Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Granite State Marathon

Today, I ran the Granite State Marathon in Nashua, NH.  That’s the New Hampshire race of the New England Challenge.  That’s different from the New England Series, which I was doing for the past two days.

A few years ago, I did all five races of the New England Challenge.  (For some reason, they didn’t have a Vermont race that year.)  The Nutmeg State Marathon was my favorite race of the series.  The course goes through a beautiful park next to the Nashua River, and we didn’t have to do so many laps.

Because I was staying in Nashua, I didn’t have to drive far to get to the race.  I did, however, need to arrive early to pick up my race packet.  The race started at 6:00, but packet pickup started at 5:00.  That meant I still had to get up early.

I slept well at first.  Then I woke up at 2 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep.  When it was time to get up, I had a hard time dragging myself out of bed.

Today’s weather was much nicer than the last two days.  It was 50 degrees at the start, and the temperature rose into the upper 60s.  Instead of rain, we had sunny skies.  That’s fantastic weather for running, but after the last two days, I actually had a hard time convincing myself I’d be OK in shorts and short sleeves.

When I picked up my race packet, I noticed the timing chip on my race bib.  Chip timing is one of the improvements they made since I did these races in 2014.  They also certified all the courses.

The race began with an out-and-back segment on city streets that was a little over a mile.  Some people started out running, but others started out walking.  I started at a pace that was slower than most of the runners, but faster than the walkers.

Even though I started slowly, I still got out of breath.  That was a reminder that I still have a cold.  By the end of the out-and-back, I was more comfortable.  Maybe I got my second wind.

When I got back to the start/finish area, they were still setting up the aid station.  For the moment, all they had was water.  I was hoping for some type of sports drink.  All I had for breakfast was tea, so I needed some food.

After the out-and-back, we did five laps of a trail loop that was roughly five miles.  It was actually two trails that are parallel to each other.  They came together briefly in the middle, making it sort of like a figure eight.

It was a fairly runnable trail.  There were only a few rocks and roots, and only one noticeable hill.

On the way out, we were running alongside the Nashua River.

By now, we were getting spread out, so I was running by myself.  Other than the aid station volunteers, there was only one spectator.

In the middle of the loop, we got onto city streets for a few blocks.  Here we ran up the only other hill to get to the secondary aid station.  This aid station only had water and bananas.  I had a banana slice to get some calories.

The trail coming back was alongside the Nashua Canal, giving us different views.

Most of the course was well marked, but on the way back there was a fork that wasn’t marked at first.  Having run this course before, I knew we were supposed to keep left.  A few runners went the wrong way, which put them back on the same trail we took on the way out.  It wasn’t a big deal.  They were about the same distance.

During my first lap, I was stopping frequently to take pictures.  I’m not sure what my pace was.  I wasn’t using GPS, and I didn’t know the exact distance of either the loop or the out-and-back.  I wasn’t too worried about it.

When I got back to the main aid station, they had all the food out.  After every lap, I had a PBJ and a glass of Gatorade.

On my second lap, I finished taking pictures and settled into a more consistent pace.  Then I slowed down, so I could talk to one of the older runners.  When I finished that lap, I checked the clock.  It seemed like I was on pace to break five hours, but I wasn’t sure by how much.

By now, the half marathon runners were finishing, but they were replaced by local runners, who quickly outnumbered us.  This appears to be a popular trail.

In my third lap, I was talking to two friends.  At times, the pace seemed too fast for me.  At other times, we slowed to a walk.  I checked the clock again after three laps.  It seemed like I should easily break five hours.

In the first half of my fourth lap, I was running by myself again.  Then I bumped into another runner from Minnesota.  I slowed down so we could talk.  For the next two miles, we did a mixture of walking and slow running.

That lap was slower than the first three, but I was confident I would break five hours if I ran the last lap.  I didn’t need to run particularly fast.  I just needed to stop taking walking breaks.

