Finally a photo where I actually look like I'm running.
Courtesy of Eldon Burkinshaw
"A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity."
- Robert Frost

There is no better introduction to a report on the Boston Prep 16 Miler, a race that would make even the most advanced runners ask themselves, "What the hell am I doing to myself?" yet feel so proud when they're finished.

The Setting

This year's 15th annual Boston Prep 16 Miler took place on a warm winter morning by New Hampshire standards. The third Sunday in January is usually fraught with blustery winds, freezing temperatures and unpredictable storms. This day on January 24, 2010, we enjoyed mild 30 degree temperatures, blue skies, sunshine and clear roads, save the occasional puddle of melting snow.

The race follows the winding streets and rolling hills of Derry, New Hampshire. It begins just 100 yards from West Running Brook, the small stream made famous by Robert Frost. Previous racers use words like "quaint" and "idyllic" to describe the scenes, which include rambling stone walls; solitary country homes surrounded by trees heavy with snow; perfect little mailboxes at the end of each driveway. It is a peaceful place that provides the perfect palate for a poet like Frost: plenty of quiet space to explore the depths of the woods and his mind.

Then there are the deceiving hills that make many a runner want to run far, far away from the seeming serenity of Derry, New Hampshire.

First let me back up a few steps.

Pre Race

I arrived at the Derry Village School, race headquarters, just about 45 minutes after departing from home in Brookline. The volunteers were well organized, cheerful and ready to direct me to a great parking spot. I pulled in beside a narrow walking path then headed inside to check in.

The pint-size tables and chairs in the elementary school's cafeteria were barely big enough to fit even the most petite runners' behinds, yet every seat was taken. The room was bustling with excited runners, stretching, hydrating, tuning out to the music and announcements. Feeling the energy kicked my nerves right into gear.

I looked up my bib number (355) and walked to the check in table to collect my ankle chip timer, pumpkin colored "BP 16 Miler 2010" t-shirt and ill fitted gray winter cap with race logo. Still works as a running cap.

I grabbed a GU and a few race flyers from the center of the room to keep my mind occupied. That lasted about 10 seconds. Then I claimed a square of the linoleum floor to squat and zone out until race time. At this point I had an hour to go.

The Start

Having been to the ladies' room three times, I headed out to my car to drop off my new gear and what was left of the water and PowerBar I'd been working on. I sat in the car to keep warm and call my husband... then ran back inside to use the ladies' room once again.

Hello nerves.

Finally, I returned to the car for the last time, ditched my unnecessary layers and followed the walking path to the start.

"Hey, Are You Robyn?"

Several former coworkers happened to be running the race – a pleasant surprise. I chatted up one of them in the starting corral and managed to keep my mind off of the fact that I was about to run a 16 mile "moderately challenging" course.

The race logo is an exaggerated image of hills that look more like mountains. Beneath the image is the tagline "moderately challenging." I didn't pay much attention to this when I signed up. I had heard this race was difficult more because of the weather than the hills. I had not grasped that the hills really are quite steep and long at times, not at all like you'd normally see in a race. In other words, this race is not for someone who has little to no hill training. If you're thinking of running it in the future, be sure you're prepared.

The race was set to start at 10:00 am. 10 minutes later, we were ready to go. 

The starting line was an unmarked space beside a small white house. That house, a few hundred trees and the race organizer's car complete with boom box set the stage for the start of the 15th annual Boston Prep 16 Miler.


The race was off!

"Take it slow, take it slow," I kept telling myself. I have a bad habit of flying out of the gate only to crash and burn later. I was determined not to let that happen this time. I forced myself to go slow, take it down just one more notch and enjoy the serene setting.

I also reminded myself that I am not prepping for a race like Boston Marathon. I'm training for Providence Marathon, which is fairly flat. My goal was to run this 16 miler hard, but not kill myself completely since hills are not a big concern for me this year. That said, I wish I had run this race when I was training for the Big Sur Marathon. Now those are some hills, and I could have used this workout.

Mile 1: First hill already, but it was too early to care. My favorite sight of the race was also at this very early point: A corral of dark horses off to my right. They were romping and jumping around almost as if they were wild and free, trying to race along with us. It was a beautiful site in the snowy countryside. I took a mental snapshot for when I'd need it later.

Miles 2-4: Mostly down hills at this point, but what goes down must come up! :) These miles were a bit of a blur thanks to "The Breather." I never saw this guy's face, but I always knew he was running right there beside me. First water stop at mile 3 gave me a chance to break away from him a bit.

Miles 5-7: I managed to lose "The Breather" and picked up "The Talker." I understand it's easy for some people to run 8 minute miles for 16 miles, but it's a challenge for me. Listening to someone talk for several miles about how much he hates the fact that he's an associate engineer who should be paid like a senior engineer is not my idea of fun. To all the talkers out there, please be mindful of other runners who may be beside you. At least he got me to move it along.

Miles 8-9: I knew the big hill was coming on mile 10. We'd already covered a series of rolling hills and I'd picked up my pace from a 9 minute mile at the start to about an 8 minute mile. I needed to store up some time in anticipation of a slow mile 10 and 11. Also grabbed a GU and some Gatorade from a kind volunteer. The volunteers and fueling stations on this course are impressive - on par with the most well organized marathons.

Mile 10: "Why is it downhill? Hmm. I don't see this big hill everyone told me about. I thought it was at mile 10. Was it another mile? Oh wait a minute. There it is. Crap."

