Race Video: ECTA “Spring for the Trails”

 

WARNING:  I am still in the baby phase of learning how to utilize my GoPro during runs.  I tried a set up during this race which in hindsight was *not good*.  The video is very rough. However, I think it does a pretty good job of showing off the type of trails that I was running on, and the great weather that we had during the race. As with everything else, this is a work in progress.

ECTA Spring for the Trails Half Marathon

For my first official post-Boston event I decided to throw myself a curveball and get off the road, and onto the trails.  The event, which was my first trail race, was the “Spring for the Trails” Half put on by the Essex County Trail Association.  The course featured a 13.1 (they swear) mile loop through Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

My snap reaction — why have I not been doing trail races this whole time?

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Having never run a trail race before I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  In fact, I wasn’t even entirely sure where Ipswich was.  A week ago if you had asked me where Ipswich was, I would’ve told you “somewhere near the Cape.”  Which as it turns out, is very, very false.  So at 5:30 AM with my gear bag in tow, I jumped in the car for the 90 minute trek East, and North (twist!!) to Willowdale State Forest.

The information that was sent out let me know that there would be a trail head meeting at 7:45 AM, and the race would start promptly at 8 AM.  My experience more often then not is that those times are more fluid in reality than they seem on the welcome email — but I gotta say, the trail meeting started at 7:45, and we were running at 8AM.  So nice work on the scheduling ECTA, killing it right from the start.

The weather was delightful for a run through the park.  I’d guess high 50’s with a stiff wind at the start, but as the morning wore on and the sun came out it got much warmer and the wind died down.  Perfect weather for shorts and a t-shirt, which is a significant improvement over the last time I toed a start line.

As for the race itself, it was an interesting experience.  I had zero frame of reference for a trail run.  I mean I had walked trails with my kids and dog before, but I’d really never run on a trail so navigating the undulating hills, the roots, the rocks, and the rest of nature was a completely new experience for me.  One that I genuinely enjoyed.  Typically when I’m in a road race, I have my headphones in and music (or audiobooks) thumping in my ears, drawing my entire world down to a small bubble.  On this day I thought I’d try something new, and left the phone and headphones in the car, running the race with the soundtrack provided by the nature around me.  It had the effect of expanding my frame of reference to really take in my surroundings, but also I think contributed to my mind wandering a bit at times, which did lead to some less than graceful terrain traversal (i.e., I almost ate in a handful of times).

The first portion of the race included some gradual climbs, made a bit more tricky because the pack was tightly grouped.  I really liked running in a pack early because having no previous frame of reference for a trail run it gave me the opportunity to get comfortable before things stretched out.  After about 3 miles, we hit an extended flat stretch where I was able to go from about an 11:50/mi pace to around 8:30/mi pace and make up some time.  Through the aid station around 6.9 miles I was making what I felt was really good time and keeping a pace that was not much slower than my road pace would have been for a half marathon.  The aid station was a perfectly time stop to grab some Tailwind and a GU packet and then it was off to the second half of the race.

The second half of the run saw the pack thin out considerably, and there were times during this phase of the race where I found myself essentially alone in the woods.  For most of this part of the race I found myself within distance of one other runner who after awhile told me that he was FOURTEEN YEARS AGO!!  Believe me when I tell you that when I was 14, I was not out running trail half marathons at the crack of dawn.  This kid did hit a wall after a difficult climbing and descending section of the trail and had to stop to stretch, but I was very impressed with his performance up to that point.  I would’ve been home on a Saturday morning playing Final Fantasy, or genuinely doing anything BUT running trails.

This was the point of the race where I realized my GPS tracking was out of wack.  I ran past a gentleman who told me I was a “quarter of a mile” from the finish line, and looking down at my watch to see it registering 11.50 miles.  I figured the guy I ran past just didn’t know how much further to the finish, until I came out of the woods and realized I was actually on the final loop to the finish line.  I crossed the finish line at 2:01:38, with my Garmin measuring 11.92 miles.

Now, I am not a GPS expert, so I have no way of knowing if this is true – but I was told that the course was wheel measured to be exactly 13.107 miles.  I was also told that when tracking the course with GPS, because there were so many sharp corners – the GPS cuts off distance for each corner, which is why everyone was measuring short.  I have no idea of knowing if that’s true, it sounds feasible, so I’m going with it.  I know I didn’t cut off the course – of that I am positive, so the only explanation is that the course was inexplicably shorter than measured, or my GPS registered the distance as short (which seems most likely).

At the finish line, the race crew grabbed my bib ticket to record my finish time and placement, and then I ate a bowl of Lentil soup.  So that’s pretty great.

Overall, my impression of the race were very positive.  It was a well organized event, the trail was well marked, checking in was simple, and the finish line scene was solid with a lot of runners hanging around to cheer everyone else on and some good food (always important).  I’m already looking forward to my next trail race, and my next opportunity to participate in an ECTA event.

Gear Check:

Camera: GoPro Hero 6 (Video is coming)

Shoes; Inov-8 Parkclaw 275 GTX

The 2018 Boston Marathon

After it was all over, I was standing on an elevator heading to my car and a very nice lady, a very nice, very *dry* lady asked me what the hardest part about IT was.  I smiled at her, and said (in all honesty) “getting off the bus in Hopkinton.”

As I write this it is Tuesday morning, about 8:30 AM.  Twenty four hours ago I was sitting on a Charity Teams provided coach bus, in a parking lot at a Hopkinton school watching ice cold rain fall in buckets outside.  Thanks to the fact that I was running Boston as a charity runner, we had been provided very nice accommodations where we would remain until 10:30 AM, when we’d leave the dry confines of the bus and make the (approximately) thirty minute death march from the parking lot to the starting line of the 2018 (122nd) Boston Marathon.

