This is a race that runners tell horror stories of. While I was waiting in the bathroom line prior to the start, I was listening to the ladies talk. Most had run the race several times, and they all had a tale of horror for each year they ran. I didn't hear anyone say, "Well, when I ran in year such and such, the weather was great!" And to be completely fair, I think the weather is pretty awful every year. This year it was 14 degrees at the start, but with 14 MPH winds the "feels like" temperature was about 2 degrees. From what I've heard, the worst year was run in the snow. I'm not sure I would have run if had been snowing. Knowing what I know now about the course, I can write without a doubt that I wouldn't run in the snow. There are some steep downhills that I cannot imagine running when slippery...but I digress...
I arrived at the gym about an hour early to collect my number. I quickly found Raelyn and her running group. Everyone was very nice. Everyone was also very nervous. It seems that runners both love and hate this race, and almost everyone I spoke to was calling this a "training" or "tempo" run. I really didn't know what to expect. I mean I knew the course was challenging. I knew miles 9-12 were suppose to be ridiculously hard. I knew the last 4 miles were suppose to be mostly downhill. I knew it was suppose to be cold. But I had no idea what that would mean for me. I had told Raelyn that I was thinking/hoping to run around 6:45-6:50 pace, but that was really a shot in the dark.
I actually felt a lot better when I saw that everyone else was nervous too, though I'm not sure why because it probably should have made me more nervous (given that these runners were all Derry veterans). I was most nervous about the cold (and so were they). I had run an easy run earlier in the week where the "feels like" temperature was -5 degrees, and it was just miserable. Dressing for races can be tricky. When it's cold everything needs to be covered, but you also don't want so many layers that you start to sweat and get colder because you're sweating. Did that make sense? Anyway, I was having trouble figuring out what to wear...here's what I started with.
I told Kaylee I was going to be a running Ninja. She replied, "Momma, ninjas wear black." That kid is way too serious and literal sometimes. So, while it looks scary and silly, I needed to have something to cover my face for at least the first few miles. I have asthma, which hates hates hates running hard in the cold. Breathing through something for the first few miles helps.
After everyone finally figured out what they were wearing, it was time to head to the start. My first impression was that the cold didn't feel too awful. We only had to wait on the line for 5 minutes, so we didn't freeze while waiting. I think the cold felt worse while running. I was breathing through my makeshift mask, but it was getting wet from my breath, so I'd take it off, then the air would feel to cold to breath, so I'd put it back on. I did this on/off thing constantly through the first 5 miles, then I mostly kept it off, but really the air was just too cold to breath. My impression of the first 5 miles was something like, "yeah, this is hard, but not impossible." and "I wish the air wasn't so cold."
I was really waiting for the dreaded miles 9-12, and they didn't disappoint. They were some pretty tough spots, to which I just kept telling myself, "just keep running, just keep running." (Insert Dori's sing songy voice from Finding Nemo.) Around mile 10 or 11 Raelyn found me. I should probably mention that I ran this race completely alone. The first 5 miles or so I could see people, but at some point I couldn't see any runners at all. I had this awful feeling that I was going to get lost. Really I could see no one. So, when she came up and started running next to me, it was a huge relief. We sort of ran near each other for a mile or so, but she was just ready to go, and I couldn't hang on to her.
After the super hard miles, the last four miles were suppose to be much easier. It was sort of a joke though, because we turned the corner towards those "easy miles" and ran straight into a ridiculous head wind. It was just miserable. After 12 miles of running, I was still cold, my chest was tight, and this head wind was just making everything more uncomfortable. But what's a runner to do? I don't think running slower would have helped. I still would have been cold and miserable. The only real option is to hang on...
With about a mile to go, I was completely alone again. I couldn't see anyone in the distance. ANYONE. I was completely panicked that I wasn't running on the course anymore. I just kept going and eventually I hit someone directing traffic. A couple of turns later and I was done! Phew.
My official time was 1:50:20 (6:53 pace). I finished first in my age group, but Raelyn was completely robbed. She beat me by at least 30 seconds and placed second in her age group. I think the competition was fierce this year.
My thoughts on this race? Hmmm, I have no idea what to think. It was a good training race for Boston. It was definitely hard. The GDTC organizes this race, and I have to say they do an excellent job. The race starts at the middle school. They open the gym to the runners, so there's no waiting in the cold, and there are real bathrooms to use. There is someone directing runners at every single turn, so as long as you don't start taking random turns you won't get lost. That's a big deal. These people are standing out in the freezing cold for hours! They also had results kiosks in the gym. I was able to look up my official time right after I finished, which was awesome. We got long sleeved tech tops and a nifty pair of running gloves too. I didn't stay for the awards, but I've heard they have chicken soup and coffee. Really a great race. Now, will I run it again? I would love to say YES! Of course! It's well run. It's challenging. The runners and volunteers are all great. Unfortunately, the price I paid for running 16 hard miles in the cold was steep. My asthma was bothering me the rest of the day, and today though my legs aren't sore my chest and back are very sore (I think from breathing so hard). And given that this race is notorious for its difficult weather conditions, I will probably have to pass.
For anyone interested, my Garmin splits are below. The orange highlighted miles were the miles with the most uphill, which is probably obvious given the slower splits. You can tell where there's lots of uphill and lots of downhill based on my splits. Except mile 14. That's a slower split without a lot of uphill (just a lot of headwind).
Mile 1: 6:55
Mile 2: 6:41
Mile 3: 6:04
Mile 4: 6:29
Mile 5: 7:12
Mile 6: 6:32
Mile 7: 6:44
Mile 8: 6:42
Mile 9: 6:53
Mile 10: 7:29
Mile 11: 7:29
Mile 12: 7:49
Mile 13: 6:57
Mile 14: 7:07
Mile 15: 6:51
Mile 16: 6:23