When I lived in Rochester, NY I ran in the Freezeroo Race Series every year. Seeing as they were run in Western New York during the winter they were often, as the name implies freezing cold. Nothing however, prepared me for the weather on January 1, 2018 in Londonderry, NH for the Millennium Mile Road Race. It was 9 degrees and sunny, which is doable, but the sustained winds of 15 mph gusting up to 35 mph made it feel like the flesh was burning off your skin. It is the only time I’ve ever finished a warm up colder than when I started. The only positive about the weather was the wind was kinda sorta at our backs, when it wasn’t trying to push us off the left side of the road. I ran this race last year when it was a balmy 35 degrees. It’s a silly race. 1000+ people line up at the top of a hill and race down it for 1 mile. The total elevation drop is 84 feet.
Last year I had no idea what to expect or what to make of my 4:33 finish. I knew it was faster than I could run on the track, but I came away thinking I didn’t not run it nearly hard enough and I left a lot on the hill. The second half of the race is basically an exercise in keeping your legs spinning under you as fast as you can. If you can avoid the urge to lean back and break, it is sort of hard to be tired by the end. My goal for this year was to be tired at the end, be the first masters runner (last year I was second by 2 seconds Casey Carroll ) and to break 4:30.
I only managed 1 out of my three goals. I was the first masters runner, and 13th overall, but I didn’t break 4:30 and I wasn’t tired at the end of the race. I finished in a lung searing 4:30.4, but even that wasn’t enough to make me feel truly tired like a mile race should. I must need to work on my downhill running technique, I’m not pushing off enough or something going down the hills.
This Sunday I’ll have a chance to see how a 4:30.4 down hill road mile in Arctic temperatures coverts to 65 degrees on an indoor track when I race at the GBTC Invitational. Anyone want to take a guess?
Got on a plane and flew to Kentucky with Derrick Jones. While sitting at the gate in Chicago I started texting with Derrick trying to figure out if he was in the same terminal as me. He texts his gate number, I look up and there he is sitting 10 feet away from me. It was a pretty funny moment, kinda like something out of a cheesy sitcom. We crammed ourselves into the back of the regional jet and headed off for the little hop down to Louisville KY. From there it was an hour drive to our hotel in Lexington. The hostess was so brimming with Midwestern hospitality I wanted to tear my ears off. I felt like she was just taunting me with her niceness. I realize this is a character flaw in me, and only a little bit her fault.
We dumped our stuff and headed over to the course for a look and run around. I was imagining some nice manicured path lazily wrapping around a lush Kentucky Bluegrass infield. This is not what we found at. The park was a frozen wasteland of hills and turns and broken clods of turf. A North wind was whipping down from the hilltop prison on the horizon. It was only to get worse by race time.After a nice dinner and beers with some of the team, it was back to the friendliest place on earth to try and get some rest.
Saturday morning dawned grey and cold and windy. I loaded up and coffee and headed to the race. USATF had setup a large heated tent. The air in it was so think with BENGAY, IceyHot, and Vick’s Vapor Rub, I was sure the gas heaters was going to ignite the fumes and blow us all to hell.
The race started like all cross country races start, with everyone forgetting all about any ideas of rational pacing and sprinting across the field, slowing forming and arrowhead and shaft. I like to think I kept my calm and settled in quickly to a reasonable sustainable pace, but my opening 5:35 doesn’t exactly back that up, especially when it was immediately followed up by a 5:50. I manage to settle into a nice rhythm after mile 2 and started grinding out 5:40’s and slowly working my way up.
It’s impossible to tell from the photos how uneven the ground was. Several runners, including Derrick fell during the race as the landed badly on the frozen clumps of earth. I managed to stay on my feet, but was thankful for my flexible ankles which rolled more than a few times.
I finished further back than I would have liked. I was hoping for top 50 (I was 51st in 2014 in 34:32 but that course was 200 meters short so more like 35:12) but finished 66th in 35:22. At the 4k split I was in 77th place, it was a ton of work to pick up those 11 spots and with the benefit of hindsight I feel like I could have been much further up at that point. But it is just as likely I would have then faded and lost places, ending up in the same final spot or worse. 35:22 is about what I’ve been racing for 10K on the roads, so overall this was a solid time. My team, the Central Mass Striders, finished 4th. I thought we had outside shot at the podium, but we finished nearly 100 points behind the 3rd place team. So while our placement was close to top 3, we got whooped pretty good by West Valley Track Club, Boston Athletic Association, and Bowerman Track Club.
I had a great time racing this year. Being part of a group of dedicated old guys, who show up in heat and cold, who hop in their cars or on planes to race, has helped keep me motivated to be the best runner I can be. While my times may be gradually but inexorably slowing, I still find joy in racing and trying to squeeze every last second out of these legs.
Next up is some shorter races starting with a downhill road mile to mark the new year, and then some indoor track races. Also keep your eye out for a possible Star Wars The Last Jedi review in the next few days. You can also look back at these past Star Wars related posts.
So much for calling it a season. I was all set to wrap up my team racing for the year but duty called and I found myself toeing the line at the USATF New England XC Championship 2 weeks ago. I’ve also booked my flight to Lexington Kentucky for the USATF National Club Cross Country Championship on December 9th.
The New England XC Championship was back at Franklin Park, but this time it was an 8k race. BAA took off as a blob of yellow from the gun, and managed a perfect 15 points. Greg Putnam was our only runner to even challenge their top 5 finishing a few seconds back. I was second for CMS in 12th overall about a minute behind the lead pack in 28:10. The team finished 2nd Full Results Here.
Next up was the After The Leaves Have Fallen Half Marathon at Lake Minnewaska, NY. Lake Minnewaska is a beautiful state park on the Shawangunk Ridge, overlooking the Hudson Valley to the east and the Catskill Mountains to the west. The half marathon course (actually closer to 20k this year) loops around the 2 lakes that sit at over 1600 feet, and provides amazing views throughout the race.
This was a rare instance when I actually noticed more than what was immediately in front of me on the ground during a race.
Since this wasn’t a team scored race, I broke out my Roadkill Racing kit and added a splash of red for maximum visual impact. Look good-feel good-run good!
After a very hectic morning and an last minute save by my mother in-law, I made it to the race at 11:15 for an 11:30 start. Luckily a half marathon doesn’t require much warm-up and I was as ready as I could be as we lined up. It was a cool afternoon, but I’ll take 35 no wind and sunshine any day. The family were the ones who had to wait around in the cold while I kept warming running up and down the carriage trails.
For the most part the race worked steadily uphill for 8 miles before plunging down to it’s lowest point at mile 10. We were treated to the 2 steepest climbs in the last 2 miles, but thankfully they were both very short.
By the time I reached the last 2 hills I had opened up a gap on field including 2 time champ Mike Chow but I knew they would be on me in a hurry if I gave into my screaming quads. The dash down the mountain had really taken a toll and I wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of having to sprint it out to the finish. At the start Mike informed me that is what the race had come down to the last 3 years, and I was doing everything I could with 3 miles ago to avoid that. Mercifully the race was half a mile shorter than expected and I was spared from having to find another gear while on wobbly legs.
This was my first win of the year, made extra special by getting it on my home turf in front of my family and some old friends. It was great to be at a low key but well organized event. Big road races can be fun, but there is something special about trail races and the community of people who put them on.
The only downside to the day was there wasn’t anything to fill my beautiful new pint glass with!