Eastern States 20 Mile Race

Mar 25 2012

That was pretty awesome.

Four weeks after Hyannis, where I didn’t do nearly as well as I had hoped, I was scheduled to run the Eastern States 20. The first time I heard of this race, I was intrigued and wanted to do it. Traditionally, it starts in Kittery, Maine, just over the Maine/New Hampshire border, then runs down the entire NH coast, crossing into Massachusetts at Salisbury, where it ends. This year, unfortunately, there is construction happening on the bridge over to Kittery, so the race started in Portsmouth, NH, went up to just shy of the border, then back down the usual route. So no Maine, but otherwise the same.

I really had no idea how to train for this race, with just four weeks between it and the Hyannis Marathon. Generally you want to take a week or several of recovery after a marathon before doing any other major race training. You also want 2-3 weeks of a taper before such a long run. If I did all that though, there’d be no real training runs in between, and I was afraid I’d lose some significant fitness. On the other hand, doing to much could be risking going into Eastern States worn out or injured. In the end, I just kind of ran by feel. Took it easy the first week, did some half decent distance and several good strong runs in the next two weeks, and took it easy this past week. No idea if it was the best plan, but it was the best I could come up with.

I wasn’t really planing on running this one seriously. I figured I wouldn’t be in very good shape for it given the factors above. So I just planned to enjoy the scenery and see what came of it. In the back of my mind, I had a sub-3-hour finish, but I didn’t think that was very realistic.

Flash forward to the start. Went out way too fast, as is usual. Did the first couple of miles in 8:30 and 8:33. Slowed it down to 8:40’s for the next few miles. Still faster than I should be going, but it felt good. I figured I had no real expectations for this race, so if I crashed and burned a few miles in and had to slow to a crawl later, so be it.

So I kept it in the high 8:30’s to low 8:50’s, largely hill dependent, I believe. Five miles went by, still felt good. Ten miles, still cranking. Thirteen, still cruising along like I was out for an easy run. What the…?

Mile 14 and 15 I finally started to feel a difference. Not really losing it, per se, but the pace wasn’t coming all by itself. If I didn’t focus, I’d slip up above 9:00. Throughout the first half of the race, lots of people were passing me, and I was only passing a few. But 10-15, I started reeling people in on a regular basis. I’d see one up ahead, and slowly gain on him and pass him or her. From about mile 6 or 7 to 16 or 17 the miles were flying by. I couldn’t believe it every time my Garmin beeped another lap, or another aid station appeared. It was really some of the easiest running I recall.

In mile 16 I started reeling in another runner and made some comment about an upcoming hill. We got to talking. Turns out he used to live right around the corner from me in Wellesley. Small world. Had a nice talk for several minutes, but then looked down and saw we were doing 9:28. I felt I had plenty of juice left in me, so told him I was going to push it a little bit. That mile came in at 9:18, slowest one yet, but I got mile 17 back into the 8:50’s (ok, 8:59). By this point, I saw that the sub-3:00 was actually realistic. I was pumped.

Mile 18 is where it started to come undone. I think it was the beginning of the wall. I felt like I was running out of fuel, feeling a little light headed, and vision was going slightly gray. I was using PowerBar Energy Gel Blasts

which overall worked a lot better for me than regular gels. I downed 2-3 more as fast as I could get them down. That handled the vision pretty much, but I was still flagging. The last half of mile 18 seemed to take forever. We won’t talk about the extreme time dilation effect that happened in miles 19 and 20, but that last quarter mile felt more like a quarter of a light year.

With the slower speed (9:20’s to 9:40’s) in the last few miles, I had eaten way into my sub-3:00 margin. Finally, I saw some orange cones. Turned the corner and ran through the gate at 2:59:39. Wooohoooo!

The guy I abandoned at mile 16 finished just 41 seconds after me, meaning he must have picked up his pace as I was slowing down.

