Monday, March 29, 2010

Eastern States 20 Miler

Photo above by Bob Wiles - 1 Mile mark coming over the bridge into Portsmouth, NH.

On Sunday, I bounced back from the New Bedford Half Marathon and came off of a week of a really stiff back, to try my hand at the Eastern States 20 Miler (results) once again.  It's something about this point-to-point race from Maine to Massachusetts (usually) that gets me excited for the road racing season each winter.  I've run this race 3 times now and look forward to many more.  Despite the usual 'interesting' conditions, it is a really enjoyable race, that overlaps countless other race courses through Portsmouth, Rye, and Hampton.

Typically this race goes through 7 different towns and 3 different states.  It starts in Kittery, ME and does just shy of 1 mile in Maine before entering New Hampshire for the majority of the race.  It (usually) ends just over the border in Salisbury, Massachusetts.  This year, because of construction on the last bridge going into Seabrook, NH, the course had to take a detour up off of Rt 1A and add on some miles up through some neighborhoods in North Hampton and Hampton before finishing on Hampton Beach, right in front of the Ashworth Hotel.  That officially cut out Seabrook, NH and Salisbury, MA, limiting the race to 5 towns and 2 states. It was still an enjoyable course, but the conditions were anything but ideal.

I headed up to Hampton Beach in the morning with my sister Kristin and my fiance Kristin (yes, two Kristins) as well as my buddy Chico (who competed in last year's Seacoast Road Race Series and earned his jacket).  We picked up Steve Wolfe at the finish line and headed up to the start in Kittery.  Chico commented on the way up that there wasn't going to be any wind, while Steve was pretty sure we'd have a massive head-wind all the way back down the coast... It didn't take long for us to find out who was right..  After getting our numbers, changing into the appropriate gear for the chilly early Spring day in New England, Steve and I headed out for a couple miles of warmup over the first part of the course (as we did last year)...though we made sure we had ample time to make it back to the start before the race went off (unlike last year)... My back was still a bit tight, as it had been all week.  I had a couple of slow, ugly runs mid week and my nights were pretty rough on the back muscles.  I felt 'OK" on the warmup, but was upset to realize that I had forgotten my NUUN tablet I was planning on bringing down to the start. Steve graciously gave me one of his electrolyte tablets which I stuck in my glove.  I also had stuffed a couple of gels into my arm sleeves I was wearing. I figured that should be enough, should I run into problems in the later miles.   After the warmup, we had time to mill around, do some last minute 'strides' and some stretching before the gun went off.

As the race went off, I was right next to a crew of GBTC guys including my buddy Junyong Pak, who had beaten me in the later miles, the past two years... I was a bit worried about these guys, as it has been predominantly all GBTC in front of me in both 2008 and 2009 at this race.  I managed to outrun all these guys at New Bedford last week, but that was 7 miles shorter... We all know what can happen after miles 13, 14, etc.   I noticed immediately (like 10 seconds into the race) that nobody was coming with me and everyone was content with letting me run up front.  I started to gap the field right away and started to think I was going out too fast, yet it felt very easy and smooth.  As I hooked the first left onto Rt 1 in Kittery and headed down towards the bridge, I noticed that Junyong was out in 2nd and had a good lead on the rest of the pack.  As I crossed the bridge into Portsmouth and up past the first mile mark, he was comfortably in second, but already way behind.  I was mystified as to why everyone was starting out so slow and really got nervous about my own pace being too aggressive on this extremely windy day.

As I wound down through Market Square and through downtown Portsmouth up to the 2 mile mark, I was now way out in 2nd and had to strain to see the next guy, who was still Pak (I could tell by the red uniform).  As I made the turn onto Rt 1A (which would be the majority of the rest of the race) my lead seemed to grow.  The lead vehicle in front of me remained there up until about mile 4.5 or so before pulling off.  Don Allison (Race Director) got out at this point and told me that the course would be on that road up until mile 12.  I acknowledged and pushed up past and straight into ridiculous wind.  My pace screeched to a halt as I struggled to adjust to the insane headwinds. I tried to increase the pace over miles 4 and 5, but by mile 6 I hit 6 minutes for my split.  I was completely deflated at this point.  I started to think about when everyone was going to catch me and how long I would actually lead this race for.  I hadn't hit 6 minute pace for a mile in the previous two attempts at this race until much much later in the race and was really bummed about hitting it so early this year.  I figured I'd be 7s by the end if it kept up.