I was glad I did so much walking and talking in the previous three laps.  Aside from having some good conversations, I found my comfort zone.  I did this race, in part, so I could get comfortable running on tired legs.  At that, I succeeded.  I was more comfortable now than I was at the start of the race.

The brief section on streets was the most sun-exposed part of the course.  Here, I started to get hot.  As I got back onto the trails for the second half of my last lap, I made a point of running at a nice relaxed pace.

I finished in 4:55:19. By now, it was warm enough that I could stay in the finish area and talk to friends without getting cold.

I came here hoping to do a New England triple.  Instead, I did a New Hampshire double and a Maine half.  Over the past three days, I did my third and fourth marathons in New Hampshire, but failed to add another marathon in Maine.  Here’s what my 50 states map looks like now.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:55:19
Average Pace:  11:16
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  335

Monday, May 15, 2017

2017 New England Series, Day 2

Today was day two of the Mainly Marathons New England Series.  Today’s race was in Greenfield, NH.  Tomorrow, I’ll be doing a marathon in Nashua.  That race is part of a different series called the New England Challenge.  It’s a bit confusing that there are two series of marathon in the New England states at the same time.

After not sleeping at all Saturday night and then getting so cold during yesterday’s race, I was worried about getting sick.  After dinner, I felt like I could go to sleep right away, so I did.

I’m a light sleeper, so I usually wake up about once an hour. That’s not a problem as long as I get back to sleep.  Last night, I slept for four hours before waking up.  When I woke up, I had a sore throat.  I think my throat got dry because I was sleeping with my mouth open and went so long without waking up.  I had a small drink of water and went back to bed.  After that, I woke up every two hours or so.  Each time, I had another small drink of water.

I slept for nine and a half hours.  By morning, the sore throat was gone, and I felt no worse than I did before the weekend.  My only new complaint was a tight Achilles tendon in my left ankle.  I did some extra stretching, and it wasn’t a problem.

I didn’t have anything to eat for breakfast.  When I’m doing races on consecutive days, I’ll usually stop at a grocery store to pick up food for my pre-race breakfasts.  I went to Whole Foods yesterday, but left without buying anything.  I was overwhelmed by the number of things that looked tempting, so I couldn’t make up my mind.  I saw a blueberry pie that looked good, but I thought that was too much food for two breakfasts.  I forgot that I would also need post-race snacks.

I’m staying in Nashua, so I had to drive about 30 miles to get to Greenfield.  I had to get up early to allow time for the drive, but I already had my race packet.  When you do one of these series, you wear the same race bib every day.

The drive to Greenfield took about 45 minutes.  It was a nice scenic drive through the hills of southern New Hampshire.  The race venue was a campground in Greenfield State Park.  The campground is closed at this time of year, so there wasn’t any traffic where we were running.

The weather at the start of today’s race was similar to yesterday.  It was in the 40s with light rain.  There was also some wind.  I was optimistic that conditions would get better during the race.  Unlike yesterday, when it rained all day, today we were just supposed to have intermittent showers.  I was also expecting the temperature to rise by a few degrees during the race.

My running clothes were similar to yesterday, but I made two changes.  First, I wore a pair of Gore-Tex mittens over my gloves.  I was skeptical that they were waterproof, but it gave me an extra layer on my hands.  I replaced the jacket I wore yesterday with a plastic rain poncho.  The jacket wasn’t waterproof.  The poncho was.  It also covered more of my body.  It didn’t cover my forearms, but it covered my legs from the knees up.  That meant my tights wouldn’t get as wet.  The disadvantage of the poncho is that it’s somewhat loose-fitting.  I gave up on trying to keep the hood in place.  Instead, I wore a waterproof hat with a brim.

Our course was an out-and-back along a paved road through the campground.  We made a large counterclockwise arc, with a few small bends.  Then we turned around and came back the way we came.  It was about 1.1 miles each way.  To complete a marathon, we needed to do 12 laps.

