Eastern States 20 Miler
Kittery, Maine to Salisbury, Massachusetts
Sunday, March 28, 2010
2:19:26 – 6:58 pace
30th place Overall of 700+
7th place AG M40-49
This is a test. This is only a test.
Eastern States 20 Miler, run from the border of Maine, through New Hampshire, and into Massachusetts, done at race pace with race shoes.
This is a test of race readiness for the Boston Marathon.
There is no glory in training races. Glory is reserved for that race which occupies focus, the event for which you train. That for me is the Boston Marathon in April. Eastern States 20 was merely a test. The goal was to fine tune precise race pace – or in my case “race effort” – and test whether my body could handle a pair of racing flats over the long haul of marathon distance.
And so early Sunday morning I went to the start of the race in Kittery, Maine, just over the border from New Hampshire, with my friends Cristina and Sharon. The drive went quickly with us chatting about our race plans for the day. I was relaxed even though I had been feeling rundown energy-wise since returning from a week-long vacation in the Bahamas. Not long after, we were warmed up and at the starting line waiting for the gun with 700 other runners.
Like a balloon drifting slowly into the sky, the race started slowly with a rather large lead pack sitting tight, eying each other, their watches, and staying conservative. Because of the slower start, I found myself in this lead pack wondering why nobody was breaking free when I knew full well there were some fast guys in the pack.
Within a half mile, Jim Johnson, the eventual winner, pulled into the lead. He looked back several times as if to see who was going with him. Nobody did. The pack sat tight, slowly drifting away, out of sight of first place, like the balloon meandering in the sky without a care. With the brutal head winds to come out on the course, I felt bad for Double-J that he had to go it alone. I knew he would likely suffer if he were to hold this for a win.
Mile 1 (6:37), the lead pack now split into two and the leader (Double-J) still easily within sight, I got sucked into race effort. The original goal was to go out at slightly faster than marathon pace (6:45) and hold until mile 15. But being so far up front, I got pulled into the race – and the effort for racing 20 miles. No matter. There was no glory in this race. It didn’t matter if I jogged in the middle of the pack or turned up my own race. So I went with it. This was, after all, a test.
Through Mile 5 (avg pace 6:33) I had worked into an aggressive yet even effort. I was breathing hard but also feeling smooth in the legs. Only I knew that the hard part was yet to come, for the wind was directly head on and seemed to grow harder and harder as we neared the coast.
To this point I was in 20th place. In a race with 700+ runners and a field as deep as it was, I was pleased.
One of the goals of this race was to trial my Saucony Fastwitch 4 racing shoes to see if they were good enough for my feet and body to go the long haul in racing a marathon in them. I had used them during speed work sessions but never in a long run. To this point the ride was smooth, my feet happy and body still solid.
But something else was wrong.
I had to go to the bathroom.
Mile 6 (7:02) had me slowing down or stopping periodically in attempts to find a token spot beside the road. Finally there it was, calling my name, a hideaway in the brush with my name on it. I jumped a roadside barrier and had to back track some off-road of the course to get there. Knowing this would cost me minutes, I timed it. 2:40 later I was back on track, only Mile 7 (7:03) was still impacted. (Mile 6 & 7 time’s not including 2:40 potty break.)
By Mile 8 (6:46) I was back to form and pace but also now behind another 20 spots. I was so far back that nobody was calling out positions anymore. This is also where the windy conditions bared teeth sharp with bite.
Because I was back 2:40 from where I had been running, I was now with people pacing a bit slower, which meant I was now making pass after pass. But because the wind was so stiff and directly head on, Miles 9 (6:47), 10 (6:41), 11 (6:41), and 12 (6:51) found me passing one or two runners, surging ahead to the runner or runners ahead of them, and tucking in to rest for a minute before repeating with yet another pass. The constant wind was taking its toll. I was working very hard, at an effort far harder than marathon race pace, and I still had 8 miles to go.
Mile 13 (6:49) couldn’t come soon enough. This is where the course turned inland, away from the coast and the brutal wind. This is also where I met one of the goals of this race – sort of. My feet were starting to hurt, and I could now feel the accumulation of 13 miles in the joints of my body. As much as I love the Saucony Fastwitch 4 racing shoes, I learned that I cannot race in them longer than half marathon distance.
Miles 14 (6:45) and 15 (6:50) were a welcome respite from the wind. There were some rolling hills but nothing too challenging. Although I was still running strong, I was now ready for this to be over, and I knew the slowdown was after the next little rise in the road – or maybe the next. I knew I had gone out on the fast side, especially for the windy conditions, but I was okay with it. If a flat course could even be considered slow, this was it. The wind was that bad. But it would get worse. Far worse.
Mile 16 (7:07) was a surprise with a split in the seven’s (7:07). I didn’t expect the slowdown to be this soon. I felt better than that, and I thought I had run better than that, but apparently not.
Mile 17 (6:44) was starting to get rough, with me now racing myself as I do when it gets difficult, but I was buoyed by getting my pace back to where it was supposed to be: 6:50 or under. I could do this, I knew, for I only had three more miles remaining. Just a short stroll, I coached myself.
The beauty about pushing pace on a long race is that the end seems to come quicker than if I went out at a slower pace and kicked it up toward the end, even if the paces were identical. This race was no different. Before I knew, I was back into the wind for the final, maybe epic, stretch of brutality, possibly the worst head wind conditions I have ever had to pleasure to race into – with head down, of course.
Slightly before Mile 18 (6:56), the wind unfurled its fangs, sharp and pointy ready for gashing meat, my meat. Steady and even and gale force, the wind never let up. Like trying to push a wall of wind, I felt I was making little head way up the course. The only progress came in the form of passing some of the trailing runners in the adjoining half marathon race. It was the only indication that I was moving forward.
Just when I was sure I missed the next mile marker – there could only be a half mile remaining, I was certain! – there, painted on the road, was Mile 19 (7:37). You’ve got to be kidding me! This was ridiculous. And I still had a full mile to go.
After another eternity, the finish finally came into sight. Mile 20 (7:10) and the finish line had come in a total time of 2:19:26, an average pace of 6:58 (including potty stop), all of which was good for 30th place overall and 7th in age group M40-49. Had it not been for the 2:40 potty break, I would have collected hardware in age group.
I wished I had finished stronger on this day, but since I had a solid, but not great, performance and got exactly what I wanted out of this race, all was good.
Part #1 of this test revealed a distinct answer: My feet were hurting and my body sore, far too much for me to race a marathon in racing flats. So I now knew the answer. No racing flats for Boston.
And Part #2 came in steady: Marathon pacing, or at least the effort required, is now dialed in to be slightly easier than on this day. And if I can be patient with that effort in Boston, keeping it easier for as long as possible, I know I can achieve what I want for when the real test comes next month.
This concludes the test of race readiness for the Boston Marathon. All systems are a go!
1 – 6:37
2 – (6:33) – split 26:12
3 – (6:33)
4 – (6:33)
5 – (6:33) – total 32:49
6 – (7:02) – split 4:40 + 9:25
7 – (7:03)
8 – (6:46) split 13:33
9 – (6:47)
10 – 6:41
11 – 6:41
12 – 6:51
13 – 6:49
14 – 6:45
15 – 6:50
16 – 7:07
17 – 6:44
18 – 6:56
19 – 7:37
20 – 7:10