Memorial Day Weekend ShenanigansPart B – Memorial Day Marathon
Posted Jun 06 2011 11:10pm
I was not in the mood to run a marathon, much less a trail one, when I got up early and headed out the next day for the trek over to Van Cortlandt Park. I was still physically exhausted from the seven hour drive back from Vermont the previous day and I had relatively little to eat and drink the whole ride back. We did stop at a burger joint midway in the late afternoon but by then, I felt as if my stomach had already begun digesting itself. Sleep also evaded me for much of the night and I questioned my sanity as I got my stuff together for the trail run.
It was dark, gloomy, and sporadically raining as I left my apartment and began my hour long commute to the park. Although the ground was wet, the air thick and I could see nothing but rainclouds hovering overhead, I was comforted by the fact that the forecast this morning said the rain would stop by 9am, so at least I can expect drier conditions for the duration of my run today. The train was unexpectedly efficient even if I still arrived at the park a half hour later than I intended. It was already 9:30am and a small gathering of volunteers and runners were setting up camp at the start preparing for more to come for the 10am general start. I dropped off my nonessentials, gathered a few gels and food items into my hydration pack, greeted a few local DailyMile friends whom I recognized, and rushed off to begin my journey.
I was still feeling a bit out of sorts and a bit uneasy as I headed out of the staging area and onto the trails. Although the rain had indeed stopped and the trail condition (at least for the first mile) was not as bad as I had imagined, I was still irritated that I am starting more than a half hour late. I had originally planned to finish my first loop (each one is 6.55 miles) at 9:50 and run with friends and the general masses for the second loop, but because of the rain and bad timing, this was just not going to happen. Maybe if I run a lil fast, I can still catch some friends at the tail end of my third loop, I thought. Until then, it looks like it’ll be just me and the trail.
I hit the big steep hill at the end of the first mile and gingerly walked-skipped my way up the ascent. The sun was starting to peek from behind the clouds and I knew I would be in for a long day if I expended all my energy in the first loop. As I climbed up the slippery slope, ran over the overpass and dove into the trails hidden away from civilization, I reminded myself for the first of many times that day that patience and safety, not speed or efficiency, would lead me to victory today.
Having run the Holiday Marathon 4-5 times before, I knew the course well. Yet, it always amazes me how much the trail conditions will vary depending on the season and weather conditions. Because it had rained for much of the overnight and early morning, the long single track trail at mile 2 was completely covered in mud. I patiently yet deliberately made my way around the edges of this treacherous path, trying to avoid the puddles as much as I could. Still, my socks and shoes were somewhat soaked by the end of this mile trek. The downhill portion that followed was equally treacherous for me as it was not only steep and slippery, but since a big tree had fallen over, blocking the path, I had to climb over before continuing too, which required more patience and leg muscle power than I was willing to give at that juncture. Finally, I was on the flat dirt trail again and was able to cruise to the halfway point without much difficult. As I ran along the back stretch of Van Cortlandt, I could see and hear the last of the crowd at the general start beginning their race. I wondered aloud how many knew at all what they were in for today.
The second half the course was stacked with hillys but thankfully was devoid of mud. I ran through most of the small climbs but walked a few of the bigger ones to conserve energy. Although the sun was out and the day got brighter, the humidity lingered uncomfortably long for me. I was drinking from my hydration pack a few sips every mile. Despite not feeling at all thirsty, I knew from the steady rise in my heart rate and the increasingly difficult running effort, that dehydration was probable if not imminent. Once I emerged unscathed from the trail, I ran at a hard pace the last half to get to the water/gel station at the start/finish. After crossing by line, I immediately took down the bottle of Gatorade that was handed to me, and started the second loop.
The second loop didn’t go as well as the first. I had to walk more hills and felt more dehydrated the later it got and the more I ran. At about midway, I knew that I was probably going to stop after 13.1 so I pleaded with my body just to run a respectable pace down to the end. When I did cross the finish, I found a few DailyMile friends and chatted with them for a while as I recovered by eating some oranges and watermelon. Everyone agreed that the conditions were brutal and many of them who had contemplated two or more loops did just one and was satisfied with that. As I listened, I was gauging my own reserves. I felt better after getting some food back in the system, so much so that I dared myself to go out for a third loop. I had never done more than two on this course before so I felt it would be an honorable accomplishment if I could finish three. Without a moment’s hesitation, almost faster than I could excuse myself from my company, I repositioned the hydration pack on my back, and was off.
The third loop was hard, really hard. The climbs felt steeper, the mud felt stickier, and I had to spent a few minutes more climbing over the fallen tree that I merely hopped over a couple of loops ago. I thought a lot about my brother and how he did not walk, quit, or complain in the marathon the previous day and I used that memory to motivate myself to keep running, albeit at a much slower pace than we were running the previous day. Although I was sipping fluids every half mile, I still felt as if I wasn’t drinking enough. I made it through the front half and then the back half on sheer on sheer persistence and pride, knowing I would be slightly embarrassed if I didn’t try as hard as I could to run as much of this as I could.
At the end of three, I told myself I was DONE. I took off my hydration pack, took a seat near the finish and told whoever was around that I was finished for the day. Just as I got in though, I ran into my good friend Jeff, who is also one of the organizers of this race. Although I knew in advance he would be here, this was actually the first time I would see him all day. I was excited to see him but I also knew he would try to convince me to get back out there if he found out what I was attempting to do. As I got more water, oranges, and watermelon, he greeted me and said, ”So did you come here to do 3 loops?” I pleaded my case with the fact that the weather was bad, I was hungry and tired and dehydrated. He shook his head and said “No pressure, but I know you could do if you really wanted to.” Of course he was right, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit it. To admit it would have meant another 6.5 miles of pure torture, another 6.5 miles of punishment. But then again, I knew deep within myself that I really could do another 6.5 miles, I could run-walk it if I had to, if this marathon did meant that much to me. And if I stopped now, what race distance would I call this…a 19 mile run? Furthermore, if I stopped, when will I ever find another opportunity to run back-to-back marathons? Would I even want to? For all those nagging reasons, and because I knew I’d never forgive myself if I did not try finishing what I started, I miraculously ventured out for a fourth and final loop.
Believe it when I tell you, that this was the hardest 6.5 miles I’ve ever run. It ranks up there with the last 10K of my first NYCM when I had to crawl up Fifth Avenue. It is harder than the last 10K of my 50K in March. It may have even been harder than the one time I had to walk 6 miles to my college dorm room knee deep in the snow during a blizzard. I ran a half mile and had to walk a quarter mile walk break. I was delirious and had to fight to keep my wits about me. I almost fell twice when my foot would lift more than a few inches off the ground. By the last 5K, it felt more like an extended hike than a marathon run. I started counting down the miles and then tenths of a mile until I could see the finish line a half mile away. I ran as much as I could and finally finished about 4 and a half hours after I started in the morning. By the time I was done, they were packing up the food and taking down markers for the course. Although no one was around to give applause, I was thrilled to have completed the challenge I set forth for myself that day.
Like I told my brother later that day, although I’m glad I finished, please remind me never to do that again!