Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Slight Tactical Error

This past Sunday I headed up north for the 25th Annual White Mountain Milers Half Marathon. Despite the word mountain in its name, it’s actually a pretty flat race. In fact, the state record for the fastest NH half marathon (1:05:42) was run on this course by Dave Dunham back in 1989 when it was called the Joe Jones Half Marathon. I personally hadn’t a run a half marathon in nearly a year and a half. So, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But, I did know that this race might be the perfect opportunity to lay down a fast time.

Despite my still being in marathon recovery mode since Clarence, I’d run a couple good workouts recently. I’d done a speedy 10 mile progression run (started in 7:15 & finished in 6:00) in 1:07 flat (6:42 pace) and a 4 mile trail run (in XC spikes) in 25:08 (6:17 pace). So, I knew there was some speed to be had now that my overall mileage was down. The question was, would my sore knee & tight hamstring hold up for the full 13.1 miles.

I’d hurt my knee after an epic 13+ mile trail run on Columbus Day with Steve Wolfe. We ran up Mount Monadnock (via the Pumpelly trail) then down to Old Troy Road (via the Dublin trail) and then back. Up and down Grand Monadnock, twice! The weather was stellar and the looks from the shocked day-hikers were priceless. See Steve’s pictures here. Unfortunately, within a mile of the finish, I tripped on a pesky tree root and went down - hard. I smashed my left knee against a rock and once the stars cleared I managed to get up and hobble down the rest of the trail. All the while, hoping I hadn’t ruined the rest of my season.

I iced my knee when I got home later that day and despite not being able to walk very well all week (knee & quads) I ended up gutting out a Tough 5k (19:32) up in Nottingham, NH the following weekend. It was my desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable team victory by Greater Derry over Gate City in the 2010 NHGP Grand Prix Series. My measly 5 points was not enough to turn the GDTC tide, so I limped home hoping that the upcoming Half would soothe my bruised knee & ego.

The drive up to North Conway on race day was fairly uneventful and very dark. My carpool mates (Don McCarty & Tom Kolb) and I left from Merrimack at 5:30am and cruised into town at about 7:45. Just in time to realize that the 9:00 race (as advertised) really started at 9:30. Cool, 1 3/4 hours to kill in this dark and frozen tundra. And, I could have slept in. Well, at least there was no line to get our numbers or to use the bathrooms.

Eventually, it was time to warm up and head out to the start. My friend & nemesis, Steve Wolfe was milling about the parking lot with his son Alec. And, as it turned out, a couple of my season-long rivals were there as well - Tom Varick & Charlie Bemis from GDTC. Both have been running extremely well lately and have beaten me every single time I toed the line against them this year. So much for racing up north, in relative obscurity. This time I’d be duking it out with three of the states fastest master’s runners. Great.

The command was given and after a tight left-hand turn (immediately after the start) the lead pack slowed to what felt like a crawl. As we went down hill, under the train tracks, and then over the Saco River, I kept clipping the heels of the guy in front of me. So, I moved out to the right into clean air and proceeded to make my way towards the front. At the time I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to actually lead this race - even if just for a moment? Unfortunately, the thrill of the chase got the better of me and once I got up to the front runner, I just kept right on going.

It felt so good to be out in front, that I pushed the pace just to see how long I could make it last. As it turns out, it lasted just about a mile. I clicked my watch at 6:10 – only after leaning at the imaginary tape and raising my hands in mock triumph. A few strides later, the chase pack closed in around me. And, as they went by me one by one, I realized that I’d probably made a slight tactical error.

At this point, I was in full-fledged salvage mode. As we climbed a slight hill in the second and third miles I scaled my pace way down in order to try and catch my breath and slow my heart rate. But, it was too late. By mile 4 I was struggling to keep up and by mile 5 I could feel the lactic acid beginning to collect in my legs. With 8 miles to go, and Steve & Charlie well up the road, I knew it was going to be a loooong day. Damn.

I spent the rest of the race, just trying to keep it together the best I could but the headwind on the way back made this task even tougher. And, as runner after runner went past me (and my cement legs) I fully expected Tom and/or Alec to come trucking on by and add insult to my injury. Surprisingly, despite my pathetically slow pace, this did not come to pass. And, as we made the turn for home we caught a final mile tail wind and I picked it up (relatively speaking) and pulled ahead of a couple of runners before the finish.

Splits – White Mountain Milers Half Marathon: 6:10, 6:32, 6:30, 6:26, 6:42, 6:47, 7:27 (headwind, hill and a bit of walking), 7:04, 6:52, 7:10 (more walking), 6:57, 6:55, 6:47, :39 = 1:29:03 (6:48) The Final Results showed I was well short of my PR (by almost 6 full minutes), I was 8th Master, and despite leading 1/13th the way through the race I only managed to snag 18th place overall.

In hindsight, I really should have run a smarter race. A nice little 6:30 for mile one likely would have made that last 12 miles a whole lot easier and probably would have gotten me closer to 1:25 (than 1:30) in the process. Oh well, at least I’ll always have that feeling I got from leading the pack through the first mile mark. Even if there were no cameras around to see it!


  1. "I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to actually lead this race - even if just for a moment? Unfortunately, the thrill of the chase got the better of me and once I got up to the front runner, I just kept right on going."

    How many times have you ridiculed me for this very thing? Now you just have to learn how to hold onto that move for a little longer!

  2. Jim - You'll be happy to know I thought of you while doing it. But, ended up cursing you afterwards ;)

  3. I may not be able to run with you guys at the moment, but its good to know I can get into your head!

  4. Yeah, I really "Hansen-ed" that one, didn't I?

  5. Great run up Monadnock! I love those two trails. I know what you mean about the priceless looks of the hikers.