Worcester Half Marathon - "If you can't say anything nice..."

I've been sitting on this one for a long time because I've been a bad blogger and had such an incredibly hectic Summer. I'm turning over a new leaf by getting this post together (finally) I promise!

I entered this half-marathon on a whim. After the Boston Marathon I couldn't stop running. In fact, I ran a recovery run of two miles the next day and a 10k PR at the Groton Road Races 6 days later. My coach literally had to force me to take a week off of running activities completely. Actually he banned me from running. So, when I started running again 8 days later, I felt completely unfocused. I suddenly didn't know why I was running and became very inconsistent in my training. Which is highly unlike me. While I was training for Boston, coach used to say I was a machine. I did exactly the workouts he gave me. I mean to the "T." Religiously. After my "break" I found myself deciding whether-or-not I "wanted" to do the workouts he gave me, and I felt horrible about it. So, I felt I needed a goal race to shape-up my training, and I signed up for Worcester. It was close to home. It was a half marathon and wouldn't require me to be gone all day. Perfect. I still felt woefully unprepared when race weekend arrived.

On Saturday, after navigating the 3 or 4 different websites put together for the race (all with different information) I figured out where the "Race Expo" was and headed-out to pick-up my packet and bib#. Upon arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn I didn't see any signage directing me where to go, but was directed to the second floor ballroom by the kindly front desk clerk. When I got to the "Expo" it was literally a bib#/packet pick-up, period. Oh, there were a couple of tables with some information on the race's "charities," etc. but no vendors, no guest speakers, no pre-race excitement, nothing. I was given my bib# and an office bin liner ("goodie bags" were promised on the website) with a  few flyers in it to put my race shirt in (I won't even get into the quality or color of the "High Quality Tech Shirts" advertised).

I milled about for a minute and met a big happy guy named Andy Sharry. He said he was the coach of the YMCA Marathon Team. He had put together a large group to run this half marathon, most of which were first-timers. He really seemed like a great guy, and was surrounded by a group of enthusiastic runners, one of which made mention of how they were up late putting together the packets and putting demographic stickers onto the bib #'s the night before. I thought to myself "Really?" This is a professional "sports group" (Reinke) producing the race (the 15th out of 16 in the series, btw) and they had to rely on the free labor of a group of eager participants to get the work done?

As I was leaving the "Expo" I noticed something posted on the wall in the hallway, it was a course change notification. Now, I had been following the progression of the course since at least February when I first heard of the race and this was at least the 4th change that I had noticed to the course and I still wasn't clear what the actual course would be. However, there was a nice note attached to the latest changes that said something to the effect of "the USATF finally made it out to certify our course yesterday and we've had to move the Start again." This struck me as odd. As a race director myself, I know that if you simply perform your due diligence, the USATF course measurers (there are 9 of them in MA) are more than willing to take your money and certify your course in a timely manner.

Anyway, I went home, ate dinner and got into bed early. I can't remember what time the race started, but I do remember that the time posted at the expo was the correct time. However, I saw at least two other "start times" in different places, and was glad I checked the notice at the expo. I also checked one of the websites and noticed a link for the "parking plan." When I clicked on it, I just had to chuckle... it simply stated something like "there are several municipal lots and metered spaces in downtown Worcester, and all public parking is free on Sundays." Great plan.

On race day, I woke-up early as per my usual. I ate my bagel with peanut butter around 5 am with 16oz of HEED. I sipped on my 20oz. bottle of water the rest of the time I was getting my things together and trying to get out the door. I arrived at what I thought was the start area (there was zero indication that there was a race about to take place) about an hour before gun time. I ate a banana and downed the rest of my water and headed toward the square to figure things out, stretch, and get in a little warm-up.

I jogged around and found the guys from All Sport Central setting-up the finish line area and asked them if they knew EXACTLY where the start was going to be. Funny, but they pointed-out that it was going to be right in front of where I parked my car (convenient) and someone would be "setting it up soon." Soon? It was already less than an hour before gun time! So, I set-out on my warm-up and by the time I got back to the port-a-potties they were all backed-up. It didn't help that they only had like 10 of them for over 1000 runners. Really? I mean, port-a-potties are always busy before races, but 10/1000 was kinda' ridiculous IMHO. If I continued waiting in line, there was absolutely no way I was going to make the start. So I headed over to the Start and made a pit stop at my car and a Gatotade bottle. At times like this I'm really glad we bought the Honda Element!

After finding some relief, I ran some striders and milled about the starting area. I found Andy Sharry and his incredibly pumped-up group! I was so happy for them all and their excitement rubbed-off on me! They had these great shirts made up that said something like "A half marathon is a 5k race with a 10-mile warm-up." It's funny, but that's exactly what I came-up with when my coach asked me my game plan for Hyannis (my first half). I kept this in mind while I was out there, and really helped get me through some tough spots! The shirt of the day award has to go to the group from Crossfit Center Mass that read "Ruck Funning!"

