November 25, 2010

Race Report: Thanksgiving Marathon

I didn’t get to bed quite as early as I would have liked last night, which explains why I set my alarm wrong and accidentally woke up (naturally) at 6:18am instead of having my alarm go off at 5:45am. Oops! Now I was under a lot of time pressure to get out the door by 6:40am to get all the way up to the Bronx for the race. Luckily, I had laid out most of the stuff I needed the night before. I also remembered later that I had made a check list on my computer of a few additional things to pack… but in my time crunch, I didn’t turn on my computer, and so forgot the list was there. Good thing I remembered it all anyway!

I headed out the door at 6:52am, hoping that I hadn’t really screwed myself for getting to the start on time. I knew that the 1 trains were running on a Sunday schedule, which according to Google Maps, meant every 20 minutes. Hopefully that would still give me enough leeway to get there. In good news, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t too chilly out – I was actually more than warm enough in the sweats I was wearing, so I figured once I stripped down some outer layers at the race, I’d still be plenty warm while running.

When I arrived at the subway I was the only person down there, but was soon joined by a guy wearing sneakers and sweats, also headed uptown. Thinking I recognized another Thanksgiving Marathoner, I queried him, only to find that he was a tourist headed one stop uptown to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he could see the parade right from the stop where we currently were (and would probably get a better view than heading further uptown), and I also felt bad telling him that he had spent $2.50 just to go 5 blocks uptown (less than 1/4 mile, for those of you who aren’t New Yorkers), but I wished him a happy Thanksgiving and settled in with my Fitness Magazine for the ride.

I got so engrossed in the magazine that I didn’t notice when other runners were getting on, but by the time we got up to 242nd St (the last stop on the line), it was all runners getting off. Woo hoo! I wasn’t the latest after all 🙂 Having never been up to Van Cortlandt Park before, and with the website’s directions just saying “walk north about 1/3 of a mile,” I was glad to have some other people to follow. As it turned out, though, “walk north and you’ll find it” was actually pretty good directions – it didn’t even seem to be a full 1/3 mile from the subway. Good to know how easy it is if I’m ever looking for a new place to do a training run!

My first reaction when I got off the train was how freezing cold it was – though it was only about 5 miles uptown, it seemed a heck of a lot colder than it had been down in my neighborhood! I chatted a bit with the other runners heading up there, all of whom thought it was hilarious that I said I “might” do the marathon. Even for these runners doing such an impromptu Fat Ass race, whom I assumed would be really hardcore, they thought it was incredible that I would leave it up to a gametime decision whether to do the full or the half.

When I arrived, I looked around for my friend and fellow Maniac, Kino. He had encouraged me to join a New York running club called the Dashing Whippets, and I hadn’t yet been to any of the group runs (come on, you all know I am a lazy runner when it comes to training) so I was hoping to meet some fellow club members at the race. While I didn’t see Kino anywhere, I saw a runner wearing a Dashing Whippets shirt, so I headed over to introduce myself. Before long, Kino showed up and started introducing me to a few more people as well. Since this was a “fat ass” race (meaning no support), everyone was offering to share their Gatorade, snacks, etc – one guy had even brought a cooler of sports drinks that he said I was welcome to use. It was an awesome sense of camaraderie at the start, for sure!

Everyone started shushing each other, and it became apparent that the race director was making an announcement. Lo and behold, a guy dressed in a giant bunny costume took off the bunny head – he was the race director! “Just in case people got delayed and are on the next train up here, we’re going to start the race at 8:10.” Grrrr! That is one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate when I make the extra effort to do what I’m supposed to, and then allowances get made for other people who didn’t plan ahead. In this case, I had actually woken up late this morning too… but I had planned for that, and made sure that I wasn’t scheduling myself to wake up in time for the last possible train to get me there on time. Furthermore, Fat Ass race or not, I think it’s not really fair for race directors to delay the start of a race (at least not without a really good reason). Today I was just headed back downtown to my apartment, and had no real plans after the race, but so many times I’ve caught flights right after a race and a delay would have been disastrous. Besides, it was Thanksgiving – plenty of people were trying to get home to eat with their families. Seems to me that a delay was a bit irresponsible… but I’ll cut him a break here, given that the race was free 🙂

