I mentioned a couple weeks ago that the last time I planned to DNF a race, I ended up finishing the thing. That was a marathon I was running in 2000, as my last long training run for the NYC marathon. Yesterday came very close a repeat, but for different reasons.
I stayed in a hotel only 10 minutes from the race start. I took a thermos of coffee with me, and I had hot coffee waiting when I got up at 5:00 a.m. for the race. When Congress moved the date when daylight savings time ends, it kind of messed with this race and the start time hasn't been changed. In the past, there was plenty of light at the 6:30 a.m. start, and you had to finish by 6:00 because it was pretty dark by then. Now, we start in near darkness, but the light arrives fairly quickly. There was a hard frost yesterday morning and I ran in tights, a jacket, and with gloves and a headband to keep my ears warm. I eventually changed the wind jacket to a vest, but otherwise, shed no clothing.
I ran into a number of friends in the cold, dark morning, as we waited for the start. I love this race because there aren't many like it. It's a long-established road ultra on a certified course. Yesterday was the 28th running of the race. In New England, perhaps the Lake Waramaug ultras would be the only road race that's been around as long as this one. I like to go to this race simply to support it. Even though it doesn't fit in with my plans every year, I don't want the race to go away for lack of interest.
In the pre-run darkness, I ran into Zeke from Vermont, my friend Melanie from NH, and speedster Ron Farkash from MA. This race is also used by lots of people as a first ultra and there were a lot of nervous first-timers milling about.
At 6:30, Eric gave us a few instructions and we were off. The course is on a certified 4-mile loop. We started by running 1 mile backwards on the loop and then turning around. So, we hit the start/finish line at mile 2. At this point, the 50 mile runners simply need to run 12 more loops. The 50K runners do 7 loops and then a short out and back for their last mile-plus. But, my plans were simple - 18 easy miles and then 6 hard miles.
I ran the first 1.5 miles with Ron, and they were a bit too fast for me - 8:40 for the first mile and then about that same pace until I told Ron I was going to drop back halfway through the second mile. I think he was glad, because this freed him to speed up without rudely ditching me to end our conversation.
A week ago, I ran 22 miles and my fastest mile was 9:05, and 12 of my 22 miles were 9:30 or slower. This week, I quickly found that I had to hold myself back early on. From the 1.5 mile point through the 7th mile, I worked hard to dial back the pace. I still had gone sub-9 for 3 of the first 7 miles. Finally, at mile 7, I decided to relax and just run by feel and monitor my pace, rather than trying to force myself to an artificially slow pace. I was worried that I might push too hard early and not be able to run the last six miles fast enough, but I simply felt good and wanted to run. This was a big change from Thursday evening, when I skipped my workout because I just plain didn't want to run.
Mile 7, at 9:35, turned out to be my slowest mile of the day. Miles 8 through 18 were done in 8:47-9:18 each, with an average of 9:05 per mile. I still felt great. It seemed like the loops were just flying by.
From miles 14-18, I was mulling something over in my mind. A pace close to 9 mpm felt pretty easy. Despite a marathon PR of 2:57, my 50K PR is a pathetic 4:58. I realized that I could run a 50K PR quite easily, unless I really fell apart. I was pretty sure I could run 4:40 or better if I pushed at all. But, that would certainly jeopardize my marathon in 3 weeks. I was torn. How many opportunities do I have for lifetime PRs these days? But, I've been thinking about qualifying for Boston for a while. And then I thought that the 50K PR would be essentially "guaranteed", while the Boston qualifier isn't.
Eventually, I decided to stick with the plan and just do the 24. If my marathon goes poorly in 3 weeks, I may regret that choice, but I needed to stick with the plan. At mile 18, I picked up the pace. In the first mile, I spent a few seconds at an aid station, which cost me a few seconds. Here are my mile splits for the last 6 miles:
My total time for 24 miles was 3:31:28 - an 8:45 pace. I ran these 24 miles faster than last week's 22 miler. Now, if I can just run 26.2 miles a bit faster than this 24 miler, I will qualify for Boston in 3 weeks.
It's taper time, although there are still a few tough workouts to be done. But, for the next 2 weeks, the intensity increases while the training volume drops. The last week before the marathon, the intensity will be tapered as well.
After the race, I spent some time cheering on the other runners and encouraging some friends. I got to talk to Laurel Valley, who was volunteering rather than running. Twice, she has almost won the 50 miler outright at this race, and she was the second or third woman (and first master's woman) at Massanutten this year.
I ate some food, rehydrated, and finally had to head for home. It was such a beautiful day, I was almost wishing I was in the 50 miler so I could stay and keep running.
Just before I got into my car, a friend noticed a bald eagle doing slow circles above our heads - just an amazing animal.