I’d been warned that the Milford Labor Day 30K tends to be hot and very hilly, but I’m not sure any warning could have prepared me for how tough the hills were on this course. Bottom line – this race was TOUGH.
When I realized I had 20 miles coming up the weekend of this race, I began to debate if I should sign up for it to get me through the training run. I kept going back and forth, monitoring the weather constantly. With an 8am start, I was concerned that I might want to start running earlier for a 20-mile run. The race was to take place on Saturday (August 31), and I finally decided on Thursday night to go for it.
I left the house after 6am on Saturday to make the trek to Milford and got there just before 7am. The timing worked out just fine, and volunteers directed the parking. There was plenty of parking in the lots surrounding Baker’s, and large fields provided overflow parking for those who arrived later. Baker’s is a banquet hall that acted as the central gathering place for the events. It was possible to pick up packets the evening before the race, but it wasn’t worth the extra trip for me. It was quick and easy to get my packet the morning of the race. There were a few tables with flyers and things available, and people could register the morning of the race as well.
Here’s a picture of the shirt. It’s a technical shirt that’s pretty thin – you can see the print from the back right through it. It probably won’t be one of my favorite shirts, but it will be a good one when I want to be visible!
It almost felt like a triathlon kind of atmosphere because of all of the bikes. In addition to the 30K run, there was a 30K bike, a 10K run, a half-mile kids run, and a 30/30 challenge – 30K of biking followed by 30K of running. The events were all staggered, with the bikers for the 30/30 challenge starting at 7:15. The people only biking the 30K started at 7:45, and the 30K run started at 8:00.
I went back to the car and got my hydration belt ready. I kept my bottles in an insulated bag with ice to try to keep them cold as long as possible. I went back to Baker’s to wait in the restroom line for about 10 minutes. It was nice to have the option of indoor restrooms, and Porta-Potties were available outside as well. After that, I took off for a warm up run. Since I had 20 miles on the schedule, I chose to run 1.4 miles to warm up before the race. I never like to do a cool down afterwards – I just want to be done and eat, haha. I knew the race would probably be longer than 18.6 miles since it was a certified course, but went for 1.4 nonetheless. Baker’s is right by an entrance to Kensington Metropark, so I crossed the street and ran on a paved path through the park. At my turnaround point, I stopped for photos.
Since it’s a bit of a hike from where we live, I’ve never run around Kensington. From what I saw, it would be a great place to run.
I finished my warm up with a little over 10 minutes to spare before the start of the race. Runners gathered on the road, and I positioned myself somewhere in the middle. I had no intention of racing this one. I wanted to keep my pace under control and use it as a slow long run. I figured if I had it in me, I could pick up the pace a bit later in the run. I really wanted to concentrate on making it through my first 20-mile run successfully, and without pushing so hard that it would set back any of my upcoming training.
The race started up Milford Road and took us into the downtown village area. The roads were partially closed for us pretty much up until we hit the dirt road portions. The downtown was fun to run through, and I enjoyed looking at all of the shops and restaurants. We ran through some neighborhoods as well, which is where the real hills began. I suppose it’s probably no coincidence that hills can be found on Summit Street. That stretch came between 3 and 4 miles, where we climbed nearly 100 feet in about .3 miles. There was a brief reprieve before hitting another short but steep incline. We got a break from the hills for a couple miles as we made our way out to the dirt roads around the Highland State Recreation Area. There were houses in spots, but eventually we got to some backroads that were out in the middle of nowhere. It was really pretty and peaceful running through the woods. It was also nice and shady.
At some point, bikers came up the road in the opposite direction. It was when we had a nice downhill break for running, but they had to bike uphill. I’m not sure how much of their course was the same as ours since I only saw them a couple times. I knew I sure wouldn’t want to climb the hills on my bike though, and I can’t even imagine biking a course like that, only to follow it up with the run. I give major props to the people who did the 30/30 challenge.
People were spread out pretty good where I was running. I always had people not too far ahead and not too far behind, but not many actually near me. The people at the aid stations were wonderful, and they were about the only people we saw along much of the course because it was in such an isolated area. Even though I had a couple of 21 oz. bottles in my belt, I chose to stop at a bunch of the aid stations because I’m not sure my drinks alone will get me through a full marathon. I wanted to practice stopping, and I clearly needed the practice. After a couple of attempts where I just spilled water all over myself, I decided it’s best if I just walk through as I take a couple sips. Eventually I knew I’d have plenty to drink in my bottles to get through this race, so I quit making the stops.
