Yesterday I ran from Schenectady to Albany.
I will never do such a thing ever again. Ever.
We arrived in Schenectady at 630, only a half hour before packet pick-up was scheduled to begin. But the park was completely deserted, and we drove around in circles trying to find something that indicated there would actually *be* a race. We finally flagged down a guy picking up trash and asked him where where we were supposed to be. “Right here,” he told us, and pointed to an empty pavilion.
Since we were early, we wandered around looking for the tell-tale line of port-o-johns that frequently mark the starting line, and slowly we realize there is none.
“There is none” becomes a kind of refrain for this race. Chips? Nope. Schwag bags? Nope. Mile markers for the first several miles? Nope. Spectators? Not many, really. Music? None. Interesting scenery?
The first half of this race, for me, was phenomenal. The fact that there were no mile markers for the first three miles meant I had absolutely no idea of how fast I was going. I found a woman whose ponytail had a pleasant, hypnotic bounce to it and I set my pace to hers. When we finally hit the 5K mark spray painted on the ground, I hardly believed it. “That can’t be for this race,” I thought to myself. My watch said 28 and change, which meant I ran my second fasted 5K. I felt strong and light, and decided at that moment that my strategy would be thus: continue with this pace, which was probably at about 80% of my push, until I had to slow down. Then I would slow down. Running negative splits (where you run the second half faster than you ran the first) doesn’t work for me; I always always get slower, even if I try to hold back. So instead of trying to “save” anything, I figure I’d just use what I had until I didn’t have any more, and then I would run on pure will.
This strategy worked fabulously for about 7 more miles. At 10K the clock said 58; at 15K it said 1:30. I constantly was running numbers in my head: if I maintain this pace, I’ll finish in 4:20-ish. Holy shit. I was passing people left and right, my eyes on the leaf-littered bike trail, listening to people behind me talk about taking their teenage son for a jog in search of a connection and finding that he can run a sub-6 mile (which didn’t, I gather, make for much of a conversation).
I hit the half-mark at 2:15, 6 minutes faster than my PR for a half. I was giddy that I might actually beat my last time of 4:52.
Then all at once both my knees decided to hate me, and my right hip started sending shooting pains into my glute and quad. Ouch ouch ouch ouch with every. single. step. At the next water stop I popped 2 Motrin and willed them to work.
The next mile was agony, and I began mentally composing my race report. “d.n.f…everybody should dnf at least once so they have compassion for others who must dnf.” The biggest problem, though, was that while I wanted to quit, there was no one anywhere to help me quit. The only other people I saw were other runners–now most of them shuffling past me. I had no choice except to simply continue on until the next water stop, and who knows when that would be?? So I shuffled on. Ouch ouch ouch ouch.
A lone spectator on her bike was clapping and cheering around mile 14. She yelled a standard: “Halfway there! Looking good!!” to me as I passed. “I don’t feel very good,” I told her.
“It’s all mental,” she said. She was looked smart and looked like a runner. “Remind your brain that your body is a machine. You can do it.”
I smiled weakly and continued on, thinking to myself that I’d broken the machine.
As I approached the next water stop, I realized I’d already covered 2 more miles, and that while my knees both still felt broken, the Motrin had helped the excruciating hip pain. I realized I felt a little better. I ate a Gu and drank some water and decided I’d press on, and take things one mile at a time.
While running the bike trail was lonesome, once we got into Albany around mile 20 things became treacherous. For about 2 miles we ran on the shoulder of a major 4 lane artery, and I was tired and woozy and afraid that if I were to trip I’d immediately be hit by a car. I began working to pass people just so that I had something to keep my mind sharp and my head up. I told one man as I ran abreast of him: “You’re really hard to catch,” and I meant it. He laughed and said, “No one’s ever said that to me before.”
At mile 22 we ran back onto a bike trail. I rounded a bend and saw J stretching against a tree. I shrieked in joy and relief. J ran that last 4 miles with me, talking to me about minutiae and encouraging me to keep going.
I finished in 5:02, which is not a PR and it’s not under 5, but good gravy this race was harder and more painful than my first. J, a talented pep-talker, kept me from walking the entire last couple miles. I was probably ugly and rude to her the whole time and still she pressed on. “You want to try to pick it up?” she’d ask. “Shut the hell up,” I’d respond. The only thing that got me to the end was thinking about how I’ll never ever do it again.
*sigh* I always reassure myself with this promise–and I always somehow talk myself into marathoning again.
Today I feel like someone took a baseball bat to my kneecaps, and I have horrible shin splints. I can “act natural” if I’m walking, but stairs are near-impossible, and to get up or sit down is extremely hard.
As long as I live next door to D, though, I imagine I’ll continue this torture, especially as her saga to qualify for Boston continues.