Monday, August 17, 2015

Falmouth Road Race Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 16th Edition 
181.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Falmouth Road Race
Place: Falmouth, MA
Miles from home: 3140
Weather: 70-80s; Relentless sun; humid

Oh yeah, I am awful at running in humidity.

As I continue to cross race after race off my to-do list, I am reminded of many things. I am not getting any younger, I am not great at short distance races, and humidity absolutely decimates me. But Life is good, right? That is what I was telling myself throughout this tough 7.1 miler on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Partly because I was trying to think of anything which would get me through a race where if a cab had showed up at the 4-mile mark I would have taken it to the finish area and taken a DNF.
But mostly because I was running this race as part of the Life is good Playmakers. When you are trying to help people through exercise you can't quit halfway through.

Running can amaze you. One day you can go for a gallivant through the woods on a whim for 31 miles, over hill and dale no problem, as I did in Forest Park on my birthday. The next day, you are wondering if seven miles might kill you. However, that unknown is why we lace up the shoes every time. Each day is an adventure which we rarely know what the outcome will be. Sometimes, though, we have an inkling what that day will be like at the onset.

The Falmouth Road Race is an iconic east-coast race in its 43rd running. (Read more about its history and why it was started here.) It can also be a sullen reminder of how non-elite you really are. When the winner ends up running a 4:37 per mile pace, for a second it can be a shot to the ego. Then you suck it up, realize you don't have the same genes, and simply give the best you can.

The best I could give on this day was not very much. I knew it would not be very much when the forecast called for a 75 degree starting temperature, not a cloud in the sky, and high levels of humidity. As we milled around near the starting line, a place which logistics necessitated us to be there well over an hour before the race started, the sun baked and baked. Before the race could actually start there were apparently some snafus along the course which needed to be take care of in order for me and 11,000 of my closest friends to run through this quaint little town.  As such, our starting time was pushed back a good twenty minutes or so.  By the time the gun went off, I was already sweating down the small of my back and wondering how bad today was going to hurt. But for some other reason, I felt like I might have a good day.

Mile 1: 6:24

This mile went about as well as I could have hoped as you begin running and immediately go uphill (not unlike the other 7-miler I have done  at the Bix in Davenport, IA). Starting  a race as such bodes poorly for me given my lack of talent in running uphill but I held everything in check, keeping it nice and tidy. Even those I was pleased with my effort, I had really hoped the mile might be a few seconds faster. However, I didn't feel like I had pushed too hard, I wasn't winded and when my friend and fellow Life is good fundraiser, Melissa, passed me looking crisp, I fell in right behind her. The undulations of hills continued for the remainder of this mile as we snaked around a twisty road and headed toward the Nobska Lighhouse. Sweat was already covering me in a thin veneer. Melissa's Boston Athletic Association kit was cutting a swatch through the crowd and I was right behind her.


Mile 2: 6:48


The semi-shaded nature of the road continued for this second mile as did the undulating hills. After the initial large crowd at the beginning there was a noted lack of people here on the course. With virtually no shoulder on the road to speak of, there was little place for them to be even if they wanted to.  We passed under the Shining Sea Bikeway which appears to have been a converted railroad track. A handful of people were up there shouting encouragement. It was appreciated but I would have probably appreciated an icebath shower more. At the conclusion of this mile I could tell that any of my "A" goals were out the window. It was not going to b a great day. Maybe it would still be a good day.  I did not know just quite yet how bad of a day it would end up being. I fell back just a bit from Melissa's pace and she got swallowed in the crowd.  I figured I would pick it up and see her again soon.

Mile 3: 7:03

At no point during the first three miles were you running in a straight line for very long. Even in the first few hundred of runners where I was, running the tangents was nearly impossible. It seemed no one else understood that hugging the curves saves you extra steps which you do not get credit for. The course, known as a 7 miler, is actually 7.1 and I would like to not run 7.11 if possible. Furthermore, the up and down of the hills never abated and while hardly killer, they were taking their toll on me. Then the shade we had enjoyed in parts disappeared. Treeless and exposed, the road opened up to the sun above which said hello in the worst way possible

Oh my, I thought. This is not going to go well. I knew the hills, or at least the worst of them, were over at the end of this mile. I slowed my pace for a bit in hopes of regrouping and crushing the flat sections. I tried telling myself the race was only seven miles long and three of them were now gone. I would make up the time soon.


Mile 4: 7:33

After another brief respite from the sun, the flatness of this mile also put runners directly into the teeth of the sun. If there was any wind, it was a tailwind only which helps push you along but doesn't cool you. Unfortunately, cooling is what I needed. Up ahead of me I saw another runner walking. I tried to ignore him and not let it sink into my brain, But 100 meters down the road, I couldn't resist. I too began walking. What I hoped would be the small break to kickstart my legs was actually the beginning of the end. I was finding it hard to believe I need to break here.

