Name of the race: 18.12 Challenge
Where: Watertown & Sackets Harbor, NY
Date: August 27, 2017
Time: 7:00 am
Distance: 18.12 miles (the course is short and comes in at 17.9 miles)
Terrain: Net downhill with rolling hills
Entry fee: $75 + fee
Post-race Food: Apples, bananas, oranges, pizzas, sandwiches, cookies, yogurt, chocolate milk, Gatorade, and water
Swag: Long-sleeved tech shirt & spike bag
Performance: Overall: 61/301; Gender: 18/165; Age (35-39): 4/30
Weather: 52 degrees, 91% humidity
Me: Hey, do you want to drive me to Watertown? It’s six hours north of here.
Me: There’s an 18-mile race up there.
Jay looks at Google maps.
Jay: It’s close to the border. Can we go to Canada? I need to buy Haagen Dazs.
Me: Sure! I’ll buy orange Fanta.
The best thing about my running club, PPTC, is that no matter how crazy your idea is, you can always find a friend who’ll join you in your outrageous endeavors.
Yes, we really did cross the border to buy Haagen Dazs and Fanta. No, we can’t get these in the US. Haagen Dazs has five different flavors of alcohol-infused ice cream (Rum Vanilla Caramel Blondie, Whiskey Chocolate Truffle, Irish Cream Coffee & Biscotti, Vodka Key Lime Pie, and Rum Ginger Cookie) that is exclusively available only in Canada. As for orange Fanta, the formula for orange Fanta varies from country to country. I love the Canadian and European versions and hate the US one.
And yes, that pretty much was our real life conversation when discussing this race. I did the 18.12 Challenge last year and enjoyed the race so much that I wanted to go back this year. Ben changed jobs earlier this year, so he’s been working more. He was unable to take time off to join me and I didn’t feel like making the long drive by myself. So I talked to various running friends and found one crazy friend who was up for an adventure in North Country.
We left rather early Saturday morning (5:30 am) and this was after my begging for mercy for a later start so I could get more sleep. We went to the expo at Sackets Harbor Battlefield, which is also where the finish line is, to pick up our bibs. Then we got a late lunch at The Hops Spot. They have great burgers and fries and a pretty nice outdoor patio. We then checked in at our AirBnB in Pulaski, which was about 30 mins south. The house was located in somewhat rural area. We got slightly confused because Google Maps told us to make a right on the street and all we saw was a dirt driveway. That dirt driveway was the street. Jay was dubious about the whole AirBnB thing, but the house I picked out was nice, spacious, and comfortable. After we checked out Watertown (there was nothing there, seriously, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday EVERYTHING was closed), we drove to Canada to get our treats.
At 4 am the next morning, we got ready for the race. As usual, I ate cake (carrot cake this time) for pre-race fuel and drank Starbucks salted caramel iced coffee. I was properly sugared and caffeinated for the race.
Because it’s a point-to-point course, you have a choice of parking at the start and then taking the shuttle back after the finish, or parking at the finish and taking the shuttle to the start before the race. We agreed that the latter was the better choice. I’m more of a let’s try to see how close we can cut it type of a gal and Jay is more of a let’s be there two hours before the start type of a guy. We compromised and took the 5:45 shuttle. It’s a half hour drive to the start from the finish, so we had 45 minutes to kill.
The weather was just about perfect. It was a shade over 50 degrees – lovely cool weather for running. I saw later that the humidity was 91%, but it didn’t feel that high at all (I’m rather sensitive to humidity independent of temperature). The only thing that would have made it better would have been a cloud cover, but the sun being out wasn’t a problem at all. The deep morning shadows gave us shade for much of the course. If we were out in the sun, it wasn’t for all that long and the sun was behind us for most of the course.
Jay went out for a short warm up and serendipitously found a warm indoor RESTROOM by a soccer field. Hallelujah! It was totally the race hack of the day. There was no line and I found a few people hanging out inside because it was warm. I hung out there for a few minutes and then I went back out. It was cool, but not chilly. I didn’t mind waiting outside. We were close enough to the start to hear all the great music they were playing and the announcer. When she stated that we were to walk over to the start line, we made our way.
