Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Long and The Short of It

Recently I ran the longest and shortest road races I’ll be doing this year. And, just to make things interesting, I decided to run them on back-to-back weekends. The New Bedford Half Marathon was an early season goal race for me and much of my off-season training went into trying to uncork a good one. The Shamrock Shuffle 2m that followed, was entered as much for the parade (immediately afterwards) as it was for the race itself. Now, based upon that set-up, see if you can guess which of the two races went better. I’ll give you a hint...    ... neither.

The 34th Annual New Bedford Half Marathon was the first race on the 2011 New England Grand Prix schedule and, as such, earned a big red circle on my calendar way back in November when it was selected. I’ve run this race 3 times before and have had varying degrees of success. I ran my PR of 1:23:07 there in 2009 and a near PW of 1:36:03 there in 2006. That particular race also included a very interesting pit-stop at a pizza joint just past mile 6, but that’s a story for another day.

This year, my training leading up to New Bedford had been going exceedingly well and I hoped, nay, fully expected to smash my current Half Marathon PR at this race. Unfortunately, the running gods had other, more sinister, plans for me and I was left to figure out where it all went wrong. Of course, two weeks later, and I still have no idea.

Anyway, my pre-race and early race activities went pretty much as expected. I had a good warm up, and the winds seemed minimal for this race venue. I did, however, get stuck a bit further back at the start line than I wanted to. But, given my plan to go out conservatively, I was not worried. Miles 1-4 (6:16, 6:23, 6:27 & 6:28) were comfortable as I eased into my race. My goal was to run 6:20 or better, so starting a bit slower than goal pace was to be my recipe for success. Or, so I thought.

As we crested the hill at Mile 4 and started down the backside of New Bedford to Mile 8 my plan was to pick it up, which I did (6:11, 6:18, 6:16 & 6:16) but not nearly as much as I had hoped. Unlike previous years, where I’d ripped off some sub-6’s on this section, the head wind seemed to slow me down a bit and I just couldn’t get the leg turn over I was hoping for. I just felt a bit flat.

Miles 8-12 were no better (6:35, 6:29, 6:18 & 6:32) as the road rose up a bit and then flattened on the return trip to the harbor. Throughout the race I could see Steve Wolfe (who was about 10-20 seconds ahead of me) but I could never close the gap. Finally at mile 12 he hit the after-burners and was gone - along with any hope of catching him, or my PR. Then, with both of my targets out the window, I basically coasted the final up-hill mile (6:59) and finished in a disappointing (for me) time of 1:24:22 (6:28 pace).

During the week between races, I tried to figure out just what happened and I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t my day. There were no real indications that I was due for a bad race. In fact, everything pointed toward a real breakthrough run but for some reason it just wasn’t to be. Fortunately, I plan to run a bunch of races this year. And, I hope that in at least one of them I’m able to show what I think I’m capable of. The only consolation on the day was how well most of my teammates did. Nearly 1/3 of the 64 Striders we brought down for the race ended up setting Personal Bests!

The following Sunday was the 1st Annual Shamrock Shuffle 2m and the first race on the 2011 New Hampshire Grand Prix schedule. It also featured the unique aspect of running on downtown Manchester’s St. Patrick’s Day parade route - an hour before the parade was to start. So, runners were not only treated to sweet St. Paddy’s pint glasses and fine looking Shamrock hats, but also had the distinct pleasure of running up and down the center of Elm Street in front of thousands of happy parade goers.

Unlike New Bedford, this race was more of an afterthought for me - underscored by the hilly 15 miler I had run the day before with my Peeps back in Hollis. I warmed-up on the course and immediately noticed a very robust head-wind on the mile up Elm Street and a similarly strong tailwind on the way back down. Clearly this race was to be a negative split affair - little did I know, how true that assessment would turn out to be.

I started close to the front of a nearly 1200-runner field and at the gun it was clear that this one was going to be a battle. A battle against the wind and a battle against the other runners who were looking to escape from it. I got off the line quickly and my game plan was to run hard, but not all out, for the first mile (hopefully in 5:40) then turn and burn the last mile (in the 5:20 range) to finish in around 11 minutes.

No sooner did those thoughts pass through my head, then a strong gust of wind from a side street forced the pack hard to the right, caused someone from behind to clip my heels and down I went. But, not before doing my best Superman impression - arms outstretched and searching for flight that never came. I skidded along Elm Street, chest first, like a ball player sliding into home and came to a screeching halt with 1100 (or so) people running at full speed directly behind me.

I rolled over to avoid being trampled, re-pinned my race bib to my shirt after it had been scraped off by the pavement, and started back up the road. I had lost what felt like a ton of time (and spots) during the melee and spent the next quarter mile just trying to calm myself and re-focus on the task at hand. Eventually, I started to creep back through the field and hit the turn around in 5:58. Not too bad considering what had occurred.

Thankfully, the return "trip" was less eventful as I used the wind and rage to power me to a speedy 5:28 - for a total 2m time of 11:26 (5:43 pace). I don’t know whether or not I could have broken 11 minutes if I hadn’t fallen, but I’d like to think I could have made it at least a little nervous. Afterward, I cooled down, licked my wounds (literally on both counts) and bundled up for a very chilly but enjoyable St. Paddy’s Day parade with the family.

The "lucky" Shamrock Shuffle totals (and toll): 1 sprained thumb, 1 strained shoulder, 2 lacerated hands & elbows, 1 scraped chest, 1 bruised pelvis, 1 badly swollen knee, 21st place overall, 5th place Master, 2nd place Gate City Strider (out of 72), 1st place Klutz, 1 very soft 2m PR and a fun day on the town with the family! All in all, not a bad day-trip. Really.


  1. I remember your New Bedford race in 2006. Anything is better than that!!!
    Too bad there aren't any pictures of your faceplant! Good recovery, though!

  2. I know. That would have been one worth buying!

    There's one series of pictures taken from the front of the pack. You can see the wind push everybody over to the side and in one picture you can see me and in the next you can't!

  3. Sorry if I intimidate you and knock you off your game. Of course, that doesn't explain the Shuffle.
    Muddy Moose 14m on May 1st, want to join me?

  4. I can't do MM, I'll be in Dedham doing the JJ 10k with the team. But, I would be interested in doing some trail runs on Wapack (or other) this month.