Saturday, November 30, 2013

Manchester Road Race

Thanksgiving was this Thursday. I started out the day with some very exciting fitness. I've been wanting for ages to do a run with Dad and Lisa. They have both been getting into / back into running. Lisa had suggested the three of us do the famous Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving. No one had to ask me twice!
The race was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving. 15,000 people participate annually in the Manchester Road Race, making it, by far, the largest race I have ever done. Lisa, Dad, and I are the causious sort, so we headed out early to Manchester.
As luck would have it, my friend, Walter, who I met at Tough Mudder was not only interested in doing the Manchester Road Race with us, but had done it many many times in the past. He made some great suggestions for parking that helped make things go very smoothly. As a result, we arrived with around two hours to kill before the race. We decided to walk to the starting line and scope things out.
Because the race is large, they ask everyone to be in the starting corrals at least a half an hour before the race starts. If you are very motivated, you can submit time for seeding and get a pretty good spot. For everyone else, people like us who didn't submit times, you have to start in the back of the pack at the 40 or more minutes mark.
After figuring out where to go, we tailed it back to the car. The weather was brutal! It was just around 30 degrees Fahrenheit with a very significant wind chill. My brother girlfriend, Grace, who runs Manchester every year with her family, said that this was the second worst weather she remembers -- the other time it snowed.
I had dressed fairly warm for running -- lined tights, my Nike Pro Hyperwarm shirt (which is fuzzy inside), running gloves and hat, and my warmest ever Nike Sphere hoodie. I even wore warmer socks instead of my favorite Hyperlite ones. I like this outfit (or the same outfit but with my running jacket instead the hoodie) for my cold weather runs. It tends to work at least decently, though I have definite challenges running outside in the cold. However, I had road tested this outfit on Tuesday with a four mile run in thirty degree weather and, while there was a slight dusting of snow, still felt okay.

However, at Manchester I would have felt chilled in my warmest coat -- hanging outside in running clothing was terrible! The wind was the real killer and it would not let up.
As a result, was decided to wait in the car until the last possible minute. Every second we spent outside was agony from the cold. We were parked less than half a mile from the starting line, so we waited until around 9:20 a.m. to start making our way to the start line.
It was crazy packed! I began to realize what running with 15,000 people was like. This was very different from the 300 person runs I was used to taking part in back home in Western Massachusetts. Here's a picture from the race to give you an idea. See the people way back up towards the section where that hill starts? That's us.
After getting into the corral the long wait in the cold began. The fortunate thing was that being packed in with so many people definitely helped with the wind. The wait was, in a way, easier than the walking around we did before the race.
Things were so hectic, and we were so packed in, I began to dispair of ever locating Walter. We had been texting back and forth and making call and, by the way of some Thanksgiving miracle, Walter found us.
Shortly after we connected with Walter announcements began. The race, now in it's 77th year, was going to be televised on Fox. There were elite runners there. There were people in elaborate and festive costume -- everything from Captain America to a Thanksgiving dinner. This was a big deal!
Finally, after many freezing moments, the starting gun sounded and off we went. Except...not exactly. We were pretty far back and for a few minutes nothing happened, then some slight shuffling, then walking. Over five and a half minutes after the clock started we crossed the starting line and began our race.
I had dedicated myself to just having fun at Manchester and not worrying about my time. This was a decision mostly made because I had taken some time off from running because of my calf, which has been bothering me on and off since the race I did around Halloween. However, regardless of what my physical state, I could not have more than jogged at Manchester. The course was swamped! People everywhere! I now know that if you really want to run at Manchester you definitely need to submit for seeding and get to start ahead of the pack.
However, for the race I wanted to run -- one that was fun and just about having a great experience with friends and family -- the spot I was running in was perfect. This is the first race that I ever ran without music. There was just too much to do and see and hear. This was going to be a fun 4.748 miles!
I started off the race by catching up with Walter who I hadn't seen since Tough Mudder though we had been emailing a bunch. We ran up Main Street together, following Dad and Lisa and a pair of Ninja Turtles, and made the turn towards the first mile marker. People lined the street cheering and holding signs. Hemmed in with runners, we were running around a 11:30/mile, a very easy jog, which allowed us to talk easily.
We passed a flag announcing that we had passed mile one. The second mile was up hill along the aptly named Highland Street. A mile up hill is always a little bit of a challenge, but we were going so slowly that things didn't feel too difficult. The hill was also a gradual climb, not overly steep. Onlookers continued to line the course cheering us on and playing festive music out of large rented speakers. People had gathered the bands they were members of and performed along the race route. I had never had an experience anything like this.
Shortly after mile two, we made a turn onto Porter Street. Whew, the hill was over. At this point Walter jogged up to chat with Lisa and I caught up with my dad, who I would run the rest of the race with. The Manchester Road Race was the farthest my dad had ever run, however, because of the measured pace, he felt fine. He, like me, usually runs at around 10:00/mile, so this was a slow jog for him too, making the race easy and enjoyable.
Mile three and onward were definitely the most heavily spectated part of the race, probably because they were the most residential. People were on their lawns drinking beers, waving signs, and cheering. Again, lots of people played music out of rented speakers. The atmosphere was festive -- I couldn't believe how many people had come out to see other people run. I guess this is Manchester's version of a big Thanksgiving Day parade.
By around mile four, things had started to spread out a little, allowing Dad and me to pick up the pace ever so slightly. We were back into a more commercial area of town. We passed another band and then a group of people playing gongs.
We made the turn onto Main Street. From there, I was able to look down the hill towards the finish line and see a sea of people all running. What a sight. I wish I had been able to take a picture. Going as fast as we were able (still not very fast) we crossed the finish line one right after the other. Our times are posted right next to each other online! I finished in 9,010th place with a time of 54:27 (11:29/mile).
Dad and I had lost Lisa and Walter during the race. We looked around with a bit, but eventually decided to just head back to the car to meet Lisa so that we could make our way back to their house for some warm showers and then onward to Thanksgiving dinners.
The Manchester Road Race was a blast! The entire thing go me so excited that when, later that day, I saw that Runner's World magazine was having a holiday running streak, I decided to join in!
What is the Runner's World 2013 holiday running streak? It's a pledge to run at least one mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Of course, the streak started out in an awesome way with the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving. So what did days 2 and 3 of the streak look like?

