I ran the Blessing for the first time in 2008. My goal was to run it in under 90 minutes, and I finished in 1:25:08. I was elated. And I knew it would become a favorite race that I'd run every year I was able.
I skipped it in 2009 because I was pregnant, and although I was still running, a double-digit run in the heat and humidity of late July seemed like a bad decision. In 2010 I had to skip it again, this time due to injury. 2011 I was finally back, and set a huge PR, finishing in 1:19:02. In 2012 I dropped down to 1:16:22. 2013, I ran 1:14:58, keeping the PR streak going. Last year was a smaller PR, but a PR just the same, with a 1:14:11 finish.
It was nice while it lasted.
I knew this year wasn't going to be a PR for me. I'm not in shape to run a pace in the low- to mid-7s for 10 miles, and I knew if I tried, it would end in disaster. For a while I was even contemplating not racing it, and finding a slower runner to pace.
But I knew I'd regret not going out there and at least giving it a shot, so I registered and I lined up last Friday night, but without a really specific goal in mind. I felt like I should be able to manage somewhere between a 7:30 and 8:00 pace - which is a very wide range, but that's really as specific as I could get. I just didn't know what I was going to be able to do once I got out there.
What I did know is that I didn't want to race it all out. I wasn't interested in leaving it all on the course. My heart wasn't in it, and I knew if I tried to force my head and heart to that place, it wouldn't work. So I settled on making it a comfortably challenging tempo run. I wanted to finish feeling like I put forth a good effort and ran a good race - that seemed like the right goal for me at that moment, so that's what I went with.
The day or two leading up to race day had been blissfully dry - almost unheard of for this time of year - and I was hoping it would stay that way for Friday night. But as we waited at the start, a front was on its way through the area, and the air had become much more humid and stuffy. It wasn't terribly warm, but it was more uncomfortable than I had thought it would feel.
One of the things I love about this race is that it's as much a social event as it is a run, and it was fun to see so many familiar faces at the start. I stayed with a few friends until just a few minutes before the horn sounded, but two of them detoured for a final pit stop before lining up, and another friend and I said we would wait for them, but due to waiting, we ended up getting stuck a little further back in the pack than I would have liked.
The first mile or two are always really crowded, even up in the front, and I knew it was going to be ten times worse back where we were. But we had worked our way up as far as we could, and I'd just have to deal with it - and I did, by bobbing and weaving for much of the first 1.5 miles, until I finally found some clearer space to run. The only good thing about that was that it kept me to an 8:00 pace for my first mile, which I'm sure really helped me in the end.
It was still feeling really stuffy and warm, but there was a little bit of a breeze as we made our way down Ocean Road, which helped a bit. And as I found some space to run, I worked my way down to 7:37, 7:36, and 7:38 for miles 2, 3, and 4, which was feeling downright perfect. Not too difficult, but not too easy, either. I was absolutely in my happy place and loving being out there.
Mile 5 includes a bit of an incline, so I dropped down to 7:42 there, and in mile 6 I walked at a water stop, to be sure that I really got a decent drink, since I hadn't had very much to drink yet at that point. That cost me a bit, and that mile was 7:50. I was still feeling good, though, and at this point it had actually started to rain, which felt fantastic! The thunder and lightning that were accompanying it, on the other hand, kind of freaked me out.
This is a picture of the storm that someone posted on FB - I had good reason to be a little scared.
I've gotten caught in thunderstorms a couple of times on a run, but have never run for so long in such bad conditions. The lightning was absolutely terrifying. And even though I know full well that being underneath trees isn't the best course of action in a thunderstorm, I somehow felt better once we got off the open stretch of 108 and turned into the wooded section of Kinney Ave.
That's always been my favorite section of the course anyway, though, so it was a welcome relief to get there, and as they always do, my legs just seemed to know that hitting that stretch of road meant it was time to pick up the pace.
I ran mile 7 in 7:29, and it did feel a bit more challenging, but still very doable. I had passed a couple of friends just before and right around this point, and seeing them was nice. And when I turned the corner to head back toward the Pier School (the starting line) and towards the mile 8 mark, the enormous crowds at the intersection gave me another little boost.
Mile 8 passed pretty quickly in 7:22. I was definitely feeling the extra effort at this point, but knew I could keep it going for two more miles, thanks to starting at the easier pace. The thunder and lightning and rain had let up, and it definitely felt cooler, which was nice. The mile 9 sign was a welcome sight, and a happy one, as my watch beeped a 7:24 pace for that mile.
I knew I could do better than that for the final one, though, especially since much of it is a nice little downhill, and the crowds are crazy there, cheering you on to the finish. And thanks to my conservative early paces, I definitely had some kick left, and ran the final mile in 7:17.
One of my favorite parts of the night was just before I approached the finish, when the announcer called out my name and also added that I'm president of the Narragansett Running Association - made me feel like a rock star : )
My goal Friday night was to have fun and finish with a smile on my face, and I definitely did that. I didn't even come close to a PR, but I knew I wouldn't. What I did was run a very smart, pretty evenly paced, nice tempo effort, and I felt really good almost the entire race - just a few tired moments.
It was a good night, and I'm proud of how I ran. I didn't leave it all on the course, but for once, I'm fine with that - that wasn't what I set out to do, and sometimes, it's ok to just run and enjoy it.
And even without giving it an all-out effort, I was still able to crack the top 10 in my age group - no small feat in what is an extremely competitive race!
The numbers -
1:16:56 - a 7:35 pace by my Garmin (which has me running 10.2 miles)
8 of 242 age group
405 of 2384 overall
The PR streak may have ended, but no complaints from me - it was a great night!
Love all the NRA singlets - makes me so happy to see them out there!