Race Report: Great Bay Half Marathon 2013

8 April 2013, 12:00 am
Published in Race Reports

This was my first time running the Great Bay Half Marathon. I had heard about the hilly course, and I did drive most of the course prior to the race so I had the opportunity to check it out for myself.

I’ll talk a little more about the course further along, but let’s get to the basics. I originally had not intended to run this race this year; however, after the cancellation of the Half at the Hamptons in February due to the weather, we were given the opportunity to run this race for a discount so I took advantage of it.

The race is largely through the back roads of Newmarket, NH. Newmarket is a quaint New Hampshire town with a population of just over 8,000 people located in the southeastern part of the state. Since I don’t live that far away, I went to Newmarket High School on Saturday to pick up my race bib and t-shirt. This was well organized, and I was in and out very quickly.

On Sunday, my wife and daughters dropped me off as they headed over to the water station at mile 4.5 to help out the volunteers from the Coastal Athletic Association (there were five water stations throughout the course). I arrived just over an hour before start time. There was music being played, announcements being made and plenty of bathroom facilities available. The race also provided complementary bag check service since the finish line was down the road from the start line. Overall, everything was very well organized and was a welcoming experience.

The race starts on the edge of downtown and goes through a residential neighborhood before heading out of town. There is a small hill at the beginning, but nothing to be too concerned about. After heading out of town, we turned onto Dame Road, which starts off as a paved road through a residential neighborhood. This road then transitions into a hard-packed dirt road for about 3-4 miles. It is also on this road that the rolling hills became a regular part of the course.

After leaving the dirt road around mile 6, we turned back out on to the pavement and the more significant climbs and descents. Up until this point, I had been running with a friend and training partner at around an 8:44 pace. With the hills, however, I decided to dig in and up the pace. For the remainder of the race,  I ran an 8:00 or just under 8:00 pace and felt great. Along this part of the course, the views began to open onto Great Bay, which was a great distraction.

Once we got closer to town, we did a quick out and back through a residential neighborhood. The most surprising part of this course is that on the map it appears that it will be quick out and back. When running it, however, it is much longer than expected. Upon leaving this neighborhood, there are a few more rolling hills and ends with one last bump up before turning into the downhill to the finish line.

At this point, I was still feeling great, so I decided to add a little kick into the finish line. Passing people going into the finish always feels great. I crossed the finish line with a net time of 1:50:02 and a pace of 8:24. This gave me a new half marathon PR by more than 1:10/mile place (I completed the Seacoast Half Marathon in November with a 9:37 pace).

The volunteers and police did an incredible job keep the streets safe and relatively traffic free. The course was well marked, and all the volunteers at the water stations were incredibly friendly and provided great support. In addition, there were pockets of musicians along the course playing instruments and singing. At one point, there also was a group of belly dancers performing. All this just was a bonus above and beyond any expectations for a half marathon.

This was definitely an enjoyable experience at a great race. I highly recommend that anyone looking to add a spring half marathon to their schedule next spring should sign up for theGreat Bay Half Marathon next April.

Race Report: Market Square Day 10K 2013

18 June 2013, 12:00 am
Published in Race Reports

The Market Square Day 10K took place on Saturday, June 8, at 9:00 AM in Portsmouth, NH. The race is part of the Seacoast Road Race Series and is a relatively large race (1,694 finishers this year).

The course starts in downtown Portsmouth and then winds back and forth throughout the city before ending at historic Strawbery Banke. It is a relatively flat course and is enjoyable run. The major concern going into the race was whether the rain would end before the start.

Weather forecasts were predicting 2-4 inches of rain Friday night into Saturday morning. Luckily, the rain did pass by prior to start, leaving us with perfect running weather (high 50s/low 60s and overcast). The only downside was that the course was wet and there were some puddles and mud (where there was some road construction under way).

I met up with some friends at the start line; however, we started to seed ourselves in the crowd a little too late. So we started much farther back in the pack than I would have hoped. Once the race started, it took quite a while to break out of the pack. This left me with around an 8:00 mile for the first mile. Quite honestly, I’m not sure where I wanted to be. I was two weeks off of running a 50K, four weeks off of running a marathon and four weeks off of being injured and not having run for the previous four prior to the marathon. In my mind, I felt that I would be OK with around an 8:00 pace overall, but would really prefer to be sub-7:30.

For the first couple of miles, I picked up the pace but remained conservative while running with a friend. At about the half way point, I started to pick up the pace and started to push it a little more (but still remaining pretty conservative). Overall, I feel like I continued to pass people throughout the race and very few people passed me (that is always a great feeling).

