Now that it’s summer, it’s time to give a couple spring races a quick recap before I completely forget what went down. In late April, I ran the James Joyce 10k Ramble, a race I’ve done multiple times in the past and is a good measuring stick for early season fitness. I followed it up just a week later with the Cox Providence Half Marathon, the first leg in the UHC Triple Crown series. To the time machine!
James Joyce Ramble 10K
One of the constant wild cards to early season racing in the Northeast is the weather and after an absolutely gorgeous race day in 2013, you knew the odds weren’t not going to favor a repeat. And they didn’t. It was gray, bleak and very chilly at the start of the race and it never really changed.
All of the things that have made the Ramble great in the past, were again on display in 2014. A challenging, rolling course that attracts a very good field. Lots of friendly volunteers on race day. Lots of green space for pre- and post-race festivities. Great crowds throughout much of the course. Snippets of Joyce shouted as you run past. Plus, for the second year in a row a very nicely designed and unique race t-shirt.
The race itself presented no surprises as the course hasn’t deviated in the six or seven years that I’ve ran it. After a quick first mile, I eased back and kept some matches dry for the hills in mile three. Getting past those, I slowly ratcheted up the pace, with four miles each quicker than the last. I also managed to shave almost three minutes off last year’s time and hit a new 10k PR of 41:16. I’d call that a pretty solidly executed race. About the only thing I’d change (discounting the weather) would have been to wear some long sleeves or gloves just for comfort. It might have made gripping the cups at the aid stations easier.
I will say the post-race snacks/recovery food seemed a little scaled back this year (no pasta buffet and an odd shortage of plain water) but that would be nitpicking and it was so cold we didn’t stick around very long afterward anyway. The girls looked so cold and miserable after brazing the elements to cheer that I didn’t even stick around long enough to get my free pint of Harpoon.
I’ll be back next year. Ramble on!
Cox Providence Half Marathon
While I’ve run the (apparently now defunct) Rock ‘n Roll Providence event a few years ago, I had never run this particular course put on by this group and the differences between the two events were actually pretty striking. This race, despite including a 5k and a full marathon the same day, felt much smaller, with an almost a local running club vibe to it and I think that really helped in a lot of respects.
First and foremost, unlike the Rock ‘n Roll, they did not block the major downtown garage exits with their race route. Other than the pouring rain during the RnR event, my primary memory was what a huge hassle it was to get both in and out of any parking areas near the race. By moving the race over just a block, it seemed to ease a lot of the congestion. I breezed on and off the highway without incident and I tip my cap to the organizers. The less non-running stress prior to a race, the better.
The race offered packet pickup in the downtown convention center the day before and the day of the race and while I saw plenty of people doing both, the lines on either day were never terribly long. I opted to pick up the day before just to be on the safe side, but if I do it again, I would save myself the extra drive and just get it race morning.
The race expo was almost non-existent and literally held in a hallway of the larger convention center. There was a cheerleading competition in the main halls and it made for a weird (and honestly, as a father of 2 girls) and frightening juxtaposition. It was the standard sort of swag bag, race promos, food samples, clear plastic drop bag and the technical shirt. I will say, after some really great 2013 shirts, especially if you did the whole triple crown series, 2014 was a return to the sort of standard, blah race design. Bummer.
One other nice advantage to starting downtown near the mall and convention center, beside the ample parking, was the number of bathrooms that weren’t porta-potties. Those were available too, but if you had a choice, which would you choose?
The weather had improved considerably from the previous week’s 10k with nicely seasonable temps in the mid-50s, sun a little breeze. You couldn’t script better weather. The half marathon started 30 minutes after the full marathon and used a self seeding coral system. I slotted myself within sight off the front and after an oddly long recorded (maybe Beyonce?) rendition of the national anthem, we were off.
Here I should mention one other oddity and maybe this goes back to the small race vibe. Despite having elevation maps for the full marathon and the 5k, I could not find one for the half and while we shared some of the full route, it wasn’t all of it. This map might have come in handy. I knew from my previous RnR race that Providence has some hills. I distinctly remember two real quad burners during that race. Well, I’d get those plus a bunch more over the next 13 miles.
After the confidence builder of the Ramble the previous week, my goal was to try to go under 1:35, which would be a new PR, and to work on consistent pacing. One out of two ain’t bad. I got off to a nice start and, despite many more hills than I was expecting, crushed the first seven miles. Miles 7 and 8 were both sustained almost mile long climbs and took a huge bite out of my legs. I was actually able to run through it and recover a bit on the downhill side of mile 9, but climbs on 10 and a short, yet diabolically steep section in mile 12 took the rest of my legs. The last mile and half were a slog. I latched onto the back of a group and held on for the finish.
While the hills messed with my consistent pacing plan, and I was hanging on by my fingernails at the finish, I still hit a PR and was very happy with how I handled the hills. If I can hit those paces on a flatter course, I should get even closer to my goal of 1:30 for a half.
The post-race spread was the usual fare (bananas, water, Gatorade, odd Cliff bar flavors), plus some sandwich wraps, but nothing plant-friendly. I believe they did have a veggie wrap but it was spread with goat cheese. One unique piece and something other urban races should consider (maybe they do but this is the first I’ve seen it) was having a bunch of food trucks around the finish for spectators or runners to purchase items.
Some quick pros/cons for Providence to finish up:
pros: local race vibe / easy, cheap parking for a city race / food trucks / bag drop available
cons: hilly – not beginner friendly, not a lot of fringe/extras/swag