My original plan this spring was to run the Frozen Penguin Half in Brooklyn next weekend, but an unexpectedly early sellout left me scrambling for other options.
I wanted a flat-ish early March half to test my fitness leading up to Boston. It couldn’t be too far away, but I was willing to travel a bit. Turns out there aren’t that many options! I guess that’s probably because early March is still a tad early for a half since it’s likely to still be pretty chilly in the Northeast.
After much research, I settled on the Ocean’s Run Half in Westerly, Rhode Island. The course profile looked good, the timing was right, and the location was only about two hours from New York. Done.
In retrospect, I wish I had done a little more research.
There are three things I wish I would have known before I registered. First, that the race had a brand new course this year. Second, that the course was not USATF certified. That means there are no promises on the distance of the race. And third, that last year the race was 12.5 miles.
As you may surmise, I didn’t exactly run a half marathon this weekend. Well, I did…and then some. But let’s back it up to the beginning.
On Friday, I packed my weekend bag and headed to the office, my Garmin fully charged and ready to go. The plan was for the fiancé and I to meet at Grand Central Station and grab a train up to his home town in suburban Connecticut. We had dinner with the future in-laws, and then got on the road for the remainder of the trip up to Mystic, Connecticut, the town we were staying in for the weekend, just about 12 miles from the race start/finish.
All in, it was a relatively painless trip up, and it was great to see the family for dinner on the way. My future mother-in-law is a fantastic cook, so it was a great pre-race meal.
But when we arrived at the hotel, tragedy struck: my Garmin, freshly charged that morning, was dead. And I, being the idiot that I am, didn’t pack my charger, because why would I need it, right? I had a minor meltdown.
It had been more than two years since I ran a race without my Garmin, and I’ve never run a race totally “blind.” At least before my Garmin I had a trusty Timex stopwatch that I could autolap at the mile markers for a sense of my pace. I thought about running with my phone, but without an armband that seemed like a recipe for disaster, so I just had to prepare to have no idea how fast I was going for an entire 13.1 miles!
On race day, I woke up slightly before my alarm and got ready, skipping my heart rate monitor chest strap since I wouldn’t have my Garmin. I took a second to mourn its absence, and we were on our way.
It was about a 20 minute drive to the start, which was nice and easy. The start and finish were at Misquamicut State Beach, which had plenty of parking. I checked in, got my bib and then headed back to hang out in the car. The registration was in a “heated” tent, but on a breezy and chilly morning, you couldn’t really feel the heat unless you stood right in front of the heater.
With about 25 minutes to go until the start, I ran a quick warm up and a few strides totaling just shy of 2 miles, and decided to change from my arm warmers to a thin long-sleeve base layer. Even in my sweats, I was feeling pretty chilly with the wind, so I wanted to play it safe.
After changing, I realized how close it was to the race start time and bolted for the start area, and it’s a good thing I did. They started the race 3 minutes early! I had just enough time to take off my sweat pants and then we were off!
Here’s what I noticed about the start: it was odd. We made a sharp right, went down just shy of 0.2 miles, made a sharp U-turn, went back around the start, crossed over the finish line, and then got going on the course. I certainly wasn’t expecting that and it turns out that’s for good reason. It wasn’t on the course map.
As I would learn later, we were supposed to make a left out of the start, not a right with the funky U-turn. That little detour it turns out added about 0.375 to the course. I wouldn’t know this until much later though.
Anyway, after the funky U-Turn and the other quick, short turns, I was finally able to get into a groove. I could tell I was in the top 15-20, based on the people I could see in front of me, and I was pretty sure I was the lead female, which is something I’ve never experienced before, so I was keen to keep that lead.
We made our way down the main drag along the beach before hooking right and weaving a bit through some little neighborhoods. The roads weren’t closed, so there were cars going by the whole way, which was another new thing for me. It didn’t cause any issues, but I certainly noticed it and felt like I had to be more aware of my surroundings.
My first chance to gauge my pace came at the two mile mark when I was able to ask the time from a guy next to me. 15 minutes flat. What?! Remember, I didn’t know yet that the start was wrong, so I didn’t know if it was just a course marker in the wrong spot or something terribly wrong with my pacing since I didn’t have my watch on me. All I knew was that according to the time on the clock, I was 2 minutes behind pace just 2 miles into the race. Talk about terrifying.
Anyway, I kicked it up a bit there, before settling down, because I knew I couldn’t go too fast without risking a blow up of epic proportions later.