We were running through a heavily wooded park, so it was a fairly scenic course.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good day for taking pictures.

Most of the course was either flat or slightly rolling.  There was one big hill near the beginning of each lap.  I didn’t really notice it during the first lap, but I found it do be somewhat tiring in subsequent laps.

I started the race at a somewhat relaxed pace.  Because I stopped after a half marathon yesterday, I didn’t have any sore or stiff muscles today.  I didn’t need to rush back to the hotel today, so there was no reason to worry about my time.

Conditions during the early laps were cold and wet, but I was better dressed than yesterday, so I didn’t get as cold.  I was expecting the rain to stop, but it was still raining after an hour.  It was also still raining after two hours.  It didn’t seem like it was ever going to stop.  I’m not sure if the temperature was rising, but the wind gradually picked up.  That made it seem like it was getting colder.

I realized after a few laps that my mittens weren’t waterproof.  They gradually got soaked, as did the gloves I was wearing underneath.  I kept my hands clenched to retain as much heat as I could.  My forearms also got cold.

By my sixth lap, I was getting cold, but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday.  I knew I would finish today, but I also realized I would have to tough it out in the second half of the race.

After my sixth lap, I checked my watch.  My time for the first half was about a minute faster than yesterday. That surprised me, because my pace felt so relaxed.  It’s possible I was subconsciously picking up the pace because I was cold.

In the seventh lap, it finally seemed like the rain might be stopping.  It was hard to tell at first, because the wind was making drops fall from the trees.  It wasn’t until I reached the start/finish area that I could tell for sure.  That was a parking lot with no tree cover.  I didn’t see any drops hitting the puddles in the parking lot, so I knew the rain had really stopped.

It took another lap or two, but I started to feel more comfortable.  For the first time, I wasn’t cold.  My gloves and mittens were still damp, but they were no longer sopping wet.

After my eighth lap, I walked briefly, so I could eat a PBJ.  It was the only solid food I had eaten since waking up.  I wondered if I would regret that.  After the next lap, I ate another PBJ.

At some point, I heard a sound in the distance that might have been a crack of thunder.  Before long, it started raining again.  By my tenth lap, it was raining harder.  It also seemed like the wind was picking up.  I wasn’t comfortable any more.  Fortunately, it was getting late in the race.  I wouldn’t have to endure being cold for too long.

After that lap, I wanted to eat another PBJ, but I was too cold to take a walking break.  I had to keep running now.

In the second half of the race, I had two voices in my head.  One was telling me to hurry up, so I could get the race over with.  The other was telling me to take it easy and save my energy for tomorrow.  Which one I listened to depended on my mood at any given moment.  Because of that, my pace was somewhat erratic.  I couldn’t make up my mind.

During my last lap, the rain tapered off again.  I still had two voices in my headed.  “Pick up the pace and finish quickly.”  “No, just relax now that the rain has stopped.”  As I started to run down the hill near the end of the lap, I felt more temptation to go fast.  Then I heard a third voice say, “Why?  To save 30 seconds?  It’s doesn’t matter.  You’ll be done soon enough anyway.”

I finished in 4:27:16.  I didn’t realize I slowed down that much in the second half.  I guess I was mostly listening to voice that said, “slow down.”

As with most Mainly Marathon series, the finisher medals form a chain.  Today’s new piece was in the shape of New Hampshire.

After the race, I still had to drive back to Nashua, but I didn’t need to be in any rush.  Today, I didn’t need to check out.  Tomorrow’s race is in Nashua.

As I drove through Greenfield, I saw a sign that read, “Welcome Runners.”  This is a small race, and we weren’t running through town, so I didn’t realize anyone in town knew we were here.  I didn’t think about all the runners who spent the night at inns in Greenfield.  Even a small race can have a large footprint when it’s held in a small town.

