“Yeah, apparently the race director is in the hospital with hypothermia.”
Every time that Anthym gives me some new racing gear, they always ask if I need any gear for colder weather, and my answer is always the same: “If it’s too cold for me to race in a singlet, I’m not racing.” If this past weekend in Long Island (USATF 50k Road National Championships) taught me anything, it’s that I should have listened to myself.
The extended forecasts from about a week out from this race called for mid-30s to 40s temperatures with little wind; to me, this is a pretty comfortable marathon-esque racing environment. It’s what I ran Philly in back in 2014, and it’s generally close to what Tussey has been the last two years. However, as the day of the race started to get closer, the forecast started to drop: Tuesday, they were saying that it wouldn’t break 40; Wednesday, it would hover around 30; Thursday, it would stay firmly in the 20s. It wasn’t until Allie and I arrived in Long Island with hurricane force (well, not that bad) winds that the forecast of “staying in the teens with high winds” seemed to be our fate. After freezing our faces off touring the Vanderbilt Estate (a must-do) and downtown Huntington the day before the race, we realized we were in for a doozie. C’est la vie.
When we got to the state park the morning of the race, we realized that the weather was even worse than we had thought it could be. The wind was howling and the temperature was sitting pretty at 13 degrees. (I found out later that this equated to a solid -1 windchill.) After changing and trying to get warm in the car, we made our way to the start/finish line (the course was 10 5k loops) to get my nutrition set up. I had pre-mixed HEED and brought some gels just in case I needed something more. I opened and shook my hand warmers that I would be carrying for probably the first couple laps since there was no way that any running glove could keep my hands warm.
Before I knew it, I had taken off all of my outerwear and came to the start line with just my compression shorts, singlet, arm warmers and gloves (Swiftwick socks too). The RD (who was apparently taken to the hospital WITH HYPOTHERMIA literally a couple minutes later; he’s in stable condition now, my thoughts are with him) gave some pre-race words, and then we were off.
I knew from the first 5 minutes that this was going to be a different sort of race. The field thinned very quickly, with the top 7 sprinting out front and then a large group of people staying back. For me to hit my goal times (3:30 to 3:35), I ended up somewhere in the middle. It won’t be that bad, I thought, at least they’ll have an aid station every mile and a half so I’ll be able to feed off of that energy. I could not have been more wrong.
The course did, in fact, have an aid station every mile and half, but it seemed like I was running through a funeral home. Deathly silence with only the calls of “wer-tah?” pierced the otherwise still landscape. (Side note: I have never seen this many people in one location pronouncing the word “water” wrong so many times in such a short period.) The first 5 laps (15 miles) passed with solid 6:35 to 6:40 paces without really anything happening. There was nobody to run with, and the only words I said every lap were the one or two phrases that I could get out to Allie when she gave me my paper cups of HEED at the start/finish of every lap. Needless to say, the couple phrases that I chose to tell her on consecutive laps when I passed were “I am NOT having fun,” “The is the f—ing quietest course ever,” and “I’m so bored.”
Leading into this race, the one thing that I was pretty unsure about was whether I should treat this race as a long marathon or a short 50k. I ended up deciding on treating it like a short 50k, and I’m pretty sure I made the wrong decision. I wore my road flats (Saucony Grid Type A6) and went out trying to hit a marathon split and then hold on. I realized that I had made the wrong decision at about mile 20 when the familiar marathon wall decided to rear its ugly head out of nowhere and hit me hard. My mile paces started to creep up, and I had no external sources to help me out of the the hole the I was putting myself in. The aid stations seemed to by sucking energy out of the course, and with all of the people dropping out or walking, there was still no one to talk to while I was essentially trying to race through a funeral home.
When I came upon the end of my 7th lap (21 and change miles), I knew the ending was gonna be tough. I told Allie “I don’t want to do this anymore,” which is a pretty common phrase that I think about during every race I’ve ever run (stems from my thoughts during steeplechases back in college), but this time, it felt real. I had no one to help me out, and I certainly wasn’t going to help myself. I put one leg in front of the other, determined to still get a Boston qualifier split for the marathon.
By time lap 9 started (24 and change), I was slowed to almost a walk, but I was determined to not walk until the marathon split. I sucked it up and hobbled to the marathon-split timing mat. Semi-fortunately, I was still able to get a BQ (3:04:58), although it certainly won’t get me in for 2018. From there, it was a matter of alternating running and walking until I got to the finish. There were a couple times when I was able to work with people who were laps behind who were, at this point, going a similar pace to me, but it was still a very lonely race.
I had accepted a long time before during this race that I wasn’t going to be top 10, so at this point, I just wanted to finish so I could still have a sub-4 50k under my belt. I trudged along during the 10th and final lap, walking up the one hill on the course and shuffling the rest of the way. Eventually, I made the final turn and ran it in the finish for a time of 3:50:23 (results here). I outkicked a couple people who I could see coming up behind me, although I obviously couldn’t tell what lap they was on.
As soon as the race was done, I put on my warm clothes that Allie had stuffed in her jacket to keep warm (did I mention how much I owe he?) and walked to the “heated” tent (should have been called the “slightly less freezing” tent) to get some warm food. Unfortunately, they had no warm food, so I grabbed a bagel and diet Pepsi and moved as fast as I could (not fast at all) out of that forsaken frozen purgatory. It turns out that I should have stayed for the awards, because apparently enough people dropped out or slowed down that I ended up as a medalists with a 10th place finish (they said they’ll send it in the mail), and one of the people that I outkicked was actually on his final lap, and I ended up beating him by less than 45 seconds. Better to be lucky than good.
My initial thoughts on running that race – I am never running a race that cold again. It was miserable, not fun, and I didn’t enjoy it. I am fine training in sub-zero windchills, but running a race in that weather is a different story. I am glad that I was able to finish it and notch a sub-4 50k under my belt. I feel like maybe the weather added some time to my race, but I didn’t have very good race management; rather than treating it like a marathon, I should have treated it like a fast 50k, wearing Hokas and dressing like it was going to be a longer day. I would love to run another road 50k to give myself a chance at redemption.