State 41: New Hampshire (2014 New Hampshire Marathon)

Autumn in New England, best place and time for a pretty run

Autumn in New England, best place and time for a pretty run

A side-effect and direct consequence of marathon-related selective memory is that you forget how painful and arduous some undertakings are and decide to try them again. One of those is the tricky double-marathon. Last year to the weekend, Otter and I went to the Pacific Northwest to run the Leavenworth and Portland marathons on consecutive days. Though the endeavor did a number on Otter’s knee, I left the region with two new marathon states and a hipster co-op’s worth of confidence.   It wasn’t all perfect, as I didn’t enjoy the otherwise beautiful and impeccably executed Portland Marathon as much as I could have because my brain was too focused on how much my legs were hurting.

Erin ran the point-to-point half marathon on little training like a champ

Erin ran the point-to-point half marathon on little training like a champ

But for some reason (runner’s amnesia), I decided to do it again. In the interim, my West Coast running pal Mike ran two marathons in one weekend and finished each in under 3:45. So, obviously, being the brutish male that I am, I found myself wanting to improve that impressive mark by running both of my marathons in under 3 hours and 40 minutes. And so it was that I found myself in Bristol with my high-school friend Javier and his family for the 22nd running of the New Hampshire Marathon.  I was huddled with Larry Macon and a few hundred runners listening to the Newfound Memorial Middle School band get ready to play the national anthem.  The bassist kept compulsively breaking into the opening notes of “Seven Nation Army” but would repeatedly get hushed down by the conductor.

“This kid just really wants to play that song,” I said to the runner next to me.  “It wants to explode out of him.”
“Teach, I can do it!” he replied, imitating the feverish bassist, “I can rock this bitch, Teach, just gimme a chance!”

It was a foggy, chilly morning

It was a foggy, chilly morning

The famous foliage of New England had started and most trees were shedding their orange leaves and pine straw, preparing for winter. The entire race would be run surrounded by this beautiful change. While the trees were transitioning between forest greens and bright oranges, my feet would soon be in the process of changing from uphill to downhill. It wasn’t long before I realized that I hadn’t done the proper due diligence for this race. Not only did it start with a very long, gradual uphill, but from there it rarely flattened out.  Many of these descents would be pretty steep.

So what does a smart, reasonable person do? He or she would evaluate these new environmental conditions and adjust their time expectations accordingly. Perhaps 3:40 would be a little ambitious given the constant elevation change and the fact that their training grounds afford no hills for practice. It is entirely acceptable to simply dial it back, given that no one below the podium cares about finishing times.

Up, up and away

Up, up and away

But I am not that person. I set out to run under 3:40, come hell or high water. Even worse, I told people about those goals. You can’t just back down after you’ve proclaimed it to the world.

I started with an easy, slow pace and ramped my way up to my target speed.  The course traced a path around central New Hampshire’s Newfound Lake, with many hills lumped along the way. There was a near constant fog hovering above us for the entire race, often descending to the pavement as a light shower. I realize that I boast having never run in rain, and while this race may have proven that long-standing claim untrue, it was quite refreshing and rarely ever felt like a meaningful weather event.  Water wasn’t dripping off me and my shoes hadn’t yet begun to squish against the road.

For virtually the entire race, we ran on the left side of a two-lane road, open to traffic.  The chilly, damp air was being moved briskly by a breeze and as the sun hid from view all day, I was all but ensured to stay chilly for the entire race.  Leaves would rain down from above, along with tine pine needles and the occasional acorn. Boats were moored on the shore by beautiful lake houses, every bit of ground covered in damp leaves. The race claims to be “the most beautiful marathon in New England” and I believed the hype.  Between the tranquil, fog-draped lake and the rich tapestry of autumnal colors, it was indeed the picture of pulchritude.

No more dedicated shoulder, runners are on the edge of the road

No more dedicated shoulder, runners are on the edge of the road

About halfway through my left knee began to feel slightly out of place. I instantly panicked and slowed to a walk. It happened on a downhill, and each stomp moved the knee ever so sightly out of alignment. Dark thoughts raced through my mind and I muttered a soft curse into the autumn air. But once on flat terrain, it seemed to recover and I continued the rest of the race without any serious problems. But the specter of an injury lurked in the back of my mind. After all, many tiny little issues have a way of coming back after the running is over.

