When I was putting together my training plan I knew I wanted to run a March half marathon as a tuneup for Boston, and lots of people around here use New Bedford for just that purpose, but I've run it once before and wasn't crazy about it, so I looked around for other options and found what looked like a good one - the Savin Rock Half Marathon in West Haven, CT, just about 10 minutes from where I grew up in Milford.
I talked to a few people who had run it before, and they told me it was a hilly race, which I figured was good Boston prep, so I signed up and added it to my training schedule.
Fast forward to two days before race day, when I posted on the race's Facebook page asking to see a course elevation chart.
Um, yeah, kinda hilly.
I was ready for it, though, and very glad that I had kept my other runs easy last week - an 8-miler on Tuesday, and another 8 on Thursday, both at an easy pace, with just a little bit of a fast finish on the Thursday one.
Thursday was also the day that Boston bib numbers were sent out, which is always exciting!
Friday was a rest day, and an early-to-bed night, since my alarm would be going off around 4:30am on Saturday, so I could be leaving my house at 5am to get to the race start no later than 7am.
I got there shortly after 7, had no problems parking, and packet pickup was super quick and easy. I knew that a couple of my friends from high school were going to be running, and as luck would have it, they parked just a few cars away from me, so finding them was no problem. I've stayed in touch with them both on FB, but honestly can't even remember the last time I had seen either of them in person, so it was nice to reconnect in real life.
They gave me a few more tips on the course, I waited in line for the bathrooms, and the hour passed very quickly. I had thought it was going to be a really cold morning, but it turned out to be not as bad as I had expected, so I swapped out my winter hat for a baseball cap, and didn't bother with a throwaway sweatshirt at the start. It was a little chilly standing there, but not unbearable.
Temps were probably in the low 30s to start, and warmed up a tiny bit toward the finish, but overall, really great running weather, and I was very comfortable in capris and a lightweight long-sleeve shirt under my running club singlet.
The start was on the boardwalk along the ocean, and the first 4 miles were pretty flat, as we turned away from the ocean and started winding our way through neighborhoods. Miles 1 - 3 all came in at exactly 7:31. I had planned to start a little slower than that, but it was so flat at this point, and I really felt great at that pace, and I knew the hills would slow my pace down soon enough, so I kept at it, and mile 4 dipped down to 7:26.
Then the hills began - and that's reflected in my pace for the next 5 miles - 7:36, 7:30, 7:38, 7:39, 7:48. the hill in mile 9 was the worst one - really long, and really steep. I felt like I was barely moving.
But even though I felt like I was dragging feet made of bricks through a river of molasses, I still passed a few people going up that hill, as I had on every single hill. I reminded myself that I have trained for hills, and even though they may slow me down, they're not going to make me stop.
I didn't stop a single time during this race, knowing that I wanted to practice drinking and taking my Gu without stopping. I was mostly successful, although one of the cups of water I took was filled almost to the top, so I splashed a good portion of it on my face. But mostly, I did well with not walking at the water stops, and it was good to know that I'm capable of doing that.
Having talked to my friends, and having looked at the elevation chart, I knew that the worst of the hills was done aroumd mile 10, and although there was one more small one in that mile, it was not enough to slow me down, and I was able to get my pace back down - way down, in fact - to 7:21.
And at that point I knew I was on mostly flat terrain from here on out, and I needed to take advantage, so I did - mile 11 in 7:22.
Mile 12 was along the water, which was nice, but as there often is along the water, there was a little bit of a headwind. Not enough to slow me down, but just enough to make the 7:18 for that mile feel a tad harder than I think it would otherwise have felt.
It was a relief to make the turn to head back along the boardwalk and near the finish, and after one more little turn, I headed into the home stretch.
Most of mile 12 I had run solo, but suddenly someone came out of nowhere and I heard footsteps right on my heels. I didn't turn around, and I had no idea if it was a man or a woman, and at that point really wasn't even thinking about placing in my age group or anything - I was just determined not to let this person pass me, so I made one final push to the finish, running final .1 at 6:51 pace. (she came really, really, really close, but she did not pass me)
Official finish time 1:39:52. Not even close to a PR, but that's not what I was expecting on such a tough course, and 1:39 is right around where I figured I'd be, so I was very happy with that time.
What I'm happiest with, though, is that this was such a great way to prepare for the Boston course, and that I handled it exactly how I hope to handle Boston - steady pace for the early miles, work my way through the hills as best as I can, and still have the energy left to pick up the pace in the final miles.
That's what I did in Boston 2013, and that's what I did running half the distance yesterday - the hills slowed me down a little, but they did not crush me. That ability to come back and get a negative split is what I've been training for, and this race gave me a lot of confidence that I'll be able to do just that on April 18.
At the finish line, I was able to get this nice recap of my numbers from the race timers, and saw thatI had run the first half in 51 minutes and the second half in 48 minutes! Woohoo! And also saw that i had won 3rd in my age group - a nice surprise!
Another nice surprise was that my sister had come down to see me finish. I saw and heard someone cheering for me, but with her hat and scarf and sunglasses, I couldn't tell it was her until she came up to me afterwards. Always nice to have someone cheering for you, though :-)
My age-group prize was put to good use Saturday night, and I love the shark logo - it's on the shirt, too! This group puts on a really nice race, and I'm tempted to do another one of them in the future.
But now that this is done, I'm 100% focused on Boston, and even more anxious for race day to get here. I feel more ready than ever.
Final numbers, Savin Rock Half Marathon -
1:39:52, 7:30 pace
3rd of 53 age group
17 of 259 females
51 of 458 0verall
Four weeks to go!!!