Monday, May 5, 2014

Race report: Twin Lights Half Marathon 2014 (with mom!)

Executive summary:

2:22:32, a new PR for both of us and an age group win for Mom. We ran a smart, well paced race with a big negative split and a fast finish. And had an awesome girls' weekend with my sister and my aunt, too.
Mission accomplished!

Prologue: Warm and sunny? Nah, how about 40 degrees and drizzling?

"Let's run the Old Port Half Marathon again," Mom suggested in January. It was the nadir of the polar vortex, and the idea of a cloudless, 85 degree day on the Maine coast did sound pretty amazing. But I'd rather spend it sitting on the patio of El Rayo with a plate of tacos and a pitcher of something fruity than running 13.1 miles. Last year, that race got toasty.

"How about a nice chilly April half marathon?" I wrote back. We were planning a girls' weekend in New England for April anywhat -- my sister Karen, my aunt Jan, mom, and I. Twin Lights Half Marathon was in Gloucester. Looked like a scenic route. Seemed like a good place to spend the weekend. We signed up, I booked my airline tickets, and Mom made reservations at a sweet B&B in Rockport, three miles up the road.
They knew we were coming!

A pretty cool place

Turns out Gloucester, Rockport and the whole Cape Ann area is a great place to visit. Gloucester's been a fishing town for 400 years and that's still a part of the economy, though tourism is becoming a bigger contributor.
Fisherman's Memorial in Gloucester.
It was beautiful and very moving.
Spring was just beginning to arrive, with blooming daffodils and budding leaves -- about two weeks ahead of conditions in Minnesota and Vermont.
Halibut Point State Park.
It was awesome there.

Yup, not bad.
We ate great food, drank a lot of coffee,
Girls' weekend! Karen, me, Mom, Jan
and walked on the beach.
Stage Fort Park
Mom and I got a 40-minute shakeout run on Saturday and headed into race day feeling well rested and ready to have fun.

Bonus miles, or, If 13.1 miles is good, then 20 is better, right?

It was three weeks before the Spring Superior 50K. Since I'd be missing my scheduled long run, I wanted to get some extra miles in before the race. INKnBURN Ambassador extraordinaire and Gloucester local Jenn Brooks had not only given us outstanding advice on where to eat and what to do in the area, but she had also pointed me to some local trails back behind the Rockport school. So on race morning, I got up early, had a couple of hard boiled eggs, a sweet potato, and a cup of coffee, and headed out for an hour and a half of playing on the trails.
A half mile or so along the gravel road...
... brought me to some lovely wooded singletrack.
Hey, why not? I followed the blue blazes.
It got a tiny bit muddy.
 It was a great bonus run! I was back at the B&B by 7:30, where Karen (crew extraordinaire) set me up with more coffee and a banana and Mom's foam roller. Plenty of time for second breakfast before heading to the starting line for the 9 am start.

It was about 43 degrees and breezy at the race start, but the steady rain of the day before had tapered off and the forecast suggested only scattered showers. As it turned out, we got some drizzle during the race, but no heavy rain. Perfect running weather!

This was a smallish race, with about 800 finishers. Packet pickup was quick and easy, and we claimed our numbers, T-shirts, and a handful of Clif bars. There was free parking right at the start/finish, free bag check (though, confusingly, it was marked as costing $2), and free race photos. Love it!

We wandered around, warmed up a bit, hit the portapotties, and checked our bag just in time to line up for the race start.
These National Guardsmen did the whole race
in uniform with full packs. Hard core.
About to start!
We lined up near the back...
... and we're off!
We followed our race plan to a T. Run-walk intervals of 3 minutes, 1 minute put us near the back, but we passed people continuously throughout the race. The course was an out-and-back with a little loop at the turnaround, and went over a few rolling hills.
The aid stations were well decorated...
... and the volunteers were well dressed.
The scenery was pretty excellent.
We only stopped for one selfie along the way :-)
We made very steady progress, knocking out nearly perfect 11 minute splits, one after another. For a long time, we ran with Joyce, who lived and worked in Rockport. It was fun to see her husband on the roadside cheering her on.

The course wound through the woods between Gloucester and Rockport, then went right through the heart of Rockport. Heading out of town, it ran along the coast, with great views, especially on the return section. All along the way, people came out to cheer and ring cowbells. The turnaround loop went through a residential area and we ran past houses with families who had come out to watch the race and -- in one case -- operate an unofficial (and extremely cute) water stop.

Karen was there to cheer us on as we came back through Rockport. She'd been waiting by a water stop, passing the time by making the volunteers cheer more and louder. So fun to see her unexpectedly on the course!

We were going steadily, not too fast but at a good pace. When we passed the mile 9 marker, I started feeling sad that we only had 4 miles left to go. This was so fun! At the mile 10 marker, Mom started picking it up a little, taking the hills on with more energy than anyone around her. Suddenly, we were passing lots of people.

"I feel pretty good," I said at about this point. "How about you?"

She felt pretty good too. No trouble from a tweaky knee, and she looked so strong. "My training program says I can run this in 2:24," she said.

"I think we can get close," I agreed. "Let's run the last mile without any walk breaks."

We hit the mile 12 marker and picked it up some more. The race ends with a downhill, then a flat last quarter mile or so. We both felt great as we rounded the corner to the finish area. A hundred yards away, we could see the finish line and the race clock. 2:23:15! "Okay, let's kick! We can do it!" I exclaimed. We accelerated again. As we ran into the chute, Mom exclained, "I can't feel my legs!" "That's okay! Keep going!" I yelled, and we ran over the timing mat, just under 2:24.

It wasn't until a few minutes later that I remembered that the clock showed the gun time. Our chip time was 2:22! Big PR for both of us! We were elated.
Age group win for Mom! We later figured out she was
the oldest runner there. And definitely the awesomest.
Thanks, Karen, for being sherpa, cheerleader, chauffeur and all around
great person! You're my chief crew if I ever do a hundred miler!


A good day.
This was a very well organized race, and a lot of fun to run. Good swag (pint glasses for the finishers, cotton T-shirt, hot pizza, massages), free parking, bag check, and photos, well marked and scenic course, great volunteer support. We loved seeing so many people out cheering on the course, too. The only suggestions I would have for the race organizers would be (1) bathrooms on the course, and (2) make the bag check a little more clear (we thought it cost money and hadn't brought any, so we didn't check our bags there till right before race start). 

I think we ran this race very smartly. We began conservatively, with 11 minute miles, and were able to pick up the pace in the last few miles and have a negative split and a fast finish. I know that's how you're supposed to do it, but it doesn't always happen that way... and it made for a very fun finish.

I'm also really excited about being able to run this well after doing 7 miles earlier in the day. I feel like this weekend and Zumbro have put me into great shape for Spring Superior, and I'm getting excited about that race.

Finally, it's obvious we were both suffering from a lingering runner's high. 24 hours after finishing the race, we signed up for the next one: a little 26.2 mile jog around upstate New York in October. Oh, and an 8 hour run in the woods in November. After all, as long as we want to run a marathon together, and as long as we both can, why wouldn't we? 
Can't wait to do it again. I love you, Mom!


  1. Congrats on the half marathon to both you and your mom! What a great experience for both of you!

  2. Congrats on the PR! Woohoo! Despite the rain, it looks like a beautiful course.