Manchester Road Race 2017 – Race Report

Manchester. I have run this race more than any other. I’ve run it the last eight years consecutively. But on all those Thanksgiving mornings, I’ve never raced it. Manchester 2010 was my second race ever and at the time, I had never run more than four miles. I’ve run it pretty often with Aidan and a couple times in costume. This year I ran it for time.

The Retiree lives in Manchester, right on the course and he kindly invited me and my family to join his gang for the race. He hosts a party where the runners can gather before and after and the families can cheer right around the 3-mile marker. We arrived bright and early Thanksgiving morning.
Sub30 Friends!

After introductions and getting the family settled, I joined the Retiree and Ghostie and a friend of theirs and we headed to the starting line. We met up with the Retiree’s running group, the Manchester Running Company, for a picture. This important event was captured by Fox 61’s race coverage! After a little more chit-chat, hellos from a friend from my gym, and some friendly shivering, it was time to line up.

Manchester is a huge race. It’s one of the oldest and largest “turkey trots” in the country and as such, I always feel weird calling it that. The race is 4.748 miles long and follows a loop through town. The strange distance is dictated by the course – it’s just where the race’s founders wanted it to be and back then, no one cared much about standardizing distances. It also contains a pretty big hill, right up the second mile, though most of the rest of the race is downhill. Manchester draws huge crowds of runners and spectators but also an incredible field of elites. In 2017 that group included Des Linden, Molly Huddle, Bernard Lagat and Paul Chelimo. Pretty impressive for a town of just under 60,000 residents.

I did not even see any of those super fast elites, but the Incredible Mervus got some great pictures of them!

Because I’ve never raced Manchester before, I’ve never bothered with seeding, but this year I was eligible for the Under-42 minutes corral and I went ahead and registered for it. With such a massive number of people starting on a fairly small street, if you’re not seeded, it’s about a 10 minute wait after the gun goes off before you move at all. Then you spend the first couple of miles tangled up with other runners. If you’re with a kid or wearing a leprechaun outfit, who cares, but this year I wanted to race so I got the seeding. Life in the U42 corral was much more spacious. And we could actually hear the gun go off! It only took me about 30 seconds to cross the starting line, a dramatic difference.

I really had little idea what to expect in terms of time. It’s a funny distance and it’s got that huge hill on the course. Figuring that it’s longer than a 5K and shorter than a 10K, I thought I might split the difference between my paces for those distances, more or less. I thought I could probably run 42 minutes at Manchester and maybe not a lot faster than 40 minutes, so somewhere in there. I’ve still got my watch set up so I can’t see pace, but I thought maybe I’d look at my mile splits, just out of curiosity. Here’s how it went, mile-by-mile.

Mile 1 [9:11 split]: The first mile is pretty flat, straight out and a turn to the left. Despite being in the U42 corral, there was a TON of traffic and nothing much I could do about this pace either way. I had guessed we were running a bit slower than I wanted to partly because I was still pretty cold. I kind of figured this meant I wouldn’t even get under 42 minutes, but whatever. It’s still a ton of fun. I saw Safety Man, a Manchester institution, and got passed by a tiny kid in a minion suit. Lovely. He was really fast, what can I say!

Mile 2 [9:07 split]: Before the race, I kept asking the Retiree exactly where the hill was because even though he assured me it was from mile 1 to mile 2, that just didn’t seem correct. He was right, though, of course. I suspect it seemed like the hill must be later to me because I’ve so often run this with Aidan when he was pretty little or with other runners who were having a hard time. I’ve stopped on the hill a lot to adjust someone’s clothing or bib or whatever. It’s a doozy of a hill and there were still a ton of people when I got there so this was also not even close to whatever I had been imagining a reasonable target pace might be. At the top of the hill I figured, 42 minutes was out the window, but at least I was less cold and I knew the next mile was a big downhill with my family at the 3-mile marker.

Mile 3 [no pace check – but it was 7:59]: You can really fly down that hill and traffic finally cleared out so I could move. I also felt like I’d finally warmed up a bit. There are loads of bands on the course and so many people and costumes – it’s just an awful lot of fun and there’s a lot going on. At the end of mile 3, I spotted my family, waved my arms like crazy to get their attention, and stopped to give Rose a nice hug. I haven’t hugged her mid-race in ages and it was lovely. She wanted me to stay longer but I told her I had to go and moved along. My watch beeped mid-hug. I’m so incredibly glad I stopped – she said later this was her favorite part of the race and I think it was mine as well.

Mile 4 [7:55 pace]: With 1.8 miles to go, more or less, I thought, let’s at least do a little bit of work here today! I had finally warmed up and the course was clear enough to run so I focused on trying to go a bit faster. I thought about the hill workout from earlier in the week, the weights and the somewhat overly-enthusiastic four miler from the day before and felt like, yeah, this is work now. But when my watch beeped with a 7:55 split, well, dang! That’s an unexpected and pleasant surprise!

Last .748 [7:30 pace]: The last mile marker is right before you get to the church and turn left for the long straight stretch to the finish. This is also downhill and you pass under the enormous flag where the photographer is so this is the place to wave. I think my watch said I was about 34 minutes into the race at the 4 mile mark so that was easy math. .8 miles to go in 8 minutes is a 10 minute mile and I knew I’d have to trip not to manage that and make the 42 minute goal. It also meant I’d have to run pretty damn fast to get under 40 and that probably wasn’t happening, but what the heck, I thought, let’s find out! So I powered through the end of that race like a crazy woman! The finish at Manchester is really fun!

I crossed the line and hit stop on the watch and took a look: 40:02. DANG! SO close! That hug with Rose was definitely more than 2 seconds, but I didn’t regret it for an instant. It had been so fun to see her! I found the Retiree and the gang and we walked back to the Retiree’s house. They all had great races and I was especially happy for the Retiree who has been dealing with an injury. I have to say – jogging along with these three guys – all of whom ran between 32 and 34 minutes – I was sort of like, what am I doing here?? But they are so nice and I ran a solid race, so it was really fine.

Once we arrived back at the house, I hugged and thanked my family and had some snacks. Then I checked my actual time: 39:59! Dang again! In no way did I imagine I would go under 40 minutes, even by a second, so I was mighty pleased! Also, hmmm, what would have happened if I had been less bogged down at the start? I love this race and it was a blast to actually race it for once. Now, for next year, I have to figure out a way to get into that Under 38 corral…





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