Sunday, October 4, 2015

Back in the half-marathon business:
What a difference a single second makes

>A vintage postcard of the route to make up for my lack of photos.

It's been a couple of years since I last ran a half-marathon.

But the drought's over as of yesterday (Saturday, Oct. 3), when I joined in the half-sized version of the New Hampshire Marathon up in the Newfound Lake area of our state.

Time: 2:39:38. Nothing to brag about, but I did achieve my twin goals of:

• Finishing.

• Not being last.

Actually, I placed 199 out of 239 entrants overall, and 15 out of 18 in my age group, which has now ratcheted up to the 50-59 category. Not bad.

I still think road races should group runners by inseam, not age, but that's another issue.

The one unexpected triumph was that for the first time ever, I completed a half-marathon before any of the full marathon entrants.

This is unusual because generally I run at about slightly less than half the pace of an elite runner.

Do the math, and this means that in any race, at least a few full marathon runners will complete the 26.2-mile course before I plod across the finish line after 13.1 miles, or half the distance.

But not yesterday. I came in about 90 seconds before the full marathon winner, Jim Johnson from Madison, N.H., who finished in 2:41:06.

His pace: 6:06 per mile. My pace: 12.11 per mile. If I'd been one second slower per mile, he'd have caught me. How's that for Wide-World-of-Sports-worthy drama?

So for the first time in a looooong while, I got to see a runner finish a race by breaking through a tape. Nice!

Still, I wasn't sure about attempting 13.1 miles because I hadn't entered any races of any kind all summer. And I'd been following nothing like any kind of training regime.

But I have been running with the dogs pretty regularly, doing distances ranging from 3 to 7 miles and without much trouble.

And the New Hampshire Half-Marathon's point-to-point course is mostly downhill. And I'd already paid $60 to register.

And the weather yesterday morning was perfect. So off I went to see how I'd fare.

Home base was Newfound Memorial Middle School in downtown Bristol, N.H., where the full Marathon started and finished. The 26.2-mile course makes a complete loop around Newfound Lake, much of it running right along the shoreline and showcasing classic New Hampshire scenery in every mile.

For the Half-Marathon, runners were taken by school bus way out to the far end of the lake, to a starting line at the half-way point of the full marathon.

We then basically ran the last half of the full race, mostly along the western shore of Newfound Lake and then to the finish line back at the school in downtown Bristol.

A highlight of the course was several miles on West Shore Road, a ridiculously scenic route that hugs Newfound Lake. Sorry, no pictures—although a woman ahead of me for much of the race kept stopping to take shots with her phone. Actually, a company was on the course taking photos, and they'll be available next week.)

An east wind coming off the water was enough to make flags snap in the breeze and nicely balanced the October morning sunshine.

Although much of West Shore Road is lined by lake cottages and condos, there's one stretch where it runs along the base of rocky cliffs where there's no room to build anything.

This was around Mile 7, when runners had spread out enough so that I was pretty much on my own. Traffic was sparse.

So for awhile there, it was just me and the road and the water, and the wind off the lake and the sun on the cliffs, lighting up everything like it was a stage set.

I felt twinges of serious pain only twice. At about the 4-mile mark, the bones of the middle toe of my left foot felt like they were on fire for a short time. This was alarming, coming so early in the race, but I ran it off by modifying my stride and slowing the pace a bit.

The same thing happened at the 8-mile mark, although with the right foot. Once again it faded away, but I had to be mindful of these hotspots.

After the race, I was somewhat sore, but nothing terrible. Very stiff the morning after, but I've been functioning okay. Not too bad for a 13.1-mile exercise in bodily destruction.

One reason the New Hampshire Half-Marathon was on my to-do list is because the course touches a trio of obscure Granite State towns that I haven't yet run in: Groton, Hebron, and Alexandria. (I already got Bristol some time ago.)

So now I can color in those three on my big state map, which is how I keep track of my ongoing quest to run a race (or a minimum of 5K) in every single one of the Granite State's cities, towns, and unincorporated places.

This has been going on since 2001, when I started running again after a long intermission.

I haven't made much progress lately, for two reasons.

First, I haven't been running a lot of races, mostly because of time. It can take pretty much a full day to get out to a race, run it, and then get back home.

And also, I've already run races in pretty much every city or town that hosts them. In New Hampshire, very few "virgin" towns come up on the running calendar for me.

But these three can now be added to the list, bringing the total to something like 135 or so. (I have to check—it's been awhile since I've added to this list.)

I do think that my self-imposed deadline of May 14, 2016 to complete this quest will slip by at this point. I still have about 100 locations to go, and many of them are up north and not exactly easily accessible.

And then I have other quests, which include hiking to the top of all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000-footers (I'm up to 33) and also running a minimum of 10K in all of the 50 states.

On the "50 states" challenge, I'm up to 16, but plan to add two more this month and then another in November.

At this point in the season, I won't tackle any mountain peaks until next spring, unless I go skiing. But there's still time to bag a few more Granite State communities by running in them before the snow flies.

See you on the roads!

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