Before I touch on the New York City Marathon, I should give a little lovin' to the Marathon-That-Was(n't?) After NYC, I had two people congratulate me on my first marathon. The only thing is that it wasn't my first marathon. That would be the 2014 Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge 26.2.
Last year in 2013, my brother ran his first ultramarathon- the Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50 Miler. I tagged along and ran the 10K, officially putting me back on the running map since my cross country days. It was a great weekend and essentially inspired me to look beyond 6 miles (I could write quite a bit on that actually, so much that I will save it for another post).
So last December, having qualified for the 2014 New York City Marathon, I put together a plan. I would run the Bear Mountain Marathon in May. This would serve two purposes:
1. It would motivate me to continue to keep my miles up in the winter months, so my fitness would not drop off and I would not have to start fall marathon training from scratch.
2. The Bear Mountain Race promised to be a monster, in terms of distance, elevation changes, and trail technicality. If I could bang out 26.2 miles there, not only would I not have "first marathon anxiety," but the New York City course might seem "easy" in comparison thereby increasing New York City Marathon enjoy-ability.
May 2014- Race Day
The 50 Mile race began at 5:00 am, so my family and I met at the start area to see my brother off. Head lamps are required for the first hour or so, but dawn always starts to peek above the hills by about 5:30 or so.
We hurried down to the first aid station to catch him. It was only four miles or so for the runners, but since we were trying to maneuver around with several people plus a dog, we ended up missing him.
The rest of my family headed to the parking lot to nap in the car. I curled up in the front seat and managed to get 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Before I knew it, it was 7 o'clock and time to rise and shine (and by "shine" I mean embark upon an absolute hellscape of a course).
The race started uneventfully enough and we were off.
It had rained pretty heavily in the days leading up to the race and as a result the course was drastically different than in 2013. Steep, rocky trails were slick with water and tiny streams still making their way down. The flat stretches, which would usually offer a reprieve from the difficulties of the graded portions were filled with about six inches of thick slopping mud OR several inches of water standing on top that six inches of thick slopping mud.
The first couple miles, several runners and myself instinctively tried to preserve our dry shoes and dashed for a tiny island of dry dirt or bounced from stone to stone across endless mazes of muck.
Other (I'm assuming) wiser and more seasoned endurance runners plugged along straight through every wet, slick, and sloppy obstacle in their course. Later it would occur to me this was quite wise indeed.
I saw my family and the mister at the Anthony Wayne Aid Station #1, located at the 3.9 mile mark.
Sometime after leaving this aid station in the thick of the woods at the low point of between steep hills, we passed a runner from the 50 Mile race surrounded by medics. The verdict at that time was he had broken his leg, and according to the medic on a walkie talkie it was "going to take a few hours" to carry him out." Sure Bear Mountain is less than two hours from New York City, but these trails were legit. Any one of us at any time could have rolled and ankle over one of the loss rocks that littered the trail. Or taken an over eager stride on the down hill. It was the first injury I saw that day, but it wasn't the last.
From there I continued to the Silvermine Aid Station (8.6 mile mark), where things began to get a little more interesting. At this point, my heel had begun to chafe. (Since I had accidentally run my training shoes raw, I was forced to replace them a week before. I know the "no new things on race day" adage, but I figured it was worth the risk because 1. they were the exact same shoe and model, so hopefully that would offset most of the problems of my foot having to adapt, 2. the old ones were worn down so much they likely caused or contributed to my earlier injury).
I knew if I could get it wrapped with a little extra something so that the shoe didn't rub on raw skin, it was earlier enough to not have any real problems going forward. There was a short wait at the medic tent as one woman my age was in the process of dealing with a twisted ankle and the heartbreak of DNF-ing. The medic sent two strips of tape my way, it wasn't ideal, but I was eager to get moving again so I made do.
I was lucky enough to get to see my family here, which was great, since I wouldn't see them until I looped back to Anthony Wayne near the 20 mile mark.
I spent the next five or so miles dreaming the of salty snacks I would find at the Arden Valley Aid Station (13.6). You can imagine my disappointment when I got there and they were basically cleared out. Sigh. Next!
At this point I am in the thick of the toughest part of the course. I know if I can make it to Mile 18 in a timely fashion, the toughest parts will be behind me and I will finish. But Mile 18 is still a ways off and I'm dealing with a whole new problem: nutrition.
During the race sometime after mile 13, I started getting terrible debilitating quad cramps. I was fueling with shot blocks and water. Looking back I now know that 1. gels work better for me than shot blacks and 2. if I was going to use shot blocks for this race I should have had about double what I did. Also, I hadn't quite figured out my salty-sweater sodium replacement. So.... not enough fuel and salt = plenty of cramps.
The tape on my ankle was wet and useless at this point (a kind runner offered me some moleskin from his pack, but I passed since we were very close to the aid station). I forget it it was near mile 13 or 18 station, but a wonderful volunteer named Terry sat me down and wrapped my mud-splattered, trail-battered ankle in a fresh ace bandage which held up perfectly for the remainder of the race.
I spent the next several miles looking forward to finally reaching the 18 mile threshold and (hopefully) finding some salt at the next aid station. I chatted with the runner next to me, Greg, whose son was running his first 50 Miler that day. I massaged my quads and committed to walking most all of the up hills and to ignoring any mud and/or water in front of me. Wet feet were obviously unavoidable and zig-zagging was obviously a waste of time and energy.
At the Owl Swamp Aid Station (17.9), we were hurting. Runners, including myself, took their time recouping and fueling and stretching out as much as possible. And then, we began the slog back towards Anthony Wayne.
Overall I was feeling pretty good, but I was absolutely exhausted. I kept thinking of how excited I was to make my way back to the Anthony Wayne station where I knew I would find my family and the mister.
Finally, we emerged from the woods, and there it was. I remember coming down this hill and literally choking back tears because I was so happy to see my family and the mister. I can not describe how much it meant to not only see these people after hours of puttering around the woods, but to have them there supporting me. I'm very grateful to have such an incredible group of people in my life.
I touched base with everyone quickly, and then started off.
For about 400 yards. And then I turned around.
I had almost forgotten to fill my empty water bottle. Opps.
The last few miles were pretty brutal. I was running on fumes (ha ha). Greg and I matched paces for the last stretch and we waxed on about the blessings of flat, dry, ground.
We passed under the tell-tale tunnel and rounded the final corner- at last! The Finish was in sight!
I finished in 7:20:04. A little slow in "road marathon" time, but in Bear Mountain time? I was thrilled! My brother, who joked that he was going to finish his 50 Miles before I finished the Marathon (a possibility,) finished about 20 minutes after me. He ran 50 miles in 11:32:25- over two hours faster than the same race in 2013.
In the hours, days, and, honestly, months following this race, I hesitated to commit to running this course as a marathon next year. It was tough. I knew it would be tough based on my brother's reaction when he ran it the first time and I spent months visualizing myself battling the rugged uphills and preparing the expect the fatigue I knew would come.
But today, as I'm writing this, and have another marathon under my belt (an easy-breezy-by-comparison road race), I'm tempted to go beyond the marathon distance.
Tempted and planning.