They didn't have any "corrals" so-to-speak, so I just settled in somewhere in the middle of the pack. Just so happens I ended-up right next to Andy and his group when the gun went off. We slowly made our way to the starting line and of course, as we crossed the mats you could hear everyone's watches beeping in sync. My typical large-crowd anxiety kicked-in and I took off. The first couple of miles I spent just weaving in and out, up on the sidewalks and around just trying to find some breathing room. The first mile clicked-of in 8:13, then the second came in 8:09. I knew I was running way too fast and felt like I needed to put the brakes on (I remembered that my PR in Hyannis was an average of an 8:44 mile). However, at this point we were running down Chandler and I just wanted to get out of there in one piece (Really? Did they have to route the course through that section of town?)

I knew somewhere after the third mile we would be turning up Haviland to Beechmont up one of the more serious hills on the course, Mile 3 came in at 8:19. As I made the turn onto Haviland and and started the ascent (more like climb) I was overcome with a sense of dread. I got through it by reminding myself that Haviland has nothing on Birch Brush (the hill that I finish nearly all of my training runs with)! This seemed to propel me effortlessly to the turn up Beechmont. And when I say up, I mean up. Almost straight up, for well over a quarter mile. Which brought back memories of the hill at the left turn of 9 miles in the Boston Prep 16-miler. No sweat. I got to the top of Beechmont and my lungs were burning, my legs were on fire and I literally thought I was going to blow-up or spontaneously combust on the spot. Thank goodness what goes up, must come down and I was appropriately wearing my Newton Motion Trainers... I just focused on keeping my cadence high and "flying" down to the bottom of the hill at Salisbury St. Mile 4 clicked-off at 8:55! Strong work!

We made the left onto Salisbury and I realized that we were put into a very dangerous situation. I saw no police officers controlling or directing traffic. Salisbury St. is a winding narrow wooded road with little to no shoulder that driver's absolutely fly down. My wife is a paramedic for Worcester EMS and she's told me horror stories about that street. Everything seemed to be going well for about the first quarter-mile or so until the first series of asshole driver's came barreling down the road seemingly shocked to see a whole heard of runner's plodding along in the oncoming shoulder. After lots of honking, swerving and middle fingers, they passed without anyone getting killed. At this point, most of us moved onto the sidewalk. I hate running on the sidewalks. Then the sidewalk ended and we all lined-up single file on the white line. After a few more harrowing run-ins with speeding cars we finally made the left turn onto Flagg St.

There were a couple of volunteers at the intersection of Flagg and Salisbury, but the roads weren't closed
(yet again), and we were relegated to riding the white lines or the left shoulder, which became a bit hectic, wobbly and uneven. It was somewhere around here that I first experienced a sharp, shooting pain in my right ankle after navigating some uneven pavement. My ankle didn't turn or anything and I'm a forefoot/midfoot striker so how it happened kinda' puzzled me. I was hoping it would get better or just go away but unfortunately it only got worse. Every time I found myself running on uneven pavement or a left-cambered section of road, the pain became almost unbearable. I held my pace up the hill on Flagg and mile 5 was 8:25.

From Flagg all the way to just before Worcester State College was mostly downhill and we finally came to the 2nd water stop. I took a GU, downed a water and dumped one over my head. Mile 6 clicked-off at 8:27 just after we turned back onto Chandler. I knew the next few miles was mostly downhill, rolling hills, but mostly downhill. I also knew that the LONG hill on Franklin St. after the fire station was coming-up shortly after 9 so I picked-up the pace a little bit and mile 7 came in at 8:07, then we hit the third water stop and it was so chaotic that I missed/dropped the water hand-off's from two of the small children volunteering and had to turn back and wait for someone to fill more so I could get some water. Mile 8 still clicked-off at 8:13. No problems.

At this point, the ankle was really bothering me. At least every other stride or so, a searing pain shot up from under my ankle. Somewhere around 8.5 miles I was contemplating pulling-out of the race due to injury. I was in a fairly large group of runner's when an elderly woman in a Lexus had her left turn signal on and seemed to be waiting patiently as the hundred's of runner's made our way up Chandler St. Of course that is, until I got up to her. As soon as the group I was running in got up to her bumper, the look on her face said "fuck it" and she turned left directly into us, sending about a dozen of us scampering and jumping out of the way. She missed my left knee by maybe an inch. If I hadn't jumped at just the right moment she would have totally taken me out. Crazy bitch. It was just then that I realized the police presence was really minimal this whole race. I mean, all up and down Chandler, there were police at every major intersection stopping the cross-traffic, but that's about it.

