On September 13, I ran the Surftown half marathon in Westerly, Rhode Island. Since then I’ve been busy writing stuff for work so I’m only now getting around to finishing this race report. If anyone wants to read about theories of comparison or the 25th anniversary of German unfication, let me know, but I thought I’d keep the blog focused mostly on running.
I ran Surftown last year and I got a PR, but I ended up annoyed and not sure how to talk about that. It was my second sub-2 hour half marathon, so how could I be pissed off? This is how: I finished in 1:59:09, which was a PR of 6 seconds over my old time, after expecting to be able to run faster. My hips cramped up badly around mile 8 and the second half of the race was a suffer-fest. It wasn’t the outcome I had hoped for even though it was a pretty good race. So last year was pretty frustrating.
Surftown is one of my favorite races though. It has a beautiful flat course along the beach. The weather has always been great for running. Lots of friends run this race and it’s easy to convince family to come along because it’s at the beach! So, of course I wanted to do it again. The only half I’ve run so far this year is Mystic, which I ran in 2:07 with only one 10 mile training run as my longest run. Three and a half months later, things look very different. I’m knee deep in marathon training for Philadelphia and I felt ready for Surftown.
We decided to head to Westerly on Saturday for some beach time. Everyone had a great time playing in the waves and building sand castles. I love these pictures of Rose enjoying the beach. This is her happy place.
Aidan kept busy too.
Sunday I woke up around 5:15am. Ouch. I made my oatmeal in the motel room microwave and totally melted the Styrofoam bowl. Oops. Early Bird and Teacher Runner picked me up at 6am. We drove to the start and picked up our packets. The race organizers were announcing lots of water on the course from the rain the day before. They were even offering deferments! Early Bird, Teacher Runner, and Me
I was excited for the chance to meet Hippy Runner, another friend from Sub 30. I saw her right before we lined up. Incredible Mervus and the kids came to the start to send me off, a real treat!
The race plan involved these fundamentals. Run an even paced race. If at any time, I saw a 7:xx pace on my watch, then I needed to slow down. If I saw a 9:xx, I needed to speed up. I was planning to keep a 8:40-8:50 pace, but I was not supposed to panic at 8:30s or even 8:15. Coach Cowboy told me not to be afraid, but just to let it happen and that became the race motto: Let It Happen.
So, bang! The gun went off. I instantly lost track of both Early Bird and Teacher Runner and didn’t see them again until near the end. I did see Hippy Runner and we joked that we each planned to hang right behind the other. After a bit, though, I pulled ahead and didn’t see her again. The first two miles of Surftown are a straightaway down a causeway. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement at the start that I thought I might see that 7:xx on the watch when I first looked down, but instead it said 9:20. Shit. That was the sign of a possible long morning to come. I was able to pick it up though and got down the straightaway and around the loop keeping the pace around 8:40-8:50. In previous years I have always seen the leaders coming back on the straightaway as I went out it and I did not see them this year. I think means I was a little faster?
The first six miles of this race are supposed to be easy. The course is flat. The ocean views are lovely. It’s just get out there and run. It wasn’t hard exactly, but it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I just kept that 8:40-8:50 pace as best I could.
Surftown doesn’t have mile markers at every mile, but they have one at the five-mile mark. The first time I ever ran five miles in under 50 minutes was right past that sign. This year I figured that an 8:50 pace is pretty close to 44:00 for five miles so that was the plan. I crossed the five-mile mark at 43:45. On track!
Also at around 5 miles, I finally caught up with the 2 hour pacer. As I passed him, I heard the pace group leader announce that he was on target for a 1:58 finish. I asked if that was his planned finishing time and he said no, he planned to finish in 2 hours, but he knew he would lose time on the hill coming up. I got crazy cocky and called out “I’m from Middletown! I’m going to run that sucker!”
I had assumed that the Incredible Mervus and the kids would not see me on the course and would just be at the finish line so I wasn’t counting on seeing them again. But, the course does loop back past the start so there was a chance and indeed, there they were! They even got a picture!