Just before the final dash across the finish line, there is a little hill. I pushed up it and then picked up the pace some more. In the end, my official pace was 7:39 (7:31 on my Garmin). All in all I was happy with these results, and I look forward to improving upon that pace throughout the year.

At the finish line, there was ample water, sports drinks, bagels and fruit for the finishers. There also was a display screen and chip reader so that you could stand in front of it and immediately get your results.

Would I run the race again? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Yes. However, I have two complains:

(1) Picking up my bib and my wife’s bib the day before was not the friendliest of experiences. I didn’t have my wife’s ID or confirmation with me, and I had to go through an act of congress to be able to pick up her bib. The claim was that this was for “security purposes” and I was given quite a bit of attitude of questioning it. Having run many races (from 5Ks to marathon/ultra), I have never had a more negative experience in this aspect. And it just wasn’t me. While I was trying to work my issue out, this happened to other people also. There was even one man who thought that he had his wife’s printout, but it was the “wrong” printout. He didn’t click through all the links and print out what the organizers were looking for. He was left out in the cold.

(2) The starting line was chaos. I really appreciate it when larger races have pace markers/corals at the beginning of a race so that runners can seed themselves accordingly. There will still be people who disregard this, but at least it provides an opportunity to create better organization and make it a better race for runners focusing on their paces. Quite honestly, there are many novice runners who do not know where to line up and simply push to the front … only to become obstacles for the faster runners behind them.

Overall, the negatives could easily be fixed, and if they were, this would be an even better race in the future.

Race Report: York Days 5K 2013

6 August 2013, 12:00 am
Published in Race Reports

The York Days 5K took place in York, Maine, on Sunday, July 28. It is the fourth race in theSeacoast Road Race Series, which my wife and I are running this year. Being part of the Seacoast Series meant that the race would be one of the larger 5K races in the area.

We arrived at York High School, where the race would start and finish, early enough to get a decent parking spot, pick up our bibs (there was no pre-race pick-up … and we won’t mention that they didn’t have any record of our registration) and to warm up a little bit. The weather was relatively cool for a summer day, and the cloudy skies were occasionally giving way to rain.

After warming up, the crowd of runners had grown significantly, and we started to see many familiar faces. It was then time to head to the start line. We made sure that we seeded ourselves appropriately at the start line so as to avoid delays from the crowd as much as possible.

Just before the start of the race, a friend and I decided to run together to ensure that we would push each other. The national anthem was sung by a “barbershop quartetish” (but it was more than a quartet) group, and then we were off just as it started to rain slightly.

The course was relatively flat and fast with a small uphill about halfway through and a stretch along the ocean (which was much too short in my opinion). Our strategy was to go out strong and to keep pushing. And that’s what we did, keeping a pretty steady pace with negative splits of a couple seconds for each mile.

In the end, we finished with a 21:49 net time and a 7:02 overall pace. This was good enough for me to finish 68th out of 820 runners as well as to finish 9th in my age group. In reality, I wanted to run faster (at least sub-7:00), but I’ll have to save that for another day.

Race Report: Saunders at Rye Harbor 10K 2013

24 September 2013, 12:00 am
Published in Race Reports

First of all, this race report is extremely late. I’ve been meaning to write it, but it just never seemed to happen. So, here it is.

The Saunders 10K, which took place on August 15, poses a few challenges. The first one is that is on a Thursday night at 6:00 PM. The second one is that it is in the middle of August.

So what does this mean? It means that you never know what you’re going to get on race day. Did you have a bad day at work? Did you eat well during the day? Is it a hot and humid New England summer day?

Well, luckily, none of these factors came into play for me this year. I took the day off from work, so there were no concerns about the effect of the work day on me, and the weather turned out to be beautiful with no humidity.

All that would matter is how well prepared I was for the race, which introduced another twist into the evening. I have been training for a fall marathon through the summer, so from a mileage/training perspective, I should have been OK. However, I was also helping to coach an intermediate 10K running group that was training to run this race.

The training consisted of meeting and running with the group twice a week: one day on the track for speed work and the other day for a group run through the streets of Portsmouth and New Castle. This is the aspect that truly added a twist, because during the training group I was always training at someone else’s pace (slower than my normal training pace) and not my own. Would this effect me negatively? Only time would tell.

