The End of a Streak; Belated Manchester *HALF* Marathon Race And Season Notes

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It’s fitting that I’m getting around to jotting a few notes on this race almost a week after the fact. The whole thing ended up being a bit nonchalant, given it was my main race of the season and the focus of 18 weeks of training. Note that it’s a half marathon race report, rather than a marathon race report. This distinction is at the heart of this season’s lesson: we’ve got a finite amount of energy and headspace; you can run the training miles, but they won’t always get you the same results, and you won’t always have the will to push yourself all the way into depths of suffering you’ve been enthusiastic to visit in the past. And so, with this 13.1 miles in lieu of the marathon, my  stretch of running two marathon-or-longer races a year is ended.  Wimping out? Getting old? Maybe, or maybe it’s accumulated wisdom. I’ve been around and among committed, 40-50-something age-grouper distance junkies long enough to notice that when you feel like you need to step off the gas, you ought to do it. If you don’t, your body does it for you.

I realized I wasn’t going to run the marathon about four weeks ago. If you’ve been by the blog over the past year, you know I wrestled with the conflicting impulses to take a break from marathons and a continued relish of the training process and the challenge of racing that distance. Before Boston this spring, I was sure I wasn’t going to run another for a long time. But Boston 2014 was such a good experience (if not a particularly fast run) that, well, think of that famous Michael Corleone line from The Godfather Part II:

Anyhow, I ran the training miles, squeezed in late at night or early in the morning, and they kept me fit, but I wasn’t feeling it. The hard workouts weren’t going well, and I just wasn’t wanting it. I was pouring heart and soul into other things, and enjoying the easy running and the interval work, but not the long tempos, not the grinding up hills at in the late-night dark on Wednesday nights. Finally, 10 miles into the last, 15-mile race-pace long run on my schedule, I had a minor epiphany.

And that was it. I didn’t have the headspace for it. I really didn’t want it this time around. I didn’t want to run the fastest 26.2 I could and be physically broken for the rest of the year. Nor did I want to forgo the racing and run the 26.2 “easy.” I remembered my decision last spring, to finish Boston and then just enjoy running for the fitness, the mental health benefits, and the competition and camaraderie of shorter races.

I emailed the race director and switched my registration to  the half marathon, enjoyed the rest of the training period, and showed up race day feeling rested, relaxed and happy to be there.

I figured based on my race-pace long runs on the Manchester course (accurately described by race officials as “hilly, challenging and scenic”) that I was in about 3:06 marathon shape for that course. I speculated that would get me somewhere between 6:40 and 6:50 pace for a half, but with the hills, I wasn’t really sure. I’d go hard at it in the lower part of that range and see where I came out.

The morning of the race was quite windy, 24 mph with heavier gusts, and temps in the high 30s. Rain or snow had been forecast but it held off. I rolled out of bed, ate a leisurely breakfast, had coffee, read the paper and jogged the mile and a half to the start at 8:15 a.m. Key benefit of a hometown race.

I was struck by two things when I arrived. How hardy these runners – of all ages and body types – were as they stood and chatted happily as the gale roared around them. And how lucky I am to have so many friends I have in this warm and welcoming running community. (Want to get to know more runners in Manchester? Check out the Athletic Alliance Running Club.) I met up with James Porter (picture above, finished right around the time I did) and we did some strideouts and then it was race time. We held our hats over our hearts for the National Anthem, eyes on the flag whipping in the wind atop City Hall, the gun sounded, and we were off.

And all along that hilly course friends braving the cold to cheer. And at the end, friends and family, Kris and the four kids, all bundled up and cheeks red and eyes shining and I was simply delighted. Overcome almost with gratitude.  And that was the second little epiphany. It doesn’t matter what the distance or how I finish: they are still there.  That’s a good feeling, especially as you look toward the future and know that your future PRs may soon need to all be age-adjusted.

Cue the lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

Anyhow, remember I said I guessed I was in 3:06 marathon shape? Well I ended up running 1:28:59 in the half, which is about two minutes slower than my PR at the distance, but almost exactly what the http://www.mcmillanrunning.com calculator predicts based on the 3:06 marathon time estimate. I was 2nd in my age group,  5th in masters division, and 12th overall, and so I was happy enough with that. And even better? I ran an easy six on Tuesday and my legs were a little heavy, but that was about it. Already recovered. I think I like this half marathon distance! 

INTERESTED IN RUNNING MANCHESTER?

For anyone interested in running Manchester, the race site is http://www.cityofmanchestermarathon.com and you can view a video of the course here:  http://viewtherace.com/new-hampshire/manchester-city-half-marathon. It’s definitely challenging, but I think that gives it a unique strategic element. And it’s beautiful if you like old New England mill cities, as I do.

Here’s the elevation chart:

Manchester 1/2 Marathon Elevation

And here’s how I approached the splits, which is far from even splits I typically run in long races (I guess I’ve picked a lot of flat courses over the years). I had the opportunity to really work through the approach as I did most of my training runs on the course. I backed off some on the toughest climbs and saved my legs so I could hit the descents hard, especially the last mile: 6:35, 6:50, 6:46, 6:57, 6:51, 6:35, 6:56, 6:54, 6:43, 6:48, 6:41, 7:00, 6:23, 1:00.