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September 2023
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Cambridgeside Half Marathon Race Report

I raced today.  Really raced.  Not just “Can I finish this distance” or “I’m going to run a comfortable pace” but “I wonder if I can get a PR today?  I wonder how fast I can run?”

I signed up in August for the Cambridgeside Half Marathon, because our company’s running club decided to make it an event, get a team together and hopefully get enough for our VIP tent. (We did!) The registration included a training plan, which I compared to what I would normally do to ramp up my mileage, and decided to follow it and really train.  Sure, I would generally try to pick the nicest weather of the weekend for long runs, and I didn’t do all the speed work they suggested, but I either ran hard on Wednesday with my co-workers or did some hills.  I ran the paces I needed on long runs, culminating in a 15 mile easy run a few weeks ago, and a 5 mile easy, 6 miles at race pace, 1,5 mile cool down to put me solidly at an 8min/mile pace.

Then came the taper and the mental preparation this week.  I reviewed the course, looking especially at what might be harder-to-navigate sections and the last 2 miles.  I mad a plan for where I’d “coast” with the crowd and where I’d need to dig deep.  I debated to myself about how fast would be too fast, eyed my PR (2012 pre-kids, 1:41:57, last year I did 1:47:21), and considered whether I’d need/want to fuel on the course.  It was a tough week emotionally, but Saturday I got a pep talk from my dad, some encouragement from my mom, and Brian reminded me as I went to bed “you’ve overtrained for this.” So I laid out my clothes, packed my bag, set my clock ahead, set my alarms, and was asleep by 8:45pm.

The morning went according to plan, no traffic, I listened to my new pysche-up playlist in the car, got in line for slow but managable parking, found the packet pickup and our team’s tent.  I exchanged pleasantries with co-workers then decided to hit the portajohns and warm up by myself, jogging around Cambridgeport passing where old friends used to live back when we were all in Cambridge in the 90s.  By the time I got back to take off my extra layer, most people were headed to the starting line.  It was go time!

Tino, our inspiring leader (who ran a PR today!), encouraged me to get up toward the front, so I worked my way to an open spot in the middle of the first wave just as they started the national anthem.  No chit chat about paces or pleasantries, people all seemed serious, so I just tucked in and started.  Like most big races, it’s important to go out hard enough to get into a good position before the course narrows, but not go out too hard.  It’s also the time to check in with myself to assess temperature, legs, breathing – how is everything feeling?  I ramped up to a 7:45 pace followed by a 7:43, definitely getting a pick-me-up running through MIT’s campus.

I decided that I’d try to keep all my splits below 8 minutes, stick to the 7:45 range as long as I could, and see if I could power through miles 9-11 before unloading whatever I had left the last 2 miles.  I don’t have much of a finishing kick so for me it’s about not pushing too hard too early, but finishing the last 1-2miles strong. Throughout the day, the miles flew by (except mile 11!), and several times I was surprised to hear my watch beep that I’d clicked off another split. I loved running along the Charles, over the footbridge, and over to the Harvard complex.  I ran tangets hard, feeling the wisdom of many races and many years running these paths, and my watch matched the mile markers within a few seconds.  While some colleagues didn’t much care for our lap inside Harvard Stadium, I thought it was fun to run the 100 yd dash on the turf, put my arms up and shout “TOUCHDOWN!” at the goal line, then take the victory lap along the sideline out of the stadium.  Sure beats stadium laps on the stairs!  There were plenty of twists and turns in that section, but soon we were headed back toward east Cambridge.

At mile 9, I had a little pain in my left knee (not unusual for long runs on banked pavement), and my calves started to feel tight, so I worked on my stride a bit.  I was warm enough to wish I could ditch my gloves, taking them on and off depending on whether I was in the shade of tall buildings or on an open sunny path.  I debated eating the fruit chews in my pocket for some sugar and electrolytes, but decided it wasn’t worth digging them out, I’d just get gatorade at the next aid stop.  Somehow the crowd around me was either falling off pace or running negative splits, so it was hard to tuck in with a pack and cruise along.  This was the part of the race that was the difference between running and really racing.  I reminded myself, “I GET to do this today.  Just for me.  It’s a beautiful day for a run!”  Keep pushing a little harder, try to catch the next person.  Mile 10 was my slowest, through Harvard Square and a few walking steps to drink at the aid stop, then getting back up to speed.  But then it was Mile 11, and I thought, this is where PRs are made.  Not at the finish line, but working hard in the last 5K.  I pushed my pace back under 8 minutes and made it to mile 12.  Time to see what I had left!

The last two miles felt slow, but went fast.  My legs were tired, and as my Garmin stats reflected, my turnover fell off a bit. (Note to self next time, pick up the cadence, don’t try to lengthen the stride!)  This was the part of the course I’d run through in my head.  I raced past the Plasma Fusion Center where I used to work, crossed Mass Ave, turned up Main Street, almost there!  Up to that point I felt more limited by muscle strength than breathing, but now I was breathing hard and running as fast as I could.  My 7:23 mile split reflected the effort!  I kept pushing through the finish, heard my name over the loudspeaker, and for once stopped right after the finish to bend over and rest.  I felt like I might actually be sick, and perhaps a volunteer saw that look or at least noticed I was not moving through the chute very quickly, and asked how I was.  Fortunately I got some water, some deep breathing, and then found Tino for a big smile and high five.  After picking up a dry layer and putting on my compression socks, I was ready to greet my co-workers as they finished and made their way back to our table.

This was the fun part of today’s event.  Unlike recent races when I leave immediately after I finish to get back home, I had arranged to relax and enjoy the comaraderie today (thanks Brian!).  It was fun to hear stories of colleagues meeting their pace goals, improving on previous times, Tino’s PR, challenges of racing with a 2 year old in a stroller (Charlie is still faster than most of us, even when he stops to give his kid a snack and toddling break!), and multiple people finishing their first half marathon.  We took group pictures and snacked, talked about our training and life in general.  After congratulating the last couple finishers in our team, it was time to head back to the parking garage.

Is it too soon to sign up for my next race?  Because I think I can go faster….

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