That's pretty much all I thought at mile 10, where a nice hill started out good and steep to put my quads to work.

An important note to any potential BP runner: The hills on this course are sneaky. They're not all that hard, but they're long and steep at points, which is enough to burn out your legs before you're even a third of the way up. The most deceiving part, though, is that you often can't see the whole hill. You'll be trotting comfortably along, feeling good, curve around some trees and - whoa - the road spikes from a 20 degree incline to a 50 degree incline right in front of you. I may not have those numbers quite right, but those hills will throw you. It's easy to get psyched out on this course. Don't let it get you.

Mile 11: I was still on the same damn hill. Still climbing to about 600 feet from where I started at around 200 feet what felt like 20 minutes earlier. It did make me think of the Big Sur hills, though not nearly as bad: One 2 mile climb on Highway 1 took me from sea level to 600 feet, only to run me into a wall of 30 mph winds at the top.


I just kept chugging along, slow and steady. I could not leave everything I had out on this one hill. I missed qualifying for Boston at the NYC Marathon because I killed myself during the race and had nothing left at the end. I had to prove to myself that I could finish a hard race strong.

To help me get through it, I switched off between running on my toes with short choppy steps and running in longer strides to get some of the lactate acid moving through my legs. I also counted: One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. One count for every swing of my arms. It helped.

Mile 12: "Woohooo! Downhill!" I couldn't have been much happier after I crested that big hill. Even better, the volunteer at the water stop said "No More Hills!" After 12 miles of constant up and down, up and down, UP and down, it was finally over. I just had to keep a steady strong pace through the end.

Mile 13-15: My pace gradually picked up on the nice flat stretch. I actually passed people. Hooray!

The Finish: Here I should have been going all out, but I was enjoying myself and my quads really did hurt. I was back on Humphrey Road near West Running Brook where we started. I glanced over at the horses that danced for us earlier, ran passed the small house that marked our starting line, turned onto the main road where the spectators awaited, and made one final swing into the school parking lot.

There was the finish line. I heard my friends cheering for me. The race announcer said, "About to cross the finish line is Robyn Lewis of Brookline, Mass!"

I finally sprinted.

Post Race

My friends were there. More of my former coworkers were there. I was so happy to be done and so glad someone saw me do it!

I achieved everything I'd hope to in this race: I started easy, finished strong and walked away from it all within one minute of my goal time. Not bad for a hilly race that I'd admittedly underestimated.

Despite my glory moment, no water or food was available for us non elite runners at the finish line. I quickly made my way to the car for some sustenance. The light jog over there was anything but light, especially along the down hill walkway to the parking lot. Quads. Ouch.

After waiting for a few more people to finish, we headed back to the school cafeteria and collected our soup, pizza, coffee, cookies, bananas, Gatorades, waters and anything else edible they wanted to hand to us. The race organizers treat you very well at the Boston Prep 16 Miler.

Then we went out for pizza.

My Race Results

Pace: 8:12
Time: 2:11:12
Division place: 20/94
Gender place: 50/281
Overall place: 253/707

And I couldn't be happier.

I went into this race on a relative whim. "Sure I'll run a 16 mile race. In the middle of winter. In New Hampshire!" That sounds nuts. Throw in the possibility of blizzard, sleet, black ice or sub zero temperatures and you have the definition of crazy. Throw in those hills to the mix and it's pretty insane.

To all my insane runner friends out there… See you at Boston Prep 16 Miler 2011!

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock

Here it comes. The nervous energy is already beginning to build, and I'm 34 hours from gun time for the Boston Prep 16 Miler.

Granted I'm not technically prepping for the Boston Marathon, but I am preparing for a Boston qualifying time - and I'm anxious to run this race. I'm always a ball of nerves on race day. I start to lose my appetite around dinner time the night before. I force myself to eat something the morning of. By the time I step to the line I'm shaking, and not just from the cold. It's all very normal. I'm not trying to win a prize. I'm not trying to beat a competitor. I'm just trying to do my best.

I've been that way since I started running in the 7th grade. I'd get so worked up that I'd be ill the entire school day before a track or cross country meet. But it worked. That energy is just what I needed to reach performance levels I had difficulty attaining in training. It's the same today.

This race seems like it will be particularly interesting thanks to the "moderately challenging" billing, which includes a 2 mile ascent from miles 10-12. Just what you want to see at mile 10. A huge hill.

I never did mind hills though. I'm ready for you Derry! And I am looking forward to the run through Robert Frost's old stomping ground. Maybe I'll be inspired to do something great.

Full race report to follow.

P.S. I'm also volunteering at the MIT Coed Invitational tomorrow, Saturday, January 23. Should be an exciting event for track and field fans!

Rest Day - Marathon training officially starts tomorrow!

Running Resolution #3: Race Once Per Month

This one is pretty simple. Racing helps me gauge my progress, something I can't get from running on my own. No matter how hard I run during training, I'm still not as fast or effortless as I am when racing, so I use it as a way to tune up.

My goal this year is already under way. I'm signed up for a race every month through May, except for March. Still need to fill that gap and work on the rest of the year. I may not run every one of these races all out, especially those closer to the Providence Marathon (need to save my energy for the big one). Here's what's on the agenda so far:

Here's what's on the agenda so far:

January: The Boston Prep 16 Miler

February: Super Sunday 10K and Hyannis Half Marathon

April: 13.1 New York

May: Providence Marathon

Looking forward to every one!