The ten minutes passed pretty quickly, and soon I saw that people were lining up behind the yellow banner (almost like a real race!). While I had originally planned to wear just a base layer of leggings, tank top, and turtleneck, the cold air made me think twice, and I decided to keep on my sweatpants and windbreaker, at least for the first lap. I joined the assembled crowd just in time for the race director’s announcements and instructions. Favorite part there: when Kino ran over to interrupt him with some sort of question and side discussion (come on, Kino, we’re freezing!). I later asked Kino what he had said, and he told me that he asked the race director if we were allowed to do extra laps and have it count as an ultra. Ha! Kino, you can run extra laps if you want to… I am out of here after a marathon or half (still hadn’t decided which). A lone girl sang an unmic-ed Star Spangled Banner, which I loved it – reminded me again how low-key this race was 🙂 And then with a “ready, set, go!”, we were off!

I was a bit concerned about running in the cold, not just for the comfort factor, but also because the cold air can sometimes make my lungs ache and make it harder to do long distance. Fortunately, it wasn’t that cold, so that wasn’t a factor. In fact, with my sweatpants, jacket, and gloves, I was actually pretty toasty – I mentally patted myself on the back for choosing an appropriate outfit (I often suck at that when the seasons are changing).

The first mile was pretty, wrapping us around a large playing field, then down a slightly rocky trail to a bridge over what appeared to be a swamp, and then along a boathouse parking lot that reminded me of the On the Road for Education marathon in Iowa (which was held at a similar time of year). Already I was enjoying the variety of scenery… until a particularly “scenic” bit came up, in the form of a super steep hill heading up to the highway. Whoa! The crowd was still totally packed close together, too, so even had I been some sort of superwoman (wait, that’s right, I am!), I wouldn’t have been able to run up – it was just a slow march to the top, trying not to slip slide back down as we did.

One guy did find a way through the crowd and went zooming by though – he was running with his dog, and the dog just approached the hill with no holds barred, pulling on the leash so the guy had no choice but to scramble up it too. I suppose a sled dog is one way to motivate yourself! When I caught up to him at the top, I asked if the dog was going to run the whole marathon too… but he said no, just the 10K. I waited for him to blame the dog for not wanting to go further (as I surely would have done), but he was sadly honest and said that he himself wasn’t trained for more 🙂

We ran along a highway for a short stretch, as I wondered if by some sort of holiday miracle my mom might pass me from her Megabus on the way down to the city. From there, it was downhill (fly, legs, fly!), next to another highway, and then onto a rocky wooded double track trail. It was at this point that I got reminded why I don’t really like trail running – instead of getting to enjoy the beauty of the woods and the solitude of running in an uninhabited place, I was busy watching the ground for rocks and trying to stay light on my feet, in case I hit rocks under the cover of fallen leaves. Not nearly as much fun, and all that hopping lightly got me pretty tired too.

But you know who enjoyed it? Mr. Iditarod himself, that little dog was thrilled to be trotting along in a pack of runners. His owner actually let him off the leash, and it was hilarious to see how the dog just followed the leader down the trail (even when his owner was way behind). I really wish I could have a dog to run with someday… but my job has me traveling too much for that right now.

Soon we had another downhill… but this one was even rockier than the flat trail, so instead of getting to fly down it, I was zigzagging back and forth to avoid the ditches, pits, and rocks. I apologized to the people behind me for slowing them down, noting that I’m not a particularly accomplished trail runner, but they shrugged it off, saying I hadn’t really slowed them down much at all. After the downhill, we then hit a (relatively) flat rail trail for about 1/4 mile, and on that stretch I took advantage of the respite to pass them at a good clip. Better take advantage of the sure footing while I could!

Looking down at my watch, I couldn’t believe that I had only gone about 2.7 miles at this point. I wanted to be coming back to the start for the next loop, but instead, I wasn’t even halfway done! We circled around the other side of the playing fields, passing a few spectators as we went, before heading back out into the woods for some hilly terrain.