Mercifully, the biggest climbs were all in the first half of the race. I would dedicate the majority of my energy in the latter half to maintaining an even pace and keeping my feet even on the ground. When you’re running on roads that bank upwards on hills, you’re essentially running on the sides of your feet, lop-sided. This isn’t much of an issue if it’s temporary, but it happened for most of the race and I was worried about how it would affect my knees.

Approaching halfway, the road has narrowed

Approaching halfway, the road has narrowed

Aid stations came and went, staffed by two volunteers each. I might have guessed that about 800 people were running the marathon, so there wasn’t much need for large, industrial aid stations. But despite the slow trickle of runners, each volunteer was nothing but assiduous in making sure we were hydrated.  There were several aid stations through which I walked, but even my slower pace didn’t dampen the volunteers’ dedicated energy.  They would walk right up to me with two cups and hold them right at my chest level, as if offering me the elixir of life.

As the race drew to a close, I couldn’t help but wonder how my legs were going to wake up the next day. I wasn’t tired, but the near constant mix of ups and downs had pummeled my quads more than any 20-miler in recent memory. It wasn’t too late to slow down and give them a rest, but my troglodyte mind had been made up days ago; I was here to run a certain time and no amount of sound logic would get me to stop. I had built up a lot of momentum scaling these hills and I wasn’t about to let that meaningless 3:40 threshold pass me.

Miles 20-22 were right on the shores of Newfound Lake

Miles 20-22 were right on the shores of Newfound Lake

Three hours and thirty-eight minutes later, I was crossing the finish mats at Newfound Memorial Middle School. I happily downed a bottle of water, some orange wedges and a few cups of Gatorade before heading to the school locker rooms for a much needed shower. It took a long time to change out of my running clothes, rinse them and put on new ones. Though I strode confidently over the finish line in a time that would have been a PR two years ago, I was aching. The adrenaline had receded from my muscles and without my body’s mechanical, forward chug, I found myself hurting.

Mile 25 runs along the Newfound River

Mile 25 runs along the Newfound River

And this time, the pain was coming from that hitherto impervious joint, that steely bastion of endurance that had almost never complained in all my years of running: my right knee.  The usual culprit was always my left side.  For some strange reason, which a detailed gait analysis might disinter, most of my running pains emerge on the left.  Historically, it’s my left metatarsals that get aggravated; my left knee was to blame for my first ever DNF; even my left elbow was struck with bursitis three years ago.  But my right side had always kept it together until the afternoon after the New Hampshire Marathon.

You wouldn’t have guessed it on my face. I left the locker to find Javier and his family, actively disguising my clumsy limp, trying to look confident for the next day’s event. I did mention that I had overdone it, but said it with such sangfroid you’d think I was talking about putting too much barbecue sauce on a McRib. I had no idea how tomorrow would unfold, but knew without a doubt that I wasn’t going to laugh through it. After almost seven months of near invincibility, something had gone wrong, and I had yet another 26.2 miles to face down the next day.

Marathon_Map 052 (NH)

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About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

32 Responses to State 41: New Hampshire (2014 New Hampshire Marathon)

  1. Pingback: Race Schedule & Results | Dan's Marathon

  2. looks like a beautiful run even though it looked dreary! Can you post a link to this race? Is the half marathon something I should consider for my 50 stater?

    • Dan says:

      It was really beautiful indeed — I would definitely recommend it to you. However, be forewarned that the half is point-to-point with some significant downhill, so make sure you do some hill workouts. As for the link, I added it to the second paragraph. Hope you make it out there, and thanks for reading!

  3. As tough as that course was, I really loved that race. Hopefully they got new medals by now, though, because in 2012 they were HIGHLY depressing. Great job! I hope your knee is ok – looking forward to part 2!

    • Dan says:

      You know, I had completely forgotten that you had run this race two years ago. It really was quite gorgeous (and lest you be plagued by jealousy, don’t worry, they gave everyone a dinky-ass medal). And as for Part 2, it’s already written and will be uploaded tomorrow. You feature by name!

  4. FuelMyRun says:

    Absolutely beautiful. I’m just at the beginning of my 50-state journey. Putting this one on my list for sure. If only I could run as fast as you!

