A friend told me about the Eastern States 20 Mile Race last last year. After reviewing my upcoming training and race calendar, it seemed that the March 24 date would work well in my preparation for the Delaware Marathon on May 12. Both my friend and I signed up, and this would become my first ever 20 mile run.
My intention going into the run was to use it as a long slow run training day. I expected that I would run around a 9:15-9:30 pace and that it would take me about three hours and ten minutes to complete. However, I broke my training plan a little bit. I have been following the Hansons Marathon Method for my training program. This program is one of running on constantly tired legs so that you are prepared for the last miles in the marathon when most runners are hitting the infamous “wall”. For this race, I decided that I would back off my training miles a little bit (not really a full taper), so that I would be able to run on fresh legs.
Now back to the race. This was the 18th running of the Eastern States 20 Miler. It is race that traditionally starts in Kittery, Maine, just across the border from Portsmouth, NH, and runs to the Massachusetts border mostly along coastal Route 1A. Due to a new bridge being built, however, last year’s race and this year’s race both started at Portsmouth High School with a little loop through Portsmouth to add on some mileage. The weather was perfect … in the mid-40s and sunny with a light breeze.
The race is a relatively low key and loosely organized event. There were 444 runners who finished the 20 miler. There is also a half marathon that starts at the same time farther down the course, and there were 309 runners who finished the half marathon. Many of the 20 mile runners use this race as a prep race for the Boston marathon, and there were many people wearing their blue and gold BAA gear.
Let’s start off with logistics. There is no course map or directions published on the race’s website, and we received an email with a Word document with directions for the course about a week before the race. An actual course map and an elevation map would have been very helpful for many of us running the race. Personally, I like to plan and strategize while reviewing a map. Just for reference, it is a relatively flat course with some rolling hills. My Garmin showed 255 in elevation gain and 318 feet in elevation loss.
Since this was a point-to-point race and not a loop, there were buses provided for an extra $5 that runners could use to get to the start line (leaving from a meeting point in Hampton, NH) and returned to Hampton for the post-race activities. I didn’t use the bus or the bag drop. I carpooled to the start with some friends and then my family was waiting for me at the finish line. so I can’t comment on how that worked. Nor did I go to the post-race activities.
There was no pre-race bib pick-up. When we got to the high school, we got in line in the cafeteria and got our race shirts and bibs. The first thing that we noticed was that there was no chip on the bib, so this race was going to be “old school”. Given the fact that this is promoted as a Boston Marathon prep race, I thought that this was a bit odd.
With 15 minutes until the start, we decided to head the start line. The problem with this is that there was no clear indication of where the start line was located. After talking among ourselves, we guessed where it would be. As we were just about to start, someone from the race came out with a bullhorn and said that the start time would be delayed by 10 minutes because the police were not in place yet along the course.
After waiting around a little longer, we headed to the start line. We were waiting for the start and all of sudden noticed that people were starting to run. There were no pre-announcements/warnings so that we could get into our starting positions. And thus is began.
There were a smattering of police officers and volunteers along the course to guide us along the way. In terms of actual race markings, there were none. Nor were there any mile markers or pace clocks along the route. In many parts of the race, it seemed that we were all just on a big group run and that it wasn’t an organized event. The most disturbing part was the fact that we weren’t very well protected from traffic for most of the course. Since the race goes along the coast and it was a nice spring day, there was a fair amount of traffic passing by (sometimes much too close for comfort). At times, there were also disrespectful drivers angrily honking their horns at us as we ran the course.
So how did I do? As I mentioned above, I was originally planning on a 9:15-9:30 pace. I started running with a friend expecting that we’d be at a similar pace. However, we had both agreed that if one of us want to run faster that it would be OK and that each of us should run our own race to the best of our abilities.
I started off much faster than expected (which usually isn’t a good thing, especially on a long run). However, I felt good and kept it going. When I would look at my Garmin, I was typically running somewhere between a 8:30 and 8:45 pace. I was pleased with this and decided to keep it going.
I continued to push on at this pace, and I did start to feel the effects of starting a little too fast around mile 17. However, I kept on pushing and ignored the voices in my head that were telling me that I should think about stopping. A quick shot of GU Roctane helped overcome some of those voices. I managed to stay well hydrated with water and watered down Hammer gel as well as nourished with some GU Chomps, as well as the that extremely helpful packet of GU Roctane toward the end.
Along the way, I was cheered on by friends, family and a smattering of people watching the race along the route, which was a great help. As I was approaching the finish line, I was greeted by wife and daughters. My daughters decided to jump in and run along with me for a bit, which was an incredible way to end a long, hard run.
I crossed the finish line at 2:58:38, giving me an official pace of 8:56. My Garmin had me completing 20.28 miles with a 2:59:09 time (and an 8:50 pace).
At the finish line, they were marking down bib numbers and handwriting finish times. We were given a finisher’s medal (the first time that the race has given out medals) and handed a bottle of water. There was a table with some protein drinks and water, but that was it for any post-race support.
Based on the level of organization, it is hard to believe that this was it’s 18th running. However, it was a great experience along a beautiful route, and I would definitely consider running it again.