I honestly have no idea how I rebounded from that 6th mile, but chugged through the next few at a similar pace, which felt like a futile effort. My cardio was pretty much a non-issue, as I felt really strong and smooth with my breathing (which is a great sign), but I really couldn't cut through the wind any faster than I was.  It was just physically impossible for me to get my legs turning over any harder into the steady gusts that never seemed to let up, even for a minute.  Shortly before 10 miles, I started to feel my hamstrings twinge right below my rump and knew that could be a potential disaster this early in the race, in this cold wind. I opted for shorts rather than half-tights and that was the main reason why my hammies were starting to go that early.  I should have kept them warm and compressed with the tights, but alas I was 10 miles deep now and clicked through far slower than I had anticipated I would before the race. At that point, I couldn't see anyone behind me and had a clear view of what seemed like over a quarter mile back.  Supposedly I had a 3 minute lead at 10 miles, according to a gentleman I talked to after the race.

Kristin and Chico finally caught up to me at just around 12 miles (maybe a bit before). Just as they drove past me, they pulled over to take a few pictures and I was just passing my High School coach, John DiComandrea, who is 82 years young.  He was running the Half Marathon and was about 5 miles into his race. I have passed 'Deek' all three years, in just about the same spot.  Kristin got some great shots of him as he motored on by.  He gave me some motivation as I passed... It felt really good to once again be racing with him.

I came through my half marathon in just over 1:16:00 or so and was getting really tired of cutting through this wind.  Just as I came down past the half marathon point, they directed us right onto route 111 and off of 1A.  Here, the wind died down but I realized my hamstrings and back were not going to cooperate.  At this point,  I was gunning down many half marathon folks and weaving in and out of them as I made my way up through some nice neighborhoods.  There were some added ups and downs in here, that you really didn't get on the original course along 1A, but it wasn't anything major. I was just happy I got a break from the wind for a while.  My miles in here were slow, but still under 6s.  I felt like I could keep it there and still hopefully maintain the lead.  I was looking back a lot, but couldn't tell if anyone was coming based on all the half marathon folks that were now behind me.  Somewhere around mile 14 or so, I went by Kristin and Chico who had pulled off to get some more photos.  I asked them how far back the next guy was.  They didn't know, so they waited for him to come through.  They caught back up to me at mile 15 and told me he was about a half mile back or so.  They also told me it wasn't the guy in red...but rather a guy in white.  I knew who they were talking about.... I figured around 3 minutes at the worst.  Then I started to do the math.  If I had 5 miles to go, and I was around 6 minute pace, he'd need to be low 5's to catch me.  I still though anything was possible (especially if their estimate was not right) so I was still nervous about losing a lead I had had for now over 15 miles.  I felt like I was crawling along and my stride was getting shorter and shorter due to the stiffness and borderline spasming that was happening w/ my hamstrings.  I passed Kristin and Chico again at mile 16 and told them I wasn't going to be able to hold the lead as I went by.

As I clicked down past mile 17, I was getting close to being back out onto the main drag of 1A and knew the wind would be back in my face for the last 2 miles.  I made the last turn back onto 1A and peeked behind me to see if I could get a glimpse of a white jersey back there that looked like he was moving... I didn't see anyone, and a volunteer who was holding up traffic yelled out 'nobody near ya'.  That made me feel better and I figured maybe that half mile they had told me about was actually not right and maybe it was more... So I shuffled along now back onto Rt 1A and straight into the worst wind of the day for the last 2 miles.  I was well over 6 minutes at this point and was just in survival mode.  It had been a brutal 18 miles of extra effort and now I just wanted to finish off the race I had led the entire way.  I missed the 19 mile split, as I think I was on the wrong side of the street.  The race was a bit confusing here, as there is a split highway and there were half marathon people all over the road in front of me, on both sides.   Somewhere around 19 miles, a police van went by me and made an announcement over the PA to get on the left side of the road.  I obliged but then thought that it was putting me on the wrong side of the road from the finish.  I got confused and soon weaved over and across the road again to the side I 'thought' was where the finish was going to go.  Then, right near the hotel, I got in the middle car lane, not knowing where to go.  I was following some who were in the middle, while others were still to the right.  There was nobody telling anyone where to go. Then, just as I was up to the hotel, a volunteer or spectator jumped out and got in front of me and directed me left, back up to the finish.  I cut up and across on a tangent to the finish chute that I almost ran clean past.  It was a bit unceremonious, as I basically came out of a parking lot and into the finish area, instead of having that clean, long straightaway along the beach to the finish, in clean view of everyone....but most importantly, I held off the next guy and hung onto my 20 miles worth of lead, to win the 2010 edition of the race.  The next guy, Nicolas  Menzies, was only 1:13 back!  He was running me down over the last 5 miles for sure...Had it been a marathon, he would have been by me by mile 22.