    • Dan says:

      All in due time! Thanks for reading — hope you make it out to New Hampshire and that you get to enjoy the same weather and scenery I did. It’s definitely worth the trip and effort.

  5. Devil's Chasin Me says:

    Beautiful photos of the course! I hope you recover quickly!

  6. that is pretty, even if it was foggy the whole time. 41 states!!!?! Awesome (well, 42…I’m guessing we’ll see that write up shortly!)

    • Dan says:

      The fog added a little mystique to it (no pun intended) — I’m just glad it didn’t become full-blown rain because that might have made the downhills a bit more treacherous. And yeah, taking my time with the final 10 🙂

  7. From one troglodyte mind to another, thanks for sharing your experience. I thought my goal of hitting sub-4s back to back this coming weekend was kinda stupid, but now, lofty a goal as it is, I feel better about it. No, wait. No I don’t. What is wrong with us!?!? Haha. Looking forward to the next part of this story…

    • Dan says:

      You will cruise through sub-4s, no problem. Just be wary of pushing it too much, and let both of these stories (spoiler alert) be cautionary tales. Thanks for reading as always, Jeff. I’ll be at Sunday’s race spectating, hopefully seeing the elites go by at 4 different places, which I’ve never been able to do. Have fun!

  8. Mike says:

    Damn, this is like one of those cliff-hangers from the old kitschy Batman TV show, when the episode would end with he and Robin about to be eaten by a giant man-eating clam while the Joker looked on, cackling wildly. Those endings would tear up my innards when I was a kid, since I had to wait until the next episode for resolution (as if an oversized mollusc were any match for a man in a unitard and cape). Now I expect your Maine post to begin with “When we last met our hero…”

    Regardless of how fast or slow our race times may be, there’s something universally intriguing about another runner overcoming race-day adversity. After all, that’s the gist of the most compelling human dramas, running or otherwise. Sometimes it feels like I use the long 20+ mile runs not so much to train my body aerobically, as to prepare it for what might go wrong and teach it to adapt accordingly. I have similar biomechanical issues with my left side, though luckily they’ve been confined (so far) to the ankle down. It’s true what they say – the best thing you can do as a runner is to choose your parents wisely.

    Congrats on pushing through the discomfort to conquer state #41, in what was almost an irresponsibly fast time for day one of a back-to-back. But glad to hear the competitive juices were flowing! Had to laugh when I read your admission of a 3:40 goal time… I couldn’t imagine your committing to another double weekend without dangling some kind of carrot out there. Though now I’ve gotta sit tight and wait for this episode’s EXCITING conclusion (glad there were no giant clams on the course)…

    Oh, and I love the fact that you and Larry Macon keep bumping into each other at races. And that you can use the words “McRib” and “sangfroid” in the same sentence.

    • Dan says:

      It was fully my intention to leave this post on a suspenseful note, because that’s exactly how I went to sleep. Uncertain, unsure, and quite worried. As you’ll soon read in the next entry, that trepidation was warranted.

      But I agree with your 20-mile assessment. At this point, it’s a given that we’ll run the distance, so it’s more a matter of seeing how well we do it and what comes up in the process. Do we feel sluggish, is there a weird tingle in one leg, do we feel dehydrated, etc. I ran two 20s back to back three weeks before this weekend and KILLED them, no problems at all to report. So it goes without saying that I felt like I would slam through this weekend like a pro.

      And it looks like Jen enjoyed that same sentence. Or maybe you both just really like McRibs …

      Thanks for reading Mike — and we received the postcard a few days ago. Thanks for thinking of us while gallivanting through Europe 🙂

      • Mike says:

        Very welcome for the postcard, and glad it arrived so quickly… knowing and appreciating your yearning to run Berlin, I couldn’t very well pass through the Brandenburg Gate without sharing a small piece of the journey.

        Fingers crossed that 2015 is the year your lottery ticket comes up aces!

  9. Jen says:

    My favorite excerpts from this recap:
    – “So what does a smart, reasonable person do? He or she would evaluate these new environmental conditions and adjust their time expectations accordingly.” –> nice foreshadowing
    – “I did mention that I had overdone it, but said it with such sangfroid you’d think I was talking about putting too much barbecue sauce on a McRib.” –> most likely the best sentence I’ve ever read on a blog.