I met up with some friends at the start line, and I decided to start off running with a friend who had participated in the 10K training group. We ran together for about half of the race at a pace that was slower for me, and probably even a little too slow for my friend. Being familiar with the course, I knew that there was one small hill about half way through the course and then it would be all down hill. Once we crested the hill, I decided to pick up the pace and run my race for the rest of the time.

I started passing people and continued to do so for the rest of the race, right up to the finish line. It always feels great to be passing people at the end of a race and not being passed. When I finally crossed the finish line, I ended up with a 7:31 overall pace. I definitely could have run faster, but this was still a 10K PR for me and I still felt good after it was all over. So I’ll take it.

So in the middle of next August, when you’re looking for something to do on a Thursday night, definitely run the Saunders at Rye Harbor 10K! Maybe I’ll see you there.

Race Report: Clarence DeMar Marathon 2013

28 September 2013, 12:00 am
Published in Race Reports

So where should I even begin? I am still new to distance running after having started running again (and calling it again is a stretch if you define “running” as an occasional 5K or 10K without training for it). I ran my first marathon this year (the Delaware Marathon in May 2013) followed shortly thereafter by a 50K (Pineland Farms also in May 2013), so this was my second marathon and my third endurance event.

To complicate things even further, I ended up injured a few weeks before the Delaware Marathon. I still completed the marathon, but so many things went wrong. So I really couldn’t completely use that marathon as a template for what to do and what not to do going into the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The upside, however, is that my training for this marathon went much better and I didn’t end up with any significant injuries.

Why the Clarence DeMar Marathon?

When I started to look for a fall marathon, my parameters were that it had to take place somewhere where I could drive to and from in the same day. This gave me a radius from Boston to western New Hampshire to southern Maine. Thus I began my search.

There were actually quite a few choices: the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton (by far the closest, but it is also a double loop on a relatively flat course), the Maine Marathon in Portland, the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, Bay State Marathon in Lowell (a double loop through the streets of Lowell wasn’t high on my list), the Manchester City Marathon in Manchester and Clarence DeMar. The timing of Manchester City eliminated it, because I already had plans to run the Seacoast Half Marathon the week after Manchester.

After reviewing the courses and reviews, I chose Clarence DeMar for a couple reasons:

  • Point-to-point course (Delaware was a double loop, and I was looking for something different)
  • Small field (in 2012 there were 175 finishers, but the field grew to 410 finishers this year)
  • Great reviews
  • Beautiful course
  • Downhill start and some rolling hills
  • Affordable

Based on these criteria, I signed up and started training. Having kept a decent mileage base since Delaware, I was able to put many more miles under my belt during this training cycle, which definitely made me feel more confident going into the race.

Who was Clarence DeMar?

It’s worth taking a quick sidebar here. If you’re running a race that’s named after a person, you should at least know a little something about the person.

Clarence DeMar was a leading marathoner in the early 1900s. His accomplishments include winning the Boston Marathon seven times as well as a winning a bronze metal in the 1924 Summer Olympics. He settled in Keene, NH, where he taught at the Keene Normal School (now Keene State College).

Clarence DeMar died in 1958, and the Clarence DeMar Marathon was established in 1978 in his honor.

In the 2013 Clarence DeMar Marathon, Clarence DeMar’s granddaughter spoke and ran the race.

Logistics and the Course

As I mentioned previously, this marathon is a point-to-point marathon. If you’re not getting dropped off at the start line by a friend or family member, you park on the campus of Keene State College and take a shuttle bus to the waiting area in Gilsum. As we arrived in Gilsum, the race director personally boarded the shuttle each time, greeted the runners and gave some basic instructions of what was available and when we woudl proceed to the start line.

The waiting area was on the grounds of W.S. Badger Company (one of the race’s sponsors). Water and portapotties were available for the runners. If you hadn’t picked up your big or you still needed to register (yes, there was a day of race registration option), you could do so at W.S. Badger.

There was also a bag check area so that your bag would be waiting for you at the finish. The morning was a typical, cool New England morning so I waited until the last minute to shed my sweatshirt and check my bag. It was cool enough that I had wished that I had brought a pair of disposable gloves with me that I could drop once I had warmed up, but alas, I didn’t plan for that.

With just about 10 minutes to start time and after the final shuttle bus had arrived, the race organizers ushered us to the start line. The walk from the waiting area to the start was along a dirt path and then on the road, and it took about five minutes.

As the start time approached, the race director stood in the back of a pickup truck and yelled his announcements to the racers. It was difficult to hear him. A microphone or bullhorn so he could be heard would have been greatly appreciated (but that’s probably my biggest complaint). We waited for the last few stragglers to make it to the start line before the race officially started. So we ended up starting about five or ten minutes past 8:00.

