After two years of running, I can finally say that I ran a race conservatively and with some degree of intelligence. Normally, I squeeze out every last bit of energy in races, finishing with a desire to do nothing but collapse on the ground. I have a problem when it comes to holding back, which is why running a 5k a few days before my first marathon last year was a really bad idea (in a nutshell, I went from planning to push the kids in a stroller to shooting for a PR in a matter of a few hours – read that story here). The Belmont 10 Mile Road Race, however, was very different, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever run.
Although my total weekly mileage has been higher than in the lead-up to my two previous marathons (I’m attempting to run 2 this Fall), I’ve been lagging in my long runs. With two kids, summer heat, and a busy travel schedule, fitting in long runs has proved difficult. Thus, when I saw a 10 mile race near my home on the Cool Running schedule for New Hampshire, I jumped at the chance to get miles in while enjoying a race with other runners at the same time. I was due for about a 15-miler, so the plan was to run the race and then add in additional miles to make up the difference. Naturally, this meant that I needed to have something left at the end of the race, which is what necessitated a change in race approach. If I left it all out there during the race, 10 miles would be all I would get, and I’m determined to train smart in this marathon cycle. The plan was to use this as a 10 mile, marathon pace long-run, with 4-5 slow miles added on in the form of warm-up, cool-down, and some easy miles thrown in after the race.
I slept in a bit longer than planned on race morning, got moving a bit slower, and wound up arriving at the registration table with only a few minutes to spare. Luckily, this was a small race in a small NH town, so many others appeared to be last minute arrivals as well. I managed a short, 0.5 mile warm-up, then lined up at the starting line – a strip of white spray-paint on a local road. The race was part of the Belmont Old Home Days celebration, so everything about the race was small (except for the hill at mile 6 – more about that later). I knew nothing about the course since I couldn’t find a map on-line, so I randomly picked someone who looked like they might have run it before, and to my good fortune it turned out to be the former race director. He gave me a quick verbal tour of the course, and warned me of the large and long hill at mile six, with the reward for scaling it being a 2-mile, down-hill coast to the finish. This knowledge helped me strategize, and it turned out to be incredibly helpful in the end.
To say that the day was perfect for a run would be an understatement. The temperature was in the low-60’s at start time, and the sky was virtually cloudless. The air had that crisp, clear feel typically reserved for October, and humidity was minimal. It was one of the nicest days I have experienced this summer (or ever, for that matter), and the beauty of the course made it all the better. Small-town New Hampshire races are always fun, usually on country roads, and typically involve hills, forests, farms, and lakes. This course (see image below) fit that bill to a tee – it was challenging, but one of the nicest that I have run – I highly recommend it.
For the first time ever, I held back at the start of the race, with my mile 1 split falling right at 7:00. It was quite a bit faster than my “dream” marathon pace of 7:28, but it was too nice out to hold back completely. Miles 2-6 were similar and consistent, with split times of 7:09-7:10-7:05-7:16-7:13. The course was rolling (see graph below), which suits my style perfectly, and I enjoyed every minute of the first six miles. I probably could have pushed the pace a bit harder, but I was content with what I was doing. One particularly memorable moment occurred around mile 3 – as I passed by a group of cows hanging around a fence, they all began to “moo” at me in unison. I couldn’t help but feel like they were cheering me on! One of the other things I love about small town races are the people you meet on the road, and this race was no exception. Runners are a supportive bunch – I have great respect for people who cheer you on when you pass them, and I need to start making a practice of doing this myself. I also received a few questions about the fact that I was running in Nike Free 3.0’s – they were definitely unique among the footwear seen on the other runners.
The toughest part of the race course occurred from 5.7 miles-7.7miles. As mentioned earlier, I had been warned about the hill, but it turned out to be even worse than I had expected (see the brown line on the course profile below). The rise was about 380 feet over two miles, and the last bit broke me. I wound up walking for about a minute to the crest of the hill, figuring that I would be better off regaining some energy for the coming downhill than expending everything I had to keep running to the top. I generally don’t like walking in races, but I viewed it as a strategic move, and in the end I think it paid off. My splits for miles 7 and 8 were 7:47 and 8:15, respectively, so the walk break didn’t really hurt my pacing all that much.
As promised, the final 2 miles were almost purely downhill, and with the bit of energy I regained from the walk break, I felt the urge to let loose a bit. There was a group of runners about a minute ahead of me, and I was determined to try to catch them. I finished mile 9 in 6:39, and mile 10 in 6:18. I nearly caught one of the runners ahead of me (a 14-year-old), but the moment I caught him in the final stretch he turned it on and blew ahead to the finish. I crossed the line at 1:12:17, good for 20th place overall, and 4th in my age group (out of 5, but who’s counting). At the finish, the Old Home Days celebration had already begun, and the smell of burgers cooking was intoxicating. However, I was good and ate only a banana, then set off for another 5k. All told, I ran 14 miles and accomplished my mission of getting in a good long run at marathon pace or better. As I ran back to my car, I hear one teenager say to his friend “How is he still running???” as I passed. “Run a marathon, kid” I thought to myself, “and then the answer to that question will become clear.” All-in-all, it was a great day.
Below is a street map showing the Belmont 10 Mile Road Race course: