Yes, you read that correctly – this turned out to be a half marathon experience for me rather than my usual 26.2. Although I had every intention of completing the full marathon here when I signed up back in March, my recent problems with injury, fatigue, and general malaise led me to drop down to the half. I decided to make the change the Friday before we left for New Hampshire. I was still feeling extremely tired and simply could not bear the thought of plodding through the entire race with heavy legs, stressed-out body, and worn-down spirit. I remember reading that signs of overtraining include sluggishness, insomnia, crabbiness, and difficulties in maintaining and improving speed and efficiency while racing. That sort of encapsulated in a nutshell exactly how I’ve been feeling lately.
As a result, I felt no remorse when, after we arrived in Manchester via Atlanta and Detroit, I switched races; in fact, I experienced a marked sense of relief. I still took the early start because that would give me a full four hours to complete the half and my chances of getting lost on the course would be minimal (this was not an idle concern – I read in the local paper that 2 of the frontrunners in the marathon took a wrong turn and lost the prize money).
We stayed at the host hotel, the Radisson, and that was a good idea; the hotel was located a few blocks from the start line and directly across the street from the finish line. The Radisson was attractive and clean and had two restaurants, one open for breakfast and another for lunch and dinner. We saved a bit of money on cab fare because the hotel also offered an airport shuttle which we took both to and from the airport.
When I was finishing my circuit of the 50 states, the Manchester City Marathon had been my choice for New Hampshire. I enjoy visiting old mill towns, and Manchester began its early days as a logging and mill center. During that first visit, I had toured the mill factory museum as well as an outstanding art museum. On this trip we did not have time to do much touring, but that was okay since Darcy wanted to watch football on television and this gave me more time to rest. Packet pickup was in a small expo right inside the hotel convention center. That’s where I made my race switch, picked up my half marathon bib/chip on back, and royal blue long-sleeved tech tee shirt, and checked out the vendor tables. For our dinner, we ate at Ignite, a local restaurant, where I had fish chowder and a steak and cheese sandwich while Darcy had a juicy hamburger. Then it was back to the room to make preparations, watch football and/or read, and relax.
Sunday was race day. Daylight Savings Time allowed for a welcome extra hour of sleep so, even with the early start at 7:50 am, I had plenty of time to get ready. The weather was supposed to be a mixture of rain and snow, with temperatures in the 30’s. It was not exactly my ideal day for racing but I figured I could manage 3 hours in any kind of cold and wet circumstances. We were lucky though – it certainly was cold and the wind was blustery but we had no precipitation at all.
For the first hour I was essentially alone, although the first mile or two was spent with Mike Brooks and another early starter. Mike has done hundreds of races and had been in Falmouth last weekend to do the Clam Chowdah Challenge. I soon got into a regular rhythm of about 14 minute miles and eventually passed Mike and began to follow a trio of runners who remained in my sight. The course was marked with orange arrows on the street (this might have been a problem if snow had covered the ground) and a few signs posted on utility poles. Around mile 8, the regular start leaders began to pass me and I no longer had to worry about finding my way. Aid stations appeared every 3 miles or so, with water and Powerade handed to us by friendly volunteers. The volunteers were also our most vocal spectators. The weather was probably a deterrent for casual observers although a surprising number of homeowners came out to cheer us on.
I like this course for many reasons; there is a long initial stretch along Commercial Street and River Road with lots of neat old mill factory buildings that were preserved and now house businesses and offices. Around mile 6, the course follows a dirt trail, with the few major rocks and roots marked with orange paint. I was glad I had worn my gaiters. The trail is wide, non-technical and bordered by tall trees with fall foliage. We also pass by attractive homes and parks. I had forgotten about all those hills along the course. Around mile 10, the half marathon splits from the full. My legs felt heavy and began to ache just around this time; I was extremely happy to turn onto the road leading to those final 3 miles. I crossed the finish line in 3:01:55, definitely not my best time but I was satisfied just to finish. The announcer called out my name and town and mentioned that I was probably celebrating not only my half marathon finish but also the Gator victory over Georgia (yes, I was).
One of the best things about doing half marathons is the large quantity of food at the finish line. Usually there is very little left when I complete a full marathon but on this day I had my choice of chili, chicken soup, or vegetable soup, with bread, crackers, fruit, and pretzels plus hot and cold beverages. Darcy met me outside the finisher’s chute and we walked back to our hotel. After resting a bit, showering, and resting some more, we had dinner at JD’s Tavern in the hotel. We shared a large plate of nachos and a selection of local cheeses and cold cuts – very satisfying!
I enjoyed the half marathon and would certainly recommend both the half and the full for walkers as long as they take the early start and pay close attention to course markings. New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful states in the nation and Manchester a lovely city to visit. I always enjoy my trips to this area, even though the races I’ve done (Manchester City, Ghost Train, and Granite State) have been very challenging.