October 4th, 2009
It’s a sunny brisk PERFECT fall morning. The sun is burning off the slight frost we got the night before. I sit on the couch debating on wardrobe for the race. A year ago today we set almost record highs at this race when the temps were in the mid to high 80s WITH high humidity. Today is going to go differently I think to myself. My feet aren’t quite as battered from the Vermont 50 the week before. I’m trying this new attitude thing out on my races as well.
I get a kiss goodbye from loni as she heads off to work and I head south to Hollis for its 26th annual half marathon. Another solo race, my 28th race of the year, I wonder how many miles I’ve traveled on my feet in just races this season? It’s funny, the only reason I had signed up for this race originally was I was going to run it with my girlfriend of the time over the summer. Then when she made up an excuse to not train, she said she’d do the relay with her friend. Then they both decided it was too expensive. What a nut roll those chicks are. Their loss I think, the colors are coming out, I think about the orchards we run by, the neat people you see here (this is the largest road race I participate in), the scenery from last year, and it makes me smile about how I’ve been learning to push on even though I’m surrounded by negativity.
I take the back way to the race this year. I decide it’ll be better for me, boy was I that a good decision, almost no traffic. I arrive early and I gather my things. We’re forced to park off site and then shuttled to the event due to parking constraints at the high school. I find myself in the bus line just ahead of some avid runners who are talking about how this is such a good warm up run for Chicago, New York, and the Philadelphia Marathons. I think about how these people must be the ones that buy up every copy of Runner’s World at the newsstands and counts the seconds of their races as a qualifier for another race. I wonder if they ever just take in the race around them. Eh, it’s none of my business.
I get my bib, my shirt, I check my things. The temps are perhaps in the 50s now, but the sun feels great. IT’s about 30 minutes before the start. Half of the field of runners are already standing in port-a-potty lines, the other half are off busying themselves with their warm up routine. I decide I’m going to lay down. I find a nice spot of grass, use my water belt as a pillow and bask in the sun. I hear some nay-sayers going “yeah, good warm up,” as they hurry by and I just smile and enjoy the warmth. The one thing that ultra’s has taught me over the years is you don’t need to go out and power run a mile before you run, you don’t need to do this or that. IF you are in tune enough with your body, you can just relax it and be ready. If you trained correctly, if you are in the right mindset, you are gold. A lot of people see others running warm ups so they feel that they should be doing the same thing. Well I think many of those runners are the runners I catch in the second half when they are sucking wind and wishing they had relaxed more at the start.
5 minutes before the start they have us all line up on the road. There is a brief race meeting and then the race siren blares and off we go down the driveway. 1 mile down, 9:35, not too bad I say to myself. I yell out, 12.1 to go and get some evil stares from people around me that are already hunkered down into plug ahead mode. I turn the corner at 1.5 and I’m running next to an older woman that explains that it’s her first run back at this course in 10 years. She goes on to explain that at this time last year, she had a broken neck; I congratulate her on her speedy recovery and wish her well. At 1.5 and 12.5 you go up the same hill. Well the word “hill” has a whole different meaning for a trail runner versus a road runner. It’s not too bad I think and plug ahead passing people left and right. As I’m passing an older fellow, he must have been in his 60s, I look over, and he’s got a huge grin on his face. “You’re smiling, I love it!” “’Course I am, this is easy! Like Water!” His response lifts my spirits up and over the top of the small climb. Now it’s a mostly downhill rollercoaster back past the school, through the downtown area and out past silver lake. The comradely at these road races never touch trail running. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seems like many runners are in tight nit groups that talk to each other nonstop. Or they are the individuals that are looking at their watches and will hardly give you a hello in passing. When I get to the first real uphill of the race between 3-4 miles I find myself running next to the 4th or 5th person wearing an outfit very Canadian. We exchange words, wow I think, he’s actually sociable! He says he and his wife, and 5 other couples are down from New Brunswick to run this race. Then tomorrow on their way home, they are to meet up with 2 OTHER couples from Canada to run the Portland half marathon. Hey that’s just great, here I am thinking only I’d be crazy enough to run back to back races in a single weekend.