The halfway mark was my next check point and I had planned to get there in 58:00. I crossed in 57:43. Yes! Right on target.
Mile 7 is the biggest hill on the course, but you can hardly see it when you’re running. It’s a sneaky hill. It’s there, though, and it makes everything seem harder. Miles 7 through 10 is where things fell apart last year and when things got slower at mile 7 I had a little panic. What if I slowed down? I had forgotten my salt tabs. What if my hips cramped up again? But I did twelve million clamshells to prepare for this so surely they wouldn’t? And they didn’t. YEAH!
The rest of the race was just straight up work, as I knew it would be. Mostly I could keep my pace below 9 minutes. If it went above 9, I tried to speed up just a bit. If I saw 8:30, I remembered what I had written on my hand: “Let it happen.” I thought of what Coach Cowboy had said: Don’t be afraid of it. He said he thought I could run this race at an 8:15 pace if I could get my head around that idea. I DO NOT think that is true, but I figured if he thought that, I could at least handle 8:45 or so with little stretches of 8:30 thrown in now and then.
By mile 10, I was passing people. Quite a lot of people. I kept saying, let it happen. Don’t be afraid of it. This is ok. I am ok at this pace. In the middle of mile 11 or so, someone came up beside me. This person was kind of looking at me. She was very close to me. She was almost touching me. What the hell?? I finally looked. Teacher Runner! Turns out she had been tailing me for quite awhile and finally caught up to me! I waved and she waved and she kept on going. Man, I would have loved to go with her, but that just wasn’t happening. She sped on past me.
Then finally it was mile 12 and things just get grim by mile 12. I was pouring it on, as much as I could. No reason to hold back now. I started counting soon after Teacher Runner passed me and just kept at it. Five counts to 100 and you’ll be done. Just count to 50 three more times and you be at mile 13. I glanced at my watch from time to time, but I don’t even know why because I was going as fast as I could, so any information from the watch was irrelevant. Finally, feeling like I was crawling through mud, I got to the 13 mile marker. Then at last, the finish line! Arms up! Get a good picture! Um, maybe not so much. I mostly look pissed off.
But, despite looking like I’m about to chew somone out, this year, I ran a 2 minute 2 second PR! Yes! 1:57:07 and I feel great about that.
If I had to pick one word to describe my approach to this race it would be “intellectual”. I studied the course. I planned my pace. I planned arrival times at various checkpoints and hit them within seconds of my plan. I have run Surftown like this before and I wonder if the course lends itself to that approach? It’s one of the few flat courses in this area and you can really spread yourself out over the race. But I ran like this at the Middletown 5K too and that also worked, so maybe it’s a good strategy. For me, picking a goal pace for a race like this is critical, though this time around it was also key to not be afraid of running faster than goal pace. To believe that I could let it happen. Crazily, Coach Cowboy must have had some idea of this because he wrote down a predicted finish time on a piece of paper before the race: 1:57:00, off by only 7 seconds.
At the end of the race, it was fantastic to have the Incredible Mervus and the kids to greet me. Teacher Runner was there too, having beat me by less than a minute. Hippy Runner arrived a couple of minutes later, also sub 2 and with an enormous PR. Congrats to Hippy Runner! I only remember snippets of the rest of the finish line scene because I was so tired and happy: Calling Coach Cowboy and hearing his prediction (He asked if I couldn’t have found an extra 7 seconds somewhere out there!). Sitting on the curb, drinking lots of water. Seeing Early Bird cross the finish line. The Incredible Mervus telling me that Rose had had ice cream for breakfast. Just walking side-by-side with Aidan.
Somehow we all made it back to the car and over to our brunch destination, Mia’s Prime Time Cafe. Nicole had arranged for a bunch of us to meet up at a local restaurant for some post-race food and mimosas. We piled in there and loaded up on delicious breakfast goodies. It is so fun to meet up like this after a race and get to re-hash everything. Next race up is Hartford so I guess I’d better start looking for a brunch place that sells mimosas!