Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler
Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts
Saturday, February 13, 2010
2:12:46 – 6:39 pace
18th place Overall of 500
4th place AG M40-44
If you had told me a month ago, back before I had registered for Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler (MV20), that the race course on the island would become my own private speedway, I would not have believed you.
In fact, I probably would not have even heard you since, with this being my first trip to this popular beach vacation spot, I was simply too excited to see what it was all about.
A daytrip that included two long car rides, one in the morning and another at night, sandwiching a ferry ride, a 20 mile race, several gatherings among friends for food and drink and plenty of laughs, followed by another ferry ride back to mainland, there was no room left for expectations of fast running.
For most toeing the line of the race, this event was a test and a test only. There was no glory in racing MV20; the glory was reserved for the Boston Marathon a few months later.
The goal of the test was to run the distance – a supported long run of 20 miles – and perhaps get in some marathon pace running.
My goal was the same. I wanted a solid workout with some fast running. How I achieved both, I would figure out as the miles unfurled. I had thought I would cruise through 10 miles in a pace slower than marathon pace and then turn it up by racing the last 10 with whatever I had left. But that was before the speedway opened before me.
Standing at the starting line a row from the front, I was chatting with other runners when unexpectedly a canon sound punched through the air. Taken off guard, we all looked at each other, as if asking ‘was that the start?’ Of course it was. Off we went.
Mile 1 (6:45) was brisk, but after a mile warm up, it was easy to keep on. Right away I settled in with the lead woman at the time and got into conversation. I couldn’t help but notice that I was easily within the Top-20 in the race.
As Miles 2 (6:45) and 3 (6:45) came, I was still chatting with the lead woman, when we watched, far up the road, the lead male pull out of sight. I couldn’t believe how fast this guy, running all by himself, was pushing.
During this time I couldn’t help but notice how fluid my legs felt. We were running at a brisk clip, far faster than I thought I would run at this early stage, but my body felt strong and my breathing was solid.
The wind was at our backs, the road was slight rolling hills, and my engine was revving up a notch.
Mile 4 (6:31) came quickly. To this point I was still with the lead female, but now neither of us were talking. I noticed through my now-labored breathing that we had just fallen into racing. Riding redline with our breathing just barely in control, I felt very good.
Through Miles 5 (6:31), 6 (6:31), and 7 (6:31), what I had been thinking all along became abundantly clear. My recent Top-End Speed work was paying off. This pace was fast yet maintainable – it felt easy compared to what it would have without the work. My breathing was bordering out of control, but through this all I was still comfortable; something in me told me that I could maintain this pace throughout the remaining miles. I knew it would be painful, but the test before me was met with proper preparation, where the answers revealed themselves with fast splits. There was no other answer but to trust in self and keep motoring.
Wind still at the back, the course bridged two bodies of water via a sliver of road with water on either side. I was feeling so strong and running so fluidly, even though I was pushing pace a little too much to my liking, that the road reminded me of a speedway. My own private one. Like a runway. Set before me to rev my engine. For a powerful acceleration. I got in the zone, stayed on top of my feet with solid form learned only through the Top-End Speed Experiment, and hammered on through Mile 8 (6:30), 9 (6:30), and 10 (6:30).
Unfortunately the end of road was near. My fast track ended a few paces beyond the Mile 10 marker as the course turned inland, directly into the wind, and onto an ice-encrusted, sometimes-snow-filled bike path. This was also when the course turned from flat to rolling hills as it meandered through forest. It was about to get very difficult.
Slowing down far more often than I would have liked to navigate icy patches on the path, Mile 11 (6:38) and 12 (6:34) were slightly slower. I nearly wiped out a few times per mile but otherwise keep effort steadily at redline. Make no mistake. I was racing. But this stretch, especially after the speedway earlier, was starting to take its toll.
It wasn’t until Mile 13 (6:44) and on through the half marathon (13.1 ~1:26:30, 6:36 pace) when I knew I was fighting far too much to maintain the pace I had been running. I was reminded of my possible demise when I was no longer the one doing the passing. To this point I figured I was in about 10th place. Just then two guys went by me, both of them working together. I was now in 12th. And it wasn’t about to get better.
Still, with 7 more mile remaining, I knew I had to take care of myself and not worry about others. And so the remaining miles were about holding on, keeping breathing on the edge of control, and remaining focused. When the path allowed with dry pavement, I got up on my feet with good form and held. And held.
Mile 14 (6:37), 15 (6:48), and 16 (6:46) was all about holding on. I could see five guys in front of me, three of whom had passed me. I tried to maintain the gap as I jumped around icy patches or slowed down with hands out for balance. Occasionally I had to stop running, walk over more treacherous ice, before lumbering on. But the truth was that the ice was bogging me down, compounding my pain. Even so, this pain felt far different than pain of holding on in other races. This pain, I knew, was made different from my Top-End Speed work.
Mile 17 (7:05) was the turning point, for the better. The five runners ahead of me were stuck at the same distance. The path had grown so impassable at pace that those five all hopped off the path to the road. There’s an unspoken fairness rule in place, that up front in the race, where places matter for Top-10 or -20, if the lead guy stays the course (on the icy path), all others must do the same. Finally this fair little game had ended. And thank God. Because this was too much; it was taking me down. And them, too.
Now on the roads, my pace, like magic, resumed when I had feared it might not. Mile 18 (6:41) and 19 (6:41) were tough but in a way I felt strong for being able to continue powering at redline without my pace falling too hard. During this stretch two more runners passed me while I nabbed another.
Shortly after passing the Mile 19 marker, another runner came by me. I had heard footsteps on my heal for the last mile, and I had done all that I could to maintain position, but now, as the pass came, I didn’t have any more than to get on the runner’s heals.
Over the last mile I laid down all I had. It was not good enough to reclaim position number 17, but it was good for 18th place overall with a last mile of 6:14.
My own private speedway revved my engine through 10 miles, and with the engine racing itself from there to the end, I held on for a respectable finish with an average pace of 6:39. I know I could not have motored on at that pace for much longer, but even if a more pronounced slowdown occurred, I still might have been able to stay under 3 hours had the distance been 6.2 miles longer and the terrain the same. Although these are all assumptions, it steps me forward with great confidence into the next phase of my training.
Splits (avg pace based on long split)
1 – 6:45
2 – (6:45) 13:30
3 – (6:45)
4 – 6:31
5 – (6:31) 19:35
6 – (6:31)
7 – (6:31)
8 – (6:30) 19:30
9 – (6:30)
10 – (6:30)
11 – 6:38
12 – 6:34
13 – 6:44
13.1 – ~1:26:30 (6:36 avg pace thru half)
14 – 6:37
15 – 6:48
16 – 6:46
17 – 7:05
18 – (6:41) 13:22
19 – (6:41)
20 – 6:14
Finish – 2:12:46 – 6:39 pace