Saturday, November 29, 2008
It Doesn't Get Any Better Than Manchester...
"I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way, Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind, It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day." I Can See Clearly Now: Johnny Nash
I've been lazy...I confess. It's 2 days after I completed the Manchester Road Race, and I'm now finally making an effort to write about it. In very few words, it was great. I woke up at 5 a.m., and ate my usual breakfast of two english muffins with peanut butter and Smart Balance. Gross, I know, but it's a flashback to my youth, when I would eat peanut butter and butter sandwiches. After getting my son showered, shaved, and dressed, I was still on target for my planned driving departure time of 8 a.m. I checked WTNH.com, and was pleased to see that it was still supposed to be "rain free," with a high of around 48 degrees. It was only 29 degrees at that point, so I decided to wear some of my "cheap" running gear, which means my long sleeved wick through shirt ($5.00 on clearance at WalMart this past spring), with a short sleeved wick through shirt (free for competing in a previous 5K race). I also put on shorts and running pants, with the hope of shedding the pants pre-race if the sun was warm enough. I did not bring my mp3 player, since Manchester is the one and only race that the crowd is large and vocal enough to overide the need for music. Their cheering is always music to my ears. I programmed my TomTom, and at 8:05 was on my way for the 45 minute drive. TomTom decided to have me exit what I thought was way too soon, and I found myself driving the last 7 miles along local roads instead of the highway. However, I have since found out that the highway traffic near the road race was backed up, so TomTom actually did me a favor. I guess I have a "psychic" GPS, since it doesn't have the traffic option programmed into it. I arrived at the Manchester Town Hall at 8:45, as planned. I always park there since it's free, away from traffic, about a half mile from the start/finish line, and most importantly a 1/4 mile from Dunkin' Donuts, where I always have my post race coffee. I debated whether to shed my long pants, but decided against it since as I went outside my car I was greeted with a chill in the air. Besides, I figured it was 45 minutes away from the suggested line up time of 9:30, so I still had time to change my mind before the 10:00 start time. I walked towards the start/finish line, which was about a half mile away. Fox 61 news was setting up, and of course I kept my eyes and ears open for any reporters or cameras. Yup, I wanted to be on tv. As I walked down Main Street, towards the start/finish line, I stopped and watched as the fire department hung the traditional HUGE American flag suspended between the end of two firetruck ladders . It is located about a 1/4 mile from the start/finish line. It gives me goosebumps every year to see it. It was still chilly, so I spent the next fifteen minutes walking and slowly running up and down Main Street, while looking for my co-worker Grace, and my son's friends Christine and Julie, who were also running. At 9:15 people were already starting to line up according to their anticipated finishing time. It was now or never as far as returning to my car and adding hat and gloves, or losing long pants. I decided to stay the way I was. I headed for the 35 to 40 minute area, and was disappointed that no one was checking for seeding cards, which as I said in an earlier post, I had. The other time groups were fenced off, and cards were checked there. So my "Under 40 minutes" card was, in effect, worthless. I was soon joined by fathers and their young children, as well as teenagers who were encouraging their friends to cut in and join them. In other words, I was surrounded by "obstacles," meaning slow moving runners who hadn't adequately trained to run the 4.75 miles. At 9:45, I heard someone call my name, and was surprised to see Christine and her sister Julie directly behind me. They told me they had just arrived, and had snuck in under the fence on the side. Again, so much for me having a seeding card! Well, at least I had someone to talk to, and since they were behind me, they were someone elses obstacles! At this point the sun was shining stronger, I was feeling cozy warm, and I was questioning whether or not I was going to be overdressed. As I listened to the pre-race announcements, I was amazed at the number of registered runners: 11,800. A new record. I was thrilled that about 10,000 of them were starting behind me. Finally it was 10:00, everyone sang along to the Star Spangled Banner while facing