What an unexpected pleasure! Much of the 13.1 mile course was in the Great Bay Estuary and National Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful area of pine and oak forest with ponds and marshes and distant views of the Great Bay Estuary itself. Several miles were on dirt roads through the forest, which made a pleasant change from hammering away on paved roads.
The course started and finished in the charming little mill town of Newmarket, which is built around the Lamprey River. I wonder if there are lampreys in the Lamprey River?
A surfeit of lampreys
About the only thing I know about lampreys is what every schoolboy of my generation in England learned at an early age, that King Henry l died of a "surfeit of lampreys." At the time I didn't really know what "surfeit" or "lamprey" meant, but it did not sound like a very pleasant way to die. I always felt that a much better way to go would have been the fate that befell the Duke of Clarence in 1478 who was executed by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. Although the "surfeit of lampreys" was probably not as bad as what happened to poor old Edward ll in 1327 who was allegedly murdered using a method that left no marks on the outside of his body but which involved the use of a red hot poker. Ouch!
Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes. The Great Bay Half Marathon.
One of the unexpected pleasures of the Great Bay Half Marathon was coming across entertainers at random intervals round the course. We were running along the dirt road in the depths of the forest and we started to hear in the distance what I thought at first was a recording of a human voice, electronically enhanced in some way. Eerie. Magical. Even better, perhaps it meant there was a water stop around the next bend?
But when we reached the source of the music, we saw that it was actually a guitarist at the side of the road playing an electric guitar plugged into an amplifier, powered by his truck battery presumably? One of the runners near me commented that this was the "Backwoods Rock and Roll Half Marathon."
After the guitarist we were entertained by an accordionist, a one man band, and a folk group. Just before Mile 11, there were were even some dancing girls!
A surfeit of belly dancers
After my embarrassingly slow half marathon last October, I must admit I was wondering if I was getting too old for this lark. In that race, I totally ran out of steam after about 9 miles and basically hobbled the last 4 miles to the finish. If I couldn't do better than that on Saturday, I was ready to give up the whole idea of running half marathons and take up something less strenuous like... ummm.... black belt sudoku, maybe?
The Great Bay Half Marathon was billed as "challenging", a "roller coaster course" with "some steep hills." Hmmm. Knowing how the people who write these descriptions are usually iron men who run 20 miles up a mountain before breakfast every day, I was assuming that the description was probably understating the difficulty of the course.
But I needn't have worried. I set off at a cracking pace (for me) on the relatively flat roads in the first few miles, slowed down a bit on the hilly middle section (even walking up the occasional hill), then picked up the pace in the final few miles as I bantered with my fellow runners about how I was in a hurry to get to the beer tent. And then we were back in the center of Newmarket, running downhill alongside the Lamprey River into a surfeit of spectators including the beautiful Tillerwoman, who captured a perfect photograph of me looking totally insane, waving my arm in the air and with what looks like an umbrella growing out of both sides of my head. How does she do it?
I had not only beaten my goal time for the race. I had run it 13 minutes faster than my half marathon in October. So maybe there's life in the old dog yet?
But why was I faster this time?
I can only attribute it to my training diet. For the past few weeks I have been on a strict Marmite diet. Marmite with grilled cheese. Marmite on bagels. Marmite on turkey sandwiches. I don't know if it's the high B-vitamin content, the riboflavin, the niacin, or some other secret ingredient, but it definitely worked.