"I think at the end of the day, what you really have to do, is you have to look fear in the face and you just have to smile. Even if you can't see it. "
This past Sunday morning I tackled the New Bedford Half Marathon for the fourth year in a row. I have a love-hate relationship with this race. I like it because it's easy to get to, it's incredibly well run and it falls perfectly in between the start and finish of a spring marathon training cycle. I'm not a fan because it's a challenging course and several miles are along a beach peninsula so its always windy. All that said, I tend to come back each year and run it because I can test my fitness compared to the year before as well as get a sense for where I am in my current training. This year our winter season in New England has been incredibly bizarre. We had a mild-ish February and we are now in full-blown winter mode at the end of March. Single digit temps, wind, snow storms, all of it. The Saturday before the race the forecast was calling for snow and had the Cape Cod area on "gale watch." No joke. At the end of the day, the race director sent us a note claiming the following:
To Be Clear, the 2017 New Bedford Half Marathon WILL BE RUN on Sunday, March 19th at 11:00 am. We have had hours of rain here today and the race course, although slushy is clear. The pending snow this weekend, will not be enough to cancel the event, please dress accordingly.
Okay, so a good time was now totally off the table. Fine. I could deal with that. But running in wind and snow sounded a bit daunting and, call me a wuss, but I was worried about getting sick if I slogged through that for over an hour so I emailed my coach and asked him what he thought I should do. For the record, I would normally just suck it up and race. But, in addition to my May marathon, I've got the Boston marathon coming up with Joyce and TeamWithAVision and our high school spring track season just started and I just don't have time to get sick right now. Lowell told me to play it by ear and make the call the morning of the race. He agreed it was not worth risking it with all my other stuff going on. So, that was the plan. I conferred with Kirsten, my bud and running partner, who would be heading down with me and we decided to just see what unfolded.
Saturday night I went ahead and got everything ready and tried to mentally prepare myself for the worst. The above outfit was one of about five options. Shorts, pants, singlet, long sleeve, short sleeve, three quarters; I threw them all in my bag. I really did want to race, to test my fitness and do something different than my typical long run. After checking the forecast about 41 times and hour, it looked like the snow was moving out but the wind would still be in full force. Awesome. Sunday morning, Kirsten scooped me up at 8:15 and we made our way to New Bedford. This was happening. Game on. We cruised down without incident and parked on the street near the race start. As we got ourselves organized I heard Kirsten say, "Oh my God, Rebecca. Look at the woman's hair." Not because it was strange or cool looking, mind you. But because it was literally standing up on end due to the wind. I wish I had a photo for you but that would have been a little akward. Basically, it looked something like this. (no idea who this woman is btw)
All we could do was laugh and hope (pray) that some of it would be at our backs during the race. We headed over the the YMCA to grab our bib and shirts. This race is a big one for a couple reasons. First, it's part of the USATF-New England Grand Prix Series, second, there's cash prizes for several different categories and third, it's the perfect Boston tune-up. The crew who manages it has it all down to a science and it's run like well-oiled machine. Very impressive. We got everything we needed and walked back to the car to ditch some layers and get ready for a quick warm up. At 10:20 we hit the streets. At first the wind was in our face and we got a taste of what we were about to run in. It was bad. But, then we turned the corner and it died down a bit. The temp was about 37, so without the wind, it didn't feel awful. Maybe this wouldn't be too terrible, we thought. I think we both knew it would be brutal but why not practice positive thinking, right? We ran over to the start to find a spot and take our traditional pre-race pic. And then we were off.
Miles 1-3 (6:57, 6:49, 6:40)
The beginning of this race is a challenge. Starting around mile 2 you're basically climbing and dipping. Between miles 2-3 there are a couple smaller hills. Then at 3 there's a massive climb about a quarter mile long followed by a mellow downhill on the other side. The wind was in our face for the first couple miles, which wasn't too bad because the crowd was still pretty big. But once we got out of town and began to climb the wind died down substanstially, which was a blessing for that stretch of hills. Given the weather and the difficulty of this course, my coach advised me to aim for marathon pace give or take 5 seconds, which meant I needed to try and stay around 6:50. For this first section I was right on track and feeling okay about things.
Miles 4-9 (6:46, 6:37, 6:39, 6:33, 6:39, 6:32)
I really found my groove during this section. The wind wasn't a factor. My legs felt strong. And the miles were flying by. I was actually getting pretty excited as I had dropped my pace down but I was responded well to it. So, I went with it. Mile 9 was my fastest and I knew had another gear in me. Maybe, I thought, just maybe. I was on track for a solid PR at this point and then I turned left.
Miles 10-13.1 (7:38, 7:05, 6:50, 6:57, 5:49)
The above photo pretty much sums up what happened next. Mile 10 is along the water and the wind just smacked us head on. As soon as I turned into it my pace instantly dropped by a minute. There were times during this mile where I felt as though I was either not moving or moving backwards. All I could do was bear down and fight. I might have laughed a little, too. It was like nothing I've ever run in. And it never really let up. As we wove our way into town I thought we'd catch a break and it did ebb a bit, but not much. It was still coming from all angles and when you add the tired factor into it from the first 9 miles, well, let's just say it wasn't pretty. There's one final, very long hill at the end of this race beginning around mile 11.6. Usually I'm angry and annoyed as I fight my way up this one. But, this year, I found myself enjoying it because the wind wasn't as bad as it had been for the past couple miles. There's some perspective for you. Once I made the final turn I had some extra pep in my tank because the wind was virtually gone and I knew I was finally done. Official finish time 1:29:32.
I couldn't be disappointed with this time given the battle that had just unfolded for me. Could I have executed differently? Maybe. Perhaps I should have taken a bigger risk in the beginning and banked some faster miles. It's impossible to know whether that would have made a difference, positive or negative for that matter. What I do know is that for those first 9 miles, I felt like a stronger runner than I have in quite some time. I went into that race hoping for the best but also knowing that it was not my goal race and that it was more important to keep my eyes on the prize. Anything can happen on race day, but if my stars align in May, I now feel confident that the outcome might actually be different than it has for my last few marathons. And I'm pretty fired up about that. Until then, I will continue to work my ass off so that I know when I get to the line, I've done my part of the job. Beyond that, it's out of my control. And as my coach always reminds me, if we could control the variables, everyone would be doing it. In the end, the challenges, the unknowns, if you will...that's really what it's all about. Well, that and the post-race coffee with friends. That's pretty awesome, too.
Listen to this:
Turning the Screw by Generationals