Wednesday, October 29, 2008
10/18/08 Breakers Marathon
This picture and the one later in this story were taken by cool Maniac and Costco guru Steve Supkoff. He finished this same race and had time to read the Iliad before I finished.
For a few years, Rhode Island did not offer a road marathon. Woe befell 50-staters needing Rhode Island to finish the circuit. Somewhere around 2004 (I think), the Breakers Marathon was created to fill the gap. I was supposed to run this race and check off this state back in 2006, but it is one of many races I canceled to play cancer buddy. I finally made it this year.
First things first. I knew nothing about the tiny state of Rhode Island. Now, having completed the Breakers Marathon, I still know next to nothing. But I know a little more. I know that Breakers is one of many historical mansions in the oceanside town of Newport. I also now know that Newport, Rhode Island is kind of hilly. Aside from that, I don't know much. Getting from the West Coast to the Northeast is a time-consuming challenge; I finally got into town after dark the evening before the race. And because of pending cancer-related tests, I left right after the race.
But the race itself was a wonderful tour of the area, and so I learned a bit along the way. Technically, the course is a point-to-point because the start (the wharf/downtown area of Newport) is different from the finish (a beach on an especially cool isthmus). That finish is only about a mile from the start, though. It really feels like two loops: a 13.1 mile pseudo-loop from the start through some parks skirting the shoreline and all the mansions then passing the finish area, followed by a 13.1 loop touching a bit of shoreline and a whole lot of neighborhoods on the way back to the finish. Call them "the west loop" and "the east loop". The course was quite roly poly for the first 17 miles, and then downright HILLY for the last 9. The elevation chart made it look like there would be a ton of downhill after M20. Not for me. It seemed like a looooong uphill from M17 until just a bit before the finish. My splits confirm this.
I like practically every marathon and ultra that I've participated in. Out of 188 so far, I can only think of a few that I truly despised. I've really enjoyed the vast majority, even though the perfect race is quite rare. Races, even the slightly informal-and-small kind, are complex affairs. Stuff happens. Almost all oooops'es are more than balanced out by fun things. I keep telling myself this about Breakers. I really did like the scenery, and what the organizers did right, they did VERY RIGHT. But there were also a few things that were a bit wonky. Now that a week and a half has passed, I guess Breakers falls into my "it was pretty good" category. The Northeast offers up a ton of marathon choices in October. I've enjoyed the other races more, although only Breakers offers the picturesque mansion miles in the middle. For a 50-stater, this is a fine race. If you live in the Northeast and it fits your schedule best, have at it. For travelers from afar, I'd probably suggest Steamtown or Bay State for going fast, or Maine's Mt Desert Island for a real challenge and great views.
Finding the race location was a bit more frustrating than it should have been. The instructions/directions to packet pickup at the Newport Yachting Center were clear on the website. But they weren't complete, and they didn't mention that everything was located behind some buildings. Perhaps the buildings were the yachting center? Also, the directions completely hinged on counting traffic lights ("go to the fourth light") instead of street names... and, well, they apparently count differently from me. There were Amica -the race's sponsor- banners marking the general area... but these were invisible at night. And there were no race signs visible from the street at all. Anyway, packet pickup was open until 7p the night before the race. After getting to Newport around 6:45p, parking, and then poking around and around and around, I found the location at precisely 7:02p. Too late. The guy was very friendly, but even though I *saw* the packets sitting there, I wasn't going to get mine. "Come back in the morning". Ok, no prob. If I could have gotten to Newport earlier, I would have. At least I knew where to come now :-) and it was great that they offered race day pickup.
Race morning came like race mornings almost always do: a bit before I'd like them. But there it was, and it was time to go. It was dark, cold, and windy outside, but the forecast was for sunshine. This was an oceanside race in October, so I was prepared for wind and cold. I drove back to the same place I had parked the previous night. Now I knew where I was going! Unfortunately, the race website made it sound like all parking would be 10 bucks. Had I actually tried to park next to the race location, this would have been true. But I didn't. I parked where I had parked because that's the lot I thought I was supposed to be in. Turns out, the Newport Yachting Center is wholly different from the Newport Visitors Center... although the visitors center is one of the parking locations listed on the race's website. When I left after the race, it would cost me 25 bucks. Boo. My fault, though. Sort of.
I walked down and picked up my stuff. Brrrrr. During that walk, I had noticed a van and what looked like a spray-painted "start" sign on the road. Hmmm. According to the map I had and the instructions on the website, this wasn't where the race was supposed to start. The map and website were wrong. I had plenty of time to figure this out, and discovered a secret set of portapotties with no lines in the process. This worked well for me. But it didn't work well for the race in general. Including the accompanying half, over a thousand folks were supposed to take part in the events. As I stood at the start line about 10 minutes before the scheduled start time, maybe 15 other people stood near me. Uh oh. We knew we were in the right place because the timing company had set up the chip mats here. Where was everyone? I suppose they were at the map's starting line, which perhaps was the start in prior years. About 2 minutes before the scheduled start, a wave of people wandered towards us. I guess the organizers figured out the issue and told everyone to vamoose.
And without any ado, and certainly no muss nor fuss, off we went. I was so entranced by all the folks wandering over and trying to spot people I knew that I forgot to check in with myself regarding a goal. Hmm. Well, I had managed a 3:38 a couple weeks prior. I was feeling fine, but I didn't know enough about the course aside from "hills" and "wind". Ok. Today would be a "beat 3:45" kind of day.