The next chance I got to gauge my pace (and what would turn out to be the last) was right around mile 4. I learned my lesson though. I didn’t ask our total time, I asked our current pace: 6:25, he said. Phew…that’s more like it.
By this point, we were on the longest straight stretch of the course all along the beach. Heading out, there was a pretty significant headwind, but I actually took relief in that, because just like in Philly, that would mean a tailwind to the finish. I can grind into the wind mid-race, just don’t make me do it in the final fifth of a race.
Right around mile five, I got passed by a woman (in blue in the picture above) who had been on my heels as I stopped to grab some water. I can’t run and drink, particularly at half marathon pace, so I have to walk for 5 seconds to get a couple sips.
I tried to close the gap on her after the water stop, but she maintained a very consistent 20 yard gap. As we exited the straight away, and made a left into another residential area, I noticed my right shoe lace was coming untied. Ugh! I pulled over, ripped off my gloves as fast as possible, and tied my shoe. This is surprisingly difficult when your fingers are cold and not exactly nimble.
After that, I pushed ahead, starting to snack on my ShotBloks. I really didn’t feel like eating my Shotbloks at that point, but I knew the water station at the mile 7 marker was coming up, and that it was better to force them down. As I slowed down for water at that aid station, I got passed by another woman, drat! Now I was in third.
The now second-place female put a good lead on me right away. After the latest water stop, the first place female, who still hadn’t grabbed any water, as far as I was aware, was about 50 yards ahead, and the second pace female was soon 25 yards ahead, but I tried to maintain that gap and not let them out of my sight.
That’s about when we hit the nastiest hills of the course.
At this point, it was all about the mind games. Only 5 miles to go, that’s only about 33 minutes if you are going the pace you should be going. Only 5k to go, that’s only about 20 minutes, that’s nothing!
Once I got back on to the long, straight stretch along the ocean, I knew I just had to hold on. I knew it was flat, and I knew the wind was at my back. I just focused on the backs of the two girls in front of me and tried to reel them in.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any luck reeling them in, but I did manage to catch and pass one guy. Then the finish was in sight and there was the cruelest thing…they made you run past the finish and loop around. Not only did that mean the disappointment of the finish not being where you expected, but that meant a sharp U-Turn (never good for your momentum) and a finish into the wind.
I was exhausted, but excited to be done in order to find out my time… 1:28:05, 3rd female, 14th overall…only to be disappointed. That is only 12 seconds faster than my time in Staten Island, but it felt so much harder and faster.
That’s when I started talking to some of the other runners and putting together the pieces…the course, it seemed, was long.
All in, I’m thrilled with third place. It was my first time placing overall vs. age group. I’m just bummed because I wanted to use this race to help see where I am to help determine pacing in Boston, and it’s hard to do that will a lack of data and unreliable information.
On top of that, my fiancé didn’t try to get any pictures because they said there would be a photographer on course and the pictures available for free. While I got one picture of me running around mile 4 (above), for whatever reason there were no pictures of me—or the two people after me— finishing. I saw the photographer, and there was a long stretch into the finish where there was literally no one in front of me, but there are no pictures, even though I was a top 3 female.
So while I’m happy with placing, this race left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I’m spoiled because I run so many races organized by New York Road Runners, a massive, well-oiled machine, but I didn’t like how unorganized this race was, and how brusque the race director was when I tried to ask her about the course being long.
I took it upon myself to map out our actual route at the start, and the one we were supposed to take to find out the difference in distance. It turns out the difference is 0.373. So I decided to divide my finish time by 13.473, and multiple that by 13.1 to get a “fair” estimate of my time for this race: 1:25:39.
That makes much more sense to me given my training and progress since October. All along, I’ve been running half marathon paced workouts between 6:25 and 6:35, most often averaging 6:33…which is what my pace would have been with this adjusted time.
Based on that, I’m roughly on pace to hit my goal in Boston, but it will be close! Only 6 weeks until I know for sure what kind of shape I’m in!
EDIT 03/20/16: At the end of this week, the race director announced that the course had been remeasured, and that the official distance of the race for this year will be changed to 13.4 miles. Based on that, my time for for this race projected out to 13.1 would be 1:26:07, which would have been a roughly 2 minute and 10 second half marathon PR. So while this race still wasn’t my favorite, I greatly appreciate that the race director listened to the feedback from runners and took the step to have the course remeasured. It gives me more peace of mind when it comes to this race.
Have you ever raced unexpectedly without a watch? How did you handle it? Or, do you always race without a watch?
Have you ever run a race that was longer or shorter than advertised? How did you feel about it?