I settle into a grove and start knocking out the miles. I keep my eye on my watch at the mile markers only. Last year I swear I broke 2 hours here, but the timing chip gave me 2:04 and I wasn’t pleased. This year was going to be different. Cooler temps, better attitude, better training, I had to break 2. At the top of the 5 mile hill I hear the familiar bag pipe guy. It’s one of the neatest parts of this race. An old timer in full Scottish attire playing the bag pipes at the top of the hill. It really pulls you up to the top and then helps you down the backside. From here to 8 miles it’s mostly a downhill race. The killer of this course is from mile 8 through 11, where it’s flat, or up, there is no break. I get past the half way point at exactly 1:00:07, I look at my watch, and my watch time is actually a minute and change faster than gun time. I wonder how it’ll factor in the end time. It doesn’t matter, I’ve got to get the lead out and run negative splits for the second half of this thing to break 2. It won’t matter if I’m 5-10 minutes faster, so I shift into a higher gear and push on. As I pass people I give them words of encouragement, wave at the locals who have gathered on their front yards, and laugh at the costumes that people had dressed up in at the water stops. Grease Lighting by far had to have been the best water stop. The characters were right out of the movie. There was even a guy with a leather jacket and slicked hair to be John Travolta. I’m running with my water pack so I find that I’m able to cruise right past water stops which helps me pass a lot of people and get a better look at the outfits.
Up another hill we run past a horse farm. I make a horse huffing sound at one of them, and to my surprise it gave me the same sound right back. I look over at the guy next to me and said, “Yeah, on the days I’m not running, I’m a horse whisperer.” “I know, he responded right back!” with eyes agape. I laugh and push on, I’m feeling great and I’ve gone over 10 miles on the pavement now. “Last hill,” I hear one woman say as I get next to her. I give out an enthusiastic “AWESOME” that I think startles her. She explains how she’d be going much faster if she could have her music. She goes on to say that the rule of taking out the sound devices is just to the advantage of the fast runners. I tell her to take advantage of NOT having the ear buds in and talk to the people around her. I tell her that trail runners are much more sociable and you actually talk to other people on the trail. It’s a short lived conversation as the hill eats her up. I steal a glance at my watch. I’ve got 30 minutes even (my watch time) to make it the final 5k. I shift into yet another gear and plod along the pavement. My feet are starting to get warm now, this happens to me when I run on the pavement. My mind wanders to how John and Nate are going to accomplish 124 hard miles on pavement in two weeks. 2 miles to go, 20 minutes left, shit. I’ve got to pick this up. I pass a “bride to be” running in a custom made t-shirt with the date of her wedding and a tiara. I congratulate her and wish her well, you can see across the corn field to the finish line. I’ve got 14 minutes to get up this last hill. Mind you this is the same “hill” that didn’t seem so bad the first time around. It was burning a bit more this go around. I’d just run mile 11 to 12 in 8 minutes. I feel like I’ve left too much in the tank as I pass about 20 people in mile 12-13, but it doesn’t matter. I can see the finish line and the big clock says 157:03, I know if I power through the last tenth of a mile I’m set. I shift yet again and pass another 4-5 runners in that stretch. I cross the finish line, hit the stop on my watch, watch time 1:57:45. YEAH I yell out. I did it, I get my finishing metal, my apple crisp, couple of glasses of cider and whatever else I could get my hands on and booked it out of the finisher’s tent.
One note which I thought was worth mentioning. There was a stand with some new juice concoction. I grabbed a sample and noticed the first thing it had mentioned was “hangover remedy,” I laughed at the guy and said “sold!” To which he said, and look, and points to another claim saying “it increases your sexual vitality!” I give him my Phillip J Fry (Futurama) face look and said “BAH! Like I would need that?”