Saturday, September 21, 2013

Wicked Half-Marathon Race Recap

3 mile w/u
Target: win some $$, run a comfortably hard effort
Actual: 1:20:18; first place female; $300
1 mile c/d
Total: 17 miles

Last year I ran the Wicked Half and used it as an opportunity to snag some cash and get in a good marathon training effort close to home. This year I was hoping for more of the same, and I invited my new long run buddy (and fledgling blogger!) Sarah to come up and join me. A 7am start meant she was in my parking lot before sunrise so we could get in a nice lengthy warm-up. As we toed the line and scanned the crowd, it looked like we might have a pretty clear go of it. I saw a few girls who looked fit but none I recognized from last year or from other local races, which seemed to be a good sign for our cause.

From the gun we started a touch fast, as most are wont to do regardless of the race setting, but I think Sarah and I both were surprised to quickly discover that we weren't alone. In addition to a handful of nearby guys, another woman fell into step with us quite easily. A few minutes later she asked us if we were using the race as a workout, then added, "I'm just going to hang on as long as I can." I was happy to have the company, and equally happy that her statement implied she wouldn't pose too much of a challenge.

I couldn't have been more wrong. As the miles clicked by, not only was she "hanging on"; she was pushing the pace! Approaching the toughest, hilliest section of the course we were hovering around 6-flat, at which point Sarah had wisely backed off. I'd previously hoped the ~3-mile loop around the Marblehead Neck would serve as an opportunity to relax and back off the pace, but instead I found myself scrambling to stay relaxed and cover her alarmingly quick tempo. This is not what I envisioned, I found myself thinking, and for not the last time. My spirits plummeted further when we came off the Neck causeway headed back toward Salem and I turned to see that Sarah was right on our heels. I was happy to learn she was having a good day and not at all disappointed that she had caught us; but it's hard not to be discouraged when it becomes abundantly clear that are were two competitors who feel considerably better than you!

The lowest moment, if one were to really pinpoint it, came just before the 10-mile marker. We were coasting down a long hill and girding our proverbial loins for a long uphill grind to follow. Speaking of, ah, nether regions, mine had recently been thrown into a bit of a tumult. (Side note: I really need to figure this out. I don't know if the problem is getting worse as of late or just happening at increasingly inopportune times. Either way, not ideal.) At the same time, Sarah whooshed by us on the downhill with nary a backward glance. A few steps later I was making a mad dash into a wooded area on the side of the road to take care of some pressing business.

When I emerged shortly thereafter and rejoined the race course, I could see Sarah and the "other girl who is currently crushing me" (whose name we would later learn was Nicole) rapidly distancing themselves up the hill by Salem State. Sarah's strong move had already opened up a bit of a gap, and she was already nearly 100 meters ahead of me. I'm not proud of this, but my first thought was simply: Give up. Write this one off. Jog the two miles back home and call it a day. Fortunately the second--and ultimately louder--voice in my head clearly stated: TIME TO HAUL ASS.

The ensuing three miles were not remotely comfortable (and for good reason; my calculations indicate that at low 5:50-pace they were the fastest of the morning). To the casual observer, they were probably quite ugly. By the time I made it halfway up the hill I was heaving like a chain-smoker and struggling to turn over my fatigued legs. I passed Nicole a few minutes later, but Sarah was still well in front and holding strong. It wasn't until just before the 12-mile marker when it looked like I might actually have a chance to catch her--although even when I did, I was sure she would kick it into another gear and summarily drop me. I wouldn't have been able to muster a response. Somehow I managed to hold this tenuous lead all the way through the finish, with Sarah close behind and Nicole notching a huge PR shortly after her. Sarah had executed her workout plan perfectly and Nicole had definitely proven she's in shape for her upcoming NYC debut. I'll admit this was much harder than I planned to run today, but in hindsight I'm thankful and appreciative that the three of us were there to push each other and improve the quality of the workout. And hey, Sarah and I got to pose with a giant check! If there's more excitement to be had before noon on a Saturday I've yet to discover it.