a faster time than I ran the New Bedford Half the weekend before, I would let myself walk. I never considered what I would do if I didn’t hit my goal. What else could I have done but to keep on running as best as I could?

Eastern States 20 Mile road race
Course elevations and my pace

My finish time was 1:50:57 in New Bedford for the half-marathon. RunKeeper announced my stats every five minutes. At 1:45 into the race I knew my goal was attainable but I needed to pick up my pace to avoid disappointment.

At 1:50 RunKeeper announced that I was at 13.4 miles! I had run an extra 0.30 miles in the same time as last week and had therefore beaten my time. I was incapable of doing the math in my head at that time.

With the assistance of the pace calculator on coolrunning.com I calculated that my pace at the half-marathon mark was, on average, 8:13. This would have given me a Half-Marathon finish of 1:47:38. If I had been running a Half instead of 20 miles I may have been able to maintain an 8:00 pace and finished under 1:45. My Half Marathon PR is 1:47:29, so I pretty much hit my PR and could have beaten it.

Even without the exact numbers I was happy to hit the goal that I made up half-way into the race. At 13.4 miles I was over 60% into the race and if I dropped to 9:00 miles I would still finish at 2:50. From my splits listed below you can see that I held on for mile 13 but then had some tough miles.

You can see the spikes in my pace where I walked three different times after mile 13, but never stopped. Both hips hurt, my left Achilles had a slight burning sensation now and then and I was basically bonking out.

I don’t think I ever hit my maximum heart rate during the race and I was never gasping for breath. My body was just not conditioned to run 20 miles at an 8:00 pace. I had basically gone out too fast. Around mile 16 or 17 my thighs actually ached. That has never happened before. My legs have been tired but they have never ached. My muscles were spent. I was out of food and Gatorade was not going to touch this level of energy depletion. I had at least two more miles to go on nothing but heart and will power.

Eastern States 20 Miler splits, running
My splits for Eastern States 20 Mile Run

The last two miles were a slug fest. People passed me, I didn’t care. I passed a few people, I didn’t care. I was beyond my range, my thighs ached and my stomach was empty. In some ways I feel like I was beyond limits I had ever reached before. I did not train for this, eat for this or anything and I still came close to a Half Marathon PR. I had pushed myself further and harder than I had before.

This was different from running Boston in 85° temps in 2012. I had trained for 26.2 miles, I had run that course four times before and I’m half decent at managing my hydration and heat. This race was a lark. I nonchalantly stepped up to the line with no expectations other than to finish and proceeded to pour myself into the effort with great abandon. I tested my new way of running and it worked well for 10 miles, even 13.1 miles. Every sub 8 minute mile was a shock and a thrill. Holy shit, I just might be able to qualify for Boston some day!

Run well my Friends,

Andy

© 2013 anagelin


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