Name of the race: 18.12 Challenge & 1/2 Marathon
Where: Watertown, NY
Date: Sept 4, 2016
Time: 7:00 am
Distance:18.12 miles (course was short, we got 17.9 miles)
Terrain: Net decline with rolling hills
Entry fee: Early Registration for Half Marathon $55-65; Early Registration for 18.12 Challenge $65-75
Late registration for Half was $70 and for 18.12 Challenge was $80.
Expo registration for Half was $75 and for 18.12 Challenge was $85.
Swag: Gender specific t shirt and finishers medal
Post-race Food: Pizza, subs, yogurt, oranges, bananas, chocolate milk, chips, pretzels, Gatorade, and water
Performance: Overall 103/352; Gender 24/175; Age (35-39) 6/31
Weather: 46 degrees, 93% humidity
What an unusual distance! 18.12 miles. Why 18.12? Well, the War of 1812 is a big deal in this part of upstate New York where many of the battles took place. The War of 1812 is also a big deal in Canada, where Canadians proudly told me about the time when they burned down the White House. When I was learning US History, the War of 1812 was a minor war and we didn’t spend much time on it and it was the British army who burned down the White House. In Canada, the war is a much bigger deal and they still insist that they were the ones who burned it down, which seems unlike them since Canadians have a reputation for being nice.
Unlike a lot of endurance runners, long runs depress me. I don’t like them, so I try to find races that will fulfill the distance that I need to do. I spend early summer looking for races all over the tristate area that covered the distance that was scheduled for that week. This is how I found the 18.12 Challenge. Who cares that it’s 6 hours away from New York City? I put on a bright smile on my face as I tried to convince Ben (who hates road trips with a passion) that nothing could be more fun than spending several hours trapped in a car with the one you loved, but may resent at the moment because she’s the sole reason why you’re in that predicament.
We spent Labor Day weekend in North Country as they call (or South Canada as Ben called it). After the 5th Ave Mile, we drove up to the lovely vacation home on the shores of Lake Ontario that we rented. Ben survived. Bandit was thrilled that we were all superglued for several hours.
Both the 18.12 Challenge and the Half Marathon start at Watertown and end at Sacketts Harbor. You could park at either the start or finish and shuttles would take you to the other end. Because of scheduling, we figured that parking at the finish and taking the shuttle to the start was better for us. This made for a very early morning. There was some confusion over parking because the original parking lot got filled and we were directed to some place much farther away than necessary. After realizing that no one was going there, we turned around and parked on the streets a few blocks away from the lot, which was what everyone else was doing instead of listening to the volunteer.
Then we got in a later shuttle than we had originally planned for (oh, well) and had a comfortable 30 min ride to the start line. Ben got our bibs while I stood in line for the port-o-potty. We both were worried about the race starting before we got to use the facilities, but a local runner assured us that no races in the North Country ever started on time. She was right. The race started at 7:05 (which I’m sure for them is a timely start), but Ben and I were weaned on NYRR’s militant and sometimes draconian insistence of races MUST START ON TIME, so this all felt rather laissez-faire. I was rather grateful for the few minutes grace period because this gave me time to get to the start and settle down.
The half marathoners and the Challenge runners all have the same start and finish. At two different points, depending upon your perspective, the half marathoners have a short cut or the Challenge runners have a detour. We were told that were two timing mats out on the course. Unless those mats were only for the half marathoners, the only timing mats we saw were at the start and finish lines. Considering how easy it would be to sign up for the full 18.12, but only run the half, we thought it was strange that there were no timing mats after where half and 18.12 course split to ensure that 18.12 runners run the full course.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect for this race. First, I was treating this as a training run, not as a race. After a long hot humid summer of slow paces, I wasn’t expecting much from myself. Poor Ben has been dealing with my lamentations of a dismal Steamtown experience (I’m so optimistic) for the last several weeks. I told him that I would probably come in around 2:4-something running a 9:00 or 9 and change pace. I wanted to run as many 9 min miles as possible and if I crash toward the end, well, then I crash. I didn’t have high expectations.
The cooler weather made running more fun. I wasn’t immediately drenched in sweat as soon as I stepped outside. I felt comfortable. The thought that this run was going to kill me didn’t enter my mind as it usually did when I had to run in 90 degree plus with 90 plus % humidity. Can you tell what a Miss Mary Sunshine I am?
