I had no intentions of running this race a week ago. Then after some peer pressure from fellow trail runners - I know, the irony of trail runners encouraging one to run a road race! - I was standing on the starting line of this prestigious race around Cape Ann.
The course is a loop that follows the coast of Cape Ann, starting in Gloucester, continuing into and through Rockport, and back into Gloucester along the south shore, finishing at the O'Malley Middle School. Allegedly there are 16 'major' hills on the course, but I am not sure I noticed that many. More on that later. The first half of the course is by far the hillier than the second half, but, just about when you think you are home free to the finish, the course boasts a sharp and steep climb at about 15.3 miles. I believe broken is the word for runners at the top of this climb. Conditions were spectacular for the most part. Much like other races around this time of the year, there is always the possibility of the fleeting heat and humidity of the last weekend of the summer season, but this morning started off cool, only yielding to moderate warmth during the last 5k of the race.
Essentially the idea was to use this as a marathon training run, but much like any race, it was just too tempting to be all dressed up and just hang back. I was definitely on board with the 'marathon training run' idea the first few miles, as I came off of the start line very conservatively:
I came through the first mile well over 9:00, which was a little too conservative, but I was trying to identify what each pace might feel like with my 'fast' road racing shoes on - Saucony Fast Twitch 2's. I threw in a small surge during the second mile to get out of a little traffic, and then in the third mile I tried using the downhills and then retreated back into marathon pace. I came through mile three in 26:48 (8:56 pace).
The next segment of the race I started feeling like I was holding back a little too much, so I started pushing a little. I also started feeling some beginnings of stomach issues, and was sort of freaking out about having to make a deposit and not knowing where the nearest bank was.... if you catch my drift. Yet another reason why trail running is so much better than road races - the universal port-a-john (leaves of three, let them be :-) ). Mile 4 was about the time I stopped looking at my watch and just focused on a comfortable pace. Mile splits for this segment were 8:22, 8:53, 8:14 - 25:29 (8:30 pace).
Going into Mile 7 it was time to start thinking about consuming some PowerGel. I did some research to see what the best method might be of carrying gels during longer races, without the assistance of a waist pack/ fuel belt. I found a nice method of pinning the gel packs to my shorts in a way that you basically pin and tuck the gel packs over the waistband. Ideally, when it is time to get a gel, you rip it away and it, if done right, takes out the necessity of ripping open the gel with your teeth because it is already punctured. Good stuff. I took in my first gel just before the 7 mile marker in Rockport without much fuss, although the lukewarm chocolate goop was quickly choked down and furiously followed by the nearest fluid. I was still concerned about my stomach issues, and having to consume some calories made me a little more concerned. I tried to focus on something else. I was starting to pick off more runners that got ahead of themselves in the first five miles, so that helped, but we were starting to enter Rockport's downtown, and the only thing I could think about was how I really had no place for a potty emergency. Here's to hoping and praying! Coming through downtown Rockport was an experience - more views of the Atlantic on a picturesque day, more cheering spectators, and more traffic. Leaving downtown Rockport we ascend one of the remaining 'longer' gradual climbs, passing mile 9 in the process. 25:09 for the third three-mile segment, with splits of 8:13, 8:26, 8:30.
A weird thing happened in the next three mile segment, I started to feel a little bit of a lift. I was able to cruise on most of the uphills, and throw in a couple of controlled surges on some of the downhill sections. We were back in some of the more rural reaches of Rockport, easing some of my digestive anxiety, but having a good idea about how well I was running at the 10 mile mark I was not about to kill a good time because of something that might not actually be an issue. More runners were falling off and I started to pick off more folks. Finally found an aid station with Gatorade! Never been so happy to throw down some refined sugar in all my life. Slowly the tree cover started to disappear as we passed Good Harbor Beach and the cars lined up waiting to get in. I was offered numerous shots of alcohol as I plodded by... it must be Labor Day! I was also a spectacle to those in their cars as I evidently had a serious chaffing problem and my white singlet was covered in blood. Past Good Harbor and the citizen bartenders, gulped down some much needed Cytomax at the aid station preceding the 12 mile marker, and that closes the book on the fourth segment of the race. 24:32, still negative splits for three mile segments. The great part about this was that I actually still felt really fresh and running was still seemingly effortless. I didn't feel like I was going too slow or too fast, and when I needed to pass someone, I still had another gear to work with. Mile splits: 8:21, 8:04, 8:07.
Upon completing the 12th mile my mind began to wander about getting to 13 and really began to wonder about where I was in relation to a half-marathon time. Again, looking at my watch was something I completely threw out because I was just interested in maintaining the pace I was running. As we approached downtown Gloucester the traffic exponentially increased and we began to encounter motorists with varying degrees of respect for runners. Passing mile 13 actually sort of became melodramatic because it preceded a busy intersection, I saw it, passed it, got past the plaza entrance clogged with traffic and glanced down at my watch quick enough to see 1:51 something at about the half-marathon point. From here it was straight-up urban combat running as we passed the State Fish Pier on the Inner Harbor waterfront. I was trying to focus on getting to mile 14 more than not getting run over, but it was sort of a tall order. Just before the 14 mile mark there was a long incline off of the main shoreline road, and that was the first time my quads started to talk back. This last section of the race has barely any water, and even less shade. Combined with the traffic, I really started feeling slightly drained. I can't say I bonked, but I had a 'Near-Bonk Experience at Mile 14. I was due for another PowerGel at this point, but with the lack of water, and the fact that I was only a mile and half from the finish, I decided against it. I think I might have to reassess my schedule for calorie intake. Perhaps at one hour, and then every 10k. Finally arrived at mile 15, ready for the finish line, and feeling for the first time that I had run the distance on the mile marker. Splits - 8:19, 7:59, 8:25 - 24:43.
The final half-mile was highlighted by me dry heaving up the last large hill, recovering (slightly) and then dry heaving down the last 100 meters to the finish line as I tried to pick it up a little bit in front of the cheering crowd. Bloody and dry heaving I crossed the line: 2:12:41 (8:35 pace), 185th out of 508, if that matters.
It was a great race from the perspective of feeling as if I was in control for a vast majority of the race. When the marathon rolls around I will have no problem rattling off 8:40 to 9:00 mile splits and having it feel conservative. It'll be interesting to see how the half-marathon goes this weekend down in Plymouth, but I can say with assurance that I know what to expect on the course.
Until next time...
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