If I’m racing again the next day, I usually try to refuel right away with a high-carb snack.  I didn’t have any snacks at the hotel.  Why didn’t I buy that blueberry pie at Whole Foods?  I wanted to take a whirlpool bath or try out the hotel’s saltwater pool, but first I needed to go to a restaurant to have some lunch.  After eating a late lunch, I’m not sure if I’ll have room for dinner.  I don’t want to be out too late, because I have to get up early again.  Maybe I’ll just go somewhere for dessert.

This was my third marathon in New Hampshire.  To finish my third circuit of 50 states, I just need to run marathons in Idaho, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.  I’ve scheduled races in two of those states.  The other two will have to wait until next year.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:27:16
Average Pace:  10:12
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  334

Sunday, May 14, 2017

2017 New England Series, Day 1

This morning I ran the first race of the Mainly Marathons New England Series, which was in Sanford, ME.  I’m not doing the whole series.  I’m just doing the first two days.  Then I’m going to do a race from another series called the New England Challenge.  That series is sponsored by Savage Racing.

Each of these series has marathons and half marathons in all six New England states.  The Mainly Marathon series also includes New York.  The two series start just a day apart, so they’re going on at the same time.  That provided me with an opportunity.

I’m working on my third circuit of marathons in all 50 states.  I’m also starting to look ahead to a fourth circuit.  One of the states I need to complete my third circuit is New Hampshire.  The New Hampshire races of the two series fall on consecutive days.  As long as I’m doing one, I might as well do both of them.  I did today’s race in Maine, because I wanted to get my fourth marathon in Maine as well.

A lot of things went wrong before the race even started.  A few days ago, I came down with a cold.  My symptoms weren’t all that bad, but I tire easily.

I flew to Boston yesterday.  I was going to use my laptop during the flight, but I couldn’t find the power cord.  I was using the laptop at a restaurant in the Minneapolis airport, so I must have left it there.  My battery life isn’t that long, so not having a power cord meant I couldn’t use the laptop much.  When I got to Boston, I checked two electronics stores in the airport, but neither could sell me just a cord.  I’d have to buy a one-size-fits-all kit for $100.  I decided to try my luck at finding a cord somewhere else.

For this first race, I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Wells, which is about 17 miles from Sanford.  There was closer lodging, but I knew from experience that if you book a room at Hampton Inn at the AARP rate, you can usually get a 2 PM checkout.  When I got to the hotel, I found out they were fully booked this weekend, so they wouldn’t give me a checkout later than noon.

Packet pickup for the series was available yesterday, but I couldn’t make it to Sanford in time.  Race morning packet pickup is available every day, so I just waited until this morning.  They also had a pasta dinner yesterday, but I couldn’t get there in time for that either.  Instead, I went to a pizzeria in Ogunquit, where I had a lobster pizza.

The race started at 6:00, but they had an early start at 5:00.  I decided to take the early start so I would have an easier time getting back to the hotel in time for a noon checkout.  I wanted to have time to take a hot bath and change into dry clothes before getting on the road.

Packet pickup started at 4:30, but I had to drive 17 miles to get there.  According to Google Maps, it’s a 30 minute drive, but I wanted to allow an hour.  There was rain in the forecast, and I’d be driving unfamiliar roads in the dark.  If the weather caused my phone to lose the GPS signal, I could easily get lost.

To give myself plenty of time to get ready in the morning, I set my alarm for 2:45.  Knowing I had to get up that early made me worry about getting to sleep.  When you’re worried you won’t get enough sleep, it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  It didn’t help that I was also a bit stressed about the missing power cord for my laptop.  When I went to bed, I was down to only 45 minutes of battery life.

I was still awake at 11:30.  Then my alarm went off.  I turned on the light and checked.  It was set for 2:45.  I have no idea why it went off.  Now I was WIDE awake.  I also no longer trusted my alarm clock.  I never got to sleep at all.  At 2:45, I was still awake, so I started getting ready.  I arrived early and waited in my car until it was time for packet pickup.

