It's a day after Nik's & my impromptu run of the 33rd New Bedford Half Marathon, and we're feeling fine and mellow. Our plan to execute a half-marathon course as a fun run together and not giving a crap worked beautifully, and Nik and I got to meet some people, spend several hours running together in warm sunshine, and I got a PR out of it: 2:44:08, an improvement of just over 7 minutes from my old time. (Nik, of course, missed a PR by 45 minutes plus because she chose to jog the course alongside my chubby ass.)
We put together a short video podcast from bits we filmed before, during, and after the race. Check it out above (it's also on the 4 Feet Running iTunes feed). If you really want to know more about the experience, keep reading.
Improvements: Nik's a veteran of three previous NB halfs, and I'm a veteran of holding purses through three halfs myself. The NB Half made some changes this year that were huge improvements. All previous years, you had to tromp uphill from New Bedford's downtown, past a broken-down McDonald's and a sketchy palm-reading place, to the Carney Academy to pick up your bib number. That's where they had the bathrooms too. It's a good half-mile away from the start line. This year, they switched the packet pickup and bathroom area to the YMCA, just a few blocks away -- and in NB's historic district, the nicest area of town. Free tip: If you run the race in 2011, pick up your bib the day before, if you can. It was a flipping madhouse there in the morning.
Second nice improvement we noticed: At the start line, they had pace zones this year. It's getting to be a fairly decent-sized race (2,400 racers this year, the announcer said), with a wide range of runners, so that helped when lining up to start.
Third, and possibly best improvement: They gave out T-shirts this year. Yeah, I know -- all previous years, they didn't give away T-shirts. What a rip! This year, somebody got on the ball and had some damn T-shirts made. If you're going to run all that way, the least they can do is give you a cheesy cotton memento. Nik gave hers away to her Gramma.
Friends: A slew of people we know ran the race: Dena from Twitter and the Daily Mile; @johnvaughn, aka John From The Poi; his neighbor Jack, who we've run with before, doing his first half; another friend Jocelyn, running her first half; Scott from Twitter and his brother; and @cyktrussell, aka Chris Russell from Run Run Live. We met everyone except Scott, his brother, and Chris. Always nice to meet online-friends in person, so you know you're not insane.
Weather: Nik and I lucked out and raced on possibly the nicest day of the year so far. The temperature was in the mid-50s, sunny, clear, a gentle breeze by the ocean.
Clothes and gear: Since we're in the Brooks ID program, we were naturally decked out head-to-toe in Brooks stuff. Nik wore her Launches -- she's loving them for long slower distances like this. I had on a pair of nicely broken-in Addictions with a little over 100 miles on them. I also tried out tight compression-type underwear. It worked great, but the less said about this the better.
Running the course: Nik and I had a strategy for this race: Since it's fairly hilly at points and I wasn't looking to race it, we'd take it purposely slow to start with. When we came to steep hills, we'd walk most of the way up and make up time on the downhills. That worked fine, except for the first 4.5 miles or so, when we were stalked constantly by an ambulance and a truck looking to pick up the injured and tired. It pushed my average pace up a little higher than I'd wanted, but not to the point where it was uncomfortable. It's always a great feeling to start a race watching the entire pack of runners leave you in the dust while an ambulance creeps impatiently behind you.
The strategy paid off, though -- I have a problem with being able to sustain an even speed for more than 11 miles or thereabouts, so my plan was to run conservatively so I'd have enough gas for the whole trip. I did, mostly. The middle miles and second half of the run, where I tend to flame out, I cruised nicely. I even horsed around a little bit -- I jogged backward for a few feet so Nik could get a picture of me (a cop nearby: "Aww, now he's just showing off"), which is actually not a bad idea. Nik tried it for a bit too and noticed that it almost gave her legs a little break, because you're using your muscles differently. It wasn't until about mile 9 that I started to flag a bit. The course gets monotonously flat and long there, which makes it tiresome to keep moving when you're using to running on the rolling inclines and declines of Fall River. After that, around mile 11, we started to encounter more hills, including a long, steep one at mile 12 that Nik had been telling stories about for years.
When we finally crossed, I knew even without checking my Garmin that I'd PR'd, which is a nice feeling, even nicer because I didn't expect it. I've got to run more races like this, where I genuinely don't give a shit about doing anything except having fun with friends in good weather. Nik's in this frame of mind, too. She didn't regret not racing this half -- she's more interested in having a good time these days.
Miscellaneous: The crowd support was excellent. Part of it was probably because of the gorgeous weather. But I can't remember giving so many high-fives to kids watching a race before.
Early on, we spotted some guy hanging out of a second-floor window to watch the race. He was wearing what looked like a bear suit, or possibly a Doctor Zhivago-style fur coat.
The smell of fish and garbage wasn't exactly as bad as it had been in previous years. It only lasted from about mile 9 to mile 11.
Mile 11 or 12 is about where you enter the really crummy part of town. As far as the eye can see, it's dives with barflies hanging outside with paper cups watching the route.
Kids in only their underwear spotted: 1
Housing projects we ran past: stopped counting at 5
I think Nik actually prefers to run in the back of the pack with me. She says it's much more fun, because people talk to each other more and we're all more friendly, instead of concentrating on breaking that 2-hour mark. The cops and crowd take pity on us more, too. While we were trudging up a hill early on, some lady said, "I know how hard it is! I used to be there too!"
Some gray-haired lady with a bandaged shin kept beating us for a while. I leaned in to Nik and said, "If the old lady with the bum leg beats me, I'll be livid." We ended up overtaking her fair and square. Take that!
At one water stop, a kid held out paper cups yelling, "GATORADE! GATORADE!" I didn't want Gatorade, so I said, "You got just water?" He said, "This is water." I checked his cup. It was water. All the other people at this refueling stop had water, too. So I don't know what was going on there.
View NB half in a larger map