Last weekend I ran the hot and hilly Great Bay Half Marathon–my fourth half since I started running 5 years ago. The Newmarket, N.H. race was part of the Will Run for Beer series, and Loco Races did a great job of organizing the event. The Newmarket crowds were charged up with the running spirit as well. In addition to fuel stops and cheering onlookers along the route, at mile 6 there was a hula hoop, fiddle playing guy on roller skates, followed by belly dancers at mile 12! On and off the course, people were having a blast.
With the Cabot Trail Relay coming up in May, my plan was to do the Great Bay Half as a training run. The Relay is a huge event on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and I’m running it for the first time this year. I’m working on gaining more control over my running gears, and I was coached to run the first 5 miles of the Great Bay Half at a relaxed pace, then to pick it up and race the final 8 miles. It didn’t work out quite like that due to the relentless hills and warm temps.
I placed myself further back in the pack at the starting line, and spent the first 4 miles of the race reining myself in. With the goal of “conversational pace,” I tried chatting with the people around me. I couldn’t get more than a nod and a word out of anyone so I focused on awareness of effort, making sure my breathing was steady and unlabored. Awareness of one’s body and surroundings is the primary reason not to race with earbuds, and I’d actually love to see them banned in longer, more technical race events. In this race, I had three near-collisions with runners who were completely unaware of what was going on around them. At one point I ran by a couple arguing about ipods–the woman complaining that unless they both turned down the volume, they wouldn’t be able to hear each other during the race!
The race shirt for the Great Bay Half reads: These legs conquered the hills of the Great Bay Half Marathon, and they’re not kidding! In the early miles of the race, the rolling hills kept the terrain interesting, along with great views of the woods and the bay. After I picked up the pace in the fifth mile, I realized that in spite of the mellow pace, my legs were still taking a beating from the terrain. After 8 or 9 miles of up and down, I muttered, “Sweet Jesus, are these hills ever gonna let up?” The guy next to me chuckled and said, “Not until the final stretch of the race, when you get to run downhill to the finish!” He went on to say that there would be a respite during a 2.5 mile lollipop loop through a residential development. I was still feeling pretty strong as I turned the corner into the development, but at that point the tree cover disappeared and the miles under the sun began to take a toll. I reminded myself that a short recovery time after the half would be key, in order to continue my training for the Cabot Trail Relay uninterrupted. I stopped looking at my watch at about mile 11 and just ran it in. I know it was a smart choice, given the unexpected challenges of the race, though it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if I’d taken it on as a race from the start!