The day after Thanksgiving, I had planned to take a rest day. However, in honor of the streak, I washed my running clothing Thanksgiving evening and made plans to head out for an easy two mile recovery run on Friday. The weather was a crisp 29 degrees, but there was no wind. I was saying at my mom's house, my childhood home. My legs were a little tight, but the two mile run went fine. I alternated between roads and some trails through conservation land. All in all a pleasnt run.

Today was day three of the streak. I had a strength training workout planned as my main workout of the day today, but decided a quick 15 minute run (1.5 miles) would work well for maintaining the streak. Plus adding some cardio into your day is never a bad move. I kept my strength workout to half an hour and then quickly changed into tights, a longsleeve tech shirt, my warmest Nike Sphere hoodie, gloves, and hat. My warmest running pants and shirt were in the wash from yesterday, but I was fairly hot from 30 minutes of working out already -- I felt like I was in good shape.

I stepped outside my house. It was f*&%ing freezing! 19 degrees. I began to run, albeit slowly so as not to pull a muscle. I started my run by tackling the hill that we live at the bottom of. If anything was going to warm me up this would.

No luck -- it was just too damn cold. My calves felt like blocks of ice. The air, when I breathed in, felt like sucking in shards of glass. The weather was miserable!

I wasn't tired. My legs and energy were fine, so the run, in a way, was easy. However, the conditions were less than ideal. Weather that cold couldn't be good for me, so, even though I felt fine, I decided to keep the run to a mile and a half. This wasn't a cardio day after all, and, in frigid weather I could save my mid-length to longer runs for the gym.

Still three days down and the streak is on. I think this will be a fun challenge. Lots of days, I plan to only do one mile. These are days when I want to focus on strength training or want to do a non-running form of cardio. I think that even running one mile a day will make me a better and more consistant runner. Plus, I am a bit of a hermit in the colder months and think that getting a little bit of fresh air (though not too much if it's super cold) will be good for me.

I'll keep you posted on how the streak goes. I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous. I have never done something like this before. The weather is definitely a primary concern as well as staying injury free. But I think it will be fun to experiment with something new. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

2013 Cider Donut Run 10K

This morning dawned cool, windy, and partly sunny. I know because first thing, Seth and I headed out to North Amherst so that I could participate in the 2nd Cider Donut Run 10K.

I had run this race last year and it was one of my favorites. I ran the race in 59:32, averaging a 9:35/mile. Probably my fastest race. This was made even better by the fact that the course is fairly hilly with an elevation gain and a significant hill at mile two.

To be honest, this year I was feeling less confident. I had a good race last weekend, but since then had been having some aches. My left calf had been tight at the race last Sunday and continued to bother me throughout the week when I ran. I ended up having to cut my most recent training run on Friday short as a result. I had also been having a nagging cough all week, though I otherwise felt fine. (I called it a bout of fall-related ennui.) All that being said, it probably would have been best to sit this run out, but I had pre-registered, and I loved this run -- I wanted to participate.

We arrived at the Mill Recreation Center where the run was to start at around 9:35 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. start. The place looked festive.

I had my way towards the rear of the main building to pick up my race number at the pavilion. There was a wait of around five or ten minutes for number pick-up. Raceday registration had no line, so that was good news. I picked up my number (10!) and my tote bag. 

Seth and I took a quick pre-race selfie, and I was off to line-up. It was pretty cold and a little bit windy, so I kept my warm-up jacket on until the last minute. It was, fortunately, starting to get sunny though, so I decided I would run without it.

