Name of the race: Running Festival of Lights – Chanukkah Chalf
Where: Shore Road Park Pier in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY
Date: Nov 24, 2013
Time: 10:30 am
Distance: 13.1 miles
Terrain: Flat road race along the southern edge of Brooklyn
Entry fee: $35
Swag: Long sleeve technical shirt
Post-race Food: Bagles, butter, apples, hot chocolate, and coffee
Performance:Overall 237/251; Gender 136/147; Age (F 30-39) 43/45
Weather: 28 degrees with sustained winds of over 25 mph
Oy vey, indeed! The Channukah Chalf that I did last week was the hardest race that I’ve ever done. The bitter cold and the icy biting wind made it difficult complete the race. It sapped my energy and drained any will to compete. And I did something I never did before. I just quit.
You can see it from my time. I never completed a half marathon so slowly. I have never regretted participating in a race as much as I regretted this one. This is not the fault of NYCRuns, a fabulous race organization, that puts on several races a year that Ben and I eagerly look forward to. It was the nasty weather that came out of nowhere and NYCRuns can’t control the weather.
We signed up for this race about month ago for a few different reasons. I couldn’t resist the cute name – Running Festival of Lights with the Gelt 5K, Oy Vey 10K, and Channukah Chalf. We knew the race would be well organized, cheap, and a flat course that would lead to fast times because of the cool weather. Well, everything about the race was true except for the fast times and cool weather. The weather was FREEZING cold. I can handle the cold weather. That wasn’t the problem as much as it was the horrible fierce winds that were close to 30 mph.
As we were driving over, Ben, Hernan (Ben’s friend), and I discussed what we were going to wear, specifically whether we were going to discard any of our layers. After we standing in the cold for five minutes to get our bibs, we all promptly decided that we would keep everything that we had on. Ben even borrowed an extra scarf from me. A few minutes before the start time we reluctantly left the car to go to the start line.
Normally I dislike all the crowding and jostling at the start line. Not that day. We all huddled together to try to keep a bit warmer. I really wasn’t feeling it. I told Ben that I wasn’t going to even bother to attempt anything close to my PR and that I would be really happy anything close to 2 hours on a day like that day.
The course consisted of two loops along the shore roads of southern Brooklyn. The first and smaller loop is roughly five miles long and then there’s another longer 8-mile loop. As I started running, I noticed something odd. My feet were numb and frozen. I was running on meat popsicles. I could hear the heavy thud, thud, thud sound that my feet were making and feel some pressure, but otherwise I could not feel anything at all. I was a bit worried because I was unable to control how heavy my footfalls were. I didn’t want to hurt myself by slamming my feet to the pavement for a half marathon. It took about a couple miles for my feet to warm up and for me to feel the ground again.
The first half of the first loop went fine. I didn’t intend to go out fast. At this point I would have been perfectly content with a 9 min pace. I glanced at my Garmin and saw that I was running an 8:30 pace easily.
“Maybe I’ll end up doing better than I think I will,” I thought to myself when I saw my pace. I was pleased and at this point of the race, actually having a little bit of fun. I saw Hernan run past me in the other direction and I waved. A couple minutes later I saw Ben hunched over and walking. I immediately got worried and asked if he was all right. He waved me off and said everything was fine. I continued on puzzled by Ben’s behavior.
It all made sense to me when I turned around. BAM! A sharp blast of icy air stole my breath (and whipped a hat off my head). Now I understood why Ben was hunched over. He was fighting the wind. As I made my way back, at times I also stopped running to walk because the wind blew too hard. I wasn’t the only one stopping to walk when a strong gust of wind held up an invincible barrier.
It was so cold that water was freezing in the cups at the aid station. Volunteers stopped having cups of water out and instead poured it out when we asked for it.
When I got back to the start line, which was the second turn around point, I had to make a decision of whether to keep going or to drop out. The entire time I was running back, I contemplated dropping out. While there were strong sustained winds, it was fine when you were running out because the wind was at your back. It was terrible when you were running back in because it was at your face the entire time. I wasn’t having fun and I knew I wasn’t doing all that well (not in terms of time, but mentally and physically). I decided that I might as well turn around, run a bit more, and then turn around again so that I would finish around the same time as the boys.
That was the plan. I don’t know what happened. Obviously the cold addled my brain because I ended “running” the whole half marathon. I met up with Ben again around the 7.5 mile mark for me. Ben was heading back to the finish line because he was finishing his second loop. I was still heading out. I yelled out, “I’m not doing so well.” He nodded to indicate that he heard me.
That’s when I should have turned around and headed back.
Instead I continued on my own personal march to hell. I don’t know what possessed me to keep on going. I kept on running and finally I reached the last turn around point at mile 9. When I turned around, the chilling wind slapped me. Then at that point, I *was* *done.*
I stopped. I quit. It was over for me. If I could have gotten a ride back to the starting line, I would have taken it. But the only way back was to walk so, so I started the long solitary walk back. I hunched over and watched despondently as one runner after another went past me. It was depressing and demoralizing seeing them. I was impressed that they could still keep going, but I was depressed by my own lack of will and strength.
I was so cold, but I just focused on walking forward. I had four miles left, which meant more than an hour of walking. A few times I tried to run, not because I wanted to finish strong, but because I wanted to get to the finish line sooner. Each and every time, after a few stumbling steps I had to stop and go back to walking. I would have given anything at that point to fast forward my life by an hour.
Luckily we had the foresight to give the car keys to Ben so they could wait for me in the car. I hoped that they stayed in the car rather than waiting for me in the cold. Of course, they were waiting for me. About a half mile from the finish line, they were there.
They hurried over to see if I was all right. I nodded my head and walked on in silence. I wasn’t in the mood to talk. Hernan got concerned that I was upset or mad. Ben knew me well enough to know that my behavior was just me and that I was fine. He reassured Hernan that I was okay and it was best to leave in my silence until I felt like talking.
After crossing the finish line (finally!) and grabbing a bagel, Ben and I waited for Hernan to bring the car over. I was absolutely frozen to the bone. The heater was turned on to the max and I started to dethaw. It was funny. I actually felt colder while I was dethawing than I did in the last hour of the race. I shivered quite violently. We wisely decided that Hernan should drive because my violent jerking didn’t bode well for safe driving. Eventually I warmed up and began explaining what happened to me.
We came back to Hoboken and had a well-deserved and much needed brunch of pancakes at Stacks. If you’re ever in Hoboken, I recommend Stacks for pancakes. The portions are huge and the food is tasty. The best part of the meal is the complimentary corn bread that they give you. The corn bread is light, fluffy, and slightly sweet. It is more like corn cake than corn bread. It’s utterly delicious and something I look forward to every time I go.
We commiserated over our experience. I think we all came out a bit traumatized, despite the fact that Hernan got 1st place for his age group (and 9th overall) and Ben came 3rd place for his age group. It was the worst race weather experience that we’ve ever had. I really should have quit when I was much closer to the finish line instead of soldiering on. I injured my right foot and hip. They were sore for a few days. I’m fine now, but I really didn’t need to injure myself.
The lesson I learned that it’s okay to quit and sometimes it’s the better part of valor.