Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Race Report: Savin Rock Half Marathon

The week after the Bataan Memorial Death March,  I was slated to run and sing at two races - the Two Rivers Half in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania (which I did last year) and the All-American Marathon in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  But I was so sick in the week following the race, and my knee started to give me issues much like when I was sidelined during November 2016 with quadriceps tendinitis, that I made the very tough decision to not go to both races and take a DNS.  I contacted race directors for both and very regretfully had to tell them my unfortunate news.  Luckily for both races, I was given complimentary entries for doing the anthem.  Additionally, I had not booked any accommodations for Pennsylvania as the race director was going to house me, and it was a fairly easy NJ Transit ride out to Port Jervis for the race; accommodations in North Carolina were taken care of by my friend Cozette, but she ended up injuring herself too, and was able to cancel the hotel reservation she had made.  I just had to figure out a way to cancel my flight and hopefully get refunded. Luckily, due to my sickness, I was able to get the flights credited to my account.  I was able to get out of the weekend without having to lose any money at all.

The following week was trying, because despite getting better from my sickness and my knee pain pretty much going away, I started to develop a pain in my left foot, like when I've gotten gout attacks in the past.  This pain persisted throughout the week, and I was not so sure I would be able to run the race I had scheduled the week after: the Savin Rock Marathon in West Haven, Connecticut.  My friend Seth was flying in from Fort Lauderdale late on Friday night to run the Saturday morning race, and our plan was for him to get a rental car, which he'd park near my apartment, and he'd sleep a few hours after arriving before we were out on the road by 5:30am to get to West Haven by 7.

Seth got in pretty late after some flight delays that annoyingly plagued the New York region the entire day, and we didn't get to bed until around 2am, so that meant about three hours of sleep. It had basically rained the entire day, and the weather was affecting flights coming into the area.  Luckily, I had napped a few hours Friday night before he buzzed up to my apartment.  We got up at 5am, and I still hadn't fully decided I was going to run.  Nevertheless, I got dressed, and we were out on the road headed up to Washington Heights to pick up Seth's friend Tibby, who was also wavering about doing the race.

The Conference Center (photo by Tibby Xu)
We got to West Haven a little after 7, and boy was it cold.  The weather reports had said it was going to stay in the 30s all morning with a less than 40% chance of rain (after raining all night the night before), but the wind was going to be a factor to make it feel much colder.  Being right on Long Island Sound, the wind was going to blow in excess of 15 mph, sometimes with gusts in the 20s.  My foot was starting to feel better, and I downed a couple Aleve just in case, so I decided that yes, I was going to run.  Tibby didn't feel well during the ride up, so she decided to sit this race out. The course was 13.1 miles, so marathoners would have to do two loops.  After sitting inside the Savin Rock Conference Center to stay warm, we headed out into the frigid Connecticut air, and assembled along the unassuming sidewalk that overlooked the sound behind the conference center.  I found Clint, the race director with local running club the Shoreline Sharks, and we arranged for me to sing the national anthem through the megaphone right after he made some announcements.  In the announcements, he had mentioned that runners who were signed up for the marathon who didn't feel like doing the second loop could end after the first 13.1 miles and notify the timekeepers that they were downgrading to the half marathon, so I kept that in the back of my mind.  He also mentioned that there were only two locations for port-a-potties in the entire route: at the conference center where we were at that moment, and at the halfway point 6.5 miles into the loop.

SOOO cold and still not 100%. (photo by Tibby Xu)
He finished his announcements and for the first time ever, I did a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner using a handheld megaphone.  I rushed it a bit since it was pretty cold, and we all needed to get moving to get our bodies warm again... Seconds after I finished, I gave the megaphone back to Clint, and he made the alarm go on the megaphone to signal the start of the race.  I rushed to get my Garmin started, and then I was on my way!

Running thru downtown West Haven
The start was cold and windy - 36° with a 19 mph wind making it feel like 25°, and while it didn't full on rain, it was light enough to collect on the light Lincoln Marathon jacket I decided to wear for the race.  I had anticipated the cold weather, so I wore two layers of dri-fit shirts (one long sleeve, one short sleeve) underneath the jacket, plus a pair of long tights.  We made our way northeastward along the Savin Rock Trail past a bunch of waterfront apartments, and then came off of the trail onto the aptly named Beach Street, which we continued to follow in a northeastern direction alongside the Sound.  I ran a rather quick (for me) 9:18 first mile, as we curved in a northern direction, past Morse Park, and then we were directed by a West Haven police officer to make a slight left turn onto 2nd Avenue rather than continue alongside the water.  After the race, I was told the police officer who was at this turn didn't stick around for the marathon runners coming around for the second loop, so there were a few folks who ended up running extra miles, including some of the race leaders!

It was about 13 minutes into the race, as we ran down the homey 2nd Avenue where I began to feel a bit of a twist in my stomach and knew that I should have taken care of business before the race.  I was, in a word, screwed, as there were no port-a-potties til the halfway point, as was announced at the start.  I struggled through the next several miles as we made our way through West Haven's downtown area, following Main Street and past historical West Haven Green and the nearly 150 year old First Congregational Church of West Haven that defines the town's skyline.   We turned left onto Savin Avenue and reached the 5k mark.  Suddenly, I had a short burst of energy and managed to run unperturbed, though slightly labored for about 15 minutes as we continued all the way down Savin Avenue nearly back to the Conference Center, as we turned onto Captain Thomas Boulevard and were directed to run along the sidewalk.  The Conference Center was there to the left of us, but we were directed to turn right, and we encountered our first big hill of the race, a hill which we had driven down when arriving earlier that morning.  That's when my intestinal fortitude started to fail me again, and I had to walk quite a bit as we continued down the hilly Kelsey Avenue, with a short out-and-back detour along Bassett Street into Painter Park.  Apparently there was a bathroom here, but nothing in sight, so I continued on... stressed about my stomach. Someone mentioned that the port-a-potty was on Island Lane, so I was on the lookout for that sign as I ran on...

