Shamrock Half Marathon in Manchester, NH. It was my first non-virtual road race in over a year. I still can't believe it actually happened to be honest. I know other races have been taking place but I've held out for obvious reasons. I work with high school students so last week I was able to get the vaccine. Praise be. Not that it means I'll be running around like a mad woman without a mask on. I just feel better about taking part in a big-ish event now that I've got some invisible armor, if you will. I ran a bunch of ultras last year and by December I was physically and mentally toast. Early this year, my coach, Lowell, and I discussed a game plan for 2021. Both of us were cautiously optimistic that things would loosen up and marathons would be back on the table. And I was ready for a change and itching to run "shorter" distances again. So, with that, we went back to our regularly scheduled program and I started training for 26.2 miles in hopes that I could find one nearby in April. On account of the heavier mileage I did last year, I already had a significant base at the start of this training cycle, so the notable changes as far as workouts were more speed work and double sessions twice a week. Both, I was reminded, take a massive toll on my energy level, which was quite an adjustment. It always is. Yet, still, I was game. And it was my choice, so the added exhaustion and the pressure from that was my own. Last month, I learned that I got off the waitlist for the Cheap marathon which is happening on April 11th and excitedly reported to Lowell that I now had an official marathon entry. This was happening. Prior to this April date we'd talked about running the Shamrock half simply because I could get in, it was nearby and I was eager to race in person. In hindsight, it really didn't make sense to run this race just two weeks before my scheduled marathon. I'd be in my peak week of training and I wouldn't be able to start my taper as it was too close to the main event. On the Monday before the half I did my last long run. 24 miles. Every step hurt. No joke. It was brutal. Tuesday I ran 8. Let me rephrase. Tuesday I slogged through 8. Still hurting. Wednesday I pushed through a short tempo workout that felt monumentally harder than a tempo effort should feel. Long story short, by Thursday I texted Lowell because I was worried that I had nothing to give for Saturday and it would be a bust. He told me to relax, that another 48 hours would help a lot. This is why I have a coach because mentally I was ready to call it that day. And he was right. My Friday run was a little better and I was feeling significantly less worried. Not that I was foot loose and fancy free. My legs were still heavy and had very little pep. "I would be shocked if you feel fresh and springy," Lowell said, "but we just need you fit enough to push through and feel solid. You won't be sharp, but you're strong right now and should be able to grind out a solid race." Grind being the key word here. Okay, enough set up. Let's get to the show.
I got a little giddy as I laid out my gear the night before. I decided to wear a LEX singlet as coaching the Lexington cross country and track teams has kept me somewhat grounded over this past year and I wanted to honor that. Due to Covid, the race director had runners taking off two at a time in a staggered start based on our predicted race time. My start time was 7:33am. Which meant I'd be getting up at 5:00am as Manchester is an hour drive for me. Not the earliest I've ever gotten up for a race. But close. I had a very restless sleep primarily due to the wind which was whipping like nobody's business and thus instilling some pre-race panic as I worried that I'd be dealing with it a few short hours later. When my alarm finally went off, I felt like I'd gotten about 30 minutes of sleep.
Not the case for my dogs. Both got up with me and were totally ready to rock. Even Enzo, who normally eats and then goes back to bed, was downstairs with Clover bugging me to go out. They joined me for coffee and then I had to let them down gently, basically telling them that I had to go while closing the door in their faces. Confusing, I'm sure. It was chilly out but not freezing and, of course, still dark as I set off. It's a straight shot up to NH and I arrived in Manchester, found the race tents and parked without any issues. It sounds silly but this is something I never take for granted. Especially on this day when I hadn't raced in forever and didn't need any unplanned stress beyond the race itself.
The sun was rising as I got everything together and I took a moment to just soak it all in. I'm not going to lie, the whole thing felt pretty weird given how long it has been since my last rodeo. As if on cue, the wind picked up. Wouldn't be a March day in New England without the wind. I had secretly hoped it wouldn't be an issue but deep down I knew we'd be dealing with it so I wasn't too shocked as it began to blow steadily. I walked down to the tent to grab my bib and shirt and noticed a cold brew coffee tent by the registration table. For about a half second I forgot about the race because....free coffee. I told myself to focus that I could get it afterwards. Yes, I have a problem.
