After running this race in 2013 (recapped here) I swore to myself that I would only return if I forgot how brutally tough it was or if I decided I wanted to torture myself. I still remember very clearly how difficult it was, so I guess I must enjoy subjecting myself to torture.
I’ve toyed with the idea of returning to this race several times but never followed through. This year my friend Lisa suggested the race. She hadn’t done it before and I warned her how tough the course is. Still…we discussed it so much that we finally said we may as well just sign up. We’re both training for marathons and would need to get long runs in anyway. Hot, humid, and hilly are the key words I used to describe 2013’s race. There’s no denying the hills, but the forecast actually looked cooler for this year’s race which was one factor that made me more willing to try it again.
I was training for my first marathon in 2013 and added enough distance prior to the race to make it my very first 20-mile run. Six years have gone by and I have run six marathons since then. I hoped that more experience and being a stronger runner would help me feel better this time around.
Saturday, August 31st was a beautiful morning in the 50s. It was a good sign that I was shivering before the race. The race starts and finishes at Baker’s Restaurant where there is a ton of parking. The race started at 8:00 and I got there about an hour early. Lisa found me when I took my t-shirt and bib back to the car and gave me a heads up that the porta-potty line was already pretty long, so I went over there right away. I was debating if I should run a little over 1.3 miles so I would make it to 20 miles for the day. The main road was so busy I didn’t want to try crossing it, plus the 30K cyclists were getting ready for the start of their race.
I opted to run enough laps around the parking lot to get a mile in prior to the race. That would get me close enough to a 20-miler. We lined up on Milford Road which had more traffic than I expected on a Saturday morning. Since we started in one lane of the road it was a little congested at first. I was anxious to get moving a little faster and got around people when I could. Soon enough things spaced out. We ran along the road and into downtown Milford to start. I kept thinking that it was just the path that would get us to the dirt roads where things would get tough. There’s a pretty challenging hill or two along the way though.
Somewhere around five miles into the race we hit a big hill on the dirt road. I’d been moving along pretty well prior to that and slowed down a bit to grind my way through that one. I was surprised to run a couple miles just above 8:00 pace after that. I worried that I was going a little faster than I ought to be, but I guess downhill momentum must have helped. I was also kind of shocked to go at least a couple miles without an uphill climb. In my mind I had remembered horrendous hill after hill on the dirt roads. It actually wasn’t as bad as I had remembered. Sure, there were tough hills, but there were some pretty long stretches between them too. I made it halfway through the race and thought it was easier than I had remembered. I appreciated the peacefulness of the dirt roads and lots of shade. When we were out in the open the clouds looked really cool. I felt like I was in my element with “my” people – other people who are dedicated enough to get up early and push themselves through this crazy stuff for fun.
We got back to the pavement for a while and that part was unfamiliar and had totally faded from my memory. Somehow I only remembered the hilly dirt portions of the race. We spent some time running along curbs while there was a decent amount of traffic around and I didn’t remember that at all. I had a couple more miles that were faster than I meant to run, but I figured I was running by feel and I guess I felt pretty good. I had remembered this race to be so hard that I figured maybe the second half would really do me in. By the time I got to 14 miles I started to drag a little more. I was back on the dirt by then and some hills popped up again. My fuel belt had a bottle of GU Brew and I started to run low in the last few miles of the race. I made sure to get water at the aid stations and walked through a couple of those in the late miles to make sure I drank enough. Based on my split of 8:41 for mile 16, that must have been when I hit the worst hill. I barely made any progress as I attempted to run and decided it would be better to walk part of it. I had walked at least a couple hills in 2013 and knew it was coming at some point!
I felt a twinge in my left calf during the last few miles of the race. When it persisted it started to worry me. I’d had a charley horse in that calf a couple weeks earlier when I did the Swim to the Moon 5K. I wondered if something was still lingering from that. Maybe the hills and mileage had set it off. Fortunately I was still able to finish pretty strong. When I turned off the dirt road and hit the final stretch of pavement back on Milford Road, I told myself I was going to give it a final kick through the finish. It was a little over half a mile, but it felt farther than that at the pace I was trying to run. Still, I managed to smile!
I was happy because somehow the race didn’t feel as hard to me as it had in 2013. I’m sure the cooler temps helped a lot. Heat and humidity always make things rough and it sure doesn’t help when it’s already a challenging course. I think I was right that running many more miles plus having years of experience since 2013’s race made a big difference. There’s no denying that it’s a hard course. I rarely walk during races and one of those hills brought me to a walk both times. Even though I didn’t walk the others, some of them required a pretty slow grind. Still, I felt like I had a really solid run this time around.
My official time was 2:34:02:
My average pace was 8:16 per mile. I went into this saying that it would just be a training run, not a race. That pace is a little fast for a training run for me. You can see below that my pace fluctuated all over the place. Uphill climbs slowed me down but downhill stretches sped me up. Aside from the climbs and the final stretch, I never felt like I was pushing too hard so hopefully I didn’t push more during this run than I should have.
After I received my medal I went over to the Tri-Covery tent first thing. I noticed them before the race and knew that I should have someone work on my calf. I added my name to their list and they said it might be a 20-minute wait. I used that time to check out the food, which included a choice of hamburgers, veggie burgers, or a chicken sandwich. Beer too!
The therapist from Tri-Covery was great and may have worked on me for 10 minutes or so. He had me cringing in agony at times! He gave me a few tips for the calf and I appreciated the chance to have someone work on it.
I heard the announcer say Lisa’s name so I met her after she came through the finish line. Fortunately she didn’t totally hate me for not talking her out of the race. Even though it was hard, she and her husband were both glad they had done it. I hung out with them as they enjoyed the post-race food and it was only a matter of time before we had to go to Dairy Queen directly across the street. DQ’s proximity to the race may have been another deciding factor that convinced us to sign up for the race. As I always say, I’m very motivated by good post-race treats.
Although my calf was a little tender the rest of the day, I actually felt good enough after this race to run eight miles the next day without any issues. That’s a good sign for my marathon training!
I’m really glad Lisa and I convinced each other to run this one. As tough as it was in 2013, I knew someday I was bound to be tempted by the challenge again. It was 68° and humid to start in 2013, when I finished in 2:41:47 and averaged 8:38 per mile. It was 54° and pleasant this year and I finished in 2:34:02 with an 8:16 average. I improved my time by close to eight minutes! It was supposed to be a training run both times so I wasn’t really aiming for any goal, and I know I ended up a little fast this time. It’s still a great feeling to know that I improved so much. While I cursed the course and practically hated it last time, I felt much better about it this time.
I know it might seem extreme that I’m racing so frequently lately but I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Since I needed to do a long run anyway, it was nice to get a t-shirt and medal, have aid stations along the way, plus a party at the end. I’ve spent most of the summer running easy all week instead of working in speed and tempo runs, then I put in the hard work during the races. I’m trying to be smart about listening to my body and take a rest day or two when I can tell I need it. I have six weeks until the Chicago Marathon and I’m hoping that this method will pay off on race day since I still have a number of races to go before then. Next up – a return to Milford for a 5K/10K double on Saturday.