Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler Race Recap – PR Weekend!

The Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler has come and gone, as has my 20 mile PR.  This is now the fourth time I’ve participated in this race, and I say “participated” because I have finished the race 3 times but only ran the last 14 miles of the race last year while training for the TARC 50K.  What made this year unique was that the race came as part of my training under Coach Luke Humphrey’s training plan, which is a far cry from years past when I came into the race under…no…training plan.  I knew going into the race that I had largely stuck to my prescribed workouts, particularly when it came to the core of speedwork, tempo runs, and long runs.  Where in previous years I had been nervous about just finishing the race, this year my nerves were based on hoping that I could run as well as my training runs suggested I’d be able to.  If nothing else, I had the dual goals of breaking 3 hours for the first time in this race, and setting a new 20 mile PR, hopefully besting my 2:57:34 from the 2013 Black Cat 20 Miler.  My previous Vineyard best was a 3:01:52 in 2011.

We got to the Vineyard Haven ferry station with plenty of time to spare and found it full of runners, all gearing up for a nice little jaunt through the Vineyard.  The fact that the race is 20 miles, in February, on an island, means the race is going to be a somewhat self-selecting group, apparent in the number of super-skinny folks limbering up in the warmth of the ferry terminal.  Thankfully, I was too busy making my customary laps of the restroom to have too much time to be intimidated by the other racers and, before I knew it, it was time to get outside and toe the line.

The race starts by immediately leaving Vineyard Haven, precariously crossing a metal bridge into Oak Bluffs.  I tried to settle myself into what felt like a controlled, but not loping, pace.  A mistake I’ve made in previous years was being so concerned about the distance that I really ramped down my pace, which affected my form and, I believe, led to pain later in the race that I might not have experienced otherwise.  Also different from year’s past was that I started the race on my own, as opposed to running with a buddy.  Because I won’t be able to count on having someone to run with come the marathon, I have to be able to run long distances comfortably on my own.  I went through the first mile feeling comfortable in 8:10 before headed up and around East Chop in Oak Bluffs, which features some great panoramic vistas and even a lighthouse.  All very vineyard-y.  Here’s how the course looks, according to Strava.

Course Map

Miles 2-5 are fairly nondescript, to be honest, taking you towards the shore in OB, though Mile 3 does feature one of the bigger climbs of the race, which Strava only has at 33 ft. gained.  You get a nice little downhill in Mile 4, following the race course of the Oak Bluffs Memorial Day 5K, headed down to OB Harbor.  It’s really Miles 6-10 that are the best part of the course, at least scenically.  These miles take you along the ocean and beaches on your left and ponds on your right, allowing you to zone out whenever needed to get lost in the scenery.  Friends Brendan and Seth were out on the course cheering on their respective wives and got some great pictures around the 7 mile mark.

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Seeing them gave me a nice little boost at that point.  As nice as the scenery is, the miles are basically a straight shot and before too long you start wondering when the end of that stretch is going to come.  Despite the growing desire though to make the turn inland, signalling 10 miles had gone by, I was feeling very comfortable with my pace, generally in the low 8s for non-water stop miles and and 8:10s for those with water stops.  I passed the halfway point at 1:21:xx and started to get confident that I was in for a PR day.  The plan going in had been to try to run the first 10 miles comfortably then just see what I could do on the second 10.  The problem was I started that plan too early and then went too hard, with Miles 8-12 going: 8:17, 8:15, 8:06, 7:51, 7:55 before jumping back up to 8:15, never getting back down to the low 8s again.  I’d like to think that if I had just stuck with my earlier pacing, I wouldn’t have dropped off so precipitously in the last 5 miles of the race, but the only way to test that theory will be to actually run an even pace over a long distance and see what happens.

The second half of the race is far less scenic than the first half, and introduces some rolling hills into the mix.  Nothing is ever very steep or very long, but they are there, and they are there having already run 10 miles, making them feel even more THERE.  Not surprisingly, things really started to feel like they were headed downhill, more in a figurative sense than a literal one, around Mile 15, as has been the case in year’s past.  With the miles beginning to feel more and more slog-like, I did my best to focus on the runners ahead of me, still trying to pick them off despite my flagging reserves.  When the runners I had been targeting started to walk, I re-doubled my mental efforts to just keep on putting one foot in front of the other, determined not to walk at any point other than through water stops.  Of course, the race doesn’t take it easy on you through the last miles, with a long hill at miles 16-17 and another one at mile 19.  Though they only gain 22 and 16 feet respectively, at that point they felt like Mt. Washington and Everest in succession.  Here’s how the course looks overall from an elevation perspective.


Making the race that much harder  was that snow had really started to come down at around the 15 mile mark, starting slowly but building up rapidly.  Though I normally don’t mind running in snow, these flakes were gigantic and often found their way into my eyes along with getting my top layer wet.  Still, it’s New England winter racing, and we persevere, as we must.

Finally, though, the time came to cross County Rd. and make the turn to the home stretch.  At this point I knew I had sub-2:50 in the bag, but wanted to get that new PR as low as possible.  Rebecca had earlier done the first 10 miles of the race as part of the newly-founded relay race (though her teammate sadly wasn’t able to run due to illness that day) and was at the finish cheering me on, along with our friends, who all did a great job supporting us.  Brendan got some great shots as I came towards the chute, as did the race photographer.



Final Time: 2:47:42, good enough for a pretty significant PR and CR to boot!  The takeaway from the race is that my training plan is getting me where I want to be, but I still have work to put in, and I really need to work on both my pacing and fueling for future races.  Exhibit A re: pacing is below.



Still, I think I can get better at that, and the more miles I put in in between now and Patriot’s Day, the better chance I have of not letting the last 10K prevent me from reaching my goals.

Happy running to all!


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8 Responses to “Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler Race Recap – PR Weekend!”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Great job, Michel!

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