There were brief announcements, and then, at around 10:05 a.m. we were off! The course, while similar to last year, ended up being slightly different in places. As with last year, we started by heading up Mill Road and then out along North Pleasant Street. The first mile was fairly flat, and I was feeling pretty decent. Right around the one mile marker we passed the local Lutheran church. Two of the ministers were out, in full vestment, cheering us on. It was amazing and totally my favorite part of the race.

As we continued along North Pleasant Street, my calf began to start bothering me. I told myself to take it easy. I had run the first mile in around 10:00, which is a pretty standard pace for me, but decided to dial it back for mile two. I was able to hold things together for a little while.

At mile two, we took a turn onto Eastman Lane right by the North and Northeast residential areas at UMass. The next half a mile or so was up a fairly significant hill. During the 2012 race, I took this hill at around a 10:00 to 10:15 mile, running the whole way. However, this was not to be the case today. About a quarter of the way up the hill my calf began to hurt fairly significantly.  I had to crawl to a walk. Mid-way up the hill I tried to run again at somewhat of a shuffling pace; immediately I was in more pain. I again slowed to a walk. At this point, I still had around 3.5 miles to go. I wanted to be able to finish the race. I tried to carefully stretch my calf and finished the hill at a walk. Big disappointment. I was now well behind my time from last year and feeling rough.

Finally, at a slow walk, I reached the top of the hill. I knew from last year that the next section, down East Pleasant Street would be slightly downhill and then mostly flat with a slight rise. I moved back into a slow jog, and, this time, on the downhill surface, my calve cooperated, allowing me to finish the rest of the 10K. Fortunately, I did not have to stop to walk again; however, I was forced to keep my run at a very slow pace, averaging around 10:43/mile for the run overall.

Mid-way down East Pleasant Street, at the three mile marker, came the first change in the route from last year. Instead of continuing straight down East Pleasant for the entire run, we took a left down Van Meter Drive into a quiet residential neighborhood. We ran mid-way up the street took a quick right and then another quick right onto Harlow Drive and then headed back to East Pleasant Street. Clearly, the race organizers were padding the route with additional distance. This meant that there would be a change in the second half of the course from last year.

I loped along down the rest of East Pleasant. My calf had changed to a dull ache, my nose was stuffy, but I was making it. I was feeling that, while this would not be my best race -- more likely it would be my most challenged -- I would definitely finish. I kept up my moderate pace as we made the turn onto Pine Street at the four mile marker. Only two miles to go! Never had I been so happy.

Miles four to five were slightly up hill. This was nothing as steep as the hill through UMass. I took it easy and was able to keep running. This is where the course began to differ from last year and ended up being a bit more uphill running.

Last year, the course had continued up Pine Street all the way. We had then continued onto Henry Street and Bridge Street, taking us right to the left turn onto State Street and through the Mills River and Puffers Pond Conservation Areas. We had then joined back up with Pine Street, taking it to Montague Road for a fast downhill finish! This had, by far, been my favorite section of the course.

This year, the course was changed so that we did not take Pine Street all the way to the top. Instead, we met up with Bridge Street farther down and then turned onto State Street. Here again, we got to run through the Mills River and Puffers Pond Conservation Areas, which again was the loveliest part of the run. However, instead of joining back up with Pine Street for the last 0.75 miles, we turned again, crossing the bridge that is below the waterfall coming down off Puffers Pond. This was quite lovely, however, it meant that we were on a slightly more hilly section of road.

With around a third of a mile left, we turned onto Montague Road. The change in directions, had us approaching the Mills Recreation Center and the finish line from the opposite direction from last year. This meant that instead of getting to run the last bit of the race downhill, we were running slightly uphill. At this point my muscles, compensating for my bad calf, were all in knots. I was beat. This is normally the point in the race when I would put on a final burst of speed at push to the finish. Not today. I did my best, but ran towards the finish line as fast as I could, but still probably under my average pace from last year.

Crossing the finish line I breathed a sigh of relief. I was just glad I had made it.

I took a look at my time, 1:06:33. This was seven minutes slower than my time last year. I averaged a 10:43/mile (versus a 9:35/mile in 2012). Definitely disappointing, but it had been a challenging day.

After some brief stretching, I met up with Seth and headed over to get a doughnut and cup of cider. Seth had brought my jacket to the car, and I was getting cold fast, so we headed out.

On the way, we spotted the most delightful cider doughnut and apple couple, cheering finishers on. I had to take their picture.

Getting home, I took a warm shower to recover and then did a comprehensive 25 minute stretch. I'm planning to take the next week off from running to recover myself. I don't have any other races scheduled until the Manchester Road Race, which I am doing with my dad and Lisa on Thanksgiving. I think a week off from running, with a focus on recovering and doing other activities for a while, should hopefully help my calf situation.

For the rest of the day, I have been relaxing. I've been doing some work on the new blanket I started on for Seth.

The pattern is called Aran and is from Comfort Knitting and Crochet: Afghans. At Seth's request, I am knitting it in his favorite yarn, Valley Yarns Colrain, a 50% merino/50% tencel blend.

So far, I think the blanket is coming along nicely. I love the elaborate cables. Hopefully this will entertain me as I rest up a bit from my race.