While the uphills seemed gradual, they were really wearing me out, whicih surprised me – I thought I had rested up for this race pretty well, but I was wiped out. I was already contemplating doing just one 10K loop, and kept my mind occupied by trying to think of good rationale for dropping down to that short of a distance… or, coming up with motivation to keep going, depending on whether I was on an uphill or a downhill at the time 🙂 The race was starting to thin out by now, so I was no longer fighting the pack on the uphills – but there were still enough people around that I got to fly by on the downhills!

Again, I checked my Garmin – 4 miles down and still another 2.5 to go before I would be back to the start. Would this loop never end?? I guess I am just not used to running hills and trails these days, but being that out of shape was disappointing. This area was pretty much all hills, so I couldn’t even walk up a hill to save energy, or I’d be walking half the race! On the bright side, this part of the trail wasn’t really rocky… thank goodness for small favors.

As I approached mile 5, I started to get a “second wind” (does it count as a second wind when it happens at mile 5 instead of mile 20?), in part due to how the course flattened out and took on a slight downhill grade. Plus, I could tell from my Garmin that I was getting closer to the end of the loop… never mind that I had more to do. I would worry about that later.

I finally burst out of the woods, finding myself with just a quick loop around a softball field before turning around and heading back to the start. There was a great spectator cheering us on from the softball field, which gave me some extra energy to keep going – good thing, as it was just the inspiration I needed to ensure that I would keep going for a second loop. I don’t know what I would have done if I had a tough bit coming into the finish – that might have finished me!

As I came to the end of the loop, I started preparing: first, preparing to take off my jacket (I was sweating like crazy now – it was definitely time to lose that and the sweatpants), and next, digging into my fuel belt for a Gu to eat before I got to the start and could wash it down with my water bottle. As I crossed the line, I slowed to a stop to ditch my sweatpants – but got distracted when I saw my blog buddy Frank, from Run Dangerously.

Frank and I have been reading each other’s blogs for years, so I almost feel like I know him, but despite both living in the metro New York area and running a lot of the same races, we had never met in person – so I decided to sacrifice my time (ha! Like I was doing well anyway…) and say hello. While Frank runs some incredible long distance ultras in some very fast times, his Thanksgiving plans weren’t allowing him to stay much longer, so he was heading out after the 10K. Too bad, since Frank also happens to be a huge beer aficionado and I was planning on having my mom bring up some of the amazing Southern Tier Pumking as a reward for whenever I finished the marathon. He ended up taking a cute pic of me before we parted ways – a fun unofficial race photo, since there were no official ones 🙂

I dropped off my stuff, chugged a bottle of water (I was thirsty after 10K with no water!), and then headed out for my second loop. This time around, the beginning miles were pretty deserted – it seemed that most people had bailed after the 10K. After running over the bridge, through the woods, and past the boathouse (to grandmother’s house we go!), it was soon time for the daunting hill up to the highway. This time, there were no crowds around to “slow me down,” so I had only myself to blame for slowing to a walk/crawl on the way up. But come on, look at it – this hill was rough!

Reaching the open-air highway at the top, I got a bit cold at the top, but I reminded myself that the shelter of the woods and the blazing fast pace I would be running (right…) would soon warm me up. Next up: the rocky woodsy trail and a rollicking game of “keep moving forward as fast as you can while avoiding the pits.” Just as I was getting proud of my nimbleness, rocking out to Jason Mraz’s “Wordplay” and having delusions of passing the female runner a bit ahead of me, I hit a rock, went flying, and ultimately went down hard. Hearing my “oof,” the woman I had been trying to pass stopped running and turned back to help (if she only knew what I had been thinking before I went down!). Checking myself out, I realized that while I was going to have some nasty bruises, my thick leggings and palm-covering sleeves had protected me from actually getting scraped up, and nothing was broken. However, I was covered in dirt and leaves – and wouldn’t you know, there was a photographer just a few paces ahead. Don’t mind me – I’m just the one who sucks at trail running!

