Hey I woke up before my alarm for once I tell myself as I rise from the padded mat I’ve slept on the night prior. It’s 4:48AM, I’m in New York, and I’m a couple hours from toeing the line of my first 50K.
Despite essentially sleeping on the floor, I don’t struggle to sleep for once.
I approach this race as I have been for every race this year. I’m playing with house money. I’m relatively healthy and competing in an event that I don’t train for. I only put this race on the schedule less than a month ago. A 50K wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. As with most things that happen in my life, it didn’t take me much convincing. A simple text is all it took.
Hey, how would you feel about signing up for Caumsett 50K June 13th
We shuffle through the apartment, checking our gear for another time and eating a small meal that will hold us over. Nothing flashy, two packs of raisin oatmeal and some Nuun to satisfy the stomach.
Ready? We silently nod at each other, grab our luggage and head to the car.
On most race mornings the drive is where the butterflies feel more like a hornets nest. The nerves reach a peak, and the body seems to pinpoint any little ache or pain as it looks to convince you that maybe you’re not quite ready for what you’re about to put yourself through. For some reason, this isn’t one of those days. It feels more like I’m getting ready to go out for a long run with the boys.
Alex’s presence definitely helps. To have another joining you calms the nerves quite a bit. We’re both ready to get out there and see what happens. Alex is someone that I reconnected with last year, realizing after an Instagram Story that we had actually know each other from our old message board days. He’s had a breakout season this year, running 2:16 in the marathon in one of the gutsiest performances of the year. We’ll be running different races today. He’ll be running to try and win, I’ll be shooting for what I feel is a conservative time goal, under 3 hours and top 10. The chat on the way is lighthearted, with some discussion about race plans and how we’re feeling. If we are nervous for today we definitely have one hell of a poker face.
It’s a bit strange how calm we are this morning. Regardless of us running in a championship race, we both have run long enough to know what the pain we were in for over the next 3 hours. Yet despite knowing that it more of a matter of when and not if the pain would happen, we sat there driving towards this as though it was an afterthought. Alex had been having some rough weeks following his marathon and I had a rough week recovering from a track 5K the week before. Maybe this is a coping mechanism, to trick the body or stop the brain from trying to rethink its decision to take it into its physical, mental, and emotional limits.
We arrive at our destination an hour before race time. The conditions feel excellent, perfect weather to walk around in a windbreaker and tights. The reports had today looking like it would be on the warmer side. This is a welcome surprise.
Maybe we can run fast today.
It’s now time to check-in and grab our bibs. The race is small enough where it would be easy to recognize familiar faces. I try to scout the competition. With no start lists, we’re essentially left relying on recent Strava uploads to see if maybe they’ll be joining us. He looks fast, I think to myself. At this point I wouldn’t know who I’d be racing with until the gun went off. I’ll be running my own race regardless.
Ready to warm up? Alex calls to me from his car.
There’s no special warm up routine today. A 10 minute trot and some plyos is all we need to be ready. If by chance it isn’t enough, I have plenty of miles ahead of me that will be sure to do it.
For the most part, I feel good. The sluggishness that I had in my legs early this week seems to have settled. I have a slight tug on my hamstring, enough to keep an eye on but not worry about. The temperature has begun to rise and I do my best to ignore it. This will be as good as it will be for us today. Nothing we can do now.
The hour flies by as it tends to on race day. We toss off our warm-ups, give our hydration bottles to our crew, and lace up our racing shoes. Looks like we can’t back out now.
The Championship Field moves their way to the front of the line. A familiar face appears, it’s Michael Wardian. During the quarantine his content had made me reconsider the longer events. What first was an firm no on that had become a feeling a curiosity I had trouble shaking. We exchange pleasantries and wait for the gun to sound. I say my final goodbyes to Alex before we embark on our 31 mile journey.
Good luck buddy, I’ll see you in 3 hours.
Runners to your mark.
The intensity of the starting pistol is a complete contrast to the start of this race. There is no shoving for position, just easy and relaxed with everyone giving each other enough space to settle in. No one is winning this race 100 meters in. The field makes a very distinct split within the first mile. The lead pack of 10 have created separation and it is growing with each subsequent step. I feel as though I’m running by myself and the thought of a lonely 31 miles quickly makes me nervous. A glance at my watch settles my nerves. I’m running right on what I want from these first couple miles. Our plan for today is to fall asleep for 4 of the 10 5K loops at ~6:00 mile pace then start hitting the gas slightly to a pace I could commit to over the final 19.
Thankfully I now have company. Wardian is matching me stride for stride. I’m running side by side with Michael Wardian! I try my best to hide my excitement. We begin to chat through our first loop. I let him know that this is my first attempt at this distance and much of his content over the past year had inspired me to try this.
And now you’re here.
As we move into our second loop we begin to understand the course better. The first half of the loop is fairly quick and the ocean breeze is a nice distraction. The fun stops quickly as you move through what feels like a mile long stretch through a headwind. Wardian notes This feels nice right now, but it’s going to hurt in the later laps. After tackling the windy section we return to the park and into a parking lot where we manuever through a set of 90 degree turns before heading back to the finish while trying not to turn an ankle on the broken pathway.
