Monday, June 6, 2011

Covered Bridges Half Marathon: June 5, 2011

One of my goals this year has been to bump up my running. I had been a pretty avid runner until about 7 or 8 years ago, when I took a break from running. My hiatus was partly due to other diversions, like getting married and starting a family, and partly due to a sense of "been there, done that." In any case, my interest in running lay dormant until about a year ago, when I bought a pair of running shoes and began running again.

The difference between a "jogger" and a "runner" is an entry blank, and races have always been a big part of my running. When I started running again last spring, I entered a local series of five 5K trail races. This year, inspired by my wife Beth who ran the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in 2010, we both signed up for the 2011 CBHM.

The race passes through the Middle Bridge in Woodstock

Some runners enter races just for the experience of taking part in the event, but when I pin on a race bib, I'm out to run my hardest and fastest. I know that I'm not going to put up times now like I did a decade ago (my marathon PR is 2:55 in '00 and half marathon PR is 1:22 in '99), but I wanted to run a respectable race today and finish sub-1:45, with a "reach" goal of sub-1:40.

The well-organized staging area at the start of the race

The race starts at the Suicide Six ski area, just north of Woodstock VT, at 8:15 Sunday morning. CBHM is a big race (2300 runners), and like most big races CBHM uses an electronic timing system: each runner's time starts when a chip attached to their race bib passes over the starting line. That way, a runner starting at the back of the pack isn't penalized if it takes him 60 seconds just to reach the starting line when the gun goes off.

With 2300 runners, plenty of porta-potties is key

It took me about 15 seconds to cross the starting line once the gun went off, seconds that would be coming off my official "net" time for the race. To hit my 1:45 goal, I'd have to run at an 8-minute mile pace for the 13.1 miles, but I passed the 1-mile mark in just over 7 minutes, way too fast. I was happy enough to have those extra seconds in the bank, but I knew I'd need to get my pace settled down into the 7:30-ish range.

Three miles into the race I had my pace down to where I wanted it, but by miles 6 and 7 I began to feel the fatigue building in my legs. Either I had gone out too fast at the start, or, more likely, I just didn't have enough of a training base to feel strong in a race this long. It can be intimidating to think about being out on the race course for another hour when your legs are already hurting, but that's just part of the mental challenge of running a half marathon.

If you're thinking that the race course takes runners through one covered bridge after another for 13 miles, you're wrong. You actually pass through just one covered bridge, and run past three more. I didn't even notice 2 of the 3 bridges that we ran past. But the race takes you through stunningly beautiful countryside and the almost-too-perfect village of Woodstock. In the village, just after the 3-mile mark, quite a few spectators line the race course, cheering runners on. Community support like that is one of the marks of a great race, so kudos to Woodstock for turning out to support the runners.

The Taftsville covered bridge

There's a steep hill that took a lot out of me just before the 8-mile mark. My time at 8 miles was just a few seconds over one hour, which meant I could beat my 1:40 "reach" goal by running the next 5.1 miles at a 7:50 pace. But such calculations are a gamble with the risk of "hitting the wall" in the last miles and blowing the race altogether.

At the 10-mile mark the clock confirmed that my pace was still on track for 1:40. It's sometimes said that if you're not hurting in a race, you're not running hard enough, and I wasn't going to leave anything on the table. Finally, with 1:37 on my watch, the finish line came into view more than a quarter mile away.

Emotions at the finish ranged from high-fives to tears

I crossed the finish with 1:39:59 on the clock overhead, and an official net time of 1:39:47. Some finishers were all smiles and high-fives, but I found myself choking up from the emotional release and satisfaction of finishing. My overall position was 196, well behind the winners even in my "old guy" age group. But it's a time I'm more than happy with, a result I'm proud of. Frank Shorter said "You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming." The same can probably be said for the half, but I already know I'll be doing this race again. And don't ever call me a "jogger."

Free beer at the finish: the key mark of a great race


  1. Hey Bethie!!

    Way to go on the marathon and all the running!! YOu go girl!!

    You too Jeff! ; )


  2. P.S. I envy your lfiestyle. Get me out of New Jersey!!

  3. I remember that race!!!! I ran with Dan Gleesak and Mike Hawk. The free beer was awesome!!