After the race, I headed back to the car to change and get warm.  I was freezing cold, wet, and dying to get out of the wind for just a few minutes.  I realized I had forgotten to take my gels, but had remembered to take the electrolyte tablet at around 45 minutes in, which may have held off some full fledged cramping.  I bundled up and waited for a bit before getting back out of the car and jogging back along the course to get my sister, who was still out there running in her first 20 mile race.  I only had to go back about a mile before I saw her (not too far behind Coach Deek, who was having a really tough day out there).  I turned and ran back with her. She was pretty much done and was on the verge of being sick.  I told her she had one mile to go and ran with her for the last stretch along Hampton Beach.  She came through in 3:04:39, in 393rd place out of 705.  A great run for her considering the conditions, as she prepares for her first marathon in 3 weeks at Boston.

We all headed inside to the awards, where I got a nice plaque and a ES20 pullover for my efforts.

Photos by the lovely and talented Kristin.

Top 10

1Jim Johnson        Salem,NH         1:57:335:53
2Nicolas Menzies    Jamaica Plain,MA 1:58:465:56
3Junyong Pak        Beverly,MA       2:00:096:00
4Eric Mendoza       Dorchester,MA    2:00:176:01
5Jon Chesto         South Boston,MA  2:00:536:03
6Ray Webster        Burlington,VT    2:03:456:11
7Dan Hall           Jamaica Plain,MA 2:04:056:12
8Tom Stickney       Brookline,MA     2:04:206:13
9Jeffrey Capobianco Waltham,MA       2:06:176:19
10Thomas Young       Boston,MA   2:06:386:20

705 Total Finishers.

Splits: - 20 Miles (1:57:33 - 5:53 pace - 1st of 705)

Mile 1.) 5:48
Mile 2.) 5:39 (11:28)
Mile 3.) 5:49 (11:18)
Mile 4.) 5:25 (22:43)
Mile 5) 5:41 (28:25)
Mile 6.) 6:02 (34:20)
Mile 7.) 5:50 (40:18)
Mile 8.) ?:?? (??:??)
Mile 9.) ?:?? (51:54) (11:35 two mile in there)
Mile 10.) 5:53 (57:48)
Mile 11.) 5:50 (1:03:38)
Mile 12.) 6:03 (1:09:41)
Mile 13.) 5:55 (1:15:37)
Mile 14.) 5:45 (1:21:22)
Mile 15.) 5:48 (1:27:10)
Mile 16.) 5:58 (1:33:08)
Mile 17.) 5:43 (1:38:52)
Mile 18.) 5:57 (1:44:50)
Mile 19.) ?:?? (?:??:??)
Mile 20.) ?:?? (1:57:33) (12:43 last 2 miles into ridiculous wind)

Up next...not sure... something on Saturday...then 'maybe' something next Saturday....then a small race in Boston on the 19th.


  1. Great job, Jim. I ran as well. Slower than you but faster than deek. I used to do the 800 in outdoor at Wakefield with you when you were doing long distance. Great work. You've become quite a runner.
    -Jeff Lane

  2. wow- Congrats on the win. Amazing

  3. Thanks too!

    Jeff, I certainly remember running w/ you for sure! You were on the team when I first and Greg B. had wheels. I have an old clipping from the Item with us running in practice...I'll have to dig it out... I've seen your name in various results the past couple years and was wondering if it was you... Next time you see me at a race, make sure to say hi....

    Thanks for checkin' out the blog...

  4. Congrats on the win. The wind sounded like it was a real bear. Hope it's not foreshadowing for April 19, but if it is, you'll have had some good practice. Keep on truckin.