the flag behind us, and the race began to the music of "God Bless America," as it does every year. I decided to start my stopwatch as I crossed the starting line, so I could have my actual time, or "Net time" as I ran. I took one last look to make sure my "SAI timing tag" was still fastened around my shoelaces. It's a brand new method of timing races, and the nice thing about the tag is it works the same as the timing "chips" that most races use, except you get to keep it afterwards. No more trying to unlace your shoes while you're exhausted so you can return your timing chip. 50 seconds later, I was officially on my way. I immediately headed for the left side of the road, knowing that the first turn is a left and comes quickly. For the most part, people tend to stick to the middle at this point. After some zig-zagging in between and around other runners, I was where I wanted to be. A left turn onto Charter Oak Street, and I knew that soon I would be greeted by all the patrons of the Hungry Tiger bar, whose sole purpose is to drink a lot and cheer for everyone running by. I always make sure I move over to the right side of the street so I can be near them as I pass by. They were not only in front of the bar, but also on the roof, drunk as can be, and cheering everyone on. Somewhere around there I reached the 1 mile mark, and a quick check of my watch revealed... at this point I must confess that my mile split times are a guestimate! I think my time was around 8:15. I knew from previous years that I was off to a GREAT start because 1) I had passed many "obstacles", and 2) a long uphill was just ahead, meaning I could probably pass any remaining obstacles. Running up hills is where I tend to pass others due to my long legs. Miles 1 to 2 consisted of running up the long, gradual hill. As others walked or slowed down, I picked up my pace. Mile 2 time was also a blurr...somewhere around 16:30, or another 8:15 mile. It's a blurr since I was busy cursing myself for forgetting that the steep downhill part of the race doesn't come until after the steep uphill just after mile 2. So I had miscalculated when the uphill part ended, and instead had to kick it into a faster gear in order to attack the steep uphill. All the time I kept reminding myself that I would be rewarded once I reached the top. As I saw the sign for Porter Street, I knew it was time for a left turn, and my reward. The steep, yet fun downhill portion had arrived! I was smiling like the Cheshire Cat, and I passed mile 3 at around 23:50 (7:20 pace mile 2 to 3), meaning my pace per mile was now at 7:57. Just 1 3/4 miles to go, and I was not only going to break 40 minutes, but I was going to SHATTER it!! I had the best runner's high I've ever experienced. Best of all, it was all natural, meaning no energy drinks or energy gel. Just 100% pure adrenaline. I was focusing on the cheering crowd, 5 deep in some places, as well as the beautiful day, bagpipers, and live bands and cd's blaring. Between miles 3 and 4 is a house that every year blasts out the "Theme From Rocky." That is the song as far as getting me psyched. I spaced out and missed the one and only water station. No matter, I was having fun. I never wanted the race to end. I was painfree, breathing easily, and running completely effortless. Mile 4 was reached at around 31:20, meaning a 7:30 mile. Around mile 4 1/2, I saw a camera and a Channel 61 reporter in the crowd. I'm pleased to say that I TIVO'd the race, and can be clearly seen for 3 seconds on Channel 61, from "unofficial gun time" of 35:26 to 35:29. My 3 seconds of road race fame! Shortly thereafter I turned onto Main Street, and headed for the finish. My common sense reminded me that I still had about a half mile to go, and not to start my finishing kick. My uncommon sense said to go for it, since Main Street is wide and has thousands of cheering spectators on both sides. How could I disappoint them?! Besides, I still felt greater than great, and I spotted another Channel 61 camera plus the road race photographer over to the right. I swung out wide, making sure they both had clear shots of me. Well, Channel 61 didn't show Main Street at that moment, so I have to settle for my 3 seconds of fame. I'll find out in a few days how "buff" my race photos are. I know I ran the entire length of Main Street with a smile on my face. The finish line came quickly...too quickly. After 36 minutes, 42 seconds of "net time" running, my journey had ended. Not only had I beaten my goal of finishing in under 40 minutes by 3 plus minutes, I also averaged a 7:43 per mile pace. Along with running and completing 2 marathons, it was my most memorable running experience ever.