Manchester City Half Marathon

2020 Manchester City Half Marathon Recap

I ran my second official race of 2020 on Sunday!

I finished in 1:46.04. I made no bathroom stops. Plenty to be proud of and grateful for on a beautiful, sunny November day!

Before I get into the recap, let’s talk about the important stuff: the safety precautions!

Just like the New England Half Marathon last month, this race was put on by Millennium Running, and they did an amazing job abiding by all of New Hampshire’s Covid regulations and protocols and finding ways for runners to do what they love, safely. I can honestly say that I felt safer and more protected running both of these races than I do when I go to the grocery store. Again, like last time, here’s what looked different at this race vs. the traditional races we once knew and loved:

  • Masks were required at the start and at the finish. You could remove your mask when you were running, and were given a mask as soon as you crossed the finish line. (My post-race mask got very sweaty and salty!)
  • There were hand sanitizing stations all around the start and finish lines, and outside all the porta-potties and at the aid stations along the race course.
  • All staff and volunteers were masked. (And very nice!) I believe all aid station volunteers were also wearing disposable gloves.
  • And perhaps the biggest change: The race followed a time trial format. Instead of a mass start, one runner crossed the starting mat every 10 seconds, so everyone was super spread out. There were at least 10 waves of fewer than 100 people, so the start line process took several hours. I was runner #406 — the sixth runner in the fourth wave. (I think that one runner went off every 10 seconds for at least the first wave, and then two runners went off at a time. Still, completely spaced out. I was running alone the entire time, as were most people I would imagine.)
  • Everything was super specific. In an email the week of the race, runners were given an exact time (to the minute!) based on their bib numbers and start time to arrive at the start, plus an exact time to go to bib pick-up, and an exact time to be “on deck” and then to line up. (THE LOGISTICS. I cannot fathom.) This helped eliminate any crowds, lines, or clusters of people.
  • The race was limited to runners within New England. There were a bunch of rules around travel and restrictions, and I admittedly didn’t read them all because they were for non-New Hampshire people. But they were there. I love rules.

I know I raved about them last time, but I want to again give it up for Millennium Running for finding ways to be creative right now. I am so happy to get to support them, and to get to do what I love, even if it looks a little different right now. (And honestly, I am kind of starting to prefer this start-line method — complete with a red carpet! — versus a mega-crowded mass start. No crowded first mile!)

There were technically four races happening at the same time on Sunday: a marathon, a four-person marathon relay, a two-person marathon relay, and the half-marathon (my race!). The organization of it all just blows my mind.

The race was in Manchester, NH, which is around 35 minutes from “home.” I never really had time or energy to think about or prepare for this race. Between Election Day (turned Election Week), a very on-the-go Saturday where Annie never napped, so much Halloween candy, and generally just having a lot on my metaphorical plate, the race kind of snuck up on me.

But that’s probably good. I never took a good look at the elevation chart, beyond just knowing it was going to be hilly.

Flashback: I ran the Manchester City Marathon in 2012, the year Hurricane Sandy led to the cancellation of the New York City Marathon. (Remember, Emily helped pace me to a big marathon PR? We made so much lemonade out of some really sour lemons that day! Definitely the most fun I’ve ever had running a marathon.)

I remember that day being really, really hilly. And I’d heard whispers that this race was going to be hilly, too. But YOLO!

I was up at 5 AM to give myself plenty of time to get ready and use the bathroom a million times before leaving the house. It’s a strange kind of self-torture, willingly waking up at 5 AM on the weekend when your child hasn’t slept through the night in months…but I chose my choice!

I got to see a beautiful sunrise on the way to Manchester, and I’m sure many of you parents out there can relate that it was kind of lovely being in the car alone, listening to music and watching the sunrise! A little vacation!

I easily found parking near the start and finish, and immediately met a handful of new friends in the parking lot! I love meeting people at races! It’s the best. (Shout-out to my new parking lot friends! I hope you all had great races!)

Everything was easy leading up to the start: short porta-potty lines, plenty of room to warm-up (I jogged for like four seconds and then was like “meh…”), and no one waiting at bib pick-up or bag check.

Soon enough, it was time to find little cone #6, where I would stand to await my start!

(Is this the most boring race recap ever? It feels like it might be. But everything was just really easy and drama-free!)

Millennium Running literally rolled out the red carpet for its runners, which is such a fun touch, and when it was my time to start, my name flashed up on the big screen. My name in lights! Unlike last time, I didn’t mess up and false start, so that’s good! I’m a pro now!

