State # 16: Massachusetts: The Toughest Marathon in the East (?)

OK, it’s time I stopped hibernating and caught up on race recaps. These are MONTHS late but I’m feeling a little more motivated to get back on track. SO let’s put a quarter in the time machine and go back to…spring!
Again, I apologize in advance that this entry comes several months late. I began thinking about the fact that I’ll likely be running a marathon a month for six months and NEED to get used to writing these race recaps again. So there are several coming and I WILL get caught up!

Memorial Day weekend oftentimes means travel for me, simply due to the fact that my birthday always falls on the same weekend (and sometimes my birthday actually falls ON Memorial Day) and I have a little extra time off. What better way to celebrate my birthday, AND commemorate Memorial Day, than by running the Memorial Day Marathon in Lennox, MA? The race actually benefited a veterans charitiy: The Red White and Blue Foundation. I couldn’t think of a better cause to run for that weekend.
The race boasted that it was the “toughest marathon in the East” (hey, it was even on the shirt) and for some reason I found that a little hard to swallow. The elevation chart wasn’t extraordinarily intimidating, so I take these claims with a grain of salt. I knew I wasn’t running to PR that day, so I would just finish and do my best. It definitely got a lot of positive reviews, mainly touting the natural beauty of the course, but gave plenty of fair warning that it was a tough race with plenty of hills.
My good friend TG was my partner in crime for a girl’s weekend, and what made it extra special is that she was participating in the Tanglewood 10k, her first 10k ever! I was actually more excited for her than myself, as I find milestones to be very important, and a 10k is a pretty impressive distance.

We arrived at Tanglewood, a fairground where the packet pick up and start line were located, the afternoon before the race, and it was pouring buckets to the point where we waited in the car for it to die down just a little before we bee lined it to the tables. There were very few people on site, the vendors had more or less packed it up by the time we arrived, so it was very low key. I was excited to see that Hoka One One was sponsoring the race in part, as they are a shoe I am starting to run in more and more thanks to recommendations from my sports medicine doctor.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the hotel, it was pretty tough to explore and do too much outdoor stuff when thunderstorms loomed off and on all afternoon. But it was certainly a fine way to prepare for the race, it’s best not to do too much exploring on foot and let your legs rest.  I brought food from home for my pre-race meal, and enjoyed a Strongbow (or two) and some GF treats as well. I felt fairly well-carbed and ready to go the next day.

Race morning was sunny and cool and we had to be at the race start bright and early for a 7:00 AM start. The 10k didn’t start for an hour and a half, so TG had some time to wait  but was happy to see me off. It was wonderful getting to hear the charity representatives speak at the podium as well as the Star Spangled Banner. Although pretty much every race I have ever run has started with it, I found it much more poignant that morning.
The race was interesting, because like most smaller races, it was hard to even tell where the starting line was, but that wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. After all, I thrive on the smaller events, I just think it was funny that many of us just couldn’t figure out for the life of us where the starting line was without some help from the race directors. Once we found our place, the race started without a hitch and we were on our way.

Maximum Elevation: 1117 FEET      Minimum Elevation: 697 FEET
Course chart from Find My

The first half really had me puzzled. I found it to be…easy. Sure there were some rolling hills, but nothing brutal, and inwardly I was starting to scoff a little at this being the toughest marathon in the East. I didn’t think I was in top racing condition but those early miles flew by with no problems or even the threat of needing a walk break. I chatted with a few fellow marathoners here and there, but since this was a pretty small field, I found myself running many miles alone. The course was green, scenic and beautiful. It really reminded me a lot of Pennsylvania! I could only imagine what the autumn months were like here, I imagine they just explode in color.

The second half is where I suddenly started to eat my words, and thank goodness I wasn’t ball-busting the course aloud to other runners or I would have felt foolish. I read from more than one reviewer that this course looks like it was mapped out by cyclists. I totally understood that. Suddenly it wasn’t just gentle rolling hills, but constant hills, most of them up.  This wasn’t a simple Hatfield McCoy Blackberry Mountain hill that lasts maybe a mile and then it’s easy going from there. The second half was brutal, and I suddenly found myself walking…a lot.

I think, with Two Bear Marathon aside, I walked more during this marathon than any other. At least it felt like it. Honestly, with the sun out and the temperatures rising, it was pretty miserable at times. There was ONE part of the course though, Mile 21, where a family was sitting along a stone wall handing out ice cold towels. I couldn’t even express my gratitude in words, it was the most wonderful (and necessary) thing I could ever ask for at that moment. The husband explained that his wife had run races like this in the past and couldn’t remember anything better BUT the ice cold towels someone handed her at one point, and they felt the need to pay it forward.

Approaching the finish line, I saw my friend waiting with a huge smile, camera in hand and I was elated to finally be finished. There was a runner who was in front of me for several miles keeping the same sluggish pace, and as we both finished I said happily, “Dude, we did it!”, to which he grabbed my hand in congratulations and grinned wearily. It felt SO good to finally be done.

And my time? After all that walking? I couldn’t even believe it, but 4:17:58, a 9:51 pace. I even placed third in my age group, but they only handed out awards for 30-39 instead of 35-39, I guess the field wasn’t large enough for age group awards broken down by five years. Guess all those early (easier) miles really helped me bank some time, something I NEVER recommend, by the way!

The medals were unique and wonderful: personalized dog tags with my name, town, and race stamped on them. While some people like heavy medal, I tend to like things with a more personal and unique touch, and this was the perfect medal for a race on Memorial Day weekend.

medalMy friend finished her 10k and was thrilled too. She had a congratulatory beer and we were ready to get cleaned up and start feasting in celebration!  Of course when Five Guys is within a 15 mile radius it’s always where I want to go, so a double bacon burger and fries was in order. I was shameless too, finishing the whole thing and even having room for dinner that night at a place in town that had a great gluten free menu, the Jade Dragon.  It was a great weekend!

The best part of this entire experience was seeing a good friend hit such an important milestone, and be inspired to do the distance again. She will be going with me when I run Myrtle Beach, SC in February 2015 to tackle the Dasani Half marathon, and has been dedicated and tirelessly training to increase her mileage safely to earn that medal. I couldn’t be more proud and excited for her, and can’t wait to celebrate with her, medals proudly around our necks, as we shuffle towards Margaritaville for a celebratory meal. Victory will never be so sweet!

15 states down (16 including DC!)
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