The hills started again after 5.5 miles. At that point, we had another 100-foot climb over about .3 miles. We climbed a little from 8-10 miles, and the next super steep hill came before 11 miles. After that one, we had a nice downhill portion. I was shocked when I finished the 12th mile and saw an 8:17 split, but it makes sense when I see that the mile was all downhill. Just after the 13-mile mark, we climbed about 130 feet for a little over a mile. The hard part about this course was the steepness of the hills. 5 or 6 of the hills just felt brutal. I’m not sure any elevation chart can fully explain how hard it truly felt. It was like doing steep hill repeats throughout 18+ miles. In races, it always seems like the smallest hills feel tough. In this race, the large hills felt extremely tough!
I had been warned that the placement of the hills also made things tough near the end. As I hit the super steep hill around 16 miles, I understood. I’d been told that a running buddy who is really speedy and typically places pretty high in races even had to stop to walk up one of the hills near the end. That helped me feel no shame about deciding to walk up that hill. I tried to run, but realized that I was going so slow I may as well walk anyway. I also walked half of another hill that came around 17.5 miles. At that point, I had just turned a corner and saw it up ahead. I couldn’t help but think, “Are you kidding me? Another? Now?” That was the last one, so at least I had the last mile to redeem myself. I had the boost of a downhill portion, then as I ran up Milford Road, I could see the finish up ahead. I had enough in me to surge for the final mile or so. It was a nice feeling to know that as much as I’d felt beat up during the hills, I still had more left in me.
I ended up finishing in 2:41:47. My Garmin said I ran 18.74 (rather than 18.6), which was good for an 8:38 average pace. The fluctuations in my pace can be explained by the hilly portions!
I was definitely happy with that. The previous week I ran what I thought was a hilly route with a pace of 8:43. I’m glad I’ve been working some hills into my training or this could have been really ugly. My definition of hilly may change after having run this race. The Brooksie Way half marathon is known for its tough hills. After this race, Brooksie’s hills practically seem like a breeze!
After pacing around a bit to cool down, I went to check out the food. I downed a couple cups of Gatorade and got a bottle of water. I tried a banana, but it wasn’t too appealing to me. They also had some oranges. They were grilling a bunch of things, so I got a burger and some chips.
Beer was available as well. However, I was distracted by the Dairy Queen across the street. I just had to go over to get a nice big Blizzard. That was a great treat to have following my burger. I ran into a runner I know, chatted for a bit, then checked results. I was 5th in my age group (and 96th out of 332), so no award…not that I was expecting one. I also watched a couple minutes of the little kids doing their half-mile fun run. They were pretty cute. There was one boy who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old, and he was running so hard and looked so determined. It was adorable. After that, I figured I’d better hit the road for the hour drive back.
I felt very accomplished after finishing this difficult race and also successfully getting through my first 20-miler of marathon training. Although it was nice to feel accomplished, I’m not sure if I’d want to go through it again. This is a race I would never sign up for in advance. Being in the middle of the summer, you never know how hot it might be on race day. I do not do well with the heat. The 90% humidity was not super enjoyable for running, but at least it was around 70 degrees and mostly overcast. The hills are enough of a challenge. Adding heat to the mix could have made it pretty miserable for me. I think if I were to sign up for this again, I’d probably have to somehow forget how brutally tough it was. I’d have to do a whole lot of hill repeats and somehow decide that steep hills aren’t so bad. Either that, or I’d have to decide that I really wanted to torture myself! It was a really nice and pretty run and I’m glad that I did it. I’m just not sure I want to subject myself to it again.
Who knows…I’ve done a lot of ridiculously hard things during marathon training so far, so I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back to this race again some day in the future. I just know that it could never be an “A” race for me, because it would be very difficult for me to race this all out.
In the meantime, I’m feeling really good about the marathon. I went into this race with no taper – just my typical Friday rest day following 10 miles the day before that. It was humid and hilly and I ended up running 25 seconds over my goal marathon pace, with gas left in the tank for a strong finish. I’m hoping with potentially cooler temperatures at the end of October, a nice flat course, and rested legs, I can actually run close to my marathon pace. I’m hoping the marathon will feel like a breeze after this!