During the week before the race I made a spur of the moment decision to buy a new pair of shoes that caught my eye in hopes that they would make me run faster. I'm a big believer in the psychological effects of preparation on running. Mental preparedness and toughness is an important part of ultra running, and getting yourself in the right frame of mind to race any distance is important. So I believe that buying new shoes and convincing yourself that they will make you run faster can actually pay off on race day (a little bit).
I arrived at the Cape Elizabeth High School about an hour before the race which left plenty of time for catching up with other runners. I used to do about 15 road races a year but since I only do like 2 a year now there were plenty of people I hadn't seen in a while to catch up with. There was also a good showing of Trail Monsters: Peter, Tom, Brett, Sara, Ryan, Danielle, Mindy, Dave, Blaine, Kevin, Lily, Dom, Dora, Floyd, and a handful of TM volunteers including Emma, Valerie, Shauna, Randy... and probably more that I'm forgetting. Of course there was Erik doing a great job of directing the race.
The temperature seemed about right for a February morning in Maine and thankfully there wasn't any wind. I brought with me 3 different pairs of tights, about 5 shirts and a variety of hats, gloves and mittens. It can be hard to get the layers right when the temperature is cold but you're working at a higher level of effort in race conditions. A brisk warmup with Blaine confirmed that I had made the right choice in clothing. The one outstanding question was how the new shoes would feel since I never got around to wearing them for more than the short walk to and from work one day last week. Probably not the best idea really, I think it's actually considered a bad idea to try new things on race day, especially shoes.
I caught up with Danielle and Ryan and the start line and gave Ryan a little grief for the nerves that I was feeling on his account. We couldn't really hear what Erik was saying but before I knew it the cowbell was ringing and the crowd started shuffling forward. I was immediately trapped behind someone still trying to find the right song on her iPod and Ryan took off ahead of me. I shouldered this annoying person out of the way and weaved through the crowd trying to catch up. I could write quite a lot about my personal feelings about running with iPods but I'll just say that when the bell rings you better not be holding up a crowd of 600 runners because you're looking for just the right song.
I don't really like the first mile of this race, it's all downhill and everyone goes too fast, myself included. I passed the first mile mark at about 6:40 and thought "there's no way I can keep this up, time to slow down." Ryan was setting the pace and Ellie was right there with us, I'd never beaten her in a race so I was already thinking that this could be a mistake.
We reached the first uphill stretch at 1.5 miles which leads into a series of rolling hills that pretty much continues for the rest of the race. My pace slowed quite a bit when we hit the up but not as much as many other peoples and I started to work past other runners. When the next downhill came I realized that I don't have the quick turnover needed to take advantage of potential for speed and I lost a few of those places I had gained on the up. This pattern would continue for most of the race but overall I was picking up more places than I was losing.
I decided not to look at my watch after the first mile. Most of my best races have come when I wasn't too stressed about time and I just ran what felt right. This has also lead to me kicking myself afterwards when I finished a half marathon a few years ago 5 seconds away from a PR but had no idea I was that close until I saw the clock at the finish line and by that time it was too late to do anything about it.
I was working hard but the pace felt sustainable and I was actually enjoying myself. There were plenty of people around but the pace was not conducive to conversation so things were pretty quite. The 5 mile aid station provided some pleasant relief and I saw Randy and Shauna there. Unfortunately there was a big clock at the halfway mark just beyond the aid station, I really didn't want to know what my time was but couldn't miss it. I saw 34:00 as I approached and just a few seconds over as I went past. Oops! that seemed a little too fast.
Just as I was beginning to stress over the fact that I had probably gone out too fast Ned from the Portland Hashers sidled up next to me and provided a distraction. He was dressed as Lt. Dangle from Reno 911. Enough said. We chatted for a few minutes and Ned revealed that he had run the first mile in 7:40. A little quick math, I was a minute faster than that and he caught me at 5 which means he did the last 4 miles about 15 seconds per mile quicker than me. For a goofy looking guy he runs very well. I tried to tell him that he must be a pretty serious runner to be running like that, he disagreed "competitive, but not serious." I'll give him that. I got a little ahead of Ned on the next uphill but he pulled away on the next down and I think he was back on track running 15 seconds per mile faster than me. If Ned actually looked as good as Lt. Dangle maybe I would have been able to keep up.
By the time I reached the aid station just before mile 8 I was starting to feel a little tired, but not too bad. I didn't feel like I was slowing down but it felt more difficult to maintain my pace. After this point the course turned and we were headed north into a slight headwind, not enough to start making excuses for slowing down but enough to make you feel the cold in the air. Around this time I started to notice some tightness in my calves. My new shoes are flatter than any of the road shoes I've worn before which means they stretch my calf muscles a little more and I was starting to feel it. This surprised me since I do most of my long running in Inov-8's which are very low, maybe it also has something to do with the hard ground surface. Roads suck.
The first time I ran this race in 2005 I just about died when I reached the final uphill of the race which peaks in the middle of the last mile. I actually felt good when I reached it this year and was able to pick up the pace and pick off a few runners on the way up. What I was dreading was the downhill sprint that follows, I wasn't sure if I'd have enough speed left in my legs to hold off those folks I passed on the way up. It turned out that I had just enough to hold onto my place and when I rounded the final bend and caught a glimpse of the finish line I saw the clock just ticking over to 1:08:00. Those last few yards seem to take forever when you're watching the clock.
I was pretty surprised with the result and very happy with the fact that I was able to run consistently without slowing down. Only a 1 second difference in my 5 mile splits.
Mouthfull of Pizza, Faking a Smile, Genuinely Happy
It didn't take long after I finished for the pain of the roads to set in. I'm glad that my road racing season is over.
splits: 6:37, 6:56, 6:53, 6:48, 6:44, 6:51, 6:50, 6:54, 6:53, 6:31
distance: 10.0 miles
place: 77/691 - 11%
weather: 18-20 degrees, overcast
conditions: mostly dry roads, some ice patches
gear: Saucony Grid Sinister, wool socks, short tights, long sleeve top, Moeben sleeves, singlet, gloves, buff
Photos by Erin Moore, David Colby Young and sidzmum