I have a long history of loving to hate this race. I have run it six times, not consecutively, and each experience has been vastly different. There are parts of the course on dirt roads which have been covered in snow or iced over, there are far more cows then spectators (we actually run right through a farm during mile 11!), there are no awards medals or t-shirts, and the field is usually around 500 hearty New Englanders.

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So, why the hell would anyone want to run this mess during the dregs of winter? I’ll tell you…

The Race Culture

Rick Konon is an amazing, generous and caring race director who is also a serious runner. When I first ran this half in 2006(?) the entry fee was $6. Yes, six bucks. I remember laughing as I wrote out the check, since back then you had to register via mail. Can you imagine? This year the fee was a whopping $14 ($20 on race day) and, although there are no awards or medals or t-shirts, you do get:

  1. An entire school to stay warm in, keep your stuff in and a locker room for a hot post-race shower!
  2. At least three bathrooms and, one secret one I literally had all to myself. Seriously.
  3. Free pre and post-race massages
  4. A post-race party with a feast of food! I have never gone to it, but hear it’s fabulous.

Rick, the director and organizer, is an amazing runner with a contagious energy for the sport and other runners. He is literally out on the course slapping high fives and yelling encouragement like “don’t get used to the downhill!” Um, I’m sorry Rick but WHAT downhill?

He wasn't holding this sign but I think he should next year!

He wasn’t holding this sign but I think he should next year!

He also sends personal emails, prior to the race, with stuff like this in them:

Broke? Can’t afford the gas & the entry fee? Come out and run it for free and come on over to the post race party too, just be sure and try to make it back when you can afford to pay!

We don’t want to turn anyone away from a course this tough!

For real! I mean, how can you not run this?

Tradition

I have to credit my good running buddy, Anne Crone with finding this race way back in the day. Ever since, a few of us try to make it out there every February. This year we were raring to go…until we weren’t. One by one my friends dropped out, for very legitimate reasons but, I questioned if I should toe the line alone. I decided to do it since, it was part of my training plan, it’s such a great test on a brutal course and it was predicted to be a perfect race day with partly sunny skies and temps in the upper 30s.

I keep this race in a category all its own. My “normal” half-marathon PR is 1:28, which I earned on a flat course in Hartford, CT in 2014. My PR for this course was 1:38, because this:

Hartford Half Marathon "elevation" chart.

Hartford Half Marathon “elevation” chart.

Colchester elevation chart

Colchester half marathon elevation chart.

Past results:

2006 – ? I cannot find the results for this? I have the bib hanging in my garage but no finish time. They may not even have had timing chips since this is truly a no frills race!

I took a few years off to get married, build a house, have twins and then…

2010 – 1:45 | 2011 – 1:42 | 2012 – 1:48 | 2013 – 1:38

Race Day 2016

Since I’ve been experimenting with my diet to become more metabolically efficient, I had a different pre-race meal plan, which I had tested the previous week. When I woke-up around 6am I had coffee and one small whole wheat fig bar. Then, at 7:30am I made a smoothie with almond milk, full fat greek yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, peanut butter and Beet Boost and drank it on the way to the race. The race start was 10am. Gotta love that!

Pinned and race ready!

Pinned and race ready!

I felt good during my 10-15 minute warm-up which is always a good sign for me. In that moment I decided I would run by feel and only look at my watch after the first mile. Since I had a semi-normal training week and this wasn’t a goal race by any means, I thought it would be a fun experiment.

At the start line, Rick basically yells “Go!” sounds a horn, and we are off! I ran my first mile in 7:08 and thought “Ok. This feels good.” And it was. It was great.

Every hill I ran up, I just focused on keeping a consistent EFFORT and not pace. I didn’t worry about pace at all, since I had no clue what it was, and just ran by feel.

Mile eight has a pretty significant hill. As it came into full view I was running past two guys who had been in front of me from the start. They had been chatting most of the way (how do people do that?) and this was the exchange when they saw the hill:

Guy 1: Oh boy (with nervous laughter)

Guy 2: Yeah, wow, ok

Guy 1: oh boy (more nervous laughter)

Guy 2: Jeez, wow, ok

And it went on like that. It was like a Beavis and Butthead exchange and it was hilarious! I guess that was their first Colchester and they failed to consult any maps or do any research on the course. After I passed them I didn’t see them again. I hope they made it to the finish!

The Last Two Miles

Not enough can really be said about how brutal the last two miles of this race are. Miles 9 and 10 are on a pock-marked and rolling hill, dirt trail. Once you pass Mile 10 (which used to be solely marked by a spray painted “10” on a rock) you come out into a farm. Not by a farm but in a farm. You are so in the farm that as I ran between cows and a barn, what looked to be a 12 year-old kid was, just at that moment, moving a front loader filled with cow shit manure across our path. I can’t even. At least it wasn’t a hot day.

After that special treat, I made the hard right onto the main road, which ultimately leads to the finish…once you pass though hell.

At this point in the race, you need to be ON your mental game. I talked myself through the miles with things like “Keep your pace. Head up. Pump your arms. Keep a consistent effort. You’re not almost there. Look at that guy walking. You’re not walking. You’re running. You’re a runner. This is what you do. Head up. Keep your pace.” And on and on and on.

I was passed by two women in the final two miles and I was really unhappy about it. I like to be the one doing the passing, which I had done plenty of, but I had nothing else to give and not enough care to chase them, but still.

Mercifully, I neared the finish. There was a man standing in his driveway, twirling a stick and seemingly not paying attention. At the last moment, he looked up and said “You’re not almost there but there is a finish line around that corner.” Bless you kind sir.

I gave everything I had left, thought for a moment about what the clock might read, and then it came into view: 1:35:35. A three minute PR for this course!

Well look at that!

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Also notice how I did not negative split the course, meaning I didn’t get progressively faster toward the end of the race. I know it’s a bit different because this one is so hilly, with some of the longest hills at the end but, don’t put too much stock into negative splits and instead, run by feel!

The Aftermath

The only ridiculous and somewhat creepy word I can think of to describe how I felt is “satisfied.”  I was so completely satisfied with how I ran, and the result.

Anyone who trains to compete, whether in running or triathlon, can tell you that you need these kind of races to boost your confidence and continue training.

The day to day training is hard. People often ask me how I do it or how I stay motivated and here it is. When I race like I did that day, and all the stars align with my mind and body, it propels me forward. I look at my training plan with renewed belief and confidence, and I can continue because I know all the hard work is paying off.

And then of course I saw I came in 30 seconds behind the first place woman for my age group and was really pissed I didn’t at least try to chase her!

 

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Some things will never change.

Until next year Colchester!

Do you have a race you love to hate?

Have you run a race by feel without looking at your watch? How did you do?