Again, as a race director myself, I know that the police detail can cost a major chunk of your budget. The  detail Lt. from the asks you how far the race is, how many streets you're going to need closed, how many runners and how many hours. As this was the second time in the race that I actually felt like I was in danger, it occurred to me that the race organizer's did everything they could to protect their bottom line. Everything suddenly made sense... The lack of road closures, the lack of water stops, and the bare minimum's in everything else, along with the several course changes were, I'm sure, all a part of their (Reinke Sports Group) efforts to make sure they had a race that would cost them the least amount of money to produce. I'm glad I came into this with little to no expectations.

Anyway, I digress... As I approached mile 9 I started to pass a family that had been maintaining their pace in front of me the whole race. Mother, Father, Son and Daughter. The boy couldn't have been more than 9 or 10. They were awesome! I later found-out that they were fellow Central Mass Striders members the Mastromatteo's who all run 22-23 minute 5k's. Simply amazing! I can only hope that my family will be so into running together. So as I made my "move" on them, I passed mile 9 at 1:15:13 (8:23) and turned the corner onto Franklin passing the new firehouse that stands on the site of the Worcester Cold Storage fire. I said a prayer for my fallen brothers and headed up that monster hill.

A short way up the hill I found a woman in her late 40's/early 50's and locked in step with her. We were matching each other stride for stride. Whenever one of us noticed we were slowing down we would pick-up the pace a little for the other, and this was how it went all the way up. She'd start moving slower, I'd step it up. I'd start moving slower she'd step it up. We basically took turns pacing each other all the way up Franklin St. About halfway up my watch beeped at me for mile 10 (8:57). When we got to the top we looked at each other and fist-bumped. I said "Thanks! I couldn't have made it up with out you!" She said "I was just trying to keep up with you!" She then proceeded to take-off down Plantation toward Shrewsbury St.

Halfway down Plantation was the fourth (and I believe final) water stop. I noticed people were lining-up again waiting for water so I stopped, grabbed one water and dumped it over my head, grabbed another off the end of the table, downed as few swallows and took off again. It was here where I decided to go into race mode. I knew that Shrewsbury St. was all downhill and that most of the course after that was basically flat. I gave it all that I had and turned in 8:23, 8:13 and 8:22 miles for the final 3. I was passing runner's by the handful, and even passed my friend from the hill. Then I turned off of Foster onto Franklin and the crowd was outrageous! There were so many of them and they were LOUD. Cow bells and all. It was cool. I turned onto Salem and saw that the gun clock read 1:49:49 so I sprinted through the finish. I ran the last 0.12 miles in 51 seconds (7:08/mi pace) and when I crossed the mats the clock read 1:50:11. I was dejected. So close. For the first time ever after a race, I just kissed Lex and Iz and collapsed onto the chairs at the end of the chute and fell apart. I literally had nothing left and my ankle was killing me.

Once I was able to, I gathered myself together and got some bananas, pretzels, water, etc. I even had a couple of the little plastic shot glasses full of Michelob Ultra they were handing-out. I waited to see the results posted and the listed my "unofficial" time as 1:50:02. Dejected again. Now, I realize that I had earned a PR by over 4 minutes, but something about getting in under 1:50:00. I dunno. Call me crazy. So, I gathered Lex and Isabelle and headed over to the Hilton Garden Inn where I could swear I'd seen listed as the location of the award ceremony/after party. Nope. Nada. Nothing. The sign about the course change was still up on the wall though. They had a band playing in the square, and they had your basic post-race chips, pretzels, bananas, and other staples. Could that have been the after party? Apparently. According to some friends who'd tweeted and texted me wondering where I was. Oh well.

I just wanted a burger and a beer. We hunkered-down at Pizzeria Uno and I had my ritual post-race burger and a beer, and we went home. I woke-up in the morning to an email saying the "official" results had been posted... 1:49:42!!! I was ecstatic! Bouncing off of the walls, I was on cloud 9 for a week. Funny how 20 seconds can make such a difference.


  1. What a great race report Doug. Gotta love it -having been a volunteer for the Big Man Run (yeah baby Size Does Matter) I know the streets you are talking about. As a matter of fact, while my daughter was on a separate street from me in that general neighborhood a police car came up to her and the other volunteer asking if they had seen a robber run by - nice, huh? Oh the things that happen in Woo-Town! Anyhow - so glad you survived and yeah funny what a difference 20 seconds can make!

  2. Thanks too - I was supposed to be running a Reinke Sports Group 1/2 in Indiana in a few weeks and the race has been moved 40 miles to a small, county town from where it had been advertised. Needless to say, after reading your review - I am not going to run this anymore. Don't want to be mowed down on the county roads.