Now, I realize that my description so far hasn't sounded too positive. Again, the organizers were super friendly. And as we got into the race, my perceptions of things improved markedly. This was a gorgeous course. The first mile wandered through town. Then we headed through some parks and out to the water for our west loop. It was windy. I hooked up with a couple Maniacs from Seattle: Maniac Steve and founding Maniac Chris. Steve tends to be a 3:20-3:30 marathoner. Chris has gotten down to 3:05-3:15, but he seemed to be going out a little slow for that today. I appreciated the company early on, especially with all the confusion at the start... so I ran with them.
But that was too fast for my prospective 3:45. I knew this quickly enough, so I let them go near M5, before "going out a little too fast" would cause me problems later. About this time, I noticed another slight frustration with this race. The water stations were really far apart: over 3 miles. I'm used to something closer to 2. On a cold day like this one, 3 worked out ok. I didn't notice that I was getting unbearably thirsty until very late in the race. But I can say that now... at M5, I didn't know what was going to happen. In fairness to the organizers, their information was clear that the stops would be about 3 miles apart; they didn't mess anything up, really. I could have carried a bottle. But I didn't. It worked out. Still though, they need more stops. This was not an inexpensive race.
M7-9 were right next to the ocean and extra windy. This course was on roads that were open to traffic, and for some reason, we (runners) kept snaking from one side of the road to the other. Had I been driving, this would have bugged me. At one point, we were on the left side of the road. A guy and a gal, both wearing headphones, were running on the far left. I was just to the right and slightly behind the gal. And she spit a giant loogie on me. GAH. She didn't want to spit to her left because she would have hit her guy. And she didn't hear that I was there because of her headphones. Just, GAH.
Including travel costs, I spent a lot of money to come here. M9-12 of the race made it all worthwhile. Very, very worthwhile. These were the mansion miles. Not just "really big houses owned by guys in the NFL". Actual old-money mansions. With 12 chimneys. And gatehouses bigger than my house. And, oh by the way, with spectacular fall foliage. Many of these places are museums now. Breakers was in here somewhere. It was really cool.
Then I was past the mansions. Over the isthmus, and past the finish line. I hit the halfway point about 1:48. Factoring in my 5 fast miles, I was about where I thought I'd be. Assuming I could hold it together, I'd be looking at 3:35-3:40 instead of 3:45. Okey doke. Unfortunately, I didn't know the hills coming up. And they were unkind.
But before the hills hit, the east loop offered up a seaside out-and-back between M15 and M17. I saw Maniac Steve, way in front of me and looking strong. Maniac Chris had dropped back slightly and was just a bit in front of me. I also saw a lot of other people I know. "I didn't know x was here!" That darned confusing start... I missed everyone. During the out-and-back, I definitely noticed that the car traffic was getting heavier. Yuck. This would continue through the remainder of the race; it reminded me a lot of the middle miles at the Cape Cod Marathon. I'm pretty sure the cars doubled my stress level.
Then it was time for the hills. I don't care what the elevation chart says; M20-M25.5 were up and up and up. I hit M20 at 2:46. I was still on track for something between 3:35 and 3:40. Have I mentioned the hills, though? Yeah. I like hills, but I wasn't that ready for these. Onward I went. On the positive side, the wind was now more like a gentle breeze and I wasn't freezing.
About 100 yards past the M22 sign, I came upon a water station. It was marked very clearly "Welcome to Mile #23!" And many of the volunteers encouraged me for the final 3 miles. I dunno whether they set up in the wrong place or what happened here. It didn't bother me much because I knew where I was; I found it kind of funny. Not everybody did, though, based on the comments I've read on marathonguide.com. Whoops.
Somewhere around M24 was a candy stop. Yum. I didn't partake, but it was a fun idea. My watch told me that I had slowed quite a bit since M20. I felt ok, but definitely tired. Would I have felt better with more aid stations? I don't think so, but from a psychological perspective, maybe.
Just past M25.5 the relentless up became a nice downhill to the finish. ZOOM.
Back onto the isthmus, and I was done. As I was coming into the finish, someone called out my name. It was Maniac Steve, who snapped this picture and then the picture at the top of this report.
It's pretty clear that I wasn't ready to have my picture taken. HA. Cheese!
3:40. I wasn't that pleased. This was way better than my original "beat 3:45", but I thought I could get closer to 3:35. Not today.
A bottle of water and a quick chat with Steve... and then it was on the bus to get to the finisher's food and the parking. On the bus, I found out that Steve had pulled a 3:28 and Chris managed a 3:34. I should have tried to stay with Chris!
The food was back at the original packet pickup location. The spread was amazing. All kinds of hot food. Any race with pizza gets bonus points and Breakers had pizza. Fruit. Bagels. Candy. Juice. All great.
What they did right, they did VERY RIGHT.
Then I paid my 25 bucks, boo, and drove back to the airport.
Now that I know what's what, I think the logistics for this race are pretty simple. It's just kind of imposing for out-of-towners who have never been to Newport. I don't know if or when I'll come back, but I really did enjoy the mansions. And, except for the car traffic, I enjoyed the course overall.
Next up: I was supposed to travel to Texas for my Dad's 78th birthday and run something called the Miracle Match Marathon in Waco. But some scary-bad cancer tests happened during the week, and I didn't go. Instead, I ran the Tri-Cities Marathon. Not local to Seattle, but at least in the same state.
More on that Real Soon Now. There was tragedy; there was comedy. There was pizza.
But without making you wait, the scary-bad cancer tests SUCKED, but the results were reasonably good. And thank goodness for that.