Not Too Cold at Colchester

I had been hemming and hawing for a few weeks as to whether or not I’d run the Colchester Half Marathon. I knew it would fall in line with my training plan in terms of a long run and during a “down week”, but I was also hesitant to go for a race while I was weaning off of Paxil. I hadn’t been feeling great, so committing to something seemed like a bad idea. But, the withdrawal symptoms didn’t last nearly as long as I had feared they might and I was off of it completely with no repercussions just in time. And I needed the long run. And I needed the hill work. And I needed to do better than last year’s attempt.

So, in typical Mazy-fashion, I registered about 20 minutes before the gun and trotted up to the starting line. There were some familiar (read intimidating) faces as well as the general sea of runners bouncing, stretching, striding out before the event. Colchester may be a small Connecticut town, but this race draws a fairly sizable crowd. This year’s race boasted 691 registrants, with 614 finishers. That’s not too shabby! Now, part of the challenge of the Colchester Half Marathon is the fact that it takes place on the last Saturday of February. That typically means that there is ice, slush, yuck, and sub-freezing temperatures. But…it is New England, which means you can’t predict anything! We had a surprisingly warm day on Saturday with 60 degrees at the start of the race and nearly 70 degrees by noon. Thankfully the rain held off. I must say, the course was considerably easier to navigate without the ice and snow.

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The race starts at Bacon Academy High School with just a tease of an up hill, enough to give you a little bit of confidence. But, for every strenuous up hill there is an equally painful down hill. Most are excited for down hills or “free energy”, but I feel like I pay dearly for them. They mess with my pace, they mess with my head, and they destroy my quads. I would almost always rather go up than down in a race!

Most of Colchester’s race is paved, but there are about three miles worth of hill that are on dirt roads. These miles can be tricky, especially in the snow, since they aren’t plowed well, have a lot of divets, tire treads, and lose stones. There are quite a few intersections to get through, but the support staff is excellent so there is a minimal risk of dealing with traffic. My experience was pleasant with the few cars I did encounter giving the runners a wide berth while traveling at extremely reduced speeds. There is also ample signage alerting drivers of the race, mile markers, and upcoming turns. You really can’t get lost!

Colchester has a gorgeous, scenic course. Through woods, by farms — over hill and dale. This half marathon really does show off the beautiful side of rural Connecticut. Residents come out of their homes to cheer on the athletes and one family had a candy booth set up, handing out Starbursts and Twizzlers to those that needed a sugary pick-me-up. I also got the privileged to high-five a toddler sized Elsa as I dashed along.

I brought a packet of maple syrup with me in my shorts’ pocket, but didn’t feel the need to use it on the race course since there were three aid stations with water and Gatorade. There were also crates of sliced oranges and bananas at the finish line. The final two miles of the race are up hill and feels like one of the slowest, longest, most torturous climbs to any finish line. However, streams of people run along the side cheering everyone along. And, the race does eventually come to an end! The final right turn takes you back into the high school parking lot and through the finish line. No matter what your time is, you feel better for having run this race. You know that you are a bad-ass just because you did it.

Once through the shoot I met up with my family, gasping and recoiling at the effort I just put forth. “Why can’t I like knitting or board games or some other less stressful activity?” I asked my husband as he helped me get into my sweats. We made our way across the school parking lot and headed for the building to find the facilities. Some wonderful folks from Phoenix Therapeutic Massage were set up in the gymnasium offering massages and stretching out the finishers. The cafeteria was busting with a wonderful after party. A buffet line snaked around the perimeter offering corn chowder, chili, ziti, pizza, brownies, and salads.

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This was my second year running the Colchester Half Marathon and I did do what I set out to do, though, I’m not completely impressed with my run. I did beat my previous year’s time by six minutes, which was my number one goal. I did break an hour and forty, which was my second goal. While I had a third goal of placing in the top ten, I was far less concerned with placement than time. I wanted to maintain a 7:35-7:45 pace, and I sort of achieved that for most of the race. I did fall into the course’s trap and went out way too fast before settling in. I was much too cocky and took the first couple of hills much too hard. But, all in all it was a good effort and I am glad I did it.

I am aware that I need to spend more time on pacing — and getting less excited at the beginning — and probably focus on hill work a bit more. I also need to focus on pulling through when I’m fatigued. But, I can’t get too hard on myself since the stats for this race are pretty decent.

Overall time: 1:39.33 (average 7:37 pace)
Place: 86/614
Female Pace: 18/309
30-39F Div Place: 10/277

Official results can be found here, supplied by The Last Mile Racing, LLC.

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A Half and Recovery

Last weekend I ran the Air Line Trail Ghost Half Marathon and it was fantastic! I came off my marathon training last month still feeling incredibly strong & wanted to run this race because it is local to me and is a ton of fun. Despite a nagging hip issue, I figured four weeks was enough time to recollect myself and get some quick training in for one more big race. After the Hartford marathon I took one week of light running and rest, lots of foam rolling, stretching, and re-hydrating. Then I set up Garmin’s half marathon Level II plan in my calendar & went at it. I began the plan in the last three weeks of it, so basically a few good hard workouts and a quick taper, which was exactly what I needed to take me to race day feeling strong, but not over-worked.

I did approach the race with a PR in mind. I knew this might be a lofty goal having just come off a grueling marathon block & dealing with whatever was going on with my hip, but I was fairly confidant that if I adhered to a solid race day strategy I could achieve what I was looking for. Besides, I knew this course was conducive to fast times if you approached it the right way. My plan was to take the first mile or so very conservatively & not worry about the crowds, the hills, or the pace. From mile 2 on to the half way mark, I would aim for a 7:12 or under pace while riding the down hills and maintaining composure. I knew the second half of the race would be all up hill, so I wanted to have something in the tank. I planned on a surge at mile 8, where the serious hill climbing begins, and pushing out a strong last 5k. This should all have lead me to a sub 1:35 PR.

A rush of a crowd flew by me at the start, and I grudgingly let them go. The competitive side of me wanted to chase them down & assume the lead. But the intuitive side knew that most of them wouldn’t be able to hold the pace, especially once they started going up! I sat back to bide my time.

My pace was a bit faster than I had anticipated, but the miles ticked by with ease. I decided to skip the water stops and even my gel since it was a cool day (36 degrees) and I was feeling super. By mile 7 I was starving & really looking forward to the chili and coffee at the post race party. By mile 9 my arm began to cramp and it was extremely distracting. By mile 10 my hip completely gave up on me. However, I kept my sights on runners ahead of me and methodically picked them off, one by one. Though I certainly slowed (mile 12 was the hardest for me with a 7:20 pace), I was able to keep moving forward without compromising my goal. And, I am quite proud to say, that I was not passed along the way except my one young man right at the end. I came pounding through the finish with a 1:31:15! My best time by almost 4 minutes! Strategy really paid off and I walked away from that course incredibly happy.

I finished 19th overall and  the 2nd female, 1st in 30-39 age group.

Now, I am taking a breather. This week has been light. I’ve even WALKED. That’s right, I’ve been walking. And by the end of the month I just may stop running altogether. Recovery is important for getting stronger, and when I tackle my Spring marathon I plan on unleashing the whole Mazy monster! I have some really big plans for next year, which means that the rest of this year calls for rest, recovery, and rehabilitation.