And at exactly 7:55.10, I was off!

As always, I did not run with a watch, and I chose not to run the Strava app on my phone because I didn’t want to drain my battery and also because I didn’t really care. I picked a playlist and stashed my phone in my SPIBelt.

I didn’t have a goal for this race. I didn’t think I would be able to PR (I never do) since the course is a hilly one, but I wanted to do my best, and I can say I definitely did that, proudly.

I went out fast, as I do, and eventually got tired and slowed down, but maybe negative splitting is overrated? Maybe banking time really does work for some people! It’s how I got so close to my PR last month! MAYBE DON’T KNOCK IT UNTIL YOU TRY IT, OK?

I am having a hard time remembering the course, but I know we ran through some of Manchester’s downtown streets, and then made our way over a bridge (with the highway below us! hello 293!) and through some more rural streets. There was a rail trail at one point, which was beautiful, and another trail that I immediately remembered from the course in 2012.

I felt great through mile six, and then started to feel a bit of a side-stitch cramp building. Ugh. Every time! Help me! Why does this happen, always? Breathing? Hydration? Nutrition? I really need to figure it out because it’s such a bummer and is so hard to deal with on the run.

Fortunately the cramp never got too bad. I’m actually psyched that I didn’t walk at all during this race, since I walked a lot last time. (And yet, finished more than a full minute faster! How does that math work?!) Even though I slowed down a lot on some of the bigger hills, I never walked, and just kept shuffling my feet.

My stomach felt shaky at a few points along the way, but I kept asking myself, “Do I really need a bathroom? Can I try running a little more before I stop?” And somehow that mentality got me all the way to the finish without needing to make a bathroom stop. Always the biggest victory for me!

I got to mile 12 and remember thinking, “What did Sara Hall say about knowing when it’s time to kick? When am I supposed to do that again?”

Mile 12 was at the top of a huge hill, and as I crested the hill, I saw the most beautiful sight: a long, straight downhill to the finish.

All races should finish on a downhill straightaway!

I cruised down the hill, and when I approached the mile 13 marker, I saw my family on the sidewalk to my left! My dad, Brian, Annie, and Ellie were all there cheering — but my mom wasn’t! So of course, I worst-case-scenario-ed my way to the finish line, terrified that something horrible had happened to my mom en route to the race.

But nothing terrible happened! She was at the finish line! I was so excited to see her, and very happy to have another 13.1 done. (My finish line photo is from the moment I saw my mom. You would think I hadn’t seen her in eight months, but NOPE, we are roommates!)

I was happily surprised when my mom showed me my time on the tracking app. My PR is 1:44.48, and I’m always happy with anything under two hours, and especially thrilled with anything under 1:50.

Overall, a really great day. The course was challenging, which made it extra rewarding. I’ve been known to shy away from a challenge; to opt not to do the hard race, the hard thing, the scary thing. But I did the hard race this time, and I’m so glad I did.

I guess maybe I can do hard things! Maybe I can even do them well sometimes!

(That being said, I really don’t think I’ll ever run another marathon. Running 13.1 miles is really hard, and I don’t know how I ever did double that. Six times. IDK just feels like a lot of work right now!)

My brain is fried after a few relatively intense and emotionally exhausting days (I’ll spare you!), so I realize this recap is sparse on details because I just can’t seem to recall very much. But I am certain that this race marked another 2020 highlight for me, and for that I am tremendously grateful. I’ll take whatever wins this year will throw around!

I expected to be super sore on account of all those hills — after the New England Half Marathon, I couldn’t walk for a full four days because I was so sore — but my legs actually feel OK! A little sore, but pretty good! (Should I have tried harder?!)

I have no idea what racing in 2021 will look like, but I really do love the format Millennium has been offering, and I feel really lucky to get to be a part of it.




5 Responses

  1. Do you have the regular or mini aeropex? I tried on a friend’s aftershox (different style) and they seemed huge. I was afraid they’d move around a lot when running. I was thinking about getting myself the mini. I’m right on the border in terms of measuring for size. I’m assuming yours don’t bounce or you wouldn’t profess your love for them as much as you do.
    Your races sound amazing! With the weather getting colder and windier, it’s the inspiration I need to get out there are train again.

    1. I have the regular! They don’t bounce at all on me, but you could always try the Mini and exchange them for the regular size if needed. AfterShokz customer service is really good!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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