I then walked for way longer than I wanted to initially and when I finally began running again, I could tell my day was over. Here is where I almost wished for the aforementioned imaginary car to whisk me to the end. Calgon take me away!


Mile 5: 8:18

The only thing good I have to say about this mile is I am surprised it didn't take me 9 minutes. As sweat just poured off my body, even the plethora of aid stations did little to stave off the deluge of perspiration. It would have been nice if the water had been a little cooler as when you reach the oasis and it is lukewarm it is so disappointing. But in this heat there is little the fantastic volunteers could have done to keep it cool. At one point I began to wonder if I was going to need an IV at the end of the race.

At this point, I was running with eyes mostly closed just willing myself forward.  I missed the ocean to my right and the throngs of cheering people all-around. Again proving my theory that scenery means absolutely nothing if you are racing hard or hurting bad.


Mile 6: 8:24
The crowds were unbelievably supportive starting form the third mile on. People who were simply beaching it came out to raise a toast as we struggled on by. I was asked if I still felt this race would be one I would recommend to run in spite of the heat, humidity and logistics. I have one quick story to explain why I definitely feel this race should be on your list.

Credit to MarathonFoto.com
As I came to a dead stop at one point, I bent over tugging on my shorts. As the bib numbers of runners have your name on them, people often surprise you by using your name to cheer for you. After a while you get used to it but it still feels like these people know you personally. After receiving some cheers to get moving again, I pulled myself up and began to jog. I made it about 100 yards before I came to another stop. As I continued to move forward at a snail's pace a guy came up to me. He put his hand on the small of my back and said some reassuring words. I thought at first he was another runner until I realized that no, this was the same guy who I had locked eyes with before just a few yards back as he cheered me on by name.  I had no idea who he was or why he was here.  The only thing I can imagine happened is he watched me when I started to move again, saw me falter, and busted ass down the road to see if I was OK. How ridiculously awesome is that?


Mile 7: 7:41

I was determined to run this entire last mile and was doing a decent job of doing so. In fact, I was picking people off here and there. But I also didn't really feel like pushing it too hard and take away from those who had worked so hard to be here by throwing down a 4:40 mile pace for 100 yards. That dilemma was solved for me though as we approached the last quarter of a mile. I had momentarily forgotten that Falmouth has its own Heartbreak Hill. However, unlike Boston when it comes with six more miles to go, here at the Falmouth Road Race, this beast pops up with about 2 minutes of running left. I pushed it hard enough to pass by the MarathonFoto sign painted on the ground and then that was it.  Another walk. That made six total walk breaks for the race coming close to half a mile or more of walking.

Close to the top I saw an older man who was needing assistance to get up the hill from a litany of what appeared to be a crew of some sort. I knew I could not simply walk by a person in this state giving his all. So I sucked it up and began running.

Credit to MarathonFoto.com
As the gigantic US flag signified the end of the race at the bottom of the hill, I picked up my pace. Almost immediately a cramp hit, well, virtually ever part of my body. I pushed on to the finish and almost immediately went down in a heap. But I was able to regain my composure after a few seconds and avoid the wheelchair the wonderful medical staff had brought out of seemingly nowhere to assist me (or anyone else in dire straits). As I ambled onto the next group of medical personnel, one asked me if I was sure I was OK.  I said : "I'm not going to die and if I do at least it won't hurt anymore."  He laughed and said: "If you can joke, you are fine. Way to go."  But he said it with the thickest Boston accent you can imagine and that alone made my day.  It was wicked awesome.

I finished in a time of 52:23 and finished 573rd overall.  My bib was 581 so at least I beat that. Afterward I caught up with a group of new friends who were all running for Life is good. Some of us jumped into the ocean and some of us hit the bar.  I was in the former group. God bless those who can throw back a beer at 11 am. Many of those in this new group of friends had exceeded their own goals for the day on a day when exceeding goals was extremely difficult. Furthermore, it was enjoyable for me to actually be able to hang around a race after it was done for a change instead of sprinting to an airport to head home.

Credit to MarathonFoto.com
I actually went for another run later in the day when someone needed to retrieve one of the vehicles we had used to drive to the buses in the morning. I filled up a Camelbak Circuit and ran over portions of the course which just hours ago had 11,000 runners and countless spectators on them. Here, these streets looked like those of any other sleepy beach town. There was almost no sign that they had been filled to the brim just a few hours ago. However, it also was no less hot or humid. The four miles I ran to get the vehicle (I added a few more to make the run worthwhile) left me depleted. I realized that it was time to go and cool my heels.

We reconvened as a group of tired but happy runners and spent the remainder of the day baking in the sun, eating clam chowder, and reliving the day.

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