October 6, 2009

Race Report: New Hampshire Marathon

After meeting up with Steph and her mom, Mary, at Manchester Airport, we headed up to Steph’s friend Pete’s house where we would be staying for the night. There was a group of about 30 people from Steph’s Galloway running club in Cincinatti, so Pete had prepared a huge, delicious pasta dinner for everyone, including cranberry-walnut-blue-cheese salad, pasta with rosemary marinara sauce and meatballs, and some awesome homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. Yum! We got ready for bed early, waited up for our friend Marina to arrive, and then were sound asleep by 10:30 PM. Not quite as early as I had hoped, but the race didn’t start until 9:00 AM so it was probably fine.

For no particular reason, I didn’t sleep that well, so I woke up still yawning like crazy. A quick self-assessment revealed that I had a definite sniffle and was really sleepy, but not feeling like crap “below the neck,” which they say is the criteria for whether or not you should exercise. Well, exercise I was going to do!

We drove to the start at the local high school, dismayed by the already pouring rain. I used my umbrella to keep me dry from the car to the building, though I knew later I’d have no such protection. We had about an hour to wait, so I passed the time meeting up with other Maniacs and 50 State Club members. The New Hampshire-Maine combo is a popular double, and with the 50 State Club fall reunion scheduled for Saturday night in Maine, most of the race field was made up of Maniacs and 50 Staters. Definitely made things more fun, though because I had just experienced this phenomenon in Albuquerque, it wasn’t quite as special.

Because we were all waiting in the local elementary school, we were fortunate enough to get to use real bathrooms instead of standard issue porta potties. However, I was surprised to discover that the real bathrooms actually smelled worse than porta potties. I didn’t even want to be in the same hallway as the bathrooms, because I could smell them from 50 feet away. Yuck! I miss the elite porta potties of Quad Cities

Ten minutes before the start, everyone started heading out. I procrastinated as long as I could, wanting to stay inside where it was dry and (relatively) warm, but finally I gave in and headed out. I had cut holes in a big garbage bag to wear over me, and also experimented with wrapping small plastic grocery bags around my feet before sliding them into my sneakers, and I was pleased to find that being out in the rain wasn’t too bad… at least not yet. It was a very light rain as we headed out to the start (just a bit harder than a mist), and I thought if it stayed like that, we’d be fine.

The race started as I chatted with some Maniacs around me, and as the crowd surged forward, I realized I didn’t see any kind of starting line or marker at which to start my timer. I just kind of set it randomly when I realized this, but I knew my time and distance would probably be a bit off from the official clock. The race wasn’t being chip timed, so in retrospect I should have started my watch right when the gun went off. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see when the results come out!

Of course, as soon as we started running, it started raining a little harder. I found myself running right behind Dave, a friend from 50 States, so he and I chatted about upcoming races and how we were anticipating doing for the double weekend. We were doing a slight uphill, but it really didn’t seem bad at all, and definitely not as bad as the elevation profile had made it seem. For the next few miles, the race wasn’t so crowded as to cause the need to bob and weave, but just crowded enough that you could always find a friend to talk to. Fun! The first few miles were easy, and all my plastic bags were keeping my body and my feet relatively dry. Around mile 3, we hit an uphil that was fairly significant. At least, it was enough to make me decided to walk, though I think if I weren’t doing the double, I would have been able to run it. It wasn’t too steep or too long – just a little bit of a pain thrown in to make things interesting.

Around mile 4, when I was starting to feel good and get into the rhythm of the run, a sharp pain in my big toe made me sit up and take notice. I hadn’t done anything that I could tell to cause it, but some kind of cross between a cramp and a spasm was sending a shooting pain radiating up from my toe into my foot. Instinctually, I tried curling and uncurling my toes in order to shift my foot and hopefully release the pressure that seemed to be causing the problem. I was ablel to lessen the pain, but it wouldn’t go away entirely. I hoped this wouldn’t put me out of commission for the rest of the race! Soon after, it eased up in a really gradual way (so gradual I forgot about it!), and I didn’t remember it again until it started aching when I was sitting around after the race writing this report. It’s not a sharp pain anymore – now just kind of a dull ache that’s a reminder of the pain that was there before. Anyone know what that could be?

