Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Race Report: Baystate Marathon (Lowell, MA)

At midnight I reach the base of homebound hill
One more mile to go before I sleep
and in my mind I hear the call of the road
the Mother Marathon beckons to me
the Marathon of memory
the first long run


This past weekend I ran the Baystate Marathon for the second time in my running career. Those of you have read my post on here about my first attempt know that it was my first marathon. It meant a lot to me.

I decided to register for Baystate again this past summer because I wanted to put my training to the test. This past summer I ran without a plan, just working on projects around the house (putting in a new floor, building a half wall around the basement stairs to baby-proof the kitchen, plastering and painting walls, and more.) The time spent on the house meant I didn't have much time to record runs anyway in a journal, so I recorded everything in my Strava App.

After working for eight or more hours on projects I would set out late at night for a variety of rambles. I've done enough training plans before that I knew to stick a set of hill or speed workouts once a week, a long run, and also a tempo run. The other runs were just to build up base mileage. I also decided I'd try and get a good running streak in. I ran for 70 days straight through the summer.

My heaviest mileage week was 50 miles, and I topped out in my long runs at about 19.5 miles. I didn't do a 20 mile run, so I wasn't sure if that would help me or hurt me. Also, because of the crazy commitment I have to my professional career, the two weeks before the race weren't really high mile weeks. This is good from a taper sense, but you're really meant to maintain the intensity as you lower the miles in a taper. I didn't really have the energy for that so I just got some miles in and focused on quality rest.

I did run a test race in the Jamestown half marathon, in September. The pace I set was pretty decent given that the course was very hilly, and running so close to my PR I figured my fitness was close to what it was in 2013 when I first ran Baystate.

My wife and I booked a hotel up in Andover for the Saturday before Baystate. The marathon had to cancel its pasta dinner due to so much interest and it being a logistical impossibility to make that much pasta. We opted to go to the cracker barrel near the hotel for dinner.

The next morning we woke up at 4am, and drove to the Tsongas Center parking. I had visions in my head from my previous running of waiting in a massive amount of traffic, but being that we arrived four hours before the race, there was no one there. We slept in the car for a couple of hours, I pounded the rest of my breakfast, hit the port-a-john and then at about 730 we started mulling around the chute.

It was cold. I was very cold. I lost feeling in my toes. I entered the chute at about 750, kissed my wife goodbye and told her I would see her at the finish area in a few hours. The national anthem played, and before I knew it we were off bounding through the streets of Lowell on frozen feet.

I decided that given my previous experience of going out too fast I would hang with the 3:45 pace group this time. If I felt good at the last 5k, I could maybe try to layer the speed on. But I reasoned there wasn't any sense to trying to go for broke when I wasn't trying to prove much to myself. To be honest, I wasn't really feeling the run. I was nervous (I'm not sure why) and I was tired. I didn't know if I could really cover the distance. I just banked on being able to gut it out.

So I hung with the 3:45 group. The pacer for the first half was the same pacer I remember giving me a big pick me up near the end of the race in 2013. He was a very nice guy, and I really enjoyed his conversation and light attitude. At about mile 10 the pacers switched off so we could have an even pace all the way to the end. The new guy was nice, too. But the pack was really pretty quiet. We went through mile 20, where the organizers paint a shattered brick wall on the ground and he said to us, "Normal people run out of glycogen at 20 miles. But you aren't normal people. You're marathoners."

That gives one a massive sense of pride. However, I was having an increasingly hard time hanging with them. Come mile 22, I was starting to drag, even though I'd pounded down a hammer gel every hour of the race. I sipped at water on the fuel belt I had on. "OK", I thought, "...time to reassess,"

My goal in any race is primarily to finish. I was sure I would finish this marathon. My legs had carried me to 22 miles at that point, and even though I dropped a bit behind the pace group, I knew I could tough it out. Look at the river? Maybe the trees. Maybe just keep your head down and don't look at the slight incline in front of you.

My second goal at Baystate this year had been to run the entire 26.2 miles. Not stopping to walk. Previously in Baystate I stopped to take a couple of walk breaks. That was helpful, because I had gone out too fast, but it is tough to recover from when you stop late in a race like that. Your mind at that point can be so set on giving up. In Marine Corps. in 2014 I had a similar problem at the bridge. I hadn't been aware we'd be on the bridge with the sun pounding down on us for all that long. It wore me down just being there. I also wasn't terribly experienced with how to fuel for those races, so that may have been an issue as well.

"This time around," I thought, " even pace."

"...and no walking."

Lastly my goal had been to hang with the 3:45 pacer the whole time. Finishing with him would be a PR of about two minutes. That would have been awesome, but as I watched them slowly pull away from me, I knew I wasn't going to hang for the last six miles.

I gutted it out. This year, the organizers had printed our names on our bibs, and I was overwhelmed when people in the crowd looked at the bib and called to us by name, "You're looking great, Mike!"

"You can do this!"

It reminded me a lot of my experience running the BAA Half. The crowds were massive and exuberant. They called to us individually, telling us that we were awesome. Treating us as conquering heroes, while our legs stilled battled with the distance and our minds shouting contradictory things every other minute.

In those last four miles, Lowell felt an awful lot like my own personal Boston.

As I crossed the finish line I landed firmly on a joyous pad of endorphins. I knew I came in around 3:50, but I wasn't sure of chip time since I'd spent some time in the chute at the beginning. I got my space blanket, medal, water bottle and started to stumble off towards the food tent. A nice volunteer saw that I was sort of a disaster, trying to carry my fuel belt and handle the other stuff I had. She stopped me and tied the space blanket around my shoulders so it wouldn't fall, and helped me put myself together.

I wandered off and found my wife in the crowd. We stumbled towards the car where I got changed and we headed home for lunch and a magnificent afternoon of lazing in bed. Later in the afternoon I got an email with my official time of 3 hours, 48 minutes, and 48 seconds. I was so close to my PR, but I am so satisfied with that effort and the training hours I put into it this summer.

Baystate is, at this point, one of my favorite races. I love it like a family member. I'm not sure if I will run it again next year, as I have a goal of running in places I'd love to see. If I get the chance to travel for a fall marathon I've never done, I will probably take the opportunity. But I know for sure that I'll be back to Baystate.

My recovery has been very smooth, too. I went back to work the next day, ran an easy 5k, and have been moving very well with only a little muscle fatigue. I'm only three years into my journey as an endurance athlete, but I think I'm finally starting to feel at home as a long distance runner.

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