Hazzard, after the race!
After a short downhill, we turned left into a neighborhood street and ran along Painter Drive before reaching the mile 5 mark, and then turned left onto a busy Main Street, backed up with cars waiting for a break in our continuous flow of runners.  We headed west along the rolling Main Street, as we dodged puddling on the side of the road from the previous night's storms.  Over these first six miles, I would play a bit of leapfrog with this guy and his dog, a giant schnauzer named "Hazzard," who would end up running the entire 13.1 mile loop.  The dog seemed to be having a blast; while unleashed, he'd run ahead and then inspect the grassy areas on the side of the road, or in this case the ankle deep puddles.  The dog would also go about doing his business wherever he pleased, which made me quite envious, since I was in dire need of a port-a-potty!

Is that the Stanley Cup?
We made a slight right turn onto Allings Crossing Road, and then finally made it up to Island Lane, in a fairly industrial looking part of West Haven.  As I hurriedly looked for the damn port-a-potty, we continued westward.  We passed a large replica of the Stanley Cup behind an oil heating warehouse building, and then finally there it was. The port-a-potty.


Seriously.  ONE port-a-potty.

Already forming a small line, I was third as I waited and ended up tacking an extra five minutes onto my time before even crossing the timing mat that lay ahead.  But at this point, I really didn't care - I just needed to use that damn port-a-potty.  Finally, I was able to use it, and then get back onto the road, a little worse for the wear, but at least my stomach was slightly appeased.  We continued along Island Lane for another 1/2 mile, as I came upon my friend Carol from Arkansas, who I had last seen in Portland for the Foot Traffic Flat back in July of last year.  After a little small talk, I continued on, as we turned left onto Benham Hill Road, tackling some more rolling hills and running past a middle school.  We continued on along Shingle Hill Road, where we were able to experience our first real nice downhill of the race, dropping from about 173 feet in elevation to 44 feet over about a 1/2 mile.  We turned a corner onto Jones Hill Road, and hugged the shoulder of road while beginning a climb for another 1/2 mile that took us to 150 feet.  Needless to say, this was the hardest part of the race, at just under 9 miles in.

So many damn hills.

RIP possum.

Long Island Sound, near the start/finish.
This was also at around the time where I decided that I was not going to continue past the first loop, and would take a half marathon time.  My stomach was still in knots, and the cold was definitely bothering me; the wind wasn't a problem at this point in time, but it would be later when we got closer to the water.  I struggled on as we rolled down Jones Hill Road for the next 1.5 miles, making our way down to a roundabout where our second to last aid stop was.  We'd then follow Ocean Avenue all the way back to the finish, getting the hugest gusts of wind as the waterfront homes gave way to open beach.  I seriously was not enthused about doing a second loop, so I was glad I was finishing up by the 13.1 mile mark.  I had some seriously slow miles as I trudged along Ocean Avenue, finally turning into the Savin Rock Trail at Bradley Point Park, past a Veterans Memorial and then to a little jut out into the sound, before clearly being done with this race as I struggled up the hill to the finish line and told the timekeepers I wasn't continuing on. In fact, I was so distracted, I neglected to turn my watch time off, and ended up tacking an extra five minutes of walking in and around the conference center onto my GPS data.

While I was supposed to do the full, the cold, wind, hills, and my
stomach made me downgrade to the half. A tough course but a Victory Headstand nonetheless!
It was a super slow time for me - 2:44:44.  But I knew I was going to have a rough go at it with all the factors that contributed to this race for me.  I settled into the warmth of the indoors and made sure my stomach was getting itself back to normal.  At the four hour mark, I braved the cold of the outdoors again, and found my friend Nora coming into her finish, and then came back outside again to witness Seth finish a bit later. This was a rough race for both of us, but at least he got a full marathon in.  Alas, I'll have to come back to Connecticut, but at least my commute here is a bit easier.

The men's bathroom.  Only one of these stalls has a door. 

New Haven-style pizza at the famous
Frank Pepe Pizzeria!
After the race, we took in a couple more NYC based passengers (Aki, who had thought about signing up for the race too, but like Tibby, decided to sit this one out; and Alexis, who racewalked the marathon) and our filled up van made our way into New Haven for a proper lunch at the famous New Haven mainstay, Frank Pepe's Pizzeria.  Except, as expected, the line was out the door for a seat inside, so we decided to head to Fairfield to have Frank Pepe's pizza, as there was a location that was on the way home.  We got seated promptly and between the five of us shared two large pizzas - an original with mozzarella (mostly for the vegetarians among us) and the white clam pizza (which I ended up taking home leftovers of)

Bling nom nom nom
We made it back to New York by around 5pm via what I think was the Whitestone Bridge (I have no idea, I had fallen asleep on the way home), and we dropped off most of our car passengers at Queensboro Plaza before Seth and I headed back to Jackson Heights and my apartment for much needed showers.  His flight back to Florida wasn't til 8pm, so we at least had some time before he had to leave.

So, marathon #32 became half marathon #82 instead, but at least I got another long distance race finish in... oh well... Connecticut, I'll be back!

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