Monday, March 28, 2016

the Eastern States 20 Miler (Race Review)

This year I ran the Eastern States 20 Mile Run for the third time. It has become one of my favorite events of the year, and this year didn't disappoint.

I first ran the ES20 back in 2014 because I was looking to do more running away from home, in places that I could day trip to. I wanted to run places that would be neat to see, or seemed to offer a neat experience. The Eastern States fit that perfectly -- starts in Maine, goes along the entire New Hampshire Seacoast before ending in Massachusetts.

The first year I ran it we had overcast skies, some nice wind, and a seriously changed course because of bridge construction. I still had a lot of fun, and decided to go back in 2015. I was really glad I went back in 2015 because the original course was back. The field was also larger because it was the 20th running of the event, and the weather was gorgeous.

This year was similar to last year in many respects -- the weather was really, really nice. The volunteers on the course are excellent. I once again forgot sunblock, so I got a nice burn on my face.

I also took advantage of the race shuttle buses. The event is nice enough to offer buses to drive runners from (near) the end point into Maine at the start. While I appreciate the service, and it has a more than reasonable $5 fee, the timing is always tough for me. I usually get there early enough to be on the first bus. By that point, the coffee I've consumed means a bathroom break is immediate. I get on the bus hoping it will leave at the listed 7:30 time. Then we don't leave until 8:10. That is a long time to not have access to a bathroom.

Once at the start point the race doesn't begin until 11 am. I assume that is to take care of all the registration pickups, which are done day of. There are trade offs, as an early start time would mean having less of the runner's weekend consumed by the race, but the benefit of running the seacoast at the warmest part of the day is really nice, too. I don't really mind sacrificing the day to the event, overall. The couple of hours hanging out at the start line are a good chance to people watch or catch up with friends running the event.

Hopefully next year I'll be able to talk someone into dropping me off at the start, picking me up at the finish. Seems like a better way to do it. Could even lead to a tailgate breakfast at the start.

There's also something to the cameraderie at an event like the ES20. Many of the runners are using it as a last long run before Boston or a Spring marathon. Many of them know each other, and an acquaintance I saw before the race started remarked that watching the crowd mull around the starting line is more like a family reunion than a race. That is a big part of the culture to the event. On the shuttle bus back I always manage to strike up a conversation with someone. No matter how many races they have run, how many Bostons, whatever, people are always very nice and encouraging at the event.

I wanted to come in around 3 hours for this race, being that it is my last 20 miler for my marathon training plan. In 2014 I ran the event in 2:56:40, and in 2015 I ran in 2:49:15. This year I managed maintain pretty well at 2:49:59. I feel stronger than last year, even if that time is some seconds slower. I'm optimistic about Big Sur -- but certainly don't want to set any crazy goals for time. It is a challenging course, and more of the reason I'm running it is just to experience it. I'll be happy to finish strong and see the west coast I've long wanted to see.

I do think, however, that it is time that I migrate away from the Strava app and towards a watch. I'm going to still use Strava to keep track of runs, challenges, etc. But I had a big problem with the GPS on my Phone/App not picking up my location at all during the ES20. I don't want the same thing to happen in Big Sur -- a race I'll likely only get to run once. Phone apps always have seemed insecure when it comes to documenting longer distances anyway, so this move was likely inevitable as I am running more marathons.

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