Other miscellania:

I ran every step of the entire 20 miles. I was wearing a Nathan hydration belt with 4 8-oz bottles of Gatorade, which was just about perfect for me. I didn’t take anything at any aid stations, just ran right through them. By mile 19 or 20, I was in a place that I’m sure I may have usually given in and taken a walk break. But after going that far at a full run, there was no way I was going to stop then. Good thing I didn’t, it would have cost me my sub-3:00.

Overall, I really liked the PowerBar Energy Gel Blasts. They are like giant gummy bears. A lot more palatable than gels, which I almost gagged on at Hyannis, and you can take one every so often, rather than a full gel all at once. They are 190 calories per package and I went through about a pack and a half – roughly equivalent to 3 gels, which is what I could manage to keep down at Hyannis. The only problem I had with them was how to eat them. The first couple I chewed up and tried to swallow like you would a large gummy bear. But with all the heavy breathing, a few chunks got sucked into the wrong tube, causing a bit of a choking, coughing fit. After a couple of those incidents, I tried some different tactics – gumming them until they melted – too long, and finally just chewing them up, holding my breath for a beat and swallowing the whole mass at once. That worked. Mostly. I think I’ll experiment with some other fuel this spring and summer. After the last mouthful of gel at Hyannis, I don’t think I can go back to them again. My stomach turns just thinking about it.

I tried some mental tricks to make the miles go by easier. Mainly, breaking the distance into smaller chunks and just focusing on those. At first I thought I’d go for 5, 5, 5, 5. Simple. But then I remembered the time dilation effect. That last 5 was going to be too long. I came up with 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That mostly worked really good. But that last mile I could have broken it into tenths of miles. Or even hundredths. That’s how often I was looking at my watch, hoping for it to change.

One last word on the race itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the race is disorganized. I would just say that it is not meant to be an overly organized event. The race started out as a training run for Boston. It’s a few weeks before Boston, just right for the last long 20 miler before taper. I’d say a large percentage of runners were running Boston, and there seems to be somewhat of an assumption that that is the case. One spectator yelled, “Last long one before the big dance!” Overall, it feels a lot more like a group training run than a serious race in and of itself. There is no finisher’s medal, no chip timing, no expo. Nothing at all happening the day before the race – bib and t-shirt pickup at the starting line that morning. Nobody knew where the starting line was and nobody was guiding anyone there when it was just 10-15 minutes before start. There was no gun or horn to start thing, suddenly people just started running, surprising everyone who was not in the first couple of rows. While there were a nice amount of aid stations, there were only porta-potties at miles 7 and 17. Not even sure if there were any at the finish. I saw lots of people sneaking out of bushes or out from behind stores that were closed for the winter. But again, it didn’t feel disorganized, just like, “This is the way we do things here. You’ll get all the fancy stuff in a few weeks in Boston.” I will say that the after party was very well stocked with soup, pizza, various goodies and snacks, and water and other beverages. Alas, no beer though. :) All in all, I’m glad I experienced it and very happy with how I did, but it wouldn’t be high on my repeat list.


(Again, official time 2:59:39. I forgot to turn off my Garmin after crossing the finish line.)

One response so far

  • elodie says:

    WOOHOO!! Way to go, Keith!! That was a near perfect race! Kinda makes you wish the race had been 6.2mi longer, huh? ;)

    I really like those little homey races. It used to be common practice to collect your bibs afterwards to reuse, there were never any t-shirts. There are only a few cities with running communities big enough to support little backyard races like that. You’re lucky to live in one of the elite running cities. :)

    I share the same problem with chewing and racing, except I can’t swallow a big chunk. I either gag or the lump sits in my stomach, so it’s gels or nothing for me in races. If you plan to carry your own fluids, you might use a gel flask to dose the fuel more finely. On long runs, I carry a variety of gels, bars and chews, so I don’t get sick of any one thing by race day.

    Again, congrats. That is a beautiful PR. :)

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