I knew I wanted to run easy, but it was difficult to rein myself in with the cool weather and the excitement of a race. Just after the start line, I ran into a crowd of runners who were also planning on doing Steamtown. As I laughed and joked with them, I was sorely tempted to go off with them at their much faster pace. It felt so easy and good. It always does in the beginning. It’s not about how easy it feels in the beginning, but can you hold onto to it at the end. Reluctantly I let them go after a few meters. I had my own race to run.
I broke down the race into 5-mile chunks and a 5K. The first mile ticked by at 8:41. I panicked slightly. It was too fast. Nine minute miles, remember? Slow. Slow. Slow. I reined myself even more. The second mile ticked by at 8:53. Better. Keep going. “Slow down even more if you need to,” I constantly reminded myself. But the cool weather and PR-friendly downhill course were like good encouraging friends who cheered me on. My legs couldn’t help but run a bit faster than I had anticipated. I wasn’t working too hard, so I let myself go a bit. The first five miles went by without an incident.
I really appreciated the course/crowd support for this race. For a small country race, it has a lot of crowd support. There were musicians and bands (bagpipes! violin!) and random people who set up their speakers and blasted music. People came out to cheer. I never felt alone or isolated. The scenery was also pretty. I love running on country roadsides going past farms and their fields. Someone had posted up a sign saying, “Don’t stop now. The cows are staring at you.” Being that I live in such an urban area, running in a rural area is a treat for me.
The second five-mile chunk it felt more like work. I kept on chugging along. After I was done with 10 miles, I reminded myself that I usually have no problems with the first 15 miles, so the next 5-mile chunk was also no big deal. My slowest mile was Mile 11 (9:00), where there was a bit of an uphill. I didn’t want to slow down, so I refocused and picked up the pace again. Out on the course, the third 5-mile section was my favorite. One of the aid stations was set up as a Pokemon themed-station. Volunteers were dressed up in Pikachu costumes and they played the Pokemon theme song. Super cute!
It was starting to get warm. The first popsicle aid appeared. Volunteers held out half pieces of Otter pops. Cheap sugary popsicle for sure, but oh, so good when it’s warm and you need SUGAR and something cold. There were also towel stations, so I grabbed a cold wet towel to wipe off and cool down at one of them.
At 15 miles, I was feeling pretty good. I knew I could keep going and make all 18 miles. Another popsicle. More miles. More slow patient chasing down of runners. One more popsicle to eat. When I saw the Mile 17 marker, I pushed myself to run as fast as I could. I had been running relatively easy, so I told myself I had no reason to not go out fast. Surprising myself, my legs obeyed and churned out a quick pace. One last hill at Hess St. Finally, one last turn and I could see the finish line (and Canadian flags) and time clock. I flew down the straightaway determined to get the girl who was right in front of me. I beat her to the finish line.
I was absolutely ecstatic. I completely blew away the expectations. My final time was 2:37:42, which is the fastest that I’ve ever ran 18 miles (well, actually 17.9, the course was short as we were supposed to run 18.12 miles), even including what I did at Wineglass. This run justified all the long slow hot miles that I slogged this summer. I worried that all that running was for naught, but it wasn’t. This entire summer I felt that I had to have faith that somehow my body was being trained, despite not showing anything for it at races. I had to trust that it (RLRF) was working.
Ben missed seeing me at the finish line because he wasn’t expecting me to come in so quickly. He also had a great race. He hadn’t run much all summer because of an Achilles injury; only recently has he started training again. Ben said his goal was to simply finish, but he ran a great time of 2:17:22. I’m so proud of him.
After resting a bit and eating some food, I babbled on about how happy I was. Ben was relieved because he had been worried about my pessimism over Steamtown training.
The rest of the weekend up in North Country was quiet and relaxing. We went to a market to load ourselves with groceries, so we wouldn’t have to leave the house at all. All we wanted to do was RELAX!!!! I did a lot of cooking. Ben did a lot of grilling. Bandit did a lot of looking really cute while begging for scraps of meat. We had a lot of fun hanging out by the lake. We woke up early to enjoy the beautiful sunrises. But mostly we loved our last quiet weekend before our lives get crazy again with work by napping, reading, and playing with Bandit.
I’m a month out until Steamtown. I have a couple more long runs left and then it’s taper time.