I’ve run a lot of races.  Starring out that bus window in Hopkinton all I could think was “if this was any other race, I’d be home right now.”  But this was Boston.  This was my first marathon, my first Boston, the culmination of 20 weeks of training, and a lifetime of dreaming about this moment.  I was about to toe the starting line in Hopkinton.

But first, I had to get off the bus.

It doesn’t matter how good your poncho is, or how expertly you taped up your shoes – when the rain is falling in droves, the wind is ripping at around 20-30 MPH and it’s around 40 degrees there is no way to remain dry or warm.  The minute I stepped off the bus in Hopkinton I was wet, and cold, and I hadn’t even started moving yet.  All I could think during the walk to the starting line was “I can’t wait to start running.”  Because here’s the thing — running is familiar, it’s comfortable and even though I didn’t feel right, and I knew this day was going to suck, I knew that once I started running, I’d be alright.

The funny thing is, I think that was a mental trick that I used on myself to convince myself to just get off the bus, and it worked.  The fact is that when I crossed the starting line, and actually started moving towards Boston I did feel alright, the weather didn’t seem so bad, it wasn’t that cold (note: yes it was).  For a long time, that mental game I had played with myself helped too — I paced myself pretty well. Here’s my splits for the whole day:

Split Time Of Day Time Diff Min/mile Miles/h
5K 11:49:43AM 00:28:59 28:59 09:20 6.43
10K 12:19:06PM 00:58:23 29:24 09:28 6.34
15K 12:48:14PM 01:27:30 29:08 09:23 6.40
20K 01:17:54PM 01:57:10 29:40 09:33 6.29
HALF 01:24:16PM 02:03:33 06:23 09:21 6.42
25K 01:47:58PM 02:27:15 23:43 09:47 6.14
30K * 02:17:25PM 02:56:42 29:27 09:29 6.33
20 Miles 02:36:22PM 03:15:38 18:57 13:57 4.31
21 Miles 02:47:33PM 03:26:49 11:11 11:11 5.37
35K 02:55:36PM 03:34:53 08:04 10:47 5.57
40K 03:28:38PM 04:07:54 33:02 10:38 5.65
25.2 Miles 03:32:51PM 04:12:08 04:14 12:16 4.90
Finish Net 03:42:10PM 04:21:26 09:19 09:09 6.57

Quick aside: about twenty minutes into the race my watch died.  I had stupidly plugged it in to charge the night before the race, but forgot to make sure the charger was plugged into the wall (it was not).  So my 20 weeks of pace training with a running watch kind of went out the window.  Thankfully I had also worked on pacing without the watch, so I was able to approximate my pace without the watch (though it would have helped).

You can see pretty clearly, I finished my first half in 2:03:33 and I was on pace to finish right around where I wanted to be when I got to Boylston.  I was still going pretty strong after 30K, and then the wheels started to come off.

I can blame any number of things for what happened as we got into Newton.  My nutrition was all out of wack, my stomach was doing somersaults, my hydration wasn’t where I wanted it to be, the cold, the wet, the rain, the wind — there are plenty of reasons why I didn’t run the race I had dreamed of running.  The reality is, I ran as hard as I could, I did the best that I could, on this day, I just didn’t have it in me to keep my goal pace (and I’m coming to terms with that being okay).

I made a bathroom stop during the climb in Newton, somewhere before the Johnny Kelly Statute (parts of the race remain a blur).  I felt like I had caught a second wind after the break and I kept moving up Heartbreak Hill.  Getting to the top of that hill, and hearing the screaming BC students gave me some life.  I ran into someone I knew, a friendly face that I really needed at that point, and stopped for a few seconds to chat him up.  Sam, if you’re reading this, just know that the idea that I was “82.1 percent finished” ran through my head for the rest of the race.

By the time I got through BC my shoes were essentially water logged bricks.  Huge props to Hoka One One Clifton IV’s which stayed dry WAY longer than I ever expected, but once they got water logged my legs had a tough time convincing my feet to keep moving.  This is when the proverbial refrigerator got thrown on my back. My goal when I hit the wall was to just keep putting one foot in front of the other (regardless of how slowly), and I did that.

Even as we pulled into Copley Square I hadn’t really started to feel cold.  I was wet, and I wasn’t really having fun but I wasn’t that cold. My body was pretty beat up at this point, but I was still moving.  The rain started to slow, and running into the city was an amazing experience.  As we ran under the highway overpass, and made the approach to Hereford, I did what everyone else did and tore off my poncho and ditched my very soggy rain gear (hell the rain had stopped).

It was as if this act of defiance was the slap in the face Mother Nature was waiting for.  The sky opened, and it rained as hard at that moment as it had rained throughout the entire race.  My ability to stay somewhat dry (hat tip poncho) was now gone, I was soaked to the bone as I approached Boylston, but it didn’t matter — I was about to finish the Boston freakin’ Marathon.  I stayed left on Boylston because I knew the Joe Andruzzi Foundation people would be at Uno’s, so I moved down Boylston looking for Uno’s.

I didn’t realize it heading into the race, but Boylston Street from the turn to the finish is approximately three hundred miles.  This part of the race took FOREVER.

I finally saw Uno’s, and I saw the amazing Team JAF cheering by the road, I yelled as loud as I could muster (I hope ya’ll could hear me) “LETS GOOOOOOOOO” and then used every last ounce of me to cross the finish line.  As I got there, I let the rain wash over me, and I let the moment just sink in.  In the worst possible conditions, I had finished the Boston Marathon.

I have so many more thoughts that I want to express, but I’m going to save those for a different post (this is already getting a bit long).

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