It was at this point that I definitively decided to run just the half marathon. After all I had already calculated that that was enough to burn off my Thanksgiving dinner, so I was set on the workout front. Besides, I reasoned after my fall, if I was this tired already, I was only likely to get more careless as the race went on – and I wouldn’t want an injury to prevent my upcoming trip to the Reggae Marathon in Jamaica! Better safe than sorry 🙂

Spurred on by the idea that this would be my last lap (instead of my second of four), I caught up to the female runner who had stopped to help me, and we chatted for the next 1/2 mile or so as we completed the rail trail and the loop around the playing fields. As we prepared to go back into the woods, I picked up the pace a bit to catch up with another group of runners, one of whom was wearing a Marathon Maniacs jersey (that he told me he had just earned the weekend before – congratulations and welcome!). That’s one thing I love about marathoning – you have plenty of time to make new friends while you’re out there, and runners are a friendly bunch who never hesitate to make conversation (at least, the runners at my not-too-speedy pace).

Back to the hills I went – only 3 miles to go and I would be done with this difficult race! I was happy to be out of rock country, as I knew an injury was much less likely on this part of the course, but I still had to contend with the rolling trail as we went up and down and all around. This time, at least I could enjoy the fact that this was my last time through, so I tried to push the pace harder than before. There was no way I was going to finish under two hours (which for me is a pretty decent half marathon), but I still wanted to give it my best effort and burn some extra calories (can you say “please pass the caramel pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake”). Honestly, I don’t know why there aren’t more marathons on Thanksgiving Day – it is one of the best motivational tactics for running a marathon that I’ve seen yet 🙂

As I came into the last mile and prepared to head out of the woods, I took a moment to throw on my marathon power songs playlist to spur me to the finish. Starting with “Stronger,” by Britney Spears, I thought of how much this course reminded me of the woodsy trails around the duck pond of SUNY Albany, near where I grew up. I love thinking back to how I used to be so unathletic – it’s still somewhat unfathomable to me that I am a distance runner now, and that’s why I love the lyrics of this particular song (“cause now I’m stronger than yesterday!”). Finish line, here I come!

As with many of the smaller races I’ve done, the finish line was a little bit of a letdown; no one was really paying much attention when I crossed the finish, though I still threw my arms into a V for Victory as I crossed and then stopped my watch. Honestly, though, I was less disappointed by the lack of a crowd, and more disappointed by the fact that finishing only the half marathon meant that my mom hadn’t had time to trek up to the Bronx and bring my Pumking ale 🙂 No matter – since I had only run 13 miles instead of 26, it was probably for the best that I didn’t drink a heavy malt.

I was, however, very psyched to claim my medal – a large silver fork with “Thanksgiving Half Marathon 2010” written on it in Sharpie, and attached to a ribbon so I could wear it around my neck. That’s right, this race gives out silverware for prizes! With this being the first year of what is hoped to be an annual race, they encourage you to come every year and receive a different piece of dinnerware, until you have the whole set. I may not have finished in a great time, and I may have had some lazy gripes about the difficulty, but you can bet I am going to come back in subsequent years to keep collecting my set.

Now – time for me to get some rest. While it may be time to chow down for the rest of you, I am hosting my family for dinner tomorrow, and if I’m going to get the apartment cleaned up and all ten dishes on the table, I’d better get going!

Race stats:
Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:11:04
Pace: 9:59


1 thought on “Race Report: Thanksgiving Marathon”

  1. Nice write up Laura!!!

    Thanks for the shout out. Sorry I showed up “just in time” to the race and not early. I enjoy my sleep, haha.

    About the extra loop, I chickened out and “only” ran 4 loops, covering a marathon distance. So, no ultra for me. Nobody ran a 5th loop that day for 50K credit.

    Amazing finish time! Sub-10 on that course is great.

    That picture of the hill to the highway is a perfect depiction of the race, haha. That part was definitely un-runnable.

    If you like Fatt Asses, there’s the Delaware Water Gap Fatt Ass 50K (DWG FA 50K) this Sat!

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