How did expectations get so high
Got a wicked thirst to feel alive
~ Sir Sly
On Sunday, October 8th, I ran the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon. It was my 18th rodeo. My main goal was to come in under 3 hours. And, as many of you know, it's a goal I've been chasing for a few years, now. My training for this one, while more intense than ever, went incredibly well. The week before go time I was both physically and mentally ready. My coach and I spoke over the phone on the Thursday before the race. Yes, I was excited. Yes, I was ready. And, yes, despite all my efforts, I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about the weather. The forecast called for rain, heat and high humidity; quite possibly the worst conditions to race in. As he always does, my coach gave it to me straight, Well, Rebecca, it's not looking good. You might be able to squeak in under 3, but given the situation, particularly, with the humidity, which is just so tough to battle at full speed, it's not very likely. I'm sorry. We can control so many things going into these races. But the weather is the one variable that is out of our hands. I knew he was right. But, I still had three days and a lot could happen with the weather in that time. Spoiler alert....it didn't. I did my best not to stress about it (very hard) and attempted to stay positive (even harder). This would be my third time running the Mohawk Hudson. I was headed back because it's an awesome race, it's easy to get to, it's a super fast course and, usually, it presents perfect fall weather. Usually. Kirsten, my good bud and running teammate, would be joining me as well. Here's how it all unfolded.
Kirsten & I celebrating after our final long run.
(note the humidity)
We got into our room and set ourselves up for the night and the following morning. If you remember from my last marathon, we had a bit of a coffee fiasco. Never again. Kirsten and I both brought our Bobble Presses (easily, the best invention since sliced bread) along with an electric kettle in order to make our coffee. Only took me 10 years to figure this one out, but I finally nailed it. We ate some dinner, which we had also brought from home, watched a movie (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, random but funny) and did a little reading before turning off our light around 8:15. Despite hoping and praying, the weather forecast hadn't changed. I won't lie and tell you I wasn't bummed to know what we were heading into. But, with Kirsten's help, I continued to try and stay upbeat about the situation. As I mentioned, we were woken up around midnight by the wedding guests who were telling each other how much they loved each other multiple times. Touching? Yes. Annoying? Also, yes. Then we were up for good at 5:15. It was a really nice, stress free morning for a change. We got changed, drank coffee, and took our time before heading down to the lobby. When we opened the door to walk outside we were hit with a wall of warm air. Added bonus? It was windy. Good, good times. We hopped on the bus at 6:15 and headed out to Poughkeepsie, which is where we'd be starting. We arrived with about an hour to spare and found a spot under a ledge to hang out as it had started to rain. We started chatting with the couple next to us, Matt & Eliza, and ended up hanging out with them for a good half hour. We dove right into conversation, learning about where everyone was from, where we grew up, our college experiences, our future travel plans and so on. We all agreed it was one of the most mellow and enjoyable pre-race sessions that any of us had ever had. Around 7:45, Kirsten and I said goodbye to our new friends and went to check our bags. By now it was raining heavily and all we could do was laugh. We took our traditional pre-race photo, hugged and wished each other good luck. And finally, at 8:00am, we were off.
Miles 1-5 (6:50, 6:47, 6:35, 6:44, 6:44)
As I lined up, I was still hopeful, if only a little, that I could eek out a sub-3. I was thinking we might get lucky and that the rain could potentially cool things off once it ended. Miracles do happen. My goal pace was 6:50/mile, but my coach had recommended that I go ahead and bank some faster miles in the beginning just in case the weather turned South as the day went on, which is what it was predicted to do. Once we got going, I could feel the heat immediately and got pretty nervous. But the rain on my skin was helping to keep things cool-ish, so I settled into 6:45 pace and just rolled with it.
How I felt I looked to the race spectators.
Miles 6-11 (6:43, 6:49, 6:44, 6:42, 6:44, 6:40)
For these next few miles, I was with two men who were holding steady at 6:45. They seemed to know each other and were chatting comfortably, (damn them) so I just sat on their heels and held on, which they didn't seem to mind (bless them). Around mile 8, a spectator told me I was the 7th woman. There was a small pack in front of my group and I could see that 3 of those women were in that crew. So, I decided to surge, see if I could catch them and potentially overtake them. It was a risky move and I knew it. But, I also knew that we were all likely to suffer down the line given the conditions. So, I figured I might as well do what I could at the moment and then hope I could hold on after the fact. By mile 11, I was alone and in front of both groups. At this point, my music started going in and out because the rain was getting my iPod wet. In fear of losing power, I took the iPod out of my pocket and held onto it in an attempt to keep it dry. Within minutes, it slipped out of my hand and I had to stop, turn around and grab it, which totally sucked. I also noticed that my shoe lace had come undone so I stopped again to deal with that. During this madness, I was passed by 2 of the 3 gals that I had just overtaken, which was a bit of a blow. I worked to re-gain my composure for the next couple minutes and then pushed myself to catch back up with them.