The course is a fast course. The elevation profile shows a 4% decline in the first half and a 1%-2% incline for the second half. The question remaining in my head was how aggressive should I be on the downhill. I decided that I’d run by feel and not worry about my watch too much.

As the gun sounded, we quickly started downhill. There are no steep downhills, but the downhill was definitely steady. The first break in the downhill was around mile four. It was a quick hill, and at that point in the race, it didn’t feel very significant.

Quickly over the hill, we were back on the descent. The course from Gilsum until it reaches Keene is a very scenic course. Parts of the course run along gently flowing streams and rivers through wooded and mostly shaded roads.

I continued to run feeling strong. The first real challenges came about half way. The first was the out and back on Surry Dam. There was short bit of elevation to get onto the dam, but this gave way to a flat and scenic (yes, try to remember to look around and enjoy the scenery as you’re running) run across the dam and back. With the fall foliage, this was probably the most scenic view on the course and a place where you would normally want to stop and take a picture (but no time for that today).

The dam was followed by the biggest hill on the course around mile 14 and a series of rolling hills began. These hills rolled on long enough to be challenging and to make me miss the previous downhill.

After making it past the hills, the course flattened out again and remained relatively flat.The course faded from New England fall foliage to suburban streets as we entered into Keene.

Other than trying to get past the wall (which for me was around mile 18), there was only one remaining challenge: Greenlawn Cemetery. It is ironic that the race organizers added the cemetery to the course. The challenge here is that to get out of the cemetery, you had to run up a hill. The hill itself (on a normal day) is nothing that you would even think about. However, when it’s a mile 22, it was challenging to run through the cemetery reminding yourself that you’re not dead and that you’ve almost made it to the end.

After exiting the cemetery, there are some small rolling hills which lead you to back to Keene State College, where you hopped on the shuttle bus earlier in the day. The race ends running down the main street and takes a left onto the campus. As soon as you turn left, you can see the finish line as you start your kick to finish strong.

You’re greeted by cheering spectators, a finisher’s medal and a very welcome bottle of water.

Post Race

After crossing the finish line, I had some water and checked out the food. There were bagels, fruit, pastries, yogurt and soup as well as juice, soda and water. I had a banana and some orange slices and continued to watch some runners finish the race.

If you checked a bag in Gilsum, bag pick up was just around the corner. I made my way to get my bag and then to find the car. Finding the car was a little disorienting, because I did not have a good sense of where I had parked based on where I was at the moment (this could have been marked better). After wondering around the wrong parking lot for a little while, I found the right one and found my car.

I grabbed my bag and went to the gym, where free showers were available. I washed up, got changed and headed home.

All in all this was a great day. I ended up with a 3:41 finish. My goal was a 3:45, but I was mentally prepared to be happy with anything under 4:00 (not sure if I would be able to run a 3:45). In retrospect, I could have pushed a little more and shaved a few more minutes off my time simply by pushing myself more mentally.

But as someone had told me before, you have to run three or four marathons before you really know what you’re doing. With number two under my belt, I’d have to agree. I’m already working on my strategy and my revised training plan for the next one.

Recommendation

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The race director and volunteers did a great a job with all the details. It’s a great small race that probably won’t stay small for too much longer. With 175 finishers in 2012 and 410 finishers in 2013, who knows what 2014 and beyond hold in terms of number of runners.

Race Report: Great Island 5K 2013

24 October 2013, 12:00 am
Published in Race Reports

The Great Island 5K took place on Sunday, October 13, in New Castle, NH.

This would be the second time that I had run the Great Island 5K. I first ran in it in 1998 (with a time of 30:44 and a pace of 9:53 at age 27). There were a few things that would make it different this time:

  • I have been training and running regularly (something that I wasn’t doing in 1998)
  • I had run a marathon two weeks prior
  • I was coaching a beginner’s 5K group

So I had some things that were going for me this time, and some things that would remain to see how they would impact me.

The race starts at the Great Island Common in New Castle. The course is composed of a few rolling hills as well as a short run on a gravel road. It’s a scenic course with views of the harbor and ocean from the Common as well as along the course.

After meeting up with the other coaches and members of the Runner’s Alley Beginners 5K Groups that had been training for this race over the past 8 weeks in Portsmouth and Dover, we all made our way to the start line.

I started the race running with a friend. Our goal was to try to run a sub-7:00 pace. The last time that we had raced together with finished with a 7:02 pace. At this point, neither of us were sure that we were physically ready to achieve this goal.