I continued on and found that the course was essentially all rollers – ups and downs that actually made the course easier by changing up the leg muscles that you were using. Around mile 8, we turned from the main road onto a side road that went along the top part of the lake. At first, it seemed to be a pretty steep downhill, and I got worried because downhills often trash my quads, but it actually ended up being short and therefore not that treacherous. I got into a conversation with some other runners about other marathons we’ve run or are planning on doing. Now that I’ve completed 28 marathons, I have a lot to say on this subject, and I’ve read so many reviews on Marathon Guide that I generally know something about a race even if I haven’t run it.

Approaching mile 11, there was a sign indicating “runners bathrooms” with a big arrow to a church on the left. I veered off course to hit it up, more as a just-in-case preventative measure than because it was really necessary. However, upon trying the door to the church, I found it locked. Was the sign some kind of joke? I started to head back to the route (via shortcut – a little unfair, but I figured my Garmin was already showing me a bit long so shaving off a few feet wouldn’t hurt), and as I cut across the (ew, wet!) grass via the shortest route, I saw a porta potty against the far side of the church building… where it wasn’t visible from the side from which runners would approach. Genius to do that and not put a sign on the church telling you to go around the corner! On the plus side, it didn’t smell too bad, so I figured the hidden location kept many runners from seeing it and using it before me 🙂

Rejoining the race, I saw a few guys going by in the opposite direction… were these the frontrunners? A helpful spectator told one of the guys that he was in tenth place, and I realized I had either missed the lead guys when I was in the bathroom or because I hadn’t gotten to the out-and-back portion soon enough. That’s one of my favorite part about out-and-back races (getting to see the leaders and cheer for them), but again to stay positive, I was happy the out-and-back was only a quick three miles.

About halfway through the first part of the out-and-back, I ran into my friend Jackie from DC, whom I had met at the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon in June. We ran together for a few miles, and it was really fun to have someone to talk to! We hit the turnaround at 2:22, translating to a 4:45 marathon if we did even splits. I usually run the second half a bit slower, so I decided to ambitiously aim for a 4:50… but really, I didn’t care about time, and probably wouldn’t be running based on anything except how I felt. With another marathon coming up the next day, time wasn’t as important as getting through the race with no injuries.

A bit later, we came upon Mary, who had been running just a bit ahead of us, and so we ran with her for a little bit too before veering off. Thanks to my AirDrives, I was listening to some great new Rascal Flatts music as I ran (“Impossible”), and the lyrics and the beat spurred me to run at a pretty good clip despite the rolling hills that were bothering some runners.

Returning to the split that led us to the out-and-back, I had had enough sports drink that I decided to visit the porta potty again, so I veered off from Jackie and Mary and headed back over to the church – at least I knew where the porta potty was this time! I quickly returned to the course in time for mile 17 as well as a sudden onslaught of rain. If I thought it was raining before, it was now pouring. The plastic bags on my feet were working terrifically to keep my feet dry, as was the big garbage bag around my body, but my face was as wet as it gets in the shower, and I was really glad I hadn’t put any makeup on.

The course now started winding around the other side of the lake, but this time we were pretty close to the water so we could see the view. It was beautiful – all foggy and misty, and with gorgeous homes and piers all along the water. It reminded me a lot of Bolton Landing up in the Adirondacks, particularly since the road we were running was all shaded by beautiful maple trees that were just starting to change colors. I felt very at home running this route, and with only 9 miles to go, I could easily pretend I was running the Adirondack Distance Run (a 10 mile race that I rocked a few summers ago, at a time when it was the longest race I had ever run).

The bags on my feet weren’t really chafing against my skin, but one of them was rubbing against the shoe and producing kind of a squeak against the rubber shoe, so I stopped briefly to adjust it. Unfortunately, in doing so, I made the wrap not-quite-perfect, and now it created an uncomfortable lump against my foot, so I stopped again. This kept going on for about 1/4 mile, until I accidentally wrapped it too tight and my feet pushed through the plastic at the end of the bag, creating a giant non-waterproof hole. Seeing this, I finally gave up and just hoped that my feet wouldn’t get too wet between now and the end of the race.

With 7 miles to go, and still feeling really good, I started picking up the pace. I’ll say one thing about pouring rain: it definitely gets you motivated to run faster to reach the (hopefully) warm and dry finish! I found myself passing a lot of runners, and I made sure to say “good job” or something similar to each one as I went by. I meant it sincerely, but I never know if saying something like that actually seems sincere or rather condescending. I hope they knew I meant it.