    Congrats on 41! We’re having a heat wave in California, so I’m super jealous of the cool weather. Can’t wait to read about 42! Oh, and if you hurt yourself from either of these marathons, I think it’s perfectly OK to blame Mike!

    • Dan says:

      It’s been an ideal summer (and autumn thus far) in the Midwest, and it looks like the Northeast has been similarly cool. Sorry to hear you guys are roasting out west – I’m sure it’s made training a little harder. But at the same time, if you get through it, then you’ll KILL whatever fall or winter races you have planned (no CIM this year?).

      Thanks for reading, Jen!

      • Jen says:

        No CIM this year. The only race I have on my calendar is a trail half in mid-December. I’m fairly certain that means it will rain and rain hard on race day. We need it!

  10. Pingback: State 42: Maine (2014 Maine “Half” Marathon) | Dan's Marathon

  11. tootallfritz says:

    Such a game we play, rolling the dice and constantly expecting to come up in the good. We push the limits for years at a time and then suddenly the limits are defined when we least expect it. Not fun! And seemingly not fair. I’m dealing with my own issues right now and the PT is giving me heck about my running. He wants me to “rest”. Yeah, no. I have CHI this weekend, then Grand Rapids the weekend after, then an OH trail marathon on 11/2, Huff on 12/20 ….. all this in prep for my first marathon double in January. I told them that this is my “go’ time, and mid Jan-Feb is my built in downtime. I just was “off” all summer b/c of our relocation. But alas, nobody cares about my schedule but me! And apparently my body is having trouble getting back on board too!

    If you see me in CHI, pass the Motrin!

    This race looks amazing by the way. And I really like those rolling hill courses. Any comparison to Little Rock? Prob harder, right?

    Thanks for all the reports, I love reading them. A couple friends and I just started chasing the states this year. So fun!!! We aren’t very far though and basically have it as a long term goal to complete before we die. 🙂 And we are all on a budget so knocking out the ones closest first.

    • Dan says:

      Man, that is a very daunting schedule. You are going to really make the most of the fall and early winter. I just have Indianapolis Monumental on 11/1 and that’s it for me, no big December races on my radar. I can see why you’re frustrated with your PT — “rest” doesn’t sound like an option!

      Thanks as always for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoy the reports – I put a lot of effort into them. Best of luck with the next few months and the rest of the 50-states journey. Hope you’re enjoying your new home 🙂

  12. Wow! I can’t imagine pulling doubles and trying for a time goal in each! (Thanks for the shout out to the Portland Marathon, as a new-ish Portlandian I really love this city, and the course is one of my favorites!) I’ve already skipped ahead to your next post about your knee and the decision to do the half and not the full…you’re smart and still have tons more states to go and races to run! Your journey is awesome, and your stories make me chuckle 🙂

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the comment! I fondly remember Portland both for its charming city and the fun race (though it’s been said before, I could have done without the train yards). My father-in-law put it best when he said that I did a good job of reconciling both the physical and emotional pain of dropping out. On the one hand, I could have stopped at mile 1 and saved myself from bodily pain, but at the expense of being glum about it for a long time. I could have also done the full marathon at the cost of injuring myself seriously. I like the middle route I took.

  13. Dan Button says:

    Great recap! Unexpected pain mid-marathon is a very scary thing! NH Marathon was my first and it looks like the weather this year was identical to 2011, beautiful place for a run. Good luck on the continuing recovery and hope you’re back to 100% quickly!

    • Dan says:

      There’s nothing quite like the first marathon – I bet you have nothing but fond memories of New Hampshire. It was the polar opposite of my first marathon (Chicago) – small, understated, intimate, hilly. But it’s worth noting that it’s still just as fun. Thanks for reading!

  14. MedalSlut says:

    I feel like such an asshole that I only faced reading this AFTER you’d mentioned that you too were injured. To hell with knees.

    I also felt really bad for the eager band kid.

    • Dan says:

      Ha, I totally get the sentiment. Whenever I’m injured, I usually sneer at other runners when I see them prancing eagerly on the lake path. How DARE they run in front of me so brazenly? Don’t they KNOW? Such insolence … but yeah, knees and shoulders should be Creationists’ biggest argument against evolution because they’re so frail and yet crucial to our existence.

      Band kid wanted to tear the house down but his evil director insisted that there would be no dancing in this town. I’m sure his time will come.

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