Jay and I had similar race plans, but neither of us quite knew what to expect. Both of us felt really good and that we were in good shape, but neither of us had done much long distance racing in a while. Right before the horn went off, we mutually agreed that if we happened to run with each other that was great, but we were not to wait for the other person. This was perfect because honestly, I prefer running with my own race plan and not feeling like I’m beholden to someone else during a race situation.
For all the talk that Jay gave before the race of starting out between 9:00 and 9:30, he took off at the start. I mean, I didn’t even get a chance to run with him for a quarter mile. I took a look at my Garmin, saw the pace, and immediately slowed down. Jay continued steaming ahead. I let him go, telling myself that I’m running my own race.
Same as last year, I broke the 18-miler (really 17.9 miles) into three 5-mile chunks, and then a 3-miler (2.9 actually). My plan was to use the five miles to warm up, the second five miles to speed up a bit, the next five miles to press the pace, and if I felt good, race the final 3 or so miles.
I figured I would do the first five miles at an 8:50 pace. I averaged around 8:40 and that was hard. Not hard because the pace was too fast, but hard because I felt like I was c_r_a_w_l_i_n_g. I wanted to go out faster, but 18 miles is a long distance and more people lose races at the start than they do at the finish. I refrained myself and reminded myself that I had a loooooong way to go.
The second set of five miles felt more comfortable because I picked up the pace to an average of 8:32. The pace felt more natural. Around Mile 6.5, I caught up to Jay and passed him. As I approached him, he muttered that he started off too fast and was adjusting and slowing down in order to not blow up at the end of the race. I was feeling really good and as much as I would have loved to pass a few miles with him, I knew I had to breeze on ahead.
The 18.12 course was not exactly as I had remembered. All week I told Jay that it was a downhill down with one, maybe two hills in the beginning and another small one at the end.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It is a net downhill course, but you’ll never realize it because of all the rolling hills. I counted the hills and eventually I lost track of them. There are a lot of small hills with gentle inclines on this course. Regardless, the net decline does help you because I found it much easier to maintain the faster paces.
Compared to last year, there was less entertainment out on the course. There weren’t any musicians, but I did see a little girl doing some Irish step dancing. The bulk of the entertainment came between Miles 8 and 13. Right before I entered Sacket Harbor, there was a huge group of cheerleaders cheering for us. A police officer welcomed us with the booming words, “Welcome to Sackets Harbor!” Sweeter words were never spoken. There was a pirate-themed water station with swashbuckling pirates handing out water, Gatorade, an ice cold wet towel, and sweet, sweet popsicles.
The hardest part of the race is the turn-off for the runners doing the 18.12 Challenge because you know the half marathoners have only another two miles to the finish line, but you have another five miles. At this point, I’m tired and think, “This is cruel.”
At Mile 15, a quick glance at my Garmin showed me that I was well on my way to smashing the previous year’s time. I decided to race out the final three miles and picked off runners left and right. This was really fun for me because I often fade at the end of races. I’ve been working really hard at having a strong end game, and it was nice to see progress being made.
One last turn and it’s the straightaway to the finish line. I’m thrilled to find out that I finished in 2:31:12, which is well over a six-minute PR for me. Jay crosses the finish line a couple minutes after me in 2:33:24, which earned him 2nd place in his age group. We both had great races.
The post-race party was wonderful. There was a ton of food (apples, oranges, bananas, sandwiches, pizza, yogurt, cookies, and more) and we were encouraged to take seconds and thirds. Fun music played over speakers. People took their time to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery overlooking Lake Ontario after the race. I chatted with other runners while waiting for the awards ceremony.
Sackets Harbor Battlefield, the finish area, was the site of two major battles (first battle & second battle) in the War of 1812. This is the war where the British troops famously burned down the White House (and something that Canadians like to take credit for as I learned when I lived in Toronto).
The theme of the War of 1812 is quite predominant throughout the race. The official route is 18.12 miles long (actually it’s shorter because I – and everyone else – always measures this course short, around 17.9 miles). They give out $1812 worth of prize money. The finishers medal and race shirt feature a patriot. I love well-thought out themed races.
I really love this race and would love to do it every year. Running (close to) 18 miles is a challenge, but one well worth taking on.