I went back to my car, dropped my stuff and took off for my warmup. It was still a little chilly but the sun was coming up and I could feel it on my face so that was lovely. The wind was continuing to make itself known and would be for the rest of the day. I tried not to think about it. I didn't have much time to putz around as they had us lining up about fifteen minutes before the race was to begin. So, at 7:10 I went over to the start and found my #42 cone which was set up safely six feet between the other two runners before and after me. We were all masked as we stood in line. The race crew was not messing around when it came to safety and I had a lot of respect for that. Finally, it was go time. Holy shit, this was happening.
As you can see in the photo, I took off with one other guy next to me which felt really strange. But, hey, there is a first time for everything. I'd been warned that Manchester was hilly, so I was expecting hills. Maybe not as many as we got, but at least I knew they were coming. They started at mile two and never really stopped after that. I was aiming to run a 6:35 average and my splits ended up ranging from 6:50 to 6:15 depending on whether I was going up or down. I think I had maybe three miles right at goal pace. Because of this and the fact that it was windy I made a conscious decision to run by effort and stopped looking at my watch. Around mile three I was running with a woman who was easily one of the smoothest runners I have ever seen. She was literally gliding. I stayed with her a for a while but then felt like I couldn't hold on and realized she was cruising steadily at 6:15 so I pulled back and let her do her thing. At mile four, we came up a hill with the sun in our face so I totally missed the cones and ended up going straight for a few feet before realizing I was supposed to turn. Someone from the race crew noticed what happened and ran down to guide me back up but it was still a bummer. I got passed by another woman here as I retraced my steps and got a little anxious as I'd lost my momentum but I just worked to settle down and find my groove again.
Miles 5 through 9 were uneventful. The course was looped and we often saw the runners who were finishing a section as we were starting it. That was pretty cool as everyone cheered for each other or gave a fist pump as they ran by. Gotta love runners. Almost always supporting each other even when they are literally racing against each other. Okay, now, see that hill at mile 11? It just about killed me. The wind was in our face and I was so tired that I had almost nothing to give. It was ugly and by far my slowest mile.
Thankfully, I knew I could manage for two more and while I did get passed by a guy here, I tried hard to keep his blue shirt in site for those last couple miles. That was super helpful. Just don't loose blue shirt guy, I kept telling myself. And then finally I could see the finish. I rolled across the line in 1:27:06, a time I was pretty satisfied with given the conditions that I'd fought through. According to Strava, I'd actually done 13.27 miles so my average pace with that distance was 6:34. Not that I'm claiming that as my time. I was just psyched to realize that I had made a pretty solid guess about what kind of shape I was in before the race. I also managed to finish with my fastest mile which tells me I have more in the tank for marathon day. So, all in, I was pleased. Though, that said, I don't know that I would ever do this race again. No offense, Manchester.
Right after I finished I met and chatted with a woman named Christin. We both live in the Boston area and after a few minutes decided to cool down together. She is such a cool gal and I hope I run into her again in the near future. We didn't take a photo together but we did connect on Instagram. Obvs. When I got back to the tent I found my friend Nicole and we shot the shit for a while, laughing and crying about racing and getting older which be both find challenging and incredibly humbling. We are giving the bird to old age in the photo above.
I left Nicole to get a coffee but first I made a quick stop by the announcer's tent as I knew the gal on the microphone was Ali Feller, of the podcast Ali On the Run, and we have a mutual friend in common so I decided to just go over and introduce myself. She was fabulous and couldn't have been nicer, which is no surprise if you listen to her show, but she was also very busy calling out runner's names as they crossed the finish so I let her work and continued on to get some breakfast.
I ended up getting a coffee and an egg sandwich from Cafe La Reine which I highly recommend. Both were delicious. Then reached out to my good bud, Dave Ames, who is a run coach and was in town from CA because several of his athletes had raced. I haven't seen him in forever so it was super fun to catch up with him.
After that I just sat in my car and enjoyed my coffee for a few minutes. The sun was shining, my body felt good, I'd gotten to race, I'd gotten to see old friends and meet new ones. Not to sound cheesy, but I was just so incredibly grateful for everything. I had a new appreciation for racing and why I do it. The race itself is a big part of it, yes. But the run community and the excitement wrapped up around the whole event is what I live for. I had a stupid grin on my face the whole ride home. And it had nothing to do with my time or place. And everything to do with the people and my love for the entire race experience. As you can imagine, I can not wait to get after it again. Two weeks, my friends. Stay tuned.
Listen to this:
You Can Get It by Arkells feat. K. Flay