Attempting The Ascent: Boston Prep 16 Miler Recap

29 Jan
  • “Most of us try to avoid hills, but what’s so good about flat? Think about it: flat tires, flat hair, flat returns and – the ultimate – flatlining. Life happens on the hills. They’re opportunities to prove to yourself that you’re stronger than you ever imagined. If you never attempt the ascent, you’ll never know the thrill of swooshing down the other side!”

Not sure the origin of this quote but I read it this week and agreed. I’m not a hill lover but I’ve moved from hatred to respect over the past few months running in Newton and Chestnut Hill.  The running descent is not as magical as the biking one but its still pretty special.

This weekend, however, I was ready to avoid the hills.  I had a plan.  And like all my plans, it was a reasonable one.  Rather than run 19 miles alone in Boston for the umpteenth weekend, I would head to New Hampshire and run a 16 mile race with a lot of other people. Then I would only have to run 3 miles alone.  3 miles alone would mean no need to carry my own water bottle or plan out a long route.  For 16 miles, all of that would be taken care of for me.

Unfortunately, the reality of running in New England in January was different.  First, it is billed as “the toughest road race in New England” (even if I’m not sure it really is, it’s still pretty challenging) which means it is hilly.  Well, most of it is hilly except for Miles 10-12 which are just referred to as The Hill.  When a course map shows 4 water stops, 2 porta potty stops, and designations for The Hill and then, 2 miles later, The Highest Point, I should have been a little worried.

Then there was the cutoff.  The cutoff time was more than reasonable if I were running a flat 16 mile course.  But with all the hills, I was a little nervous. I don’t really love time goals since I’m not a fast runner. The cutoff also meant there was a distinct possibility I would come in last.  Most races involve a variety of skill levels.  This race, designed for members of running clubs who are preparing to run Boston Marathon are all very fast, very hardy, and very crazy.

Then there was the weather.  -2 degrees with windchill doesn’t thrill me. I don’t mind a little wind, a little rain, a little snow. But to be that cold for that long had me worried.  When we arrived at the gym to get my race bib, everyone we passed had huge grins on their face.  I said to my Mom “Are they wearing special warm race gear that I don’t know exists?  Or are they all just crazy?”

Lastly, there was the cardinal racing rule “Don’t do anything during a race that you haven’t done in your training.”

  • I bought running tights on Friday because of the weather report. I had never worn them before.
  • I used a neck gaiter and stuck a packet of hand warmers in the tops of my race sneakers because I couldn’t feel my toes in the gym even before the race started.
  • I didn’t carry water.

Laying in a warm bed at 6 am that morning, I thought “Maybe I could just run my 19 miles around here.”
Driving to Derry, I thought “Maybe I could just run my 19 miles inside a warm mall?”
Walking into the gym, I thought “Maybe I could just run 3-4 miles and quit?”  Although I felt guilty at the thought of my Mom skipping church in order for me to run 4 miles…
Getting my race bib, when they tried to hand me the bib 666 (Hell??? The Mark of the Beast?) before realizing I was number 665, I almost quit.  (My Mom and I cracked a few jokes about being one step removed from hell.)
When the bathroom lines in the gym were too long and I joined the crazy hardy men waiting outside in the porta potty line and they were all wearing 100 mile Ultra t-shirts and running laps in the parking lot and saying things like “It is a little cold.  I’m glad we ran the 16 mile course already this morning, my legs feel better prepared for the next 16, I thought “I could still quit.  No one would ever know.”

I even convinced myself that I would walk back into the gym, find my Mom, and we would go home. Except that I walked back to her and the race announcer said “Time to start walking to the start line” (because there is nothing so fun as a 1/2 mile walk to the start line when it is that cold outside) and we started walking to the start line.

Apparently the herd mentality does work for me.

At this point, I was still in denial that I was going to run it (which is always a super way to begin a long run). But I also knew that I had to run these miles today and they were going to be warmer but more painful if I had to do them indoors after dark when I got back to Boston. So I decided to run 4 miles (my least favorite beginning miles) and take it cautiously and see how it went.

It went.

I was cold but not unbearable. It was hilly but doable (if you didn’t look ahead and if you knew to laugh each turn when you still had to go up and up and up).  There were even a few nice downhills, shorter than the uphills but gaining some speed made me happy. The mile markers seemed to come and go at a nice steady pace and when I hit the highest point at Mile 12, I actually felt proud of myself.  Due to some spotty math at mile 8 (never trust yourself to add numbers while running) I decided I wasn’t going to make the cutoff but chose to not use that as an excuse to slow down and get upset with myself. When I hit 13.1 and crossed the timing mat, I realized that my math was off and I would finish the 16 miles with 15 minutes to spare.

And I did.

I even managed to pass over 25 people in the last 2 miles. Granted, most of them were double my age, but most of the racers were men double my age.  I did pass some guys in their 20s and 30s and that was validating. And my Mom was at the end which was the best part.

It wasn’t a total “victory” by any means. My race tights tried to fall down on multiple occasions. I didn’t fuel well for the first 6 miles but I rectified that as best I could until mile 14 when I couldn’t choke any more electrolytes down. It was one of my slowest, if not my slowest, race ever. I did not run 3 more miles after to make it to 19.  (Sometimes effort of racing is more important than distance.)  And my legs were not tired which means I could have run much faster (but also means my IT band feels fine and I feel confident for my marathon).

But now I know that I can do it. Even when I doubt myself and try to flake and bail, I can still accomplish a goal. Even in frigid temperatures. Even surrounded by people who are way too happy about the pain.

It helps to have someone at the finish line.


4 Responses to “Attempting The Ascent: Boston Prep 16 Miler Recap”

  1. Mom January 29, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    I am just so relieved that you were not that girl crossing the finish line sobbing and choking with pain? relief? frostbite? I don’t know — but that’s when tears started coming down MY cheeks, just to see the poor young woman stumbling to the finish as if she were going to lie down and die. (She WAS met by a loving friend who offered hugs and support.) When Liz crossed the line, I was the one crying and she was all dry-eyed and matter-of-fact about her ordeal,offering me a comforting little smile.

    • ezelie January 29, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      And yet she still finished before me so not sure what she was crying about. 🙂

      Hopefully it was relief…

  2. Meg January 30, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Missed the boat–are you doing the Boston Marathon this year?!

    • ezelie January 30, 2013 at 9:28 am #

      Nope! My marathon is a month and a half earlier, but figured I could use the prep as much as anyone else. 🙂

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