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Grete’s Great Gallop Half Marathon, Or The Day I Ran 20 Miles

Posted Oct 11 2011 7:19am

On October 1, I woke up nervous but ready to run the 19 miles on my training plan. A new PDR (personal distance record) and a very scary number. Because I didn’t have any friends around to run with, I decided to run the first six miles on my own and then run the next 13 in a half marathon I signed up for, Grete’s Great Gallop .

Breaking it up as an “easy” six-miler and then a half marathon made the long run seem much more manageable, and being part of a half marathon meant I was not running alone. It is no secret that I love racing more than running, and once I was in a half marathon, I knew I wouldn’t be as tempted to quit.

The first six miles were meh. I ran to the Reservoir but it was full of puddles from rain during the night, so I ran on the Bridle Path. The Bridle Path is a dirt road that surrounds the Reservoir. I decided to run on the extended Bridle Path, which spit me out onto the loop but I had no idea where. I thought I was on the West Side but felt out of sorts and everyone seemed to be running the wrong way. I didn’t recognize where I was even though I have run that loop so many times. I kept running and suddenly I was approaching the Harlem Hills.

As it turns out, I was on the East Side! Also turns out there was no turning back, I was running up the most brutal hill in the park on a day I was not expecting to. I ran those hills three times the week before during the 18-Mile Marathon Tune Up . And I was happy that Grete’s Great Gallop is two clockwise loops — the hills are much more forgiving, and not only is running down Harlem Hill awesome, running down Cat Hill feels freeing and amazing.

I lied when I said there was no turning back. Of course there was turning back, it is called running the other direction. But I was there, I was running in that direction, I decided to just go for it. Hills are excellent training for the NYC Marathon after all.

See that diagonal line towards the top? That is where I was when I ended up on the East Side. The very top is the Harlem Hills.

Eventually I finished the six miles, ate ShotBloks and got into my corral to begin the race right before we started.

Off we go! There’s Gia next to me, apparently. She clearly did not stay there long considering she finished about 23 minutes before me.

The race started out great. I love the beginning of races. There is so much energy and excitement. Why do you think so many people start way too fast? It’s contagious!

However, when I got to the second mile of the race (my eighth overall) my old familiar stomach pain made an appearance. The pain I get is high up, in the crevice between my ribcage. I felt a lot of pressure on that spot, and as I rubbed the area trying to break up the bubble, I wondered how I would be able to run two full loops of the park.

The truth is, my stomach was not feeling perfect before I left for the run. Andy reminded me that I don’t need to finish all 19 miles; I could and should stop and come home if I didn’t feel well.

Luckily the pain dissipated and while the run was not easy, it was so much better. By the fifth mile of the race, I felt completely better and I was in a zone — not I didn’t feel much, I was lost in my thoughts and just moving. I saw Ali standing on the side and screamed her name. I love seeing people I know!

Shortly after that I ran down Cat Hill for the first time during the race. As always, it was luxurious.

Also, the lead people passed me on my left. I cheered for each as they ran by. The leaders are so inspiring! And on my right? Well there was the masked man from last week on the side of the race. Wearing the exact same outfit, right down to the gloves and gas mask.

Scary masked man
[Remember him?]

After what felt like forever, I was running my second loop. By this time there was no doubt that I would finish 19 miles. All I had left was one more clockwise loop, a route that I just completed and didn’t even feel so hard on my legs.

It was around this time, as I was passing the finish line on my right and entered the passing lane on the left, that I noticed the masked man right in front of me! Why is this random man in a scary gas mask all over my life? There were some photogs around so I tried making scared-yet-funny faces with the guy in front of me in hopes of getting some hilarious photos. But the photogs all seemed to take a break during this scene.

Scary masked man energized me and I decided to follow him in hopes of getting a photo later on. Turns out he is FAST. I wasn’t sure how fast he was because he finished the 18-Mile Tune Up with me 3:30 after it began, but yeah, he’s quick. I could not keep up and he escaped.

Funny how quickly the stalkER becomes the stalkEE.

Scary masked man again
[Oh how the tables have turned, scary masked man]

The energy he gave me was amazing, and when I got to mile nine, I thought “four miles left? I can do 10! I can run a marathon right now if I wanted!” A mile later my attitude shifted and running became really difficult again. Now, I was ready to be done. I started feeling blah and that is when I saw Ali again, in the exact same spot as before.

This time I was even happier to see her because I needed her so much more.

“Hi Brian!” I yelled to her boyfriend, whom I never met before. I gave either one or both of them a high-five. Can’t remember.

That burst of excitement from seeing Ali pushed me through at a time I needed it. Soon there were just two miles left, and I think now is as good a time as any to share with you my thoughts on the last four miles of every race:

  • Four Miles Left: I can do four miles — it’s just two and two. And I can always do two!
  • Three Miles Left: A 5K! It’s just 30 minutes. And after, it’s just two miles left.
  • Two Miles Left: Anyone can run two miles! It’s just 20 minutes of running. It’s stupid to quit when there’s so little running left.
  • One Mile Left: No question, power through.
Every single race, these are my thoughts. Most regular runs, too. It helps. I don’t know why, but it always helps.

Side note: I own 6 pairs of running shorts and not one pair was clean at the time of this race.

I sped up as I neared the end. I was feeling amazing, so happy, so much energy and I saw the finish!


[With the finish line in sight, the guy behind me does not seem as happy as I am to be done. But then, who ever is?]

I had enough in me for a sprint to the finish and that is exactly what I did. I crossed the finish line of Grete’s Great Gallop with a time of 2:18:50, with 19.4 miles complete.

19.4 miles? That seemed suspiciously close to 20. And I felt more amazing than I usually do at the end of a race, despite my sprint to the finish.

I handed my water bottle to Andy and told him to wait right there, “I have about 5 more minutes of running left to do.”

And I took off to complete 20. Because really, it would have been silly not to.

And just like that, I unexpectedly ran my first 20 miler.

See what I mean about speeding up those last few? I was so excited! After I finished, I got confused once again in Central Park, the place where I run all the time. This time there was even less of an excuse because I was running a quick out-and-back. But once again I did not recognize my surroundings and it took a little while to get my bearings.

But I did, and I found Andy, and I felt so great, and I could not believe I just ran 20 MILES!

This run makes the marathon seem more attainable and more real than ever. Honestly, if I had to run another 6.2 right then and there, I think I could have. It might have been adrenaline or stupidity or both, but I know I could have. I felt great. I ran 20 miles!

I didn’t feel any soreness later that day or the next day. When I went out on my eight-mile run two days later, I actually felt beter than ever. I don’t know what is going on but I am not about to question it. I know that not every run can be great, and my five-miler later in the week was pretty bad, but I don’t have any doubt about running and finishing this marathon.

So here is where I am with my training: this past weekend I ran the Staten Island Half Marathon (recap next week), this weekend I have my planned 20, and then I taper. The marathon is in four weeks.

In other news . . .

My company Hydroxatone is donating $1 for every Facebook ‘Like’ we get during the month of October to the National Breast Cancer Foundation . Please Like us – it is a very easy way to contribute. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and my mom had breast cancer when I was 10, so this is a really great time to Like us. Help raise a lot of money for breast cancer research!

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