Just keep swimming
Miles 12-18 (6:50, 6:52, 6:50, 6:40, 6:41, 6:39, 6:36)
We a had slight uphill at mile 12, so I powered up it and was able to get back out in front of both packs a second time. After that, I tried to stay calm and just hold on. The rain had stopped by now and the temperature was steadily rising. I could literally feel the heat on my skin. I was taking 2-3 cups of water at each stop, but the stops were about two miles apart and I was really struggling during those stretches where there was no fluids available. It was around this time that I realized that my goal pace was no longer in the cards for the remainder of the race. The heat was oppressive and I knew that I had pushed the limit up front so there was a good chance I would have to slow down. I could feel a shift in my breathing and my body was starting to ache from head to toe. But, I was hoping that my early surge had given me enough of a gap to keep my second place position. At mile 17, I crossed the train tracks and flew down hill to then turn onto the street and into the wind.
Miles 19-26 (7:03, 7:08, 7:23, 7:18, 7:39, 8:00, 8:10)
These miles were clearly the hardest to get through. Miles 19-22 were directly into the wind and we were sharing the road with cars. I was totally alone and my motivation to hold pace was slipping. There was a lot of swearing here...at the wind, the heat, Mother Nature, my hair, which was sticking to my face. Basically anything that I could curse, I did. My thirst was unreal and my body was starting to fall apart because of it. I couldn't take down any more gels in fear of throwing up. But, I felt that I was in need of something, ANYTHING, to help keep me going. It was touch and go for a while. Finally, at mile 23, I wanted to stop so badly that I forced myself to slow down enough that I wouldn't have to. While my mind was now playing tricks on me, I was lucid enough to know that stopping would be the kiss of death. I was also sharp enough to realize that placing was still viable as long as I could hold on. After the road section, I hopped back on the bike path for the final stretch. People kept telling me I was still holding onto second, which was enough to keep me moving if only slowly. During this section I saw both my Oiselle teammates, Erin & Rachel, and my Skechers Performance teammate, Karen B., who looked at me dead on and said Come on, Rebecca, you have half a mile. Let's go. I can not tell you how powerful her words were. They were all I needed. Well, that, and some water. But, I finally could see the finish line and I was pretty sure I was coming in solo which meant I'd been able to hold onto second female.
It's kind of hard to tell but I was actually smiling when I crossed the finish line. And it was definitely not because I was happy with my time. Oh, no. I was way too out of it at that point to give a crap about my time or even know what it was. I was smiling because never in my 10 years of marathoning, I have never been happier to be done with a race. No joke. The pain I felt from exhaustion and dehydration was like nothing I've experienced to date. It was a complete and total breakdown during that last stretch. Every step hurt. Every mile felt like a million. And, despite my burning desire to quit, I somehow managed to pull myself through. So, yeah, that was why I was smiling. That, and I might have still been laughing about the weather. Who knows for sure.
Shortly afterwards, Rachel found me sitting solo in the finish area. She wrapped me up in a hug and told me how proud she was of my effort. I've met this woman a handful of times but she's part of my #runfamily, if you will, so she knew what I'd been going for. I was pretty emotional at the moment, so I was more than thrilled to see her and so appreciate of the hug. I have since thanked her for being such an amazing, supportive teammate that day. But, Rachel, if you're reading this, thanks again, you're the best.
I was very pleased to have earned a spot on the podium given the battle that I had fought. It definitely made things easier to digest and added some unexpected joy to an otherwise tough day.
Just before the awards, Eliza and I had found each other and were hanging out together, commiserating a bit and laughing at the madness of it all. She was trying to find Matt and I was looking for Kirsten, who, as it turns out, had also run into each other post-race and were hanging out in a different area. We all agreed to keep in touch and try to visit if we were in each other's neck of the woods. It was a real treat to hang with these guys both before and after the race. I know I say this all the time but runners are just such good people.
An hour or so later, Kirsten and I finally got going, slowly making our way back to the hotel for a shower and a quick power nap before we had to hit the road. On our way out, we stopped at Stacks Espresso, owned by my dear friend Erin, for iced mochas. Oh my.... there are no words to describe that deliciousness. Just, if you are in the upstate NY area, Stacks is a must. Later in the day, I got two messages that really resonated with me. The first was from my friend and fellow coach, Bill Babcock, who said, A little advice from someone who focused on the marathon. Every marathon you run from now on is going to shorten your competitive career. Stop chasing the dragon and enjoy racing shorter races and racing more frequently. The dragon here being the sub-3, obviously. I understand where he's coming from. At some point you have to think long and hard about whether it's still worth it to hold on to a dream that you may or may not reach at such a cost to your body. Particularly if it brings you down physically and emotionally every time you try. But, then, shortly after that I got a message from my friend Matt who said, You always remember the rough ones a little more fondly. They really help develop grit for the next breakthrough. Bill is wise and I will likely heed his advice at some point in the next couple years. But, my dragon and I? We've got one or two more breakthroughs ahead of us. The chase won't last forever but we're both good for a few more rounds. At least, I am. To be continued....
Listen to this:
Shake the Fire - Sampson