The weather was miserable.  The temperature was in the low 40s and never warmed up.  That wouldn’t be bad, but it was also rainy and windy.  The rain lasted all day.  The wind kept getting stronger.

Temperatures in the 40s, rain and wind are a bad combination.  It didn’t help that I was already sick and didn’t get any sleep.  I wore warm clothes with a raincoat on top.  I thought, if anything, I’d be overdressed.  I was wrong.

The course was multiple laps of an out-and-back course.  We started and finished each lap in a gravel parking lot next to the Sanford Springdale YMCA.  The parking lot was the only part of the course that wasn’t paved.

After leaving the parking lot, we turned onto a paved bike path that went through some woods.  Then we continued on residential streets that took us alongside a river.  It was a scenic course, but it wasn’t a good day for taking pictures.

To complete a marathon, we needed to finish 14 laps.  There was also a half marathon.  That was seven laps of the same course.

I ran at a pace that should have felt easy, but after a few laps, it still felt tiring.  That was because of my cold.  The real issue, however, was the weather.  As soon as we started running, I realized the wind would bother me more than the rain.

After a few laps, I realized my jacket wasn’t really a rain coat.  The fabric looks and feels like plastic, but the rain was gradually seeping through.  Before long, I was wearing three layers of soaking wet clothes.  Then the wind started to cut through me like a knife.

Besides Gatorade, I was able to get hot soup at the aid station.  That helped, but not enough.  I gradually got colder.  My hands were getting numb.

After five laps, I checked my watch.  So far, my time was 1:31 and change.  To run nine more laps would take nearly three more hours.  The worst part was that the wind was getting stronger, making every lap feel colder.  I couldn’t imagine how I could endure these conditions for that long if it got any worse.

After my sixth lap, I decided to do one more and then quit.  Seven laps would still give me a half marathon finish.  It wasn’t as satisfying, but I had to be realistic.  Even if I could finish, I risked getting really sick.  It just wasn’t worth it.

Halfway through my seventh lap, I started to pick up the pace in anticipation of finishing.  I was exciting about being done, but I was still second-guessing my decision to drop down to the half marathon.  Then the wind got stronger. Suddenly just finishing this lap got difficult.  I couldn’t take the cold any more.  I no longer second-guessed my decision to stop.

I finished seven laps in 2:09:30 and was credited with a half marathon finish.  It’s not the race I was hoping to run, but it was something.  Finishing a race – even if it’s not the one you entered – is better than a DNF.

After the race, I left quickly.  During the drive back to the hotel, I couldn’t stop shivering.  When I finally got out of the car, my legs were stiff.  It wasn’t from the wear and tear of running.  It was a reaction to the cold.  I was still wearing tights that were soaking wet.  As soon as the cold wind hit my legs, they tightened up.

After a soak in the whirlpool, my legs felt fine.  Only time will tell if running this race will make my cold worse.  For now, I’m feeling tired, but OK.

I no longer had to worry about having time to meet the noon checkout time.  I got back to the hotel by 8:00.  Even after spending time in the whirlpool, I was able to have a late breakfast at the hotel.

I’m staying at the same hotel in Nashua for both New Hampshire races, so today was the only day I needed to check out and get on the road right after the race.  The drive to Nashua took about 80 minutes.  It was a scary drive.  I was OK on the smaller roads, but I was experiencing road hypnosis when I was on the freeway.  Every mile, I had to fight to keep my eyes open.  Now that I’m here, however, I don’t even feel sleepy.

Another advantage of finishing earlier than expected is that I had time to go shopping for a new power cord for my laptop.  I had to buy it with a new power adapter, but I was able to get what I needed for under $30.  That made it possible for me to write this race report, among other things.

I still have two more races on this trip.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish marathons both days.  It’ll help if tomorrow’s weather isn’t as cold and rainy.  It’ll also help if I can get some sleep.

Race Statistics
Distance:  13.1 miles
Time:  2:09:30
Average Pace:  9:53
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  still 333
Marathons/Ultras in Maine: still 3