With the third loop in sight I overhear Wardian say that he is feeling a bit hot already. He requests a bag of ice from his crew as we pass the finish line. With no cloud cover or shade for most of the course, the rise in temperature is impossible to ignore. His comments and my feeling over the last loop made me think that I would have to change my game plan for today. This course and conditions are trickier than they led on and I will have to make make my decision on the fly of when to move. My game plan is forced to change 8 miles in. I’m feeling a discomfort in my left foot. Each step sent a shock through my foot. I have 23 miles to go and my feet already don’t feel good. I’ve never felt this happen so early in a race. My foot and toes are now beginning to feel bruised and I’m trying to flex my foot around the toe box to try and find a comfortable place to rest my foot before it inevitably hits the unforgiving pavement one more time. With a necessary bathroom stop needed, I decided to use that as an opportunity to loosen up my laces. Otherwise, I’m sure I may break my foot.
Each loop is now making me reassess what my plan is. The plan to progress over the last 6 loops seems like an impossible task and I decide to break it up into 4, 4, 2, with the next four loops ahead of me being slightly faster and then giving it everything I have over the last two. As I cross 5 loops I pull into the port-a-potty to go and fix my shoes. It feels like a lifetime as I try to double knot and tuck my laces to ensure no more stops. In reality it was more like 50 seconds or so.
I grab my bottle, take a quick chug and swallow my third Gu. Aside from a slow mile from that pitstop things aren’t feeling too horrible. My nutrition stops have been flawless. I take a quick bottle chug every loop, use a water cup to soak my hat to keep my head cool, and Gu/Maurten every 5 miles. My breathing is comfortable and my torso is feeling relaxed. My feet are a completely different story. Loosening my shoe has relieved some of the tension on my left foot but both feet is feeling the effects of feeling discomfort for 15 miles. I’m now half way in and have been running on tired feet for 7 miles, with each loop making it worse.
Lap 6! Lap 6!
At this point whatever race plan I have is now thrown out the window. I click off a good mile and then it all starts to go haywire. My feet are aching and are not getting better. I have 11 miles to go and each passing mile seemed to feel a ton harder than the previous one. I am now struggling to run even 15 seconds slower than my previous average and I need to make a decision now if I am not going to not crater even more. Instead of pushing to get back to pace I settle on letting myself have two down miles at 6:15 before I will try to get back on pace. My plan seems to work and I find myself moving back to 6:00’s. I think to myself that I will at least pass through the marathon in under 2:40 even if things start to really go off the rails. From there it will be up to me just how much I want to hurt.
The wheels begin to come off at mile 25. It’s at this point that two contrasting phrases begin to repeat through my head.
Embrace the suck
I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done
I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.
15 seconds slower turn into 25 seconds which quickly move to 50+. I am crashing quickly and there is nothing I can do but put one foot in front of the other. My feet are in excruciating pain and I still have 5 miles to go. I jog past the marathon mark, sneaking just under 2:40, and realize that these next couple miles would be my own personal hell. I take my turn into the windy stretch for the 8th time. Wardian was right, this wind is awful I half chuckle and cry to myself. I will only have to do this two more times.
Half way through the penultimate loop I realize I am not alone. The lead bike has been trailing me for about a half a mile. I am being lapped by the leader but he seems to be having a hard time passing me. As he finally laps me I understand why this is the case. The leader is hurting, bad. At this point he has to be running at the most, 10-15 seconds fast than I am and I’m struggling to stay under 7 minute pace. I move to the outside and, in between breaths, give him a cheer.
Go win this thing man.
It is at this point that an internal argument has developed in my head. My brain is pleading me to walk because of the pain. Just walk for a minute and then you’ll get back out there! I know I can’t give in to this voice. If I walk, it’s game over for me. The adrenaline will stop and my legs will seize up. I don’t care how slow I run, I will not walk. I will survive this. Just as my thoughts seem to going down a darker path, I am woken up to a surreal scene unfolding ahead of me.
The leader is walking
My internal dialogue has now almost come to a crescendo.
See the leader is walking. You’re okay if you do too!
The leader pops back up and passes me in a full out sprint effort. He just needs to make it another half mile. But just as quickly as he passes me, he again begins to start walking.
Fuck this,I’m not getting lapped.
I push again, forcing my legs to stay under 7 minutes a mile. We will make it. It’s 3 more miles. 21 minutes at the most. Let’s go.
With 2 miles to go and I see a bib. Choosing to not wear glasses has made it tough to know whether I’m lapping or passing someone for the first time. Hell, it’s the last loop. What do I have to lose. I push hard. I’m close to being back on pace. I pass the mystery man, it’s an age group bib so that means I’m lapping him. My legs have that pop in them again that I haven’t had for almost 10 miles. I roll with it. Let’s leave it out there.
1.5 miles to go. I’m coming up on someone. I’m at least just outside the top 10 I think to myself. He’s coming back to me quickly. I pass, hard. I’m not letting anything to chance. I’m pushing hard. We have 10 minutes to go.
1 mile to go. Just get through this wind and we’re home free. My arms are pumping hard and I’m trying to convince myself that these next couple minutes will go by quickly. I’m not sure if the man I passed is going to try and make one last attempt to get me but I’m not going to let him have the opportunity.
800 to go. We’ve gone this far. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m about to finish. I’m lapping more people.
400 to go. What the hell is this. My legs can move? I’m now running 5:15 pace as I see the finish line. I can taste it. I sprint as hard as my tired legs can go and cross the finish line.
I’m done. It’s over. And for the first time I’m actually more proud to just finish. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I survived. Whatever the time was didn’t matter. We ran our own race and despite my own best efforts to falter, I persisted, I embraced the the suck.
I’m proud of how I finished. To me the race was in my own head. A test of wills and mental fortitude. I leave with confidence from it, ready to give Boston a fair shake in the fall.
We persisted. Next time, we thrive.
3:13:29, 8th place.