We ran our first mile at right around a 7:00 pace. I was feeling much better than expected at this point. Although I always feel bad leaving a friend when we’re running, we always agree that if the other person should always run their own race. So I picked up the pace to see what I could do.

My running started to click, and I continued to pick up the pace and pass people along the way. In my head, I was thinking about the irony of my race attire. I was wearing a shirt from the training group that I helped coach, and on the back, it read: “Beginners Runner’s Alley Group.” This actually became a topic of conversation on a run later in the week, when someone mentioned that she had been passed by someone in one of these shirts and was thinking that she must be getting slower or wondering why this person was in a beginner’s group.

As we entered back onto the Common for the final loop into the finish line, I continued to pass people. I crossed the line with a time of 21:10 and a pace of 6:49. So I achieved my goal and got a PR.

After finishing, I made my way to the entrance to the Common to cheer on the members of the training group as they finished up their run. Even better than setting a PR was to see these runners finishing strong after all the work that they had put into training over the past eight weeks.

If you have a chance, you definitely should plan on running the Great Island 5K in 2014. It has an added bonus of being part of the Seacoast Road Race Series.

Risk, Reward and the Big Picture

28 May 2014, 12:00 am
Published in Blog

"I'd like to do it, but ..." How many times have you found yourself saying this? Whether we are thinking about doing something on our bucket list or we are presented with an opportunity, we've all said, "I'd like to do it, but ..." Just insert our excuse (real or imagined) for why we can't do whatever it is. Whether the opportunity is professional or personal, it doesn't matter. The reaction is usually the same.

It's easy for us to remain in our comfort zones. It is much harder to take a chance and do something new, even if it is something that we've always wanted to do.

When we decide that we want to get out of our comfort zone, we should look at a few factors to determine how to proceed. These factors are risks, rewards and the big picture.

At Zosha Training, many people come to us having made the decision to get out of their comfort zone. Whether this means starting to run, running a new distance or trying to run faster, it is always important to have the risk, rewards and big picture conversation in order to understand what the best approach will be for each person as an individual.

Let's start with the big picture. For some, this may mean starting to run in order to become healthier or to lose weight. For others, this may mean crossing something off their list (for example, to run a 5K, to run a half marathon, to run a marathon in all 50 states, to qualify for the Boston Marathon, etc.). While for others, it may be something completely different.

Within the context of the big picture goals, we then discuss risks and rewards and how they fit in. We will never tell a prospective client what he/she should or shouldn't do (or even agree to work with him/her) without first having an honest conversation about risks, rewards and the big picture.

Why does this matter? It is important that both the coach and the athlete are on the same page when it comes to training, otherwise there is a great likelihood that what follows will not be a positive experience for anyone.

When I was new to running, I met with a prospective coach. I told him my goals for the next 12 months, which included a spring marathon (my first one) and a fall marathon. Without having a full discussion of risks, rewards and the big picture, I was instead discouraged from wanting to run more than one marathon in a year because "it would be too much" and "we only have so many miles in us". After leaving the meeting and thinking about what had happened, I realized that this was not going to be good arrangement for the coach or for me.

From my personal perspective, my big picture is that I am an long distance, endurance runner, and I want to run as many distance events (marathons, ultramarathons and stage races) as I can. I'll never be competing with the elites, and I understand this. I want to run these events for me, to have fun and to enjoy these new experiences in life. Having said this, however, I also do want to improve, to run faster, to run stronger, to run longer.

So what about the risks and rewards? First and foremost, I understand that running is a sport where athletes are very prone to injury. The more we run, the greater the risk that we will experience an injury. Therefore, the risk that I take is that as I run more and more miles, I understand that I am exposing myself to a greater chance of injury.

I could easily back off my mileage and or my training intensity. I could say that I'm only going to run one marathon or ultramarathon a year. This would reduce my risk, but for me, it would also lessen my reward and impact my big picture.

In my first year of running distance events, I ended up running three marathons and two 50K ultramarathons. In the course of training, I did experience injury, but nothing that was significant enough to stop me from achieving my big picture goals.

This is how I will continue to train; however, it will always be in the context of the big picture. For example, this fall I will be running the New York City Marathon. In the context of this framework, my goal is remain healthy so that I can run NYC and have fun. This means that I probably will not run as many marathons and ultras prior to November as I would like to, but that's OK.

What is your big picture of your running? Let us know, and Zosha Training will work with you to achieve your goals on your terms.

Now let's run!