by Laure Van den Broeck Raffensperger
Coaches often say that “running relaxed” is crucial to having a good race. And it’s true. The races where I have chased a time were often my worst, while I have surprised myself with good results when the running itself was more important than the outcome. Running tense with a clock in your head just screws with your pacing and stops you from listening to your body and what it can handle. I don’t doubt, for instance, that what makes running a good marathon so exceptionally difficult — in addition to it being 26 miles! — is the unavoidable pressure, the now or never-type of stress of having to get that target (or qualifying) time.
Runners may not always identify their stress as a problem (they call it focus, but it’s not a positive focus). They just notice that they’re not really enjoying the race, and are grumpy. But to run well, you can’t be grouchy and get annoyed at trivial things like the wind, the music from someone’s headphones, or the gloves you forgot to take off. To run well you have to run relaxed and with a positive mind.
The Monson Half was the kind of race where I would feel a certain pressure to do well: a road half marathon at the very end of the season. There had been another half earlier in the fall, the Nantucket Half Marathon, where I had made the mistake of allowing the tension to creep in and suck the joy out of my race. The course was flat (easy, right?) and I had spent time training for it, so it should go really well. Right?? To make a long story short, it didn’t. I went out too fast, leading the female runners until mile 3, and then I got passed and dropped like a brick. I spent the rest of the race obsessing over my splits on the endless straight road, feeling sad about getting my butt kicked, while I should have been enjoying the island and the sea views. Eventually I finished fourth female, pretty beat up and relieved to continue my sightseeing on a bike.
After that experience, I needed Monson to be a happy race. So I didn’t sign up and resolved to decide on the day if I would run or not (as a result, I slept really well!). I did want to run Monson, even while I was pretending I didn’t (does that sound complicated?) because it has a solid reputation as a real “runners’ race.” A few other half marathons popped up lately, and they’re all charging nearly twice the Monson entry fee, as John Reino pointed out in an e-mail to SMAC runners.
That’s fine for fun runners who may run a half marathon once a year, but it’s tougher on a club runner’s budget. The lower entry fee is just one good thing about Monson, but there are plenty of others. It’s a fundraiser for cancer treatments, and thanks to the cash prizes it draws fast runners. I had heard a lot about the hilly and challenging course, and the great post-race atmosphere.
Monson has an unusual early-afternoon start, so we didn’t have to get up at the break of dawn. The town hall was busy with runners trying to figure out how many layers to wear (it was sunny but cold) and how to get the timing chip fastened to their shoe. Thanks to the intervention of Ron Boyden (I owe you one, Ron!), I eventually got the thing stuck in the right place. There was some confusion as to where the race would start, and Tom and I and a few others were lined up at the start line, half a mile up the road, while the anthem was being sung in front of the town hall. After a few minutes, everyone walked up to the start and then we were off.
My first mile was the slowest split of the entire race, so my plan to hold back and settle into a sustainable pace was working. With those hills, that was the only possible strategy anyway. Or should I say: with the hill, because the first 8 miles feel like a continuous uphill. Somewhere between mile 6 and 8 I got what a came for: a really happy buzz, the thrill of being outside and running in the sunshine on an unfamiliar course. I was getting it right this time: I was enjoying what I was doing and not caring about the end result.
Up ahead was Mike Barlow, chatting to another runner. I ran with them for a while, but around mile 9 the course dropped to a long downhill, pretty much all the way down to the finish. I felt great and I like running downhill, so I picked up speed and kept it going. As the course wound back into town, I was running alone and wondering if I was still on the right track. Then I saw the lead runners on their cool-down jog, so the finish was right down the road. I clocked 1:37:33, 1 st F40, 16th place overall, good for a $50 check. I had finished only 6 seconds faster than in Nantucket, but in terms of overall enjoyment, I had done so much better.
Lots of SMAC members ran Monson, and it was an especially great day out there for SMAC women: Alice McKeon won the F50 age group division in a smashing time of 1:40:12, and JoEllen Reino took first female overall in the 5K (22:04).
The cold got to me not long after finishing, so I went inside and found that the town hall was full of volunteers waiting with all kinds of hot food, coffee, and cider, and a band was playing. It was super inviting. The best thing of all was that we could hobble over to a massage table and get some skilled hands take care of all those knots and tight spots and mold us back into the shape of a normal person. Thank you, Monson organizers!
Originally published in the Sugarloaf Sun January/February 2019 issue
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