The traffic at this point was starting to get a bit hairy. Throughout the race, we had been running on the shoulder of the road or slightly in the lane (there were so few cars that they were able to veer slightly into the oncoming lane in order to give us room). However, it was now afternoon, so people were out and about, and a lot of drivers were mostly ignoring the “caution runners!” signs on the road and zooming by fairly quickly. The road was winding back and forth quite a bit, which didn’t help matters, so I was glad that I was running on my own now and not trying to run two-abreast. Despite being on my own, I still chatted a bit with the people I passed (strangers and friends alike).

Around mile 22, I caught up to Jackie again, and we started running together for the last few miles. We passed a cute little ice cream stand that was unfortunately closed (I half-jokingly told Jackie that I kept $20 in my fuel belt for just such an “emergency”), as well as a water stop at a local pub that was shielding their tables with “100 calorie light lime beer” umbrellas (I jokingly yelled at the sweet little old ladies running the station for false advertising, wanting to know where the beer was). Jackie and I were having a ball running together, and I was really glad for the company.

Still, it didn’t stop me from switching my playlist to my “Marathon Power Songs.” The first one up was Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb,” and I’ll admit to getting a little runner’s high going and kind of fading away from Jackie as I listened. Fortunately, we had picked up another runner at this point, so she had him to talk to as we dodged traffic and soldiered on. Mile 24 took us up a hill back to the main road we had started on, and suddenly the end was finally in sight (metaphorically, not literally).

Afer the uphill, I started really picking upt he pace. At first I was torn about whether to wait for Jackie, and I glanced back a few times, but she waved me on so I eventually decided to go for it. With a big smile on my face and my favorite songs to cheer me on, I started passing runner after runner in those last two miles. I kept setting my sights on someone in the distance, determining that they would be the one I would pass before reaching the finish line, and then passing them so quickly and easily that I’d have to set a new goal.

The cars started getting really vicious in this home stretch, and I was especially annoyed to see one little sports car swerve into the shoulder in order to pass a left-turning car that was waiting another 5 seconds to turn. There was no one on the shoulder right where he swerved into it, but there were runners only a few hundred feet back, and I was annoyed that he had so little respect for the race that he felt the need to save 2 seconds with such a dangerous move.

Finally, we turned onto a side street and there was mile 26 ahead of us – at the top of one last little mini hill. Ugh! At least the magical mile sign spurred me to run to the top, passing two guys who weren’t as inspired as I was and decided to walk it. Coming down the home stretch, there wasn’t really anyone in front of me except for a guy way ahead who was already turning into the finish chute. Because the actual finish line came after taking a right into a park, I couldn’t really see it, and didn’t feel like sprinting just yet anyway. However, that didn’t stop me from picking it up to a really nice run and putting a big smile on my face as I came into the home stretch.

While I had successfully managed to avoid puddles thus far, as I turned into the park for the finish, I saw there was no avoiding it: a narrow finish chute that went right through a giant mud pit. Should I try to pick my way through it, since I wasn’t going for a fast time anyway? With a split second decision, I decided that no matter how slowly I had been running thus far, daintily picking my way through the last 100 feet was no way to finish a marathon, and I plowed right through. Bye bye, white Asics!

I crossed the finish line to find Steph waiting for me with her grandparents under a big umbrella. Her mom wasn’t finished yet, so I hit up the food tent while I waited, devouring two slices of pizza and some Dunkin Donuts Munchkins. Hey, when you’re running a double, you have permission to pile on the calories!

Though I had stayed reasonably warm and dry throughout the race, it was in those last ten minutes waiting for Mary to finish that I got soaked and shivering. As soon as Mary crossed the line and we cheered her in, I headed right for the gym, even though Steph and Mary stuck around to hit up the food tent and chat. From there, it was back to Pete’s for a quick shower, and then off we went on the drive to Maine! One down, one more to go 🙂

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:41:02
Pace: 10:43
Overall place: 164/297
Gender place: 37/110
Age group place: 18/31


6 thoughts on “Race Report: New Hampshire Marathon”

  1. Long time lurker, first time commenter. Great job on the race! You didn’t even mention that you beat your 4:50 goal by quite a bit.

    Your toe thing could be some inflammation of the big toe tendon. Try rolling your foot over a softball or tennis ball to massage it. That always works for me.

  2. No idea on the toe. Hopefully it is not sore now.

    Nice work on the race. I have been SOOO lucky to not have any rain. Something that I would love to continue to be able to say!

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