Last Sunday, over 700 people toed up to the original starting line of the Boston Marathon for the inaugural Ashland Half Marathon. Sponsored by the Ashland Redevelopment Authority, the race is looking to raise funds to enhance Marathon Park – a small green space on the banks of the Sudbury River – and also create a marathon hall of fame at the Ashland VFW. To me, it was my first long race since the Vermont City Marathon, and since I live in Ashland, one that would give me a fun home court advantage.
Sunday broke with overcast and chilly weather, with intermittent rain falling as Hurricane Sandy inched its way north, so I broke out the running tights and jogged down to the starting line with some friends. We were running late, but that was okay – since we were sharing the start line with folks running a 5K race, my strategy was to avoid getting caught up in a fast start in favor of going slow for a few miles and seeing where I stood. Since I missed my usual stretching, these first few miles – luckily relatively flat – would also serve as my warm up.
Bill Rogers mocked the drawing of the original line in the dirt way back in 1897, and soon enough we were off! Looking at my splits, I actually ran faster than I expected for the first few miles, feeling relaxed and enjoying the view of my hometown and all of the people that had braved the weather to cheer us on. I felt good and loose and started to seriously pick up the pace at mile 3.5 when Cedar street starts a long slow climb up to Eliot. Since a majority of my training is in the hills of Ashland, what I was hoping would be the case came true: almost everyone that I passed during the race was on a hill. So striding steadily up the hills on Cedar and Eliot Streets, I was passing people – and passing them for good. It was a good feeling.
The first challenge for me was the big downhill on South Street as we worked our way down to the Ashland Reservoir. My right knee is not a fan of running downhill, so I try to take these slopes easy, but I also know that gravity is providing free energy if you but lean forward and open your stride. I also took advantage of the rest to put on my headphones, which always help to motivate me through the hard times in a race. And it was a good thing I did. The rain started in earnest as ran by the Ashland gravel quarry on Spring Street, and I found myself running by myself. My usual tactic is to eye the runner in front of me with an eye towards picking them off, but the next runner was easily 200 yards in front of me by the time we got to the 135 straightaway, so I hunkered down with my tunes and focused on pushing a steady pace.
It wasn't until we hit the next hill that I was in a crowd again. At 9.5 miles, we climbed a sharp hill over the train tracks and started running towards my house. I run this stretch of road all the time, and knew that there was a killer climb up Green Street just past the 10 mile marker, so I mentally focused on crushing this hill. It sucked, as I knew it would, but I passed three people on that quarter mile of 12% grade and gasped my way down Green Street towards the highlight of the race – my family and Eric were cheering us on at the turn onto Acton Street. Disaster almost struck as I rolled my ankle in a pothole hidden by the fallen leaves, but the adrenaline of seeing my boys’ face as they cheered me on kept me moving.
However, at this point, the lack of speed workouts was catching up with me. I knew that there was one last good hill – the stretch of Myrtle and the 270 degree turn onto Winter – so I kept pushing, knowing that the last mile was a big downhill. I did well – passing another few runners – but I had nothing left in the tank at that point, and was passed in turn by three people as we strode downhill towards the finish. I was also concerned about the conditions; by this point, the steady rain made for some slick streets and the last thing I wanted to do was wipe out at the very end of the race. So I reluctantly watched these three runners pass me while trying to maintain what speed I could. I didn't think I had anything left in me at all until I saw the finish line and the time reading 1:35... my PR is just under 1:38, so I knew I had it, so I gritted my mouth and punched out the last 50 yards as best I could.
I finished in 1:35:30, besting my Quincy Half Marathon time by over two minutes. 25th overall, 13th out of 89 in my age group. No word if I get bonus points of holding the upper marker of 18-39! Regardless, I’m satisfied with the results and already looking forward to my next one